“What should I know about teaching in Spain?”
When asked about the qualifications needed to become a qualified teacher in Spain, I answer like a Galician. You see, I have been living in this area of Northern Spain for so long that I have acquired some of the characteristics of my neighbours. One of these is that a Galician will respond to a question with … another question.
My response to enquiries about training to teach in Spain is this: who are you and which teaching option are you going for? Some people come as language assistants for Spanish Primary and Secondary schools. Others are recruited from abroad to work in a language school. A few lucky ones get into the state system to work as teachers. I’ll try to explain what you need to do in terms of training for each scenario.
This is a very popular option for those who want to take a year or two off, work part-time in what isn’t a particularly demanding job (although many put their heart into it) and travel around Spain and the rest of Europe. Language assistants help English teachers in Primary and Secondary schools with conversation classes in small groups, although some find themselves in Pre-primary, Adult and Higher Education. Agencies recruit from abroad so that paperwork, placement and health insurance are sorted. Most of these agencies provide their own in-house training at the beginning of the academic year. All of them insist that the candidate has a degree, but language assistants don’t need teaching qualifications as such.
By the way, these agencies can recruit from outside the European Union because their assistants work under a special regime. They work part-time for a specific school with authorisation from the Spanish Government. However, if they want to work in a language school as well, the owner of that school has to do special paperwork to get permission. When the one- or two-year stint with the government is finished, many non-EU ex-language assistants find they cannot stay in Spain legally.
For many years, Spain had been the hotspot for teacher training because of the demand for TEFL teachers. Aspiring teachers trained at one of the qualification providers in big cities and easily found work after. However, the TEFL market has exploded and mushroomed and morphed over the years. This has affected the job market.
In quality schools, like the International House or British Council network, you need a CELTA or similar qualification. I mention IH and BC, but there are a number of independent schools as well; these are scattered across Spain. Both big and small quality language schools support their teachers with ongoing training. Independent places often have their own approach, particularly with young learners, and will guide their staff on the job. These schools will also encourage their employees to go for higher or specialised qualifications. They have a career path as well, although the glory days are over.
However, in many schools, especially in small towns, no qualification is required. Indeed, the simple fact one is a native speaker is enough to open doors. Moreover, non-native speakers play an important role in many areas. Not only are their Spanish English Philology or Translation graduates who work in language schools: English teachers come from Latin America, Eastern Europe and other world areas. Qualifications, therefore, vary.
Perhaps one has to take into account the fact that many language schools are there to get young learners and teens through their Primary or Secondary English classes. English is a compulsory subject in Spain. Although CELTA is a wonderful course and will set you up as a teacher, many language schools in Spain expect their workers to just grind through the textbook or even follow the script in a behaviouristic program based on the Callan Method. Even adult classes may be very rigid. Companies specialising in online business classes have a set program and that is that.
State Teaching Posts: the lucky few
The very tall gates to these highly sought after jobs in Primary, Secondary and Adult Education are sometimes prised open by persistent outsiders. Those who aren’t Spanish need to get their first degrees, even those from the EU, officially recognised and stamped, a long and costly process. If they don’t have a teaching qualification, they have to get one. Primary Education is a four-year degree. The post-graduate initial training program for Secondary (the CAP) takes two years. Then candidates have to show that they are proficient in Spanish and whatever co-official language exists in a specific autonomous region. Finally, there is a gruelling series of exams for those who have sorted out their paperwork and qualifications. Many Spanish teachers spend years preparing for these exams.
A few opt for the private and semi-private (concertado) sector. In these cases, teachers are directly employed by the school. However, it is a very competitive market. Also bear in mind that the number of children is going down here as Spain’s age pyramid is upside down. More people die than are being born.
Many of the scenarios sound a little grim or uninviting. However, as someone who left a good post in the state sector in the UK to face the vicissitudes of the private one in Spain, I look back and feel satisfied. Only in this way would I have worked with such a variety of ages, from nursery children to Senior University (a program for pensioners). I have also been involved in teacher training and publishing. Perhaps my qualifications- a CELTA, DELTA (then the Prep Cert and Diploma, respectively) and Masters, plus the Spanish CAP- weren’t entirely necessary to open doors, but I am very glad I did them. That’s 36 years of human capital and a lifelong-labour of love that echoes the sentiments of Cadafy’s Ithaka. To paraphrase without the poetry, I ain’t rich but have been living a very enriching life in Spain.
Ana Demitroff has been teaching longer than she would care to admit, but she still gets a kick out of the classroom and learns from her colleagues and students. She runs a language school, You First Language Centre, in Northern Spain and is a teacher trainer, mostly for Macmillan Education and government agencies. Her special interests are in young learners and inclusive and age-appropriate CLIL. She holds a Masters from the Institute of Education (University of London).