What’s it like to teach English in… Spain?

Tim Marsh has been teaching English since 1985 and has taught some 3,500 students, with ages ranging from six to 65. He is therefore well placed to describe teaching English as a “difficult and demanding” job, as well as to share the five lessons he’s...


Tim Marsh has been teaching English since 1985 and has taught some 3,500 students, with ages ranging from six to 65. He is therefore well placed to describe teaching English as a “difficult and demanding” job, as well as to share the five lessons he’s learned during his impressive time in his career…

1. Know your stuff

“The Spanish expect paid professionals to know everything about their expertise but there are few teachers of the English language who do know everything. We should prepare lessons adequately when teaching aspects we’re not entirely confident about. Many CELTA tutors say that if you are asked a question that you cannot answer confidently, you shouldn’t panic but instead inform the student that you will check and give them the detailed answer at the following lesson. This may be useful when you first start out but it shouldn’t happen frequently, as your honesty will not always be appreciated!”

2. Expect the unexpected

“Teaching English is very rewarding and can be full of surprises. As a result, it’s not a good idea to try to follow a rigid teaching plan. Write a plan that’s flexible enough to allow for a good dose of spontaneity to enter into proceedings. I can honestly say that not one single day is the same as another. If a Spaniard is not in the mood for working on a particular skill, as will happen from time to time, then be prepared to change that lesson at the drop of a hat. It’s always a good idea to keep four of five ‘favourite’ lessons filed within easy reach for just such occasions – preferably skills lessons that can be easily adapted to the theme that you are currently working on. Whatever you had planned for this week can always be done next week. The customer is always right and, when living in Spain, big lunches, high temperatures, Barcelona against Real Madrid and the after-match party can bring about very unexpected lessons!”

3. Stick to what you’re being paid to do

“The Spanish are extremely friendly people who love to talk and are happy to share – sometimes in great detail – the problems in their working and even private lives. In an effort to establish friendly relationships, they often create an intimacy: what is referred to in Spanish as ‘confianza’. This is much the same kind of trust and confidence that we have with our doctors or lawyers so, unless you’re careful, you can find yourself doubling as teacher and therapist, which will alter the dynamic of the classroom. A teacher of English teaches English. Stick to what you know, stick to what you’re being paid to do and create a professional framework in which to do your best as a teacher and not as a therapist.”

4. Do not offer guarantees

“The busiest time of the year is often during the summer, when language schools begin to fill up as state-school exam results come in. Parents enrol their children on intensive or exam revision courses so that they can take their resits in September. English courses are often expensive and parents will expect a guarantee that their child will pass the school English exam at the end of the summer. Never offer a guarantee! There are usually a number of reasons why the child has failed in the first place and it is better to lose a client than to make promises you can’t keep.”

5. Have a good pair of shoes!

“Many years ago, the famous soprano Rita Hunter was asked what she considered to be the most important requirement when singing opera. She answered, “A good pair of shoes.” She went on to say that when she was appearing in a Wagner opera that started at 5.30pm and didn’t finish until 11pm, the most important thing to look after was her feet. I’ve always tried to avoid institutions that insist on a uniform or on wearing a shirt and tie. Students often feel uncomfortable in a classroom where the teacher is formally dressed. I have always found the working environment much more relaxed when dressed in a similar way to my students. This and the fact that in Spain the temperature can hit the 30s in June and stay there into September mean that I dress casually, often in shorts. And I always wear a good pair of shoes.”

Have you had similar experiences to Sophie? Have you taught English somewhere completely different? Share your stories with us via Facebook and Twitter.

You can also read about the experiences of an English teacher in Turkey and Sri Lanka.

Pearson English - Spain

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