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!*
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 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.
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.
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!