Just a 20 minute commute from downtown Barcelona lies 'El Maresme', uncharted territory for most TEFL graduates. With a lower density of ESL teachers per square mile, more beaches and less tourists, the employment opportunities are really worth checking out.
Eating out in El Born, chilling in Gracia and going wild in the Raval are cornerstones of a healthy social life in Barcelona, just as Sunday afternoons in el Parc de la Ciutadella and hanging out on the city beaches and their chirringuitos are. With so many social scenes to cater for every taste, it's easy to understand why so many foreigners who arrive in Barcelona barely leave the city.
However, hop on a train and head 20 minutes out of town and everything becomes very different.
Line 1 of the RENFE, Spain's national railway, begins at Sants Station in the South West of Barcelona and heads East, through Plaza de Catalunya, Arc de Triompf, Clot Arago and exits Barcelona to the North East. What lies beyond the city limits is worth the (very) cheap train ticket...
Upon leaving Barcelona city via Badalona, the railway line follows the coastline, literally hugging the beach and goes North East for about 50 kilometers. This area is 'El Maresme'.
As you travel along the El Maresme coast you will see the sea and the beach literally meters from the tracks. It's a spectacular journey. Out of the other window you will notice the coastal satellite 'towns' of Barcelona, previously small fishing villages dotted along the coast which have become urbanised.
Jumping on one of these trains is so easy, and it's not even worth checking the timetable as they pass every 10 or 15 minutes through the week. You can get on at Sants Estacion, Plaza de Catalunya or Arc de Triompf, and a ticket only costs between 2 and 5 euros depending on how far down the coast you are going.
A few confused tourists have found they can get on board the train in Barcelona with their single zone T-10 travel pass (metro card) but this is officially only valid for travel within the city of Barcelona. Be aware that if a ticket inspector appears (though for travel out of the city they rarely do) and the 'no speaky Spanish' routine fails, there's an on-the-spot fine of 30 Euros for not having the correct ticket. All the main stations within Barcelona have automated exit gates which makes 'cheating' the system impossible - you need at least a Zone 2 card to pass through if you are coming from anywhere in El Maresme or beyond. Don't be alarmed if a quick-footed local (usually a teenager) sneaks in behind you through the gates. It's also common to see kids jumping over them with nonchalance - and they are rarely stopped. A word of advice...Don't try to copy these agile maneuvres, a tourist will almost never get away with it!
Better beaches than Barcelona...
Once aboard you have a fantastic choice of beaches for the next 50 kilometers, when you see one you like you just jump off at the next station. Mostly free from tourists (a key exception being Calella) these beaches don't attract the petty thieves and annoying salesmen that plague the Barcelona city beaches and the beach bars are much cheaper, and more authentic. I recommend staying on at least until El Masnou or Ocata beach, both have beautiful expanses of white sand, or stay even further and see what you can discover.
Once you're done on the beach you can wander into whichever town is nearby and grab something to eat. The nucleus of such towns are old fishing villages, small churches and town squares, are always within a block or two of the beach so chilling in a tree shaded plaza is an accessible option.
...and better work opportunities!
For an English teacher in Barcelona these small coastal towns can provide so much more than a quiet day on the beach. The magnetism of the Barcelona city life is so great that few native English teachers ever venture out of town, so there is a totally different labour market to discover - with much less competition. The chances of finding a more stable, decent paid teaching job increases hugely here - the satellite towns have a growing demand for English education as the locals try to keep up with their Barcelona neighbours; competition for any job is fierce so the locals are always competiting with each other and speaking decent English has become an almost essential skill in this international city.
The Red Bus route to better teaching work.
Jonathan Coombs is the owner of Red Bus in Premia de Mar in El Maresme, just 30 minutes by train from downtown Plaza de Catalunya. Being a short commute to Barcelona isn't seen as a disadvantage by Jonathan.
"We have employed teachers who come and go by train from Barcelona, it's not in the same league as a London commute by any means, it's the coastal train! What happens is that these teachers see the town, like it, then they see the rental prices and cost of living and like it even more. Eventually living here and popping to visit Barcelona becomes the more attractive option".
The difference between Barcelona and El Maresme recruitment
"Maybe in Barcelona the demand for teachers within a school might fluctuate from month to month as classes and clients come and go, but out here things are more stable and a lot more predictable. In El Maresme the main market is families who need their kids to learn English and they tie that in to the regularity of the school timetable. Mums and dads don't like disruption to the kids schedule so we keep most kids from September through to June. This stability is good for the students, Red Bus and our teachers."
In Barcelona you can find the "backpack teacher" passing through town, a recent TEFL graduate looking to pick up some casual work for a few months before moving on. Jonathan views that as a sign of a saturated market.
"The teaching industry in the big city can cater for that and to some extent encourages it as it allows for a more flexible employment model. Some schools take a "flexible employment model" to mean exploitation. If a school adapts to churning its way through transient teachers what is the implication for the fee paying students? Here in the small towns everyone knows us and recognises us as part of the community. Having happy teachers for the length of the academic year is essential for business."
"We tend to interview early in the summer to take a teacher for the whole of the following academic year with the option of summer camps in July and August if they want to work through until the start of the next academic year. The school gets stability, the students can learn without disruption and the teachers get a good level of job security and job satisfaction. Isn't that how it should be?"
Thanks to Jonathan for sharing his perspective with us. Red Bus is in Premia de Mar and is always looking for new teachers for the full academic year, just 30 minutes from Barcelona. Jonathan Coombs can be contacted via his website RedBusEnglish.com. Check out the location of his school on our free ESL schools directory..