Welcome to Spain! The following is a brief guide that has been written to try to help you teach successfully in this particular cultural environment.
An important thing to remember is that all of the 17 regions of Spain have their own unique identity. Many people in Spain identify more with their region than their actual country. In terms of living here:
- Learn some Spanish.
- Get to know your Spanish colleagues.
- Discover as much as you can about your region’s culture (traditions, food, dance, music, literature, sport etc).
- Read up on Spanish and regional history.
- Become a knowledgeable and enthusiastic supporter of your region’s top football team!
- There are four official languages in Spain – Castellano (Spanish), Català (Catalan) Euskera (Basque), and Gallego (Galician). Valenciano, Mallorquin, Menorquin and Eivissenc are regional dialects of Catalan. If you are working in a region of Spain where Spanish is not the first language, remember to refer to that language as Castellano rather than Español. For many, the word Español implies that Spain just has one language. It is also a reminder that other languages were banned for 36 years during the Franco dictatorship (1939 – 1975). Many people aged 50+ remember being beaten by police officers for speaking a language other than Castellano in the street.
- Never forget that the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is still a painful and difficult topic for many people in Spain.
- Avoid spending all your time with the native English speakers as you will never really learn about the culture this way. Regrettably, many British teachers find it difficult to break away from the expatriate enclaves.
Do not view the British educational system and approach as being far better than the Spanish one. They are just different. The following table shows where the UK and Spain are placed in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s world education rankings 2016. Clearly both have work to do to catch up with Singapore!
Compared to British pupils, most British teachers find pupils here (particularly those of primary age):
- Much noisier.
- More inclined to interrupt, shout out, and talk out of turn.
- More willing to admit that they do not understand something.
- More participative.
- More affectionate and tactile.
It is important to remember these characteristics and try to adapt your teaching to harness them in a positive manner. Trying to suppress these traits or expecting the pupils to behave in a more ‘British’ manner, can result in problems for both the teacher and the pupils.
- Parents will send their children to an international school not because of the non-Spanish curriculum but because of the fact that their sons and daughters will be taught in English by native speakers.
- Many parents with children of primary school age will be more concerned about their son/daughter’s social development rather than academic progress. Common questions at parents’ evenings include: ‘Is he/she popular?’, “Does he/she have friends?’, ‘Is he/she happy?’, and ‘Is he/she eating properly?’.
- It is worth noting that parents are also inclined to favour a relaxed, fun and sociable teacher whose pupils’ results are ok, over a serious, strict teacher whose pupils’ results are excellent. This can be in direct conflict with the views of the school’s Senior Management Team!
The Spanish classroom environment
It is acknowledged that some of this advice is applicable in all classroom environments.
- Stay very calm.
- Be very patient.
- Be consistent.
- Be expressive and use your face and body to convey your feelings.
- Use humour.
- To achieve silence, wait or speak quietly.
- Establish the rules, positive recognition and consequences for breaking rules from day one.
- Establish your expectations of your pupils from day one.
- With very young children, reward strategies will need to be changed frequently as they can stop working.
- Ensure that a lesson plan involves a wide range of different activities that normally last for no more than 15 minutes as Spanish pupils often find it difficult to concentrate for more than this length of time.
- Utilise activities that involve the pupils communicating with each other such as pair work, group work, and class discussions. This is harnessing rather than suppressing the Spanish pupils’ predisposition to talk out of turn.
- Be aware that the children’s knowledge of English will be at a lower level that in the UK as they are dealing with two, three, four or sometimes even five languages. (An actual example: a boy with a Czech mother, a Dutch father, living in Catalonia in Spain, attending an English-speaking school.) The use of visual aids such as computer animations and video clips are important as these transcend language.
- Reflect on how things are working in terms of classroom management. There will be a period of adaptation and both you and the class will have to get used to each other. It is very important to remember that you and the pupils are from different cultures. This is crucial. Trying to impose your British culture on 24 Spanish children can lead to a culture clash and subsequent conflict. Both teacher and pupils will need to find a compromise. This can take weeks or even months rather than days.
- Speak to your British colleagues or the Senior Management Team if you are experiencing difficulties. They will be happy to help.
- Share your experiences with your Spanish colleagues and try to learn from them.
- Lose your temper and become angry. The children will be more bemused than sorry.
- Shout. You will very quickly lose your voice as the children can shout louder than you can.
- Expect more than 10 minutes of working in silence. Spanish pupils find doing so very difficult.
- Be surprised if you discover the children find it very difficult not to shout out, talk out of turn etc. They are accustomed to doing so in a family/social/community environment and therefore doing something different in class is very difficult for them. It is not usually intended as rude or disrespectful behaviour but more as a sign of passionate enthusiasm.
- Expect immediate compliance with something you have asked them to do.
A sculptor can command excellent technique and employ the very best tools. However, if the sculptor fails to understand the type of rock that is being used, problems can occur. Marble, limestone and granite have distinct characteristics and therefore tools and techniques must be adapted accordingly. Similarly, a teacher can possess excellent technique and have mastered the use of a range of different teaching equipment. However, if a teacher fails to consider the cultural characteristics of the pupils being taught, the tools and techniques can cease to be effective.
This guide has been written with the help of comments from both British and Spanish teachers all of whom have a great deal of teaching experience in Spain. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed.