‘ELT hiring policies in Spain: learning Spanish ways the hard way’ by Agnieszka Kruszyńska

Málaga, Spain

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/aWYWRK

I arrived in Málaga, Spain on the 3rd October 2011. Not a perfect time for job hunting, therefore I was over the moon when, just two days later, I got hired in one of  local language schools.

As a matter of fact, we had a teacher scheduled for this academic year, but she just disappeared. Was supposed to start classes three days ago and never showed up. Her phone is off, so there´s just no way of contacting her. She was Turkish, came here after her Spanish boyfriend, so maybe they broke up and she went back to her country. Oh, and you´re going to be Agnes around here. I don´t think the students should ask you where you´re from, but if they do, don´t say you´re Polish.

Why was there no alarm going off in my head? I should have known from the beginning the school was a funny business. Soon I realized my employer was a real con artist, who made me work overtime promising extra pay, which, of course, I never laid my eyes (or hands) on. At least it was pretty clear why the previous teacher suddenly vanished into thin air. Looking at the labour market situation in Spain at that time (not that it got any better) and the fact we were in the middle of the school year, my chances of changing the employer were really slim, so I decided to endure it and start another job hunt in May.

That’s when a real nightmare began.

Since I was going door to door offering my CV around, it wasn’t until much later that I learned almost all languages schools had the following information on their webpages – profesores nativos con titulación – and by titulación they usually meant TEFL or CELTA, which they would often specify in the ‘work with us’ section. Apart from that, a lot of those websites were available in Spanish only, so to apply, you would actually need to know Spanish or have someone translate the offer to you. I keep wondering why they didn’t even bother to put the info in English, since they were looking for native speakers.

The heat was growing stronger, my contract was close to expire, and the things I was being told at the schools were getting more and more bizarre. School by school, everyone was turning me down because of their natives-only policy. Yet, there were also other cases.

To tell you the truth, we normally accept only native speakers, considering our clients’ demands, and even if got the job, you musn’t tell anyone where you’re from. They won’t notice.

– said the school head who didn’t even speak English herself (I’m sorry, what?).

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

Same thing happened in a few more places.

Coast in high season, tourists in high spirits, temperatures were also high, obviously. The only thing that wasn’t high, was the demand for non-native speakers. I was trying my best to make the ends meet, but still, if it wasn’t for the unemployment benefit, I wouldn’t have made it through the summer. I did find some part-time jobs, eventually. Not in language schools per se, but in two centers offering tutoring mainly in school subjects, one of them being English, that children had failed and needed to pass in September. What is essential to mention, is that in one of them I was explicitly told to teach English in Spanish. Yes, exactly.

You can’t speak English to them, because they won’t understand you. What they need is the knowledge of grammar sufficient to make it to the next grade. That’s why it must be explained in Spanish.

I got mixed abilities classes of 7-11 and 12-17 year olds, some of the latter preparing for the baccalaureate. The only thing I could, and was required to do, was to give them tests and grammar exercises adjusted to their level, while explaining topics on the board. First, for two front rows, while the others were working on some revision, then for the two following ones, and so on. Never have I felt worse as a teacher. It all seemed pointless and somewhat humiliating. No wonder they couldn’t get a native speaker to do it.

That summer I began asking myself a lot of questions about my life choices. What was the use of studying to become an English teacher if you weren’t a native? OK, so you could work in your own country, but that’s not what I had been told during my university years. English is spoken and learned worldwide, which means an English teacher can work anywhere. Wrong. Have they lied to me? Should I have chosen a different career path?

I was on the edge of giving up. I searched the web for start-up assistance and grants possibilities for establishing my own school, started taking up some professional courses to retrain, and was even considering going back to Poland. Finally, my degree in education came to the rescue, as at the very end of July, I was offered a lower primary form tutor position in a private international school. No one questioned my qualifications just because I wasn’t a native speaker. Even though I had no experience apart from practicum period during my studies, the mere fact I had a master in primary education with early English teaching, was enough to hire me.

As we all know, every cloud has a silver lining and the fact I was somehow forced to take up primary school teaching, opened a whole new world for me, with lots of exciting possibilities. I discovered CLIL, bilingual teaching and the pride of being a form tutor. All this inevitably inspired me to share my new experience and all the overwhelming things I had learnt about YL classroom management. Soon came the IATEFL, conferences, workshops, my own presentations and publications, meeting other teachers from all over the world, and a huge appetite for further development. Nowadays, I still collaborate with some language schools in Poland from time to time and meet more and more NNST working outside of their countries.

Yet, a recent look at Spanish labour market has only proven that the situation hasn’t changed much since my last job interview there. Hopefully, the non-discriminatory employment policy will finally reach also this part of Europe, and no one will have to use a false name or lie to their students.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

agnieszka kruszynskaAgnieszka Kruszyńska graduated from Primary Education with Early English Teaching (Pedagogy) and Iberian Studies at Warsaw University. After six years of working in language schools with various age groups and levels, she became a lower primary form tutor at Colegio Internacional Torrequebrada in Benalmádena, south of Spain, and has since worked in international or bilingual schools. Currently based in Warsaw, a proud primary years (1-3) teacher, with a bunch of wonderful kids from various countries under her wings.

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6 thoughts on “‘ELT hiring policies in Spain: learning Spanish ways the hard way’ by Agnieszka Kruszyńska

  1. sniffyboy says:

    This was an informative and useful article. As a teacher trainer with trainees from around the world, I am often asked about Spain. I feel I now have some important information. Thanks.

  2. lessonplansdigger says:

    Hi Agnieszka,

    Being a NNEST from Poland working in Spain I immediately wanted to read your story, and I was immediately saddened by the harshness of your experience. I completed my TEFL course here in August 2012 and I might have been really lucky getting a full-time position with a language school a month after that. I have already had a BA in Teaching English, obtained in Poland, and 3 years of experience teaching both at home and abroad (a brief internship in the Dominican Republic). I spoke basic Spanish and, honestly, didn’t even realize my non-native status might prohibit me from finding a job.

    I was sending CVs regardless of whether the ads were addressed to natives only, maybe less than 20% of schools replied (some of them asking me whether I could teach German!) but I managed to get an interview with a school whose Head Teacher had experience working in Poland and valued Polish teachers – like I’ve mentioned before: LUCK!

    Over the course of these three years I have managed to secure a number of part-time teaching positions (including in-company teaching) and never has my nationality been questioned by the students! Nobody has ever requested a different, native teacher, or placed a complaint with my boss, which might just show that students are way more open minded than employers. Once I received a piece of advice from a recruiter on maybe changing my name while applying for jobs (“Gosia” doesn’t have a very native ring to it, does it) or lying about growing up in a bilingual family.

    Do I agree that job ads in Barcelona are mostly addressed to native speakers? Yes.

    Do I think it’s fair? Of course not!

    However, living and networking here has made me discover there is a whole NNEST community consisting of, just to mention a few, Czech, Slovak, South American, Dutch, Russian, Romanian, Croatian, and last but not least, native Spanish teachers who WORK.

    I have recently started researching employment options in Berlin (moving there for personal reasons) and I’ve realized I’ve been pampered by my Barcelona experience. Still, I’m trying not to lose hope that, as your own story shows, qualifications, experience and attitude are at least as valuable assets as one’s native language.

    • Agnieszka Kruszyńska says:

      Hi Gosia,
      I can imagine the situation in cities like Barcelona or Madrid is much different than in the southern provinces. I may only be guessing that since many public schools in Andalucia were turned into bilingual centres, and it’s difficult for a foreigner to find employment opportunities in the public sector, English at school is still at a very poor level and parents are covinced that onlu natives can teach their children proper language skills. It is mostly them that are creating the need for English classes nowadays.

  3. teflalice says:

    This is like deja vu for me. I went to Spain (Murcia) in 2013 looking for work after just completing my TEFL qualification. I went door to door and got an interview on my 2nd day in the country – the interview was barely even an interview, they didn’t ask me for references, didn’t make any effort to check my teaching background or qualification and basically said a teacher had bailed on them and they needed someone immediately.
    Although the director of studies spoke English, the receptionist/co-owner (the boss’ sister) and the boss barely spoke a word. That didn’t stop them from observing and judging your class negatively, however. Even despite a lack of teaching knowledge. In fact, last I heard, the director of studies left to open his own school and now the receptionist, who doesn’t speak English and has absolutely no educational background or qualifications, is the new director of studies.

    They didn’t have a ‘natives only’ policy, to be fair to them, but Spanish-speaking natives were only allowed to teach levels A1-A2 as they claimed those students needed a teacher to speak in Spanish to them at that level. I don’t agree with that but if it’s giving some of those poor teachers work in an otherwise difficult market, I can’t complain. The ridiculous amount of ‘natives only’ in job adverts needs to be stopped.

  4. Marvie says:

    Hi,
    I totally agree with “native speakers only” as well as age limits, such as “prefer not more than 35 years old.”

    Fortunately, I’m a native speaker, having grown up in Indiana, USA since I was 9 years old. My first language, even before emigrating, was English. The only problem was the accent of my former country, which was rectified.

    I came back to my mother country and have stayed here ever since.

    Fortunately, the ESL South Korean language centers love me. So, I found it great to work with them and to also have offline lessons with them. I was pirated by a parent who introduced me to all her friends and their children studying in The International School of Manila.

    Now, I work for a really wonderful ESL company catering to Spanish language schools from Spain in my native country.

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