I started my teaching in Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Having worked there for fourteen years I moved to Spain where I have lived and worked for the last seven years. Teachers from the UK often want to know what the differences are or automatically assume everything here must be fantastic. This is just a brief overview of what I consider to be the five most significant positive and negative aspects of teaching in Spain. I will ignore bland comments about the weather and the beaches and focus instead on the teaching and life in school. All of this is from my own experience and therefore other teachers in different schools or different parts of Spain may hold differing points of view.
- In 2009 a survey in the UK found that most teachers reported working more than 50 hours per week. Moreover, a teacher contract in the UK is to work for 195 days of the year with 190 of those days identified as teaching days. The remaining 170 days should be protected and teachers should not be directed to work on those days. My own experience was that in order to do the job to the standard required I left work on a Friday evening with sufficient work for 10-12 hours of weekend work. I suppose you could argue that wasn’t directed but without doing that work planning and marking would not have been completed to the necessary standards. With about two and a half hours of planning and preparation time provided in the UK working week, trying to fit necessary work into the school day was impossible.
By contrast, we give our primary teachers in Spain 6hrs 50mins per week of non-contact time during the school day. With a full hour of lunch break too there is more than enough time in the working day to complete the necessary work. The result is that evenings and weekends feel more relaxed and it is genuinely possible to walk out of school on Friday with the classroom prepared for Monday and no need to think about school until you return the next week. That provides for a far healthier lifestyle and much of the anxiety and pressure feels lifted from day one.
- The teacher is still a position of respect in society in Spain. This is a status that in the UK has been steadily eroded over the last few decades. The most positive aspect of this is that parents look to teachers for advice about how to help their children at home. The teacher is seen as a partner working with the parents and the sensation of parental support is very different to that found in many schools in the UK.
- Based on the three inspections I experienced in the UK and the three inspections I have experienced in Spain, the anxiety surrounding inspections in Spain feels very different to the UK. Inspections in Spain are thorough and professional but take place in a climate of providing external professional opinions about the school and how it can improve. There isn’t the same judgmental feel of UK inspections which, regardless of how they may be presented, still seem to be out to find the 15,000 poor teachers that Mr. Woodhead infamously declared were lurking in our schools. An inspection day in Spain is a far more positive experience. Certainly it is focused on teaching and learning but there isn’t the threatening feel that teachers often report from UK inspections. Perhaps it helps that the inspecting body is separated from the politics of education. Inspections in Spain still carry a reasonable period of notice and don’t come with the ever present threat of being labelled and placed into a category.
- Children’s behaviour is generally different to the UK. The culture in Spain is very different and children are an accepted part of their parents’ life. Going for meals out in the evening is always a family affair and the notion of baby sitters is alien to most Spanish people. In a way, children are permitted to remain children for longer than in the UK. Most Spanish children inherit the society view of teachers as an authority figure to be respected. In the UK a common complaint amongst colleagues was that a significant minority of children had the capacity to derail the teaching and learning. And that even after the teacher had spent all Sunday planning and resourcing what should have been great lessons. The class behaviour in Spain is significantly better than that found in most UK schools and the end result is that it is far easier to focus on aspects of teaching and learning and to be a great teacher. Conversations in school staffrooms tend to be more about teaching and learning and less about individual characters that have spent the morning disrupting classes and preventing learning from taking place.
- Schools and education are still supposed to be fun in Spain and political correctness doesn’t get in the way of a celebration. Our school still celebrates Christmas, carnival, and Fallas (a regional festival) and gives these celebrations the class time needed to make them an enjoyable part of the educational calendar. Multi-culturalism exists but adapts to the Spanish society.
- Spanish education, even private education, runs on a significantly smaller budget than in the UK. Many UK educational authorities are spending between seven and eight thousand pounds per pupil. Typical costs for private education in Spain is between three and four thousand Euros. Clearly this translates into school in a variety of ways. Technology may not be quite so regularly updated as in the UK and resources purchased for classrooms need caring for as they may be expected to last longer.
- Spanish authorities love paperwork and a new teacher to Spain may find some of this daunting. Nothing can be requested without a backup file of paperwork. Even purchasing a mobile telephone can become a complicated mountain of essential forms. Most schools should help teachers with this adaptation but be prepared for a very different approach to anything official than is found in the UK. Forget online websites allowing you to fill out forms and be prepared for government offices that only open for a few hours each morning and are quite unforgiving if you are missing what they deem to be an essential piece of paper.
- Workers’ rights in Spain are different to in the UK. Behaviours that are trusted without evidence in the UK under Spanish law need evidencing. A sick leave in the UK for example that allows for a period of self-certification requires a doctor note from day one in Spain. Even funerals in Spain give out certificates of attendance so workers can evidence to their employers that they were where they said they would be. This attitude of needing to account for sickness, for example, is a cultural change that for some people may take a period of adaptation.
- Spanish school holidays do not follow the same pattern as UK school holidays. Half terms don’t exist although dependent on the region of Spain there will be other public holidays to celebrate Spanish fiestas. With the main Spanish Christmas celebration being 6th January schools tend to work more closely to Christmas than in the UK which can mean a Christmas term running from 1st September through to 22nd December without any substantial holiday periods. Although this balances out over the course of the year and holidays in fact are slightly more generous than in the UK the lack of a half term may be a shock initially.
- Wages in Spain are lower than in the UK. Experienced teachers may well find that their experience is not taken into account in Spain and they are placed on a standard teaching salary. With a salary of 22,500€ for teachers in independent schools many UK teachers will find themselves taking a pay cut to work in Spain. Obviously the less years of experience you have the less of a problem this will be but a teacher at the top of the pay scale with a management responsibility may well find Spanish teaching pays around 60% of their UK salary. Obviously lower taxes (14% to be inclusive of tax and social security) and in general a lower cost of living account for a significant part of that wage difference.
Is a move to a teaching position in Spain right for you? Everybody has their own personal circumstances but Spain does offer a great quality of work and private life and a balance between the two. Spain, being in Europe, is less of a culture shock than perhaps a move to the middle or far east. The culture, climate and countryside I have left out of the equation here in order to focus on the teaching but really perhaps the fact that January temperatures on the Mediterranean coast average at 17 degrees Celsius (the same as July temperatures for the south-east of England) could still be considered important in making a decision.
If after reading this you still have questions about the positive and negative aspects do leave comments and I will reply.