The Process of Becoming a Teacher in Spain

The Spanish public school system threw me for a loop when I first arrived to teach English 2.5 years ago. Classroom management and setup were one big difference when compared to United States public primary schools, but what fascinated me more was the way teachers were hired.

In the US, a person gets a degree in teaching, completes necessary post grad work and examinations and certifications, and then can apply for positions at the schools they desire. Many people apply in areas where they’d like to live or in reputable neighborhoods and are then interviewed by the school principal and maybe some other select administration or faculty. Much like any other job, a teaching position is competitive and the schools carefully select the most qualified applicants.

Becoming a teacher in Spain isn’t like that… let me break it down.

*Note: this article specifically describes the process in Andalucía, though there may be slight variations in different autonomous communities. Also note, that I have not gone through this process as I am only a language assistant, not a teacher!*

Education Requirements

To become a primary school teacher you must study at university for 4 years (previously 3) to get a magisterio, a teaching degree). You must choose either pre-school or primary for your specialization. Unlike some states in the US, a masters degree is never necessary- with your  four-year degree you are qualified.

If someone wishes to become a high school teacher, she must get a 4-year degree in the subject she’d like to teach, and then do a 1-year masters degree where she’ll take the teaching courses and learn to become a teacher.

After getting the degree, candidates have to take an exam called the oposiciones, that is, if they want to work in a public school. If they want to work in a private school it’s not required, and the hiring process is much like the US where you find a school thats hiring, and have an interview.

The Oposiciones

The oposiciones exam, offered every summer (alternating summers for primary and secondary school), is dreaded by all aspiring teachers as it is notoriously difficult. It’s got four different parts, two oral and two written. In order to pass the oral exam, each candidates have to past the written exam first.

For the first written part you have to write an essay on a theoretic topic within the specialty you want to teach. there are 25 official topics for primary school candidates and 60 for high school candidates.  Two will be randomly selected for the exam and you have to write about one.

For the second part there is a situational resolution essay where they give the test-takers a situation that could arise in the classroom and they have to write about how to resolve it.

If a candidate passes the written parts of the exam, about a week later they’ll take the oral exam. If candidate doesn’t pass both written parts, he or she fails and the process is over for that year.

For the first part of the oral exam the candidates must do a 30-minute defense of a plan he’s made for an entire academic year for his subject area, including teaching plans and a curriculum outline.

In the second part,the candidates have 30 minutes to defend a specific plan for one of the units they’ll teach during the year.

School Placements

Next comes the confusing part. The candidates are awarded points out of 10, up to the hundredths decimal place, based on their performance and they’ll find out the results a few days after the exam. The examiners rank each candidate on a scale based on the degrees and extra certifications they may have, and they average that with the candidate’s score on the exam, which can help increase each person’s rank.

Each year it varies, but each year there will be a certain amount of available teaching positions. In Andalucía for example, let’s say there are 200 available positions that year, though maybe 5,000 have sat for the exam. Anyway, the top 200 candidates win! They’ve obtained a permanent position and will be guaranteed a job each year and will never have to take the oposiciones again. Before taking the exam, each candidate has created a list of the top 100 schools they’d like to be placed in. They’d probably put schools close to their home town or a city they’d like to live in near the top, and the schools they want the least at the bottom. These 200 new teachers will get placed based on their lists and availability of positions.

And the other hopefuls? They’re put on a ranked list based on their scores, with the most points at the top of the list. This list is the pool of interim or substitute teachers that will be used throughout the year. If there are maternity leaves to be filled, mid-year retirements (yes, that’s a thing), illnesses, surgeries etc, the interim professors will be pulled from the list starting at the top and will be sent to wherever the vacancy is, regardless of it’s location. Turning down a position will put you at the BOTTOM of the list… and it’s a pretty long list. You don’t wanna go down there. Interims can also gain points for experience and move up the list. For example after having worked a few months filling in for an ill teacher, that interim teacher would move up on the list and have a better chance of getting called for the better (long term) interim positions.

There are also some other loopholes that could score an interim teacher a year-long placement (like my dear friend Ramón who helped me with the facts for this article). If the government decides not to open up certain positions to permanent teachers (because they’re unsure about the future of the position) they might send an interim teacher to fill the spot for the year because they value the flexibility that comes along with having it be an interim positions. If the number of students at the school decreases or something like that, they don’t want to risk having it be a permanent position until they’re sure. Or sometimes, new positions are created after the permanent teachers have already been assigned positions and they’ll send an interim teacher.

 The Conclusion

Becoming a teacher in Spain is hard as eff! It’s obviously extremely complicated and in my experience does not have the same stigma attached to it as it does in other places like the US or the UK. It’s not a process that’s taken lightly… the expression “those who can’t do, teach,” doesn’t really work here. Though I must say that in both the US and Spain, the amount of work that it takes to be a teacher is definitely underestimated and it’s a shame!

p.s. Check out this cute video of my kids singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” in Spanish for Peace Day!

Don’t those cute little voices make it worth it in the end?

Do you know anyone who’s become a teacher in Spain? Would they say this is a fair representation of the process? Do you think its better or worse to have a system like this? Let me know in the comments!

 

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20 thoughts on “The Process of Becoming a Teacher in Spain

  1. When I first learned about all of this in Spain, my jaw dropped! It sounds super complicated and perhaps not worth the struggle, particularly if you’re set on one city and have kids. With magisterio and work papers, you can work at a concertado. A few more hours and less pay, but overall better than working at a private school!

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  2. “Unlike in the US, no masters degree is necessary- with your four-year degree you are qualified.”

    I’m pretty sure a master’s degree isn’t required in the United States to be a teacher (either primary or secondary). Or am I wrong?

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    • Hey, you’re right. I should have been more specific- I’ve just edited the sentence so that it more accurately reflects that only some states require a Master’s. Thanks for keeping me honest!

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  3. I don’t know if I would necessarily agree with the conclusion. In my experience, a lot of people who aren’t in the teaching field don’t really know the effort that it takes to become a teacher and comments about being overpaid AND having summer off are shot off here and there. My first year in Madrid I was wearing the “Escuela Publica- De tod@s para tod@s shirt” and a teacher asked me if I got harassed while wearing it on the street, because when she did people said some harsh things.

    The process really is mind boggling, and I always feel bad for my interino friends who are buried in books all afternoon during the school year. .. not a perfect system, pero es lo que hay.

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  4. I think one mind-boggling aspect, which you mentioned, is how the exam is difficult but if you take it fresh out of your masters without any experience, it’s hopeless. Even if you get a nine, or a ten, vamos, there are people with interino points, or C1s, or whatever else, that will get those very, very few coveted spots. And seriously, there are like no spots. Here are the numbers for 2014 for Andalucía:
    Matemáticas – 50 plazas
    Lengua y Literatura – 50 plazas
    Geografía e Historia – 50 plazas
    Inglés – 50 plazas
    Música – 20 plazas
    TOTAL – 220 plazas

    22o spots. In. All. Of. Andalucía. So you spend a year of your life preparing for the exam, hoping for, at best, an interino job that will you send you to who knows where for who knows how long. Rough.
    And the spots that are available are only in five subjects. So all the physical education, or French, or science, or … teachers that wanted to sit for the exam this year are out of luck, left to look for work in private schools, or be unemployed, or leave Spain.

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    • Yes exactly! My friend who gave me most of the information for this post told me that there are people who are just interinos for like 20 years! It’s kind of crazy. And yes, 220 spots in all of Andalucia is definitely mind-boggling! I could go into so much detail about why the psychology behind all of this is so effed up (about teaching and unemployment in general in Spain) but that would be enough for like… a book.

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  5. How did you become just an English teacher? Does an American Masters transfer over? Do you have to take all the subject areas? Was the English test in Spanish? So many more questions!

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    • Hi Julia,

      I don’t work as a full-time English teacher in the public school system here (which is what this post is about). I actually worked for the past 4 years as an English language and culture assistant in the public school system and got paid an untaxed monthly stipend as I was here on a student visa. The program is called the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program and about 4,000 people form from North America, the UK and Australia/New Zealand, and the application process is pretty straightforward (see my FAQ post). As an auxiliar you can be assigned to assist in any bilingual subject which are pretty much all of them, except math.

      If you want to become a teacher here you could try finding a position in a private school, because to find a job in a public school would require you to go through the process I described here. You can get American degrees homologized here but I’ve never done it and I hear it’s tricky.

      I now only teach in a private language school where students take English classes in the afternoon and I’m able to work here legally because I’m in a civil union with my Spanish boyfriend.

      Hope that answered some of your questions!

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  6. Hi Chelsea!
    Thank you for your blog! It’s very informative!

    Do you know which university (/universities) in Andalucia offers teacher training for high school English teachers? Any idea of what the teacher students think about the quality of their education? Do you know what the master’s degree in pedagogical studies for high school language teachers is called in Spanish? I’m an English teacher working in a high school in Finland and very curious about the teacher training system in Spain.
    Thank you so much for your help!
    Br, Susanna

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    • Hi Susanna! I would imagine that almost any university in Spain offers Magisterio, which is what a teaching degree is called. It’s quite a popular career choice here and, at least in Andalucía, there are more teachers than there are positions due to budget cuts. It’s extremely competitive. I’m not sure what the Magisterio students think about their education, that’s a really interesting topic that I’ll bring up for discussion with my adult students in our next conversation class, as many of them are teachers in public schools. I’m not sure why I never really thought to ask them about it before! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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  7. Thank you so much Chelsea! I’ve taken some courses here on how to teach teachers and worked as a mentor for several teachers during my nine years of teaching. I would love to first, of course, familiarise myself with the system in Spain, and then perhaps share my knowledge on how we teach here in Finland. Taken that some teacher students are interested that is. 😀 Doing research in the pedagogical field fascinates me, too. There may already be some “ambassadors” from Finnish universities there. I need to figure out more on all this. Let me know after you dicussed it with your students! Ask them if they know anything about the Finnish system, yet. They might! 😉
    Br, Susanna

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  8. Thank you for this, it was so useful, as every time I ask people out here (Valencia) about how to become a teacher, the answers are slightly different.
    I am doing a research project as part of the final year of my degree on how the UK and Spanish processes for entry to the teaching profession differ and how they impact the quality of the education; the UK’s system is similar to the US in the sense that schools have autonomy over who they hire. I know this is a very long shot, but would you mind answering a couple of questions about your opinions of the two systems?
    If you would be willing to answer some questions, could you respond here, or to the email address I have given (if you can see it)?
    Regardless of this, thank you anyway for such a well-organised and clear post about what is a very complicated process!
    Best wishes,
    Lizzie

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  9. Thanks so much for your blog! I’m an auxiliar here in Spain for 8 months as part of my Spanish degree in England but I have to write essays about my time here along the way. Your blog has really helped me understand this mind boggling process!

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  10. Hola Chelsea,

    I am planning on moving to Madrid, Spain in 2017 and would like to ask a few questions. I would like to know what the chances and protocol would be to becoming a teacher in Spain at a private or public school. I thought about obtaining my student visa and then working the 20 hours that is allowed by the education ministry. However, I noticed that you said that you are working legally because you are in a civil union with your boyfriend. How does the government come to recognize that I am in a civil union with my Spanish boyfriend and how many hours may I work in a legally within a civil union? How much does one make a month within the program that format that you took?

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    • Hi Michelle, to have the government recognize your civil union, you have to register as a Pareja de hecho. There are lots of resources on the internet that can help you learn about this process. I think COMO Consulting probably has an article about it. Once you’re registered, you apply for a tarjeta comunitaria, and with that residence card you have full permission to work (no restricions). The auxiliar program I worked with pays 700€ per month in most places, 1000€ per month in Madrid. As for your question about becoming a teacher in a public school, this article outlines the process. Private schools can technically hire anyone (I think), but I’m not very familiar with that process. Hope that helps!

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  11. Hi Chelsea,
    Thanks for your blog. It’s been a very interesting read. I wonder if you know about how to actually apply and prepare for oppositiones exams. Someone once told me that because I did my degree and PGCE in the uk, I’d need to send off for paperwork for each module within each of the subjects I took all the way through university, and then get everything translated and send it to Madrid to be validated. This would cost thousands of euros. All this apparently, to see if I would be eligible to be a primary school English teacher, therefore eligible to begin preparing for oppositiones. I currently work in private British school, but would love to join the public sector.
    Any insights would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks Sharon

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    • Hi Sharon! The process you’ve described is called homologación and I think you’re right about it being lengthy and expensive. That’s what I’ve heard about it too from people who’ve wanted to do master’s degrees in Spain. As for how to actually get into the oposiciones (if you were to homologar all of your UK coursework/degree) you’d definitely have to google it. Try “oposiciones de maestro” with your region (like Andalucía, for example). Good luck and plenty of patience to you if you decide to pursue that route! I personally was not a fan of working in public schools (though I was just an assistant, not a full teacher) so you must be brave to be considering it!

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      • Thanks again Chelsea. It seems like things are the same as when I looked into this before. Do you know if a different route in for me could be as a language assistant? Or is that only open to students? Also, can I ask if your experience of working in a state school was a positive one. Perhaps a better way for me to be closer to the state system would be in a concertada school. I’ve heard you own a share of the school if you work in one. Do you know if that is true?
        I suppose that after living here for more than a decade, I would love to work in a state school and get out of the bubble of being in an international school.

        Sharon

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