Teaching at English Summer Camps in Spain

Summer in Spain is not just a time of sun, sand, and sangria, although all three of those things can quite easily find their way into the day-to-day routine in one form or another.  For the typical English teacher who wishes to hang around Spain during the summer months – meaning the middle of June through the first half of September, a wee bit of work must also find its’ way into the rotation.  Glamorous as it may be, English teaching is not as well paid in Spain as one would like. So, saving money during the school year in order to wile away the summer at the beach is usually a mere pipedream. Working in July and either half or all of August can typically earn you somewhere around $1500-2000USD.  Most camps offer around $500USD for two weeks and roughly $1000USD for a month’s work. So, if one needs money and lacking a trust fund or a benevolent significant other, the average English teacher must sign on with one of the various English summer camps scattered across Spain.  However, before one enlists there are some factors one must take into consideration.

There are numerous camps, big and small, scattered around Spain.  If you are looking for summer work, April and May tend to be peak season for summer camp hiring. Two of the most reputable companies that operate camps are Forenex and TECS.  Forenex is a camp I have personally worked for, albeit some years ago.  Forenex organizes overnight camps up north in the Pyrenees Mountains, in the city of La Coruña on the Atlantic coast, in tiny Uclés in Castilla y La Mancha, and on the island of Mallorca. In addition they offer day camps in both Madrid and Barcelona.  The day camps are usually made up of teachers based in either of the two cities, as there is no accommodation provided.  Forenex is probably the most widely known summer camp company in the ESL world in Spain.  As previously mentioned, TECS is another company which organizes summer camps in and around Cadiz, in Andalusia, southern Spain.  I have not personally worked for them, but friends who have worked with TECS have always enjoyed the experience.

Forenex is the most well known English summer camp operation in Spain.

One of the most important bits of knowledge a teacher looking into summer camps has to find out is the exact position they are being hired for.  On the one hand, there are the summer camps that basically have two separate staffs. For example, some camps have native English speaking teachers who do their thing in addition to the Spanish speaking staff who are the camp monitors and organize all the activities.  On the other hand, there are some camps where the teacher is not only there to give English lessons, but also to monitor the campers once the English lessons are over.  Suffice to say this is a tremendous amount of work outside of teaching, which usually is not reflected in the amount you are paid come the end of the two weeks or the month.  Both Forenex and TECS are organized so the teachers teach and the Spanish monitors organize the games and activities outside of class.

A camp in which the teacher is there strictly in a teaching capacity is significantly different, and in my opinion, more enjoyable.  To be honest, I only ever worked in camps where I was just teaching.  I am writing this in comparison to friends who experienced work in camps where they had to teach and monitor.  I taught in a few different summer camps and the schedule is more or less the same.  In one camp the schedule ran from about 9a.m. to noon. Then after lunch and siesta we had another two-hour session, five days a week.  Another summer I worked from about 9a.m. to about 1p.m. for six days a week.  The rest of the day was free to do as I pleased.  However, if you are working in a camp where you have monitoring duties too, once you finish teaching you are right back in it doing assorted activities with the children.  So, not only are you planning and teaching classes, but you are also planning and organizing activities. Those are long days.  Having to choose between the former and the latter, in my humble opinion, the choice is obvious.  A summer camp where teachers teach and monitors do everything else is a much more enjoyable way to pass the summer.

Location, location, location. This is a phrase often heard when looking at buying or renting property.  However, it is equally important when it comes to looking at summer camps.  There are camps all over Spain.  Camps by the beach, camps in rural villages, also some day camps in the big cities, so choosing that right place for you is important.  That being said, newcomers may at times have fewer choices.  Often you will find that a company operates numerous camps around the country.  Positions at camps in the more desirable locations, say for example by the beach, are often filled by employees from previous years.  Sometimes it is necessary to pay your dues and spend a few weeks in some rural village.  My first summer camp was a month spent in a village of 275 people.  While not without its’ charm, a month in a hot and dusty village living in close quarters with one bar, one bakery and the same faces day after day can get on your nerves quite quickly.  However, the next summer I returned to work for the same company and I got to choose where I wanted to go. I spent a month on the beach in the north of Spain, teaching in the morning and enjoying ice-cold beers and tapas the rest of the day.

You often have to pay your dues to earn summer placements in beach towns.

While there certainly is ample time to enjoy oneself at a summer camp, there is a fair amount of work to be put in.  In many cases, more effort is put into lesson planning for summer camp classes then during the actual school year.  Having class for four to five hours a day with the same group of kids means you must have well thought out lessons and an abundance of material and games to take up that time.  If one does not have much experience teaching children it can be quite challenging.  For many of the kids it is their first time away from their parents and issues with behavior can come up from time to time.  If you are accustomed to teaching mostly adults this can be tricky to deal with.  After completing my first month long summer camp I was exhausted.  The hours spent planning, being in the class all day and having a good time after work takes its toll! It is a lot of work, but it is a lot of fun too. Most of the teachers are pretty likeminded people who work hard and like to play hard.

Most camps, at least in my experience, do a pretty good job of supporting the teacher and providing them with what a teacher needs in order to do their job.  The camps I worked in always had a teacher’s room stocked with a variety of English resources as well as art supplies.  Some of the supplies and resources may at time seem kind of random, but they are sufficient to do the job.  Usually, the teacher has a fair amount of leeway in planning and organizing their course.  Course books are usually provided, but how the teacher uses them and what supplementary material they use is often up to the teacher.  There are different types of director’s of study and this obviously can have an impact on the work. Some are more hands on and will talk to you about your classes and lesson planning, while others are non-existent.

All in all, summer camps are a fact of life for most ESL teachers in Spain.  A teacher will come across challenges both inside and outside of the classroom.  One can find themselves in a place or accommodation that they do not care much for in addition to significant hours in the classroom.  Eventually teachers do hit a wall, usually around the two-week mark. Once past that point things usually improve.  Remember, there will be highs and lows, but your friends and colleagues help each other through those moments.  The hours may seem hard, but once you are done work for the day that stress dissipates quickly over ice-cold drinks, good food, and good laughs.