Schools in Spain: What to Expect When Teaching Abroad

If you’ve decided to teach English abroad in Spain, you might be wondering what the schools in Spain are like. If you’ve never taught in a school before, you might not have a clue what to expect. If you have taught in a school before, you may be expecting something completely different. Or maybe it’s exactly what you are expecting. You’ll never know until you try, but maybe I can help ease some uncertainties and anxiety by talking about what it’s like to teach in the schools in Spain.

Grade Levels

IES Zaframagon, Instituto in Olvera, Spain

I taught at Instituto Zaframagón in Olvera, Spain. An instituto is a high school. I mostly taught 1° eso (the first year in high school, ages 11-12), but I did have one class a week with 2° eso (the second year, ages 12-13). When I tried to go to higher ages, they behaved so badly the teacher wouldn’t let me in, so I stuck with the younger ones. I loved it because they still have respect at that age, and they are still very impressionable so English comes easy to them and they’re not as afraid to try speaking it. I had some great conversations about Spanish boy bands, soccer (fútbol), boyfriends and girlfriends, the difference in cultures and giving life advice.

CEIP Virgen del Carmen, Colegio in Setenil, Spain

James taught at colegio CEIP Virgen del Carmen. A colegio is an elementary school. He taught gym, science, and English to ages 5-11. The kids at that age don’t have much of an English background at all yet so it’s mostly an introduction to the language (that means you won’t have too many meaningful conversations). While it might not be the most fun to make relationships that last past your year as an English assistant, it’s a crucial job to get those little sponges started absorbing a foreign language early!

Daily Schedule

The schools in Spain start between 8:15 (at the institutos) and 9:00 (at the colegios) and run until about 2:00 (at the colegios) or 2:45 (at the institutos). While block scheduling is becoming popular in schools around the U.S., my classes at the schools in Spain were about 55 minutes with two breaks during the day.

Students in the Schools in Spain

There are two classes in the morning, then the first break is 15 minutes, at 10:00 – 10:15. Most of the students had a snack or a sandwich they would eat during this time, and the teachers would meet in the school café for café con leche and toast.

Colegio schedule

Then, there are two more classes and a second 15 minute break, at 12:15 – 12:30, then a final two classes. This break was another quick snack to get everyone through until lunch at 3:00. It was a smaller snack and most teachers used this break as a prep or brain break.

Primero grado en el instituto

As language assistants, we are contracted to work 12 hours per week. Yes, you read that right: 12 HOURS PER WEEK. Sounds a little better than a typical teacher’s schedule, right? It’s everything it’s cracked up to be. These 12 hours are equal to about 12 classes. I had 4 classes on Monday, 3 classes on Tuesday, 2 classes on Wednesday with 2 prep periods after the second break, and 1 class on Thursday. Can I get a woo-hoo for 3 day weekends?!


With a total of six classes each day at the schools in Spain, the days rotate. This way, the students can get in classes like religion, art, music, gym, English, and French. Bilingual schools teach different classes bilingually; in my school, I assisted in music, science, gym, and English class. Some schools do more or less, or just different classes bilingually.

A classroom in the high school

So what do we actually teach? The full-time teachers never leave you alone in the room, so you never actually have to control the classroom. Some teachers have lessons already prepared that they want us language assistants to go over in English; other teachers give us the freedom to create our own whole class lesson. The subjects and amount of freedom to teach is variable and completely different school to school.

Schools in Spain

How do the schools in Spain sound different from classrooms that know? What are you expecting in your new foreign classroom? Does the excitement outweigh the anxiety? Tell me what you think in the comments below!

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If you've decided to teach in schools in Spain, you might not know what to expect. You'll never know until you try. But this post may help you prepare.

P.S. You might also enjoy Discovering the White Villages of Andalucia or Grand Finale of Teaching English Abroad