Saying Goodbye

You might say my mind has been made up since last August. For the first time in my six flights from America to Spain, I cried boarding.

Normally, I’m equipped with a travel magazine, a bottle of water and a nervous stomach at going back to a place that I love so much, but this trip was different. Spain no longer held the same excitement and romanticism for me as it did during my first few years there, and I wasn’t looking forward to going back.

It was clear what the problem was: My work situation.

I thought about how many mornings I’d trekked to the foreigner’s office or to the unemployment office or to job interviews during the hot summer months. I remember I told my friend Izzy that I was about to throw in the towel and just go back to America, defeated. Then Refu called back, asking me for an interview. Seven hours, a 13-paged written interview and two classroom try outs later, I was officially given the job at SM’s.

And two school years later, I’m bowing out. Official reason? I don’t want to be a teacher forever. I want to blog. To not have to turn down weekend trips because I have too much to do. To live my sevillano life, lest lose it forever.

Next year will be a transition year: master’s in Public Relations at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 26-hours-a-week teaching gig at a language academy (working in the pm again…weird!) and toying around with this blog. I’ll still be teaching, though I’ve made up my mind that it’s not the career I want forever. At least, not in Spain.

The thing is, my situation – long hours, poor pay, no chance at moving up  – will be the same forever unless I do a master’s in teaching. My school threatened to have to complete a five-year teaching program (as a master’s for primary school teacher does not exist) or to lose our jobs. I did them one better and gave official notice about a month ago, citing that I wasn’t willing to pay for five or more years of schooling for something I can’t see myself doing forever.

Of course, there’s more to the story that isn’t fair to share. No one in my school has been overly abusing of anything else but my time and my self-worth. Sure, I’ll miss my co-workers and the staff at the bar across the street, who never need to ask me how I want my breakfast. I’ll miss the parents, full of compliments and funny stories about the 45 kids I’ve grown to adore after being their tutora for 10 months.

That’s the thing – I’ll miss my kids with locura. Absolute, unending locura.

If I make the count, I’ve taught at least 700 kids in some form – between my five years and three summers teaching. I’ve had kids that make my nerves snap, kids who are mini-mes (and tell me they want to teach English like me), kids who understand where I’m coming from, kids who give me hell. As a director of studies, I’ve put up with fist fights, calls home sobbing to parents, crazy moms who yell at me over the phone…vamos, all in a day’s work. Between the test-giving, the long nights preparing theatres and parties, the endless hours of programming and grading, I’ve found that this is and isn’t where I want to be.

I think about just how far me and the babies have come since September. Having been their English teacher in Five years’ preschool, I already had the confianza of knowing them – and having them know me. They were excited, and I had unhappy preschool parents asking to know why I’d been changed to primary. But I was elated. Finally, my own classroom, a manageable number of kids and a feeling of actually being on the team.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – there were kids who I needed to win over, motivation to keep up and a lot of work to be done. Since my coworker and I have 45 kids, that’s twice the work when it comes to grading and report cards, and an extra class of parents to see. But I enjoyed watching their Aha! moments, rewarding them for using their English blocks of speech (even if just a few words here and there) and how they smiled when we’d play a game (roll the ball in the bucket as a math game? I deserve some kind of award) or take a field trip or make a breakthrough. They, as well as I, have matured and come into their own in these ten months, and I’ll take a piece of them with me when I have to say goodbye next Friday.

The plan, before I gave notice, was for me to continue onto second grade with my minions. Multiplication tables, reflexive verbs and the solar system were all on the docket, and I had many anxious six-year-olds asking, ¿Serás nuestra seño en segundo? Since my move up to first grade was so unexpected, I didn’t have to lie and say I didn’t know who their teacher would be next year, because it’s all up to the boss anyway. But as I take down their adorable drawings, send home their corrected and completed workbooks, I find myself giving more hugs and kisses, pinching more cheeks and wishing that things could somehow be different.

Teaching and I have a love-hate relationship: I hate the work, but love the reward. I find pleasure in creating a challenging lesson and giving it, like standing up and acting goofy in front of a crowd and crave the daily satisfaction that a young learner’s progress garners. It’s all of the extras at my school that was slowing me down, and it all came to a head with the theatre last week. I cried in front of the kids for the first time all year.

My decision to leave is the right one for me.

Maybe some of my kids who finally started getting results will get blocked with a new teacher. Or maybe they’ll like him more. But I’m confident that the right foundation has been laid for them to be successful.

Now that exams, grades and everything else is done, it’s time to enjoy with the kids who taught me that school can be fun and hands-on, with the ones who read my emotions even better than I do, the ones who say ” I want the holidays to Chicago con Miss Cat!” Boogers and all, they’re still really special kids, and I will miss them dearly.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I understand how you feel. I don’t want to be teaching English forever, but it seems like it’s the only way for me to stay in Spain right now. So awesome that you decided to take that scary step and quit to try something new!

  2. Love this post and share your same feelings. Teaching and I also have the same relationship and that’s why next year is it for me. Hopefully, the free time I’ll have this summer spent searching for Masters programs on the Internet will provide me with the answers, or rather, direciton I’m looking for. After reading your blog, I’m feeling once again that I’m not alone and that my decision to eventually leave teaching has been validated.

    • Meghan, I think we, as native English speakers, are sometimes so limited in what we have to do here that we think teaching is our only option. I do enjoy it, but know that my situation won’t imporve until I do magisterio. I just am not 100% convinced! In Madrid, you’ve got a lot more options, so go for it!!

  3. Good post Cat, you moving to BCN or is the Masters online?

  4. Seguro que en esta nueva etapa te dará nuevos retos igual de gratificantes. Espero que te vaya muy, muy bien!!! Yo te seguiré en el blog como hasta ahora! Un beso, preciosa!!

  5. Wishing you the best of luck, Cat! I definitely don’t enjoy teaching either and would like to transition to something new as well. However, in the meantime, it’s easy money, I feel like there are a lot of us expats here not so crazy about the profession! :)

  6. As you already know, I really understand! Congrats to you on taking the first step to breaking free– it’s not always easy and can be financially uncertain, but it is WORTH IT! Becoming your own boss and the real owner of your time is the best feeling in the world and will only inspire your creativity more and more. Can’t wait to see you soon and celebrate our new paths!

    • Thanks for all of your support, Lauren! I know you’re only a phone call and train ride away, but I miss having someone to lean on down here sometimes! Here’s to whatever awaits us in the future…

  7. Congratulations on your gutsy move Cat, I think you’ve struck a lot of chords with expats in Seville (and elsewhere) with your engagingly honest post. I want to stay in beautiful Seville, but I’m frustrated that my efforts to become fluent in Spanish, to broaden my options, is hampered by spending all my days with (albeit lovely) English-speaking colleagues, teaching English – the only job I can do until my Spanish is better – Catch 22!

    • Thanks, Alison! I may be slightly crazy, but I’ve convinced myself that it needs to be done, and it needs to be done now. Thankfully, my partner is Spanish, so I get the practice at home, but spent my first few months here completely frusterated with my lack of learning. You’ll get there!

  8. Ay, guapa, I know precisely how you feel. I’ve also struggled tons this past year with what I’ll do next. I’ve felt painfully “estancada” here in Spain. I feel like I could have the best teaching experiences and recommendations ever, but will still be getting paid minimum wage 5 years down the road, despite all the overtime you spend preparing, grading, and doing extracurricular activities with the kids (theater plays, practice exams, etc). I’ve managed to obtain a Master’s degree in the meantime, which I completed 6 months ago (in Specialized Translation), but soon realized it wasn’t going to get me far, at least not in Spain (there are qualified engineers working as taxi drivers for goodness sake!).

    Anyway guapa, you know you’ve done your absolute best with the kids, and you’ve made the best decision for yourself by turning down the contract and moving on to an educational opportunity in Barcelona – that’s already doing a lot! Buenísima suerta, y ya verás que todo saldrá bien. 😉

    • So, so true. People think I’m absolutely insane to be giving up a full-time position (and one in which I should have been getting paid this summer) during the crisis. I’ll still be in Seville and still teaching, but I think I’m taking a step in the right direction! Suerte goes out to you, too – ya te contaré!

  9. andiperullo says:

    Excited to see where your new path in life will take you gorgeous! What a great post!!!

  10. I wasn’t there as long but can totally relate! There were so many things I loved about teaching and I loved the kids, but I knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. I really admire what you are doing and hope it goes well for you and helps to get you on a path to the things you DO want to do in life :) If you want or need any Barca tips, let me know!

    • Thanks, Kelly! We can talk all about it over hot dogs this summer. But, ojo! I’m sticking around in Seville, just doing the masters online. Don’t think I’d like BCN much…

      • Helen Nicholas says:

        My heart feels for you. But if you feel that this is the best decision, then I have confidence that you’ve made the right one. E-mail t o follow. Su Abuelita, Helen

      • ¡Qué abuelita más buena! Thanks for always letting me make my own choice, even if it means tripping! Looking forward to hearing from you.

  11. WOW, Cat I can’t believe your teaching days have come to an end. Thanks for sharing your feelings — looking forward to seeing what’s next.

  12. Good luck, Cat! Right now, without a work permit, I’m not even looking for a job … we shall see what I find/decide come September/October.

  13. Best of luck Cat, looking forward to hearing about your new ventures!

  14. The goodbye to your kiddos is bittersweet, indeed. However, I’m glad you’re pursuing an interest that you’re most certainly passionate about.

    Were you prepping for the DELE in order to apply for school, then? After that hard work, it looks like everything is falling into place, congrats!!

  15. Michelle says:

    Loved your post (I shouldn’t be reading it as I am up to my neck in correcting and studying). I agree with you, the bilingual system in both our schools isn’t ideal…not for the teacher or for the student…it makes everything double the work…(I’ve got 52 seven year old boys and each one has 10 books)…it’s just too much. But like you said, the kids make everything worth it…those smiles, those hugs, watching them learn and grow…and I also relate to your comment about “this is it”…es decir, I have co-workers that have been working there for 13 years and make only about 50 euros more…so, there’s no more climbing up which is what us Americans are far too used to. One thing though, magisterio is now a grado, which is 4 years. I’ll probably finish it 6 because I’m doing it part time, but it is “only” 4. It used to be 3 and called a diplomatura, but that changed just one year before I started, lucky me. Anyways, so excited about your new adventures…an and 3 day weekends! You’re such a curious and talented writer, I am sure you’ll go far!!!

    • Funny story – while doing evaluaciones yesterday, I asked my boss about when I needed to sign paperwork, etc. She was like, I’m hoping you’ll reconsider and I won’t have to call the gestoría. I have up until my last day to decide!!

      If I don’t end up going to the beach Saturday, let’s go to that market if you’re around!! I want to start a feature called “Typical Spanish.”

  16. Michelle says:

    Hahahahahaha, typical!!! But it’s quite an ego boost! I’m def up for repeating that market and its little fish bar stand. Let me know!

  17. I will just be entering the teaching field as I’ll be teaching English in Spain this next year, but I know what it’s like to say goodbye to something like that. I had to say goodbye to teaching tennis lessons and pottery lessons, both of which I loved but knew I couldn’t do forever. I’m looking forward to the adventure of teaching in Spain while keeping an open mind. Teaching may or may not be for me, but I’m definitely going to try and get as much out of it as I can!
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      The same happened when I left my auxiliar job. After watching my mom teach and nearly pull her hair out day after day, I never expected to like it, let alone be good at it!

  18. Great article – I love reading about others being brave and stepping out of their comfort zones, acknowledging that something just isn’t right.

    I see this post is nearly a year old – how behind am I? Haha hope everything is going well :)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Anna! Yes, the post is old from last June when I had my last few days at the school. My current boss told me that she remembered me signing my contract on the first of June and reminded me. I’m now working at a language academy, where I’ve been promoted to head of studies, finishing a master’s a working on this blog. Definitely happy!


  1. […] my biggest accomplishment was sticking up for myself and quitting my job. After two years teaching, I decided it wasn’t for me. Without even trying to say goodbye to my students, I wished them a happy summer. I found a job […]

  2. […] I miss my kiddos all the time, but still get some contact hours at my academy while playing the admin role as the Director of Studies (no, I do not blog full-time). read: Saying Goodbye. […]

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