ESL Teacher in Spain: What I Really Do vs What Others Think I Do

I was recently shown this image (below) of what people think of an ESL Teacher in Spain. Although my task is not being the main teacher, but a language assistant, it made me think about what I actually do and how it differs from the images.

Teaching English in Spain jobs
ESL Teacher Illustration

The Different Perspectives of What an ESL Teacher in Spain Does

What My Friends Think I do:

At the moment, this image couldn’t be further from the truth. Time and time again I have to explain to my buds back home that I am in Basque Country in Northern Spain and that the weather here is almost exactly the same as English weather and I too am wearing a scarf, two jumpers and a wooly hat to school.

teaching abroad in Spain
Waterfall in the Basque Country

They definitely think I’m just chilling out and being a tourist most of the time. And while I am definitely making the most of being in Spain (I’ve been to the Pyrenees, along with the Northern Coast and sightseeing in Barcelona, Bilbao and San Sebastian), I am also teaching hard.

In particular, I really enjoy preparing my classes for my students. Generally, I follow a textbook which they are working through. However, I like to try and think of how we can make this more fun (and avoid picture number 6). For example, I’ve learnt that kids of all ages love it if you incorporate music into your lesson. I was introduced to a great website for ESL teachers called Lyrics Training where one can play popular songs but with missing lyrics. My students are huge fans of this! They also like it when we play different games. A particularly successful game that I tried recently is Would You Rather where students are given the option of what they’d rather do (e.g. have no arms or not legs) and then they have to justify their reasoning. This makes for a very entertaining 20 minutes.

What My Parents Think I do:

My parents regularly tell me how proud they are of me and that, as long as I’m doing what I enjoy, then they don’t mind where I am or what I’m doing (within reason obviously). I am very lucky to have parents like this and not parents who are pressurising me to come home and find a “real position”. I’m sure they’re probably thinking that I should return and make use of my 4 year Social Science degree but they know that I am doing something I love.

My parents don’t quite think I am the main character in “The Sound of Music” second part (as in the image above), although my mum is convinced that I’m pretty much babysitting for a year. I regularly receive messages via WhatsApp such as “hi darling, how are the little terrors?” Come on Mum, they’re like 16. Some of them have better English than me.

What Society Thinks I Do:

I find it creepy how the internet knows everything about me. Every time I scroll down my Facebook news-feed or check my emails, there’s an advert on the side saying “want to teach abroad?” or “how to know if TEFL is the right job for you” or “become an ESL teacher in Spain”. When I clicked on these (out of pure interest) I found that they tell you that teaching abroad will be like saving the Earth, one child at a time. It is described as a life changing experience that will make you a better, confident, more adventurous, exciting person who has made a leap of faith by moving abroad to a strange country, a far cry from home, and teaching young children who desperately need your help.

And while this may be the case, I’m pretty sure society really thinks that we are just people who cannot make up our minds as to what we want to do with our careers and are just looking for ways to avoid being real grown-ups and have real jobs in England. Yeah, that pretty much sums up my life right now.

What I Think I Do:

ESL teacher in Spain
Kindergarten students

This is definitely the most accurate picture. I have taken it as my personal mission to improve my students’ English in any way possible. Harriet the Super Teacher. Not only am I teaching teenagers, but I’m also teaching the little ones and the teachers (though not all of them, I’m not really Super Woman). In addition, a few weeks ago I arranged to take a group of students (see picture on the left) to the infantil classes where I played the guitar and we sang Christmas songs in both English and Basque. I actually learnt an entire Christmas song in Basque purely for their entertainment.

What My Students Think I Do:

Some of my kids definitely do not enjoy coming to my class. This was always going to happen. Some of them hate English with a passion. Some of them don’t really like studying in general. And most of them see my class as an opportunity to mess around. But, much to their disappointment, we have exercises to do and conversations to have which they often respond to as if I am torturing them, medieval-Britain-style.

Discipline is probably the area that I was least prepared for. No-one can really teach you how to deal with moody, rude, and grumpy teenagers. You just have to learn as you go. I think the thing I’ve found the hardest is probably the students who actively ignore me. I can deal with noisy, disruptive and cheeky kids but the ones who refuse to acknowledge your existence are incredibly hard to deal with. Winning them over is a slow and painful process but is worth it when they actually engage in your lesson.

What I Actually Do:

host family Spain
Host sister, host mum and I attempting to take a selfie

I most certainly do not let my students sleep in class, like the above image. Still I am quite often as exhausted as they are by the end of the week. But to chill out and recover from teaching ESL, I am spending a lot of time with my host family. We often visit tourist attractions or interesting places at the weekend. On the left is a picture of me, host sister and host mum attempting to take a selfie in the Bosque de Oma, a forest full of painted trees. And below is me with a friend’s daughter when we went looking for Christmas lights in Mungia. Living with a host family is a great way for me to experience Spanish (or in my case Basque) life as I have found myself eating, sleeping and breathing the lifestyle and traditions that they are so willingly sharing with me.

2015/2016 Posted by Harriet S.

If you enjoyed this article about what an ESL teacher in Spain does, don’t miss out the following articles:

  1. Have You Ever… Been a Language Assistant in Spain?
  2. Diary of a Language Assistant
  3. My School Kind of Day
29 July, 2019

An experience that will challenge you, teach you, and change you


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