Teaching in an Instituto (High School) vs. a Colegio (Elementary School)

GIF Version.

Having worked in two institutos and two colegios here in Spain, I feel very qualified to write this post. When you work in a colegio, you are godlike. The kids may draw pictures of you, write you love notes, bring you presents, pick flowers for you out on the playground … you get the picture. When you work in an instituto, not so much. You are most likely seen as a welcome distraction from the day-to-day monotony of regular English class. But it’s also possible they think you’re, like, totally lame. (You got me.)

So what’s the difference, anyway?

When you want to play a game

Colegio (Elementary):

Excited Kids

Instituto (High School):

Bored High School

When you ask them to talk about themselves:


Pick Me


High School Talk about Self

When you suggest that they write on the board


Me Me



When you threaten to throw them out of class if they don’t listen:


Yes Ma'am

Yes, ma’am, I apologize for my egregious transgressions



Have you ever worked in an elementary school or a high school? What were your students like?

30 thoughts on “Teaching in an Instituto (High School) vs. a Colegio (Elementary School)

  1. Exactly!

    I love my celebrity status at primary level, but I do miss having meaningful conversations with teens that don’t involve what’s the weather like today? lol.

    1. Haha I feel ya. That’s why I loved working with my “bilingual” kids in sixth de primaria. They could hold up a conversation, but they were still young enough to get excited about kid stuff.

  2. Interesting. I often wondered if pueblo vs city had anything to do with it. My instituto kids in the pueblo were wide eyed & eager, even the 4eso students got into lessons sometimes.

    1. Well, to be honest, the ESO kids are way more into it than the ones I mainly work with (bachillerato). I have one primero de la ESO class, and they are just like the elementary kids! They love contest and games and talking to me.

      I also have a cuarto de la ESO, and they’re pretty good actually. The bachillerato kids have senioritis, I thiink.

  3. So true! (and this is in the United States) Well, my high schoolers aren’t quite as extreme as the gifs, but having worked in both elementary and high school, I think this is generally spot on. (And yet, I choose to work in high school. :-))

    1. I have to admit, some of them are indeed interested. I teach mainly bachillerato, which is the last two years, so this is who this is aimed at, whereas when I do get to teach 1º de la ESO (7th grade), they love me and are so excited to do contests and talk to me in English!

  4. I can relate. Teenagers mostly ignored me and the little ones would love to hear me say anything at all (when I was an auxiliar in France). I think it’s mostly the age in general, I teach English at an academia and it’s the same situation.

    1. Thanks! I thought about working in an academy, and I kinda hoped the kids would be more engaged, but then I figured it’s just the same old story—they’re not the ones choosing to be there, most likely; it’s the parents again.

  5. You should show your Instituto students this post hahaha, maybe it would get them talking!

    I only worked in a colegio and this was pretty much exactly on target. Though the quintos and sextos wouldn’t draw me pictures or write me love notes, they would always be excited to see me since they pretty much did nothing in my class–no homework, no tests = free period!!!

    1. We did a class about alcohol the other day, and that certainly got some of them talking!

      Yeah, when I worked with sexto de primaria, I loved them. They were old enough to converse with me, but young enough to be kids and get excited about kid stuff.

  6. I totally agree with this! I’ve only worked in instituto, so I’ve learned to put up with (and love) those little jerks. Although I always wonder what it would be like to teach the younger kids, high-schoolers never cease to amaze me. I’ve had 15-year-olds fight til the death over a smiley face sticker!

    1. Hahahah, really? That’s hilarious. There’s such a difference between HS and primary. I like both for different reasons, though I’m working in a non-bilingual high school, and most of the students’ English level is pretty low, which is discouraging. The kids I worked with in sixth grade last year had higher levels!

      I admit to having my favorite classes: a segundo de bachillerato and two cuartos de la ESO who really get into the lesson.

  7. Yup. Fact. I’m exclusively teaching 3-6 year olds this year and, while totally annoying, at least they can still be awed by my adulthood.

  8. Note: all stands true for American schools as well.

    My favorite part of teaching 6th-graders (essentially elementary schoolers) was when I would say, “I need a volunteer,..” and 15 hands would shoot up. Before I said what they were volunteering for.

  9. This is hilarious. I requested a colegio but got placed in an instituto, but honestly I’m glad about it. Although participation can be lacking, as your GIFs explain perfectly, I like being able to speak more or less normally about various subjects and having them be able to understand me (sometimes). The only contact I’ve had with colegios is walking past them during recreo or when school’s out and seeing the children run wild.. and then I appreciate my instituto even more.
    What is your current gig? Are you a “real” teacher? In a private school?

  10. LOL! the first gif was priceless. I swear that was the reaction when my wee ones heard me speak Spanish for the first time. Awww I miss them, their level of enthusiasm both tired and energized me. Who am I gonna sing Bob Esponja with now? :)

  11. All very, very true! I worked with the high school kids last year, and they were so apathetic at times. Most of them did seem interested, but that wore off when the novelty wore off. At the same time, high school students won’t get overly excited and yell in your face (in a completely not-meant-to-be-insulting way), whereas primary students think of you as their friend they can do just about anything to!

    1. True, true. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found that I loved sexto de primaria because it was like the best of both worlds.

    1. I loved colegio life, but I hate hate hate the split schedule. I really hated having a 2-hour break from 12:30-2:30 and having to go back until 4. Really screwed up the day for me.

    1. I like the students more at elementary, but I do enjoy my colleagues and work hours better at the high school! No more split days.

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s