Teaching English in Toledo, Spain: Graham’s Story

Teaching English in Toledo, Spain: Graham’s Story

Back in July 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, my wife and I decided to leave our jobs in Ireland and move to Spain. Having worked in my previous job for 12 years it was a huge decision to leave, however, living outside Dublin meant having to spend up to 4 hours a day driving to and from work and it was definitely taking its toll.

Taking the plunge

My wife, who was already a qualified English language teacher, had secured a teaching job with an English teaching academy in Toledo, Spain. The only Toledo I had previously heard of was the model of car manufactured by SEAT. Toledo is a UNESCO world heritage site, an ancient walled city in central Spain previously the capital before Madrid and is famous for sword making. There are still two authentic bladesmith (sword making) workshops in operation there.

So, after much deliberation about COVID and all the 'what ifs' we could think of, we took the plunge. We said our goodbyes to families and friends and packed our bags with the intention of returning for a visit at Christmas. At the time, with COVID restrictions in place and vaccines still in the process of development, we couldn't get home for Christmas. We settled into a somewhat restricted new life in Spain, limited in some ways due to the ongoing pandemic but a very different lifestyle to back home in Ireland. 

Finding work teaching English

As a qualified Electrician/Fiber Optic Technician with years of experience, I was confident about securing a job without too much stress. After settling in for a month or so it became apparent that the job market in Toledo in my sector for a non-Spanish speaking person was not as flourishing as I had expected. My wife encouraged me to try the free TEFL taster course on The TEFL Org website, so I said, ‘why not, I’ve got nothing to lose’. Shortly after that, I purchased the full 120-hour TEFL course and began my learning/teaching journey in October 2020. It was a simple process and the online course made it practical for me to study at my own pace. It also provided me with the foundation needed to begin teaching in a real-life environment. 

A sign on a building that says 'Academia Dublin'

Jump forward to Jan 21 and I received a call from The Dublin School of English in Toledo to ask if I was available to come in and help out with some classes. I met with Niall O'Flaherty, the academy’s owner and director and shadowed him for a while to get up to speed with their teaching methods and procedures. The school uses a communicative approach to support the children to not only expand their knowledge of the English language but also to gain experience in effectively using the language with native speaking teachers. At the time, they were teaching hybrid classes, in person and online simultaneously. This had its added pressures and difficulties but nevertheless, not one to shirk a challenge, I jumped on board and began my teaching career. I can’t thank Niall and his team from the Dublin School of English enough for the help, advice and guidance along the way. As I write, the academic year 2021 - 2022 has kicked off, students are back inside classrooms (of course with some COVID safety measures in place) and the buzz of a busy classroom brings an even more enjoyable atmosphere.  

A better work/life balance

The main difference between Spain and Ireland when it comes to work/life balance is that, on the whole, life comes before work, which was not something that I was used to. The working day now begins at 4.00pm and finishes around 9.30pm. We meet as a group on a Friday morning to review practice and plan for the week ahead.

The academy also focuses on teaching Cambridge English Assessment preparation strategy classes for our students (PET to CPE level) to fully prepare the students who are approaching exams. It has been a huge change of career for me but an enjoyable and worthwhile change. 

A man in cycling gear taking a selfie

Outside of work, one of the biggest changes that still captures my attention regularly is the amazing sunlight! Even on the colder autumn days in Toledo, the bright alluring daylight is a reminder of all that's good in the world. One of the most spectacular sites in Toledo has to be the Cathedral. However, due to the closeness of the old historic city it is somewhat a literal hidden gem, the construction of which began in the thirteenth century. The striking vastness of this medieval Spanish gothic structure being flanked by the many local shops, cafes and restaurants of Toledo is remarkable. The narrow winding streets hide a multitude of exciting places to sit and relax with a coffee or a glass of vino while people watching.

As a keen cyclist, some of the scenery and trails around the city of Toledo and its environs are nothing short of spectacular and finally we have been able to book flights home for Christmas this year. We’re excited to return to Ireland to visit family and friends and equally as excited to come back and continue with our new life in Spain.

I would absolutely recommend completing a TEFL course if thinking of travelling and working abroad - having a TEFL certificate and experience such as this opens the world up to you and provides many opportunities.  

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