“Oh, you want to travel long term? Why don’t you teach English!”
“You’re moving to Spain? I’m so jealous of the good weather, siestas, sangria, and tapas you’ll have!”
Earlier this year I moved to Spain to teach English, and after a lengthy summer break, I’m about to return to the land of sun and siestas to teach for another school year. When I applied to teach English in Spain I’m sure I thought much the same as what everyone else has said to me about it.
Teaching English is always on those lists of jobs you can do if you want to travel the world long term, become a nomad, or take a break from the corporate world. After all, there are plenty of countries with a high demand for English teachers. But Spain is usually synonymous with relaxed sunny days!
Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve had more than my fair share of afternoon naps this year, and stuffed my face with tapas on plenty occasions. I have also learned a lot about Spain, including that Sangria isn’t exactly the national drink of Spain like we seem to think it is. Plus I’ve been able to travel on the weekends and over the summer break.
But there are so many things about teaching English in Spain that I didn’t expect. With another school year about to begin, and a new batch of Auxiliares de Conversación arriving in Spain (that’s English Language Assistants!) I decided to remind myself what I’m in for once again.
Not knowing what I’m doing in a classroom
I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Sure I’ve done a TEFL course, and I was a tutor for some subjects at university, but I’ve never had an entire classroom of children staring at me, expecting me to simultaneously entertain and teach them for the next hour! I have a serious newfound respect for teachers.
Some teachers want you to take the whole class, some want you to sit and do nothing. Every day would be a mystery.
Learning a lot about teaching
I thought I was moving to Spain to teach English, but instead, I ended up moving to Spain to learn teaching. We all know from school that some teachers are better than others, but sometimes it’s hard to understand why. Being in so many different classrooms with different teachers has taught me a lot about different teaching styles.
Teaching English is not a job to be taken lightly
I really want to stop seeing teaching English on every list of jobs to help you travel the world. Or at least, I want it to have a caveat. Teaching English is actually a serious job. You might be indulging your dream of travelling the world, but your students are trying to learn a valuable skill from you that might have a large affect on their future.
Teaching English can be a great way to earn more money and fund your travel while living in a cool new place. BUT it’s not for everyone. Some people love teaching, and some people hate it. Before you jump into a job teaching English, remember it’s not just the holiday, money, new country thing. It’s also a job where you will actually have to, you know, TEACH. Can you do that?
Teaching English is really hard some days
Even if you like teaching, or you’re prepared to do it for the benefits you can get, some days it just sucks. You have to be ON all the time. There’s no swanning in to work, sitting at your desk and ignoring everyone while you pretend to work but you’re actually sending long emails to your best friends (ahem, not that I ever did that…).
I didn’t find it easy to pick up the language
Can you learn a language by moving abroad? I thought if I moved to the country that spoke the language I wanted to learn I would pick it up. It’s easy to learn a language when you’re living there right? Wrong. Everyone wants to speak English to you all of the time so you can go whole days barely speaking any of the native language.
The other problem I had was that everyone expected me to already know more Spanish than I did when I first arrived. Whey they realised I didn’t know much they just resorted to speaking to me in English the whole time. However, I was taking private lessons and slowly learning more, but then I was too nervous to try and respond in Spanish when I was spoken to in English!
I wish I had known more Spanish
I tried to teach myself Spanish for years on and off with little success. Even when I knew I was moving to Spain and I tried to up my language learning it didn’t really work. I guess in the back of my mind I thought I would scrape by and be fine.
It can be better for the students if you just speak English to them, as it forces them to try more, however there were times when having a higher Spanish speaking ability would have really helped. I found teaching in a primary school extremely difficult because you are half trying to control the class and half teaching it. The younger students were struggling with English immersion, and it was much better when the teacher could teach half in Spanish and half in English but that left me with not much to do. If I had understood more Spanish I could have had an easier experience and I could have made things better for the kids too!
Moving to Spain to teach English wasn’t any easier because I’d lived abroad before
I’d been an expat four times before I moved to Spain to teach English so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lows, but I think I almost was for that very reason. I’d learned so much from living abroad and I knew I could do it, but I forgot that it might be hard to begin with. I think I expected my previous experience to mean I could skip the harder parts. Nope. I still had that moment where I wondered if I’d made a mistake moving to Spain.
When you travel and live abroad there are so many ups and downs, and since I was living out a dream by teaching English in Spain I just had to remind myself to manage the lows, because there are also incredible highs and it’s always worth it in the end.
I fell in love with the country
I don’t expect to fall in love with every place I live abroad. I thought I’d like living Spain, learning the language and enjoying my time there, but I didn’t expect to love it quite as much as I do. I’ve learned so much from living in Spain and fallen in love with the culture, the landscape and the people. It’s going to be hard to leave!
Travelling one country deeply can be as fulfilling as checking off multiple countries
Part of the joy of living abroad is being able to travel more. New Zealand is about as far from everything as you can get, so living in Europe is a complete dream come true for me. When I lived in Edinburgh I was abroad at least once a month exploring as much of Europe as possible. Moving to Almería to teach English without a major international airport nearby meant I knew I wouldn’t be travelling abroad so much. Instead, I discovered the beauty of travelling a country, or even just one area, thoroughly.
Since moving to Spain I have visited a huge amount of Andalucía, and I love that I’ve been able to explore the nuances of the different cities and regions within the south of Spain. If you teach English in Spain you might end up in some tiny place far from everything, but living somewhere without the tourist hype is a really amazing thing!
Learning as much from the teachers and the students as they do from me
Being placed in a classroom and asked to teach conversational English often means turning to what you know, and for me that is travel and home. The students are naturally curious about this person who has come in to their environment from somewhere on the complete opposite side of the world. The best thing about teaching English is you can turn around all their questions to ask them the same. It helps them to practice the basic and it helps me to learn a lot about Spain and Spanish culture in return! Except for being asked if I have a boyfriend by every class. I probably won’t turn that one around…
Moving to Spain to teach English will make you into a minor celebrity, especially if you live in a smaller town! I remember when you saw a teacher outside of school it was weird, like surely they don’t have normal lives? Now I’m on the other side and I have students saying hi to me, or shying pointing me out to their parents as I walk down the street.
Since I blog, I also frequent the same cafes a lot (yay free wifi and cake!) and the staff actually say hello and acknowledge that I’m back once again. It’s weird for me coming from the UK where there’s more of a “we both know we know each other but let’s never talk about it” vibe.
Teaching English teaches you English
Having to explain why we do things in English is tough when you’ve spoken the language your whole life and never thought about it. “She told me” makes sense, but “she said me”, doesn’t. Why?!
Before I started teaching English I took a TEFL course, mostly to give me a bit more confidence. Although the Auxiliar de Conversación program is more about conversational English I still stumble across all sorts of things I need to be able to explain. I’ve seriously never examined what I say so much until now!
With the countdown on to moving back to Spain and starting work again, it’s crazy to think how different it is now that I’ve had some previous experience. Teaching English was on my bucket list of things to do for a long time, and I love how it’s been as unexpected as it has awesome.
Check out this guide on how to teach English overseas if you want to know about teaching around the world!
Have you moved abroad to teach English? Was it what you expected?
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