ESL Job from Hell: Why I hated teaching English in Spain

ESL Job from Hell: I hated teaching English in Spain

To many, teaching English in Spain sounds like a dream come true. While I may have been less excited than your average first time ESL teacher (after all, I have taught in Switzerland, Thailand and China before), I was nonetheless looking forward to our year teaching English in Spain. However, things didn’t really work out as planned and we ended up leaving after just a month. Yup, one little month. I’ve never quit a job that fast before. The sad thing is, I really liked living in Spain! It’s a beautiful country with stunning nature, impressive architecture and lots of awesome and friendly people. So what’s the reason I left Spain after just one month? The ESL Job from hell.

8 Reasons why I hated teaching English in Spain

1. We got lied to A LOT

I was told I’d be employed as the nursery/ day care teacher in the mornings and early afternoons. Another teacher was told the same. Were there two nursery positions? No. So what happened? Well, first I was teaching nursery while the other teacher was forced to teach teenagers. When she complained, our boss made us swap classes which left me with the teenagers. When I complained about that, they threatened to fire me. Don’t get me wrong, I know teaching abroad requires flexibility, but I was hired as an Early Years teacher. I don’t like teaching teenagers, which my boss knew when I got hired. I told them I’d happily teach adults and children, I would just prefer not to teach teenagers. Because I’m not good at it. I feel weird acting all authoritative when I know none of the students want to be there. Especially because I hated school at that age. In other words, I’m a good teacher. I just suck at teaching teenagers.

Now, that was of course not the only lie we were told. After arriving in Spain, our salaries were cut for no reason and without NOTIFYING us of the change. I was told there would be a maximum of 8 children per class – on Fridays some classes had 24 kids. At this stage I’d like to let you know that many of my classes had children aged 2-5 in. Have fun ‘teaching’ 20 two-year-olds in a tiny classroom. I was also told there were abundant resources and complete lesson plans, so minimal lesson planning would be required for my ‘8-children per class’ lessons in the afternoon. In reality, there wasn’t even a staff room to put these made-up resources and the ‘lesson plans’ only filled about 15 minutes of each lesson.

2. The working hours were too long and there were no breaks

The schedules were a bit bizarre if you ask me, mainly because there were no breaks at all, ever. As in, you had to go to the bathroom during class because in your 6 hour shift there was not even a two minute bathroom break. At the end of the class, we had to escort the children outside the building, wait for their parents to pick them up, put back the resources we had used, collect the resources for the next class from someone else’s classroom, prepare the classroom for the next class (hint: whiteboards do need to be cleaned occasionally), sometimes go to the bathroom and at the same time already start your next class. Because you can totally do 10 minutes worth of activities in 10 seconds. Needless to say, everyone always started their classes 10 minutes late. Oh and the best part? It clearly stated on my contract that my day would end at 18:30 – but I was ‘lucky’ enough to have classes until 21:30. Isn’t that just great?

3. The class sizes were huge

24 children instead of 8 children. ‘nuff said.

4. The school’s ‘method’ was more than cringe-worthy

If you can even call it a method. Hey, here’s some Youtube videos because we were too lazy to buy a CD with songs. That pretty much summarises their method. The provided ‘lesson plans’ literally consisted of lists of Youtube videos. Some of them had clearly not been watched before getting added to the ‘lesson plan’. One of the songs I had to sing almost every lesson for two weeks was supposed to teach the children food vocabulary and the terms ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’. Most of the vocabulary in that song was clearly aimed at Korean students. Why do I need to explain what Kimchi is and why that boy in the video eats rice for every meal? There were also no books or any kind of resources for the age group I was teaching.

The most hilarious thing is that they were SO paranoid you’d tell this secret ‘method’ to another school. I once asked to photocopy one of those Youtube-Video-Suggestion-Plans so that I could avoid having one of the local teachers come into my classroom 15 minutes before the end of the lesson to get it off me for their next lesson (when I obviously still needed it – mainly because the electricity in my room went on and off constantly, which prevented me from having all the songs open in different tabs. Oh by the way, we were told to just go on Youtube during class, rather than actually download the songs.). Of course, I wasn’t allowed to do so, because of the very ‘rational’ fear of me giving this brilliant piece of pedagogy to one of their competitors. Or maybe they were simply afraid that parents would get their hands on one of those ‘lesson plans’ and realize that they’re getting ripped off. Who knows.

5. My boss was a b****

In case you haven’t figured it out yourself – my boss is possibly the worst person I’ve ever met in my entire life. I hate being so negative about this, and I really have tried to see her point of view and be more compassionate. But it’s so hard! She constantly threatened to fire us if we complained about anything and critised the weirdest stuff.

Probably the most annoying thing was that she always interfered with our classes. She came into our classrooms constantly, took markers out of our hands to correct our teaching methods IN FRONT OF THE STUDENTS, changed the vocab we were trying to teach to the children  (she once changed monster truck to monster because ‘it’s the same thing’..aha) and is just a really rude person in general. One time, she took all the furniture out of my classroom while I was teaching and then got upset that I ended the class THREE minutes early because the children didn’t have chairs or tables.

Then there was the issue of communication. She clearly didn’t want her teachers to talk to each other, which is why she converted the staff room into an additional classroom/ incredibly unhygienic  nappy-change-place and she always snooped around and tried to listen in on classes/ conversations/ noises we made while breathing. She constantly announced meetings to which she never showed up, but couldn’t be bothered to tell us that the meetings were cancelled. Whenever she wanted to ‘talk’ to you she would make you go to the school while it’s closed, make you wait in front of door in the rain and eventually show up a good 15 minutes late, just to start the ‘talk’ with an annoyed ‘Soooo?’ even though you had been left entirely in the dark about the purpose of this ‘talk’. But don’t worry, she’ll quickly fill you in on all the potential reason why she’d like to fire you and all the new and exciting ways she’s messed up your schedule again. The worst part was that she was sharing the management with her husband, who would generally tell us the opposite of what she said. It was such a struggle every day to simply find out what we were supposed to do.

6. I would have been forced to commit tax evasion

I’m an EU citizen and there is literally no reason not to declare my full salary to the tax authorities. It’s not like I’m working illegally – which reminds me, there were actually some Americans working on tourist visas (But then again, this is ESL, so what do you expect). So I don’t understand why it was suggested to me to get one half of my salary paid in cash in order to ‘save money on tax’. Obviously that’s illegal. This really bothered me. Especially because after coming to Europe from working in Asia, I was really looking forward to not having to deal with this sort of stuff (read: visa issues, paperwork issues, always worrying about whether or not I am allowed to work on this visa).

Plus, in a country with a 20% unemployment rate, the social security payments of those who do work are desperately needed. But hey, at least my boss gets to do daily online shopping at Zara (which of course gets delivered to the school, which by the way, does not have a receptionist so that teachers need to sign for her deliveries) and gets to buy a brand new car. Great! Oh by the way, our boss also suggested us to collect unemployment benefits during the summer holidays (from June until September), because SURPRISE you don’t get paid holidays. (Is that normal in Spain? Maybe. It just seems strange to me  because I’m used to 12-month contracts which you could renew without having to live off the state for a couple of months in between.)

7. I only stayed so long because of my rental agreement.

The only reason our landlords let us terminate the rental agreement 5 months early was because they knew our boss and felt sorry for us. We still lost our deposit though, but at least we didn’t have to pay for electricity or any additional rent. And living in a nice apartment with awesome views of the local market made teaching in Spain a bit more bearable.

8. Nobody cared about our skills

I am seriously convinced that they didn’t even look at my CV. Both Will (my husband) and I have multiple years experience teaching English, a CELTA (I even got a Pass A), as well as various CPD certificates. My husband is currently doing his M.Ed, I’m majoring in Childhood Studies and have done an apprenticeship in an actual REAL nursery school in Switzerland. We came with fantastic references and were eager to do a good job.

The whole time we were there, I felt like nobody wanted us to actually do our best. They just wanted a bunch of foreigners who would work for very little money and who wouldn’t complain about anything. The school seemed to get customers because the classes were quite cheap, so they didn’t feel the need to actually provide good quality education. When other teachers struggled with teaching adults, I offered to help them out and organise a training session (unpaid!). Everyone seemed to struggle with grammar, I offered to help. But guess what? The management didn’t think this was necessary. It wouldn’t have cost them any money at all and all the other teachers would have been happy to have some guidance (Almost everyone else had never taught before!).

I also offered to download all the songs and videos off Youtube and nicely organise them into folders for each lesson. My boss told me not to because ‘just open many tabs’. I made so many additional resources, but had no place to store them so they ended up being thrown away (by our boss) after I used them. I just really felt like neither my husband nor I were appreciated at all here. Worst of all, I felt that the management did not care about their students whatsoever.

Why did I quit my ESL job in Spain?

In the end, what pushed me over the edge was a dumb comment made by my dumb boss. After her husband (the co-owner of the school!) told me that I would absolutely be able to drop the teenage classes that another teacher didn’t want and that were given to me, my boss threw a tantrum and had a speech about how every teacher should absolutely be able (and willing) to teach any age group, no matter what they were hired for. I was told that if I didn’t like it here, I could leave. So I did. I left 10 minutes before my class and quietly walked out of the building.

There was quite some drama involved in getting our money and we had to listen to multiple insults from both owners. They also made up strange stories that never happened, like Will shouting F-You at the owner in front of all the students (Yeah that never happened.). What bothers me so much about this experience is that I would have been fine with 90% of the issues we had if our boss(es) hadn’t been so RUDE and DISRESPECTFUL.

In the end, there is a lot more we could have done apart from walking away. We could have gotten lawyers and authorities involved, as a lot of the things that were going on in the school were illegal and potentially harmful for the children. But to be honest, I’m just glad it’s over. And for now, I’m pretty much done with teaching ESL. At least for a while.

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ESL Job from Hell: Why I hated teaching English in Spain


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1 Comment

  1. Simon says: Reply

    Yup working in Spanish academies sucks. Never had one good boss here, which is a shame because I love this country. Avoid Spain, teach in Asia where your appreciated and respected.

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