Three tips on starting out as an ESL teacher in Barcelona

Spain’s collective anxiety about the level of English in the country has reached fever pitch in the last few years. ESL teachers can thank Ana Botella, former Mayor of Madrid, and the Spanish media for having made this so. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s plight, but the insane, unstable market that is the ESL business has been born of a problem in the collective Spanish psyche; namely that the many thousands of Spaniards that have been forced to look abroad for job opportunities are at a disadvantage on the world stage.

This glaring deficiency that seems to have sprung up a language academy on every street corner of Barcelona is good news for one type of person, you, the ESL teacher. It’s about time teachers got a break anyway. Well done for being one of the few people mad enough to come to Spain looking for work, and read on for three tips on how to land that first job, and how you can set yourself apart from the competition in an increasingly unstable and saturated job market.

ESL Teachers
Hands on a globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Facebook Groups

The first great piece of advice I received in this city came from a drunk Irishman in a hostel. Not surprising, as most newcomers, like myself at the time, flock to the central zones (Las Ramblas, El Born, El Raval, Grácia) which are absolutely packed with expats and tourists. Such was the case with me, and despite my new acquaintance’s ramblings and feigned conviction (he wasn’t even a teacher), I received one absolute gem of advice. “A friend of mine is a teacher, and he said he is on this Facebook group, Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association”. He scribbled it down on a piece of paper for me, and lo and behold, my time as a teacher in Barcelona had truly begun!

You probably don’t need telling, but I can’t emphasise enough what a valuable resource these things can be to a newcomer in any city. But lets stick specifically to teaching; The only one I’ve ever used and needed since I have been in Barcelona is the Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association. I have no affiliation, apart from being a member, so this is no plug, or if you want to see it that way fine, they deserve it. The admin run the group with a view to creating a respectful learning environment for teachers, newcomers and veterans alike. It’s here that I found my longest serving teaching job in Barcelona. Curious piece of advice: the teacher that posted the ad for my then future boss told me that mine was the only response to the ad not to include any spelling or grammar mistakes. Remember that even though it’s on Facebook, you’re trying to set a good impression to prospective employers, so text speak is not advised!

Hand your C.V. to schools in person

I’ve already mentioned the perceived problem with English in Spain and the resulting surge in language academies. Add to this the fact that many teachers come to Barcelona in order to get a quick taste of the local lifestyle before returning home and we have an unstable and ever-changing job market. What does this mean for you though? It means that there’s a wealth of opportunity. There are constantly teachers that don’t work out for schools as well as schools that lose teachers because a better opportunity has arisen. It is an unstable market, but you can massively use this to your advantage if you are trying to get your foot in the door. Any semblance of stability is greatly appreciated in this profession; academy directors are always looking for new teachers, and if you can give them an indication that you mean to stay for a longer period of time you will be more likely to land the position as you will make their jobs easier going forward.

Looking for work as an ESL teacher? Raise a collective glass, or relaxing cup of café con leche, to Ana Botella.

When you start working as a teacher you’ll quickly realise that directors are inundated with work. What this has taught me in hindsight about job searching as an ESL teacher is that on many occasions, the early bird catches the worm. A lot of academies simply don’t have the resources or the time to interview a huge number of applicants, specially if an opening has become available during term time. If you present yourself in person, chances are that you will make yourself known before the school have even had a chance to list any new openings online, so impress in the interview and it is very likely that you will hear back on the same day.

Searching online on job-searching websites such as loquo and infojobs, as well as on the aforementioned Facebook groups, is a great way to send off a large amount of applications in a short space of time. However, presenting yourself in person at a school and handing them your C.V. makes it less likely that your application will be ignored and also means that there is a chance that you will be considered for a position that has not yet been advertised in an environment in which director’s are typically desperate to replace any outgoing teachers as soon as possible.


What qualifications do you need?

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have already obtained a TEFL or a CELTA certificate. These two are the most sought after by prospective employers. My honest opinion after having taken a CELTA course is that these courses are pretty hard to fail. That’s not to say that they have no value; they’re a great way of obtaining teaching experience within a low pressure environment, as all your students know that you are a teacher in training, and most valuably, they will greatly decrease the chances of any potential employers simply discarding your C.V.

So why do I mention this then?

I think that potential employers are fully aware that taking what is traditionally a one month intensive course doesn’t necessarily make a good teacher. The flip-side is that I personally know a handful of teachers who don’t have one of these traditionally required qualifications and they have been successful through other means. Networking, for example, can be very useful. Hard work and resourcefulness along with a recommendation from a friend or an acquaintance can go a long way to getting you that job even if you don’t have the qualification. So even if you don’t have the time or the money to pay for a qualification, get any teaching experience you can and improve your knowledge of the English language. If you then work hard to get your foot in the door at a good academy you will still have a great chance of landing that job. The caveat is that not having a qualification will make it infinitely more difficult to get your foot in for an interview through the traditional means as directors typically scan through a large number of C.V.’s before selecting a handful of applicants to interview.

Poblenou 2
View of Poblenou from La Sagrada Familia @chrisyounglopez


So to sum things up, a few small steps can go a long way to ensuring that your application gets out there and is not just another C.V. in that ever increasing stack of papers. Barcelona is a great place to look for work as an ESL teacher. Despite Spain’s lagging economy, and maybe partly because of it, Barcelona is a top destination for people teaching English as a foreign language; there are a huge amount of opportunities out there waiting for you to approach them.

Coming soon: Tips on starting out as a Freelance Writer


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