There are many differences between Spanish and American schools, so this article is very general. Even in the US schools vary greatly depending on state and size -- and it's the same thing in Spain.
But hopefully, this will bring to light some of the main differences. Feel free to add more in the comments!
When I first began teaching English in Spain I was prepared to encounter a different school system, but I was not prepared for just how different that system would be.
From the first day I arrived at my placement school in Carmona, Spain I was struck by a completely different way of doing things. There were lots of differences in administration (some of which I think were quite inefficient!).
5 Differences You May Encounter While Teaching English in Spain
1. Mixed level classes
In my experience in a public middle/high school, students were placed into one mixed level class (like in American elementary schools) and are with the same kids all day long, year after year.
There is a lot of bonding among these students-- they've usually been together for four years by the time they finish middle school!
This cuts back on bullying a lot; in fact, I rarely observed true bullying in any of the Spanish schools I taught in. These kids are so used to one another that they really are like one big family, which is probably conducive to a positive learning environment.
Kids who speak English perfectly are learning the present simple with the kids who can't even say their names. In math class, the kids who could be starting algebra are still learning about fractions.
This system punishes bright children to an extreme. There is no honors level, AP level, or even extra work for smarter or quicker learners. I've seen kids ask for more work and been told that that's not allowed, as it would be unfair to other students!
2. Students stay put, teachers change classes.
Hypothetically, this system should be much quicker and save on space needs. Since some teachers teach more than one subject, two classrooms are never necessary as they often are in the US. Ideally, the bell would ring, and teachers would scurry from one class to the next within five minutes.
That wasn't the way I saw the system work!
First of all, when the teacher left the room there was a rule that the children must also leave and wait outside in the hall. So everyone would go out and the children would immediately begin to scream, run, push, and make-out... is that really better than leaving them unattended for five minutes in a classroom?
Also, the teachers would rarely go straight to their next class. Instead, they would stop by the teacher's room, pick up more materials, make a photocopy, use the restroom, etc.
Some of the teachers I assisted were always 15-20 minutes late for class. Lastly, the shared classroom system makes for boring, white walls, and absolutely no comforts or creativity in classrooms. White walls in an elementary school are just sad!
3. Students cheat-- often!
Ok, so this one doesn't really have pros and cons and yes, I am aware that students in the US also cheat, copy, and plagiarize all the time.
But what surprised me at the schools I worked at here, was how accepted this is and how lazily students do it.
I saw books wide open on the floor, a small cheat sheet (una chuleta) blatantly on the desk, and the "smart " student's exam being passed one by one around the classroom to copy.
An essay would often be a word for word Wikipedia article. I know for a fact that many teachers knew their students were cheating and preferred to look the other way.
In the US I think that students are much more innovative in their attempts to work the system.
I remember how strict teachers were about copying and plagiarism. Many students would pay friends to write their essays and some even hired essay writing services to do it for them. These types of arrangements were overall undetectable by teachers and usually effective.
We knew that Wikipedia wasn't even allowed as a source, never mind a place to copy from!
4. Teachers don't have a dress code
As a teacher, I was always comfortable and didn't have to go out and spend a lot of money on a new business casual wardrobe.
Teachers blend in with students, losing some of the respect that business clothing provides. Some teachers also take this fact to an extreme, dressing borderline inappropriately, and giving students a poor example of what to wear in the professional world.
5. No school lunches
It actually really depends on the school and the region of Spain.
In Andalusia, middle school and high school stopped at 3 p.m. and everyone went home for the day, always eating lunch at home.
In Madrid, many schools have split session days, from 9-1 and 3-5, for example. During that two-hour break, students can either stay at school and eat the official school lunch (which costs money and bringing your own is not permitted), or they can go home and eat at home.
Less cruel American cafeteria culture (think Mean Girls). No one makes fun of what you bring to eat (you can't bring anything!). Also, the school lunches tend to be very healthy and complete meals (no french fries and pizza).
Split sessions make the day super long and exhausting for students, although they are helpful for working parents.
There are countless more differences I observed during my time spent teaching in Spain, but these are some of the most obvious.
If you've been teaching here, what do you think? Did you observe the same differences in your school and region? Any other big differences you want to share?
Please comment below!
Photo Credits: a2gemma, libookperson, rocketboom, circasassy, unimontevideo, dccentralkitchen
I have to write an essay for AP Spanish and this was really helpful thank you so much.
this has been very helpful for learning while i'm in a Spanish class at school. some of these Ideas though are quite weird.
Hi, I'm a Bachillerato student in Spain, so I just thought I'd comment on some things (don't worry, I'm not going to start a huge argument saying that it's all wrong. I actually think that it's explained very well). Also, everything I'm going to say is about where I live, Aragón, so there may be some variations with the rest of Spain, but essentially it's the same.
First off, I've only had the same people in my class during Infance and Primary, although they did change a few people of class, it was just one or two in 6 years. In Secondary, though, they changed us a lot, but usually left a few people that got along together (another girl and I were from a different Primary school than the rest, so when making the groups, they always put us together, to make sure we weren't isolated).
In my Secondary school, both teachers and students change class, and in a few others I know it's the same. So what you said is 100% true, getting from one class to another is impossible because you can't even get through the crowds. I've had all types of teachers; from the one that seems to always be in the classroom 5 hours prior (I'm always the first to get to class and these teachers somehow get there before I do, and that isn't easy) to the one that arrives 20 minutes later (this is never good because it means we have to wait in the hall until they arrive and open the door). But just like it is with teachers, it's with students, there are some that get to the class 15 minutes late claiming they still don't know which room it is each day (we have a different classroom for the same subject quite a few times, although these tend to be the electives we choose, rather than the core ones).
And cheating... well, you've got that covered. I remember one time when I finished an exam and the girl that sat behind me came out too and told me off for leaning over my exam, which meant she couldn't copy from me. The thing is, most students PRIDE themselves for been able to copy during an exam (not sure why).
The dress code on teachers is true too. In a way, the more casual clothing makes teachers easier to trust (because they don't seem like scary important people), but it's like you said; also makes teachers blend in too much. I think it might have something to do with the fact that if they wore suits, they'd probably boil to death at the end and beginning of the school year, though. And I've nothing to add to lunch really, because it's described perfectly.
But I'd also like to add some stuff I noticed in the comments; the first name, for example. It seems that it's hated a lot, but honestly, everyone tells us to call them by their first name.
I've only ever had two teachers that we didn't call by their first name. One, we called by his surname, and the other was Doña *her name*. We call teachers by their first name because that's how they introduce themselves to us, so we assume they want to be called that. If you don't want to be called by your first name, don't tell your students what it is when you meet them. And to avoid been called "profe", make sure they know what to call you (specially if it's not a Spanish, because no matter how simple you think it is, they will find a way to get it wrong). A way to make sure you are called a certain way in Primary is to ignore the person until you are called correctly, and I'm not saying Secondary because doing this could start a huge argument if you have the wrong person in the classroom (I've been in a Primary and Secondary classroom where a teacher tried this. Primary went well. Secondary not so much, they spent an entire class fighting before the student got kicked out of the class).
Keeping a class under control is hard, I'm perfectly aware, but all the teachers I've known that manage to do so have essentially the same technique. They don't shout, this just causes students to get annoyed at the teacher and that can cause more talking; instead, they stop explaining and look directly at the people that are talking and just glare. I don't mean stare, I mean a full-on glare that makes you want to dig a whole and hide there for your entire life. The complicated part is probably compensating characteristics, though. If a teacher is too strict, students will hate the teacher and ignore them, but if the teacher is too friendly and can be talked to with extreme ease, students will take advantage and any respect will be lost.
Students need somebody that can control them and that they can confide in at the same time, somebody that EARNS their respect (yes, I get that in other countries students respect teachers because they are teachers and end of story, but here we are stubborn and it needs to be won -I'm talking about the students that cause havoc, by the way-).
Also, something that seems to appear in a lot of American High Schools in films is detention. We don't have that here, instead you can get kicked out of class and/or given a "parte" that your parents have to sign explaining what you've done. If you get a certain amount of "partes" that the school has set, you are expelled (I mean expelled as in suspended, there isn't really a word for suspended in Spanish and I've never known of anybody been permanently expelled, so we just say expelled as in temporary). But there is no detention, except for the occasional no-break punishment, which I guess would be like detention.
Sorry for the huge comment, I didn't expect it to get so out of hand. I just felt the need to clear some things out. I hope it was of use.
Great comment-- and insights! As in the US, each school is slightly different, especially depending on the region. Great to hear your perspective!
It was nice to find and read this article. My graduate school study at IE Business School in Spain was very harsh on things like cheating, and the grading-on-the-curve practiced there was unfamiliar to most. But we still had a lot of relaxed dynamic in team projects and personal accountabilities that were sometimes frustrating to what seemed normal to me. (Though if I had to stereotype the students more prone to abuse, they weren't from Spain.)
Anyhow it was overall very positive experience. My son, after visiting, decided he wanted to attend this year a Spanish immersion middle school local to us. They have 18 teachers from Spain here teaching, which is quite unusual for the US, and they do exchange trips to Spain with a sister school in Madrid every year. We've really liked the more familial approach that the school culture has. And they mix grade levels in classes there too, which often works really nice.
Hey, this helped me very much, thank you so much for doing this! Are their any other differences that are in these schools compared to U.S. Schools?
I would hate to have the same people in my class all day. I hated that in elementary school.
Learning the way schools work differently in two different countries is neat and seeing how less strict the Spanish school system.
What were the school colors at the school you worked at?
Haha good question! I honestly don't even know if they do that here. I never noticed! I don't believe they do...