Part 2: Going Private in Spain

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Part 2- Going private

Well, after receiving some very positive feedback from people and after also being told we are academy bots writing with the sole purpose of promoting academies in Spain, I guess it is time for part two where we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of going private in Spain.

Firstly going private can be tough, a friend of mine was fired from his academy for being ill and was left with an apartment to pay for and a sudden lack of money to pay for it. Ultimately he stayed the academic year and did quite well for himself with private work and a few small contracts from academies but it was an uphill struggle to create something from nothing and that is what many will face.

One of the first major hurdles people face in Spain as well as in other places is the initial start up period.You may be thinking, I’ve just arrived now let’s get this show on the road in my new Spanish town. Luckily for any wannabe private teacher there are many ways and means of getting your name out there and finding some work. Facebook groups as crude as it sounds, are actually great ways of getting yourself off the ground and picking up classes with all sorts of different people from kids to adults to exam preparation. One can advertise themselves on websites designed for advertising your services and we have even seen flyers posted around town for English classes which are promptly taken down by the owners of the building you’ve ‘vandalised’. With some start-up money to get an apartment and some shrewd business sense you can really make a go of it. I can’t give any advice on small towns but I know people who do just fine in cities of all sizes from the lowly Teruel (population-35,000 and a must visit) to the grand delights of Madrid (population=look it up). To break even or even make some profit requires time and patience but that is the same with any enterprise and should not deter anyone.

So we know it is a risk but we also know it is possible so what follows are some specific problems you might face then eventually some good things.

Some may say if you can’t build rapport then don’t teach at all and if you can’t build rapport in Spain then you won’t last long in general. If you want to go private you need to be prepared to speak to all sorts of people and be able to establish relationships fast. In our experience the line between business and friendship can get blurred here, real fast, so making sure you keep that student coming back is important. Also you’ll probably be teaching kids in their homes without supervision, a child safety nightmare by English standards so creating welcoming environments and building up strong bonds with parents and students over time really helps, but isn’t for everyone, and can be a real mental strain at times. A major plus side is that word of mouth is a fine form of advertising in Spain: I know of a teacher who teaches almost every kid in an apartment block, the word travelled round and it now adds a hefty amount to their overall earnings. Rapport is important in an academy, of course, but you always have someone backing you up, but when you go private it is you and that is where the buck stops.

Classes and students can be unreliable, people cancel, it is a fact of life, but in Spain it seems like a very important fact of life that leave you with a free hour and also feeling frustrated. Young students seem to be more reliable, their parents generally set aside a time for their child to learn English and they want you there as often as possible, but with adults, well, they’ll give you any excuse whenever they feel like it, it is no skin off their nose. However, there are various methods to implement in order to guarantee payment, a common one is to receive payment for, say 4 classes a month, and if one is missed then a catch-up class is organised at a later date. OK, you end up doing 2 classes in a week but a lesson cancelled is a potential waste and this method does work.

Do you need to speak Spanish to do the lessons? Speaking some Spanish never hurt anyone ( I think) so when you get a message from someone to organise classes, unless that person is fluent, they will do it in Spanish. I don’t get this national lack of confidence in speaking English, I know you can do it! If you get it wrong then I will still understand, you can communicate. But, alas, you will receive many offers in Spanish, so knowing how to reply and what to say, can be helpful and, of course, learned very quickly when a potential class is on the line.

Most teachers in Spain tend to do private classes on the side whilst paying taxes from what they earn from their academy contracts( whether these are short ones, which if you are going to do then I advise having them with multiple establishments and try to avoid long soul sucking ones) but if you want to go full time private and be legit then paying your taxes is something you’ll end up doing, or not…. I am not the tax man and the choice is yours, this is just a passing comment on the fact that you should. Doing so is a frustrating process but that is for another post and for another time when I am really bored.

With regards to resources you get some flexibility with this, you can suit classes to each student, use books, photocopies, online resources; the sky is the limit. Students come to you with a level and an idea of what they want, what they like and what they need to improve on. It can be a very interesting part of a teacher’s development but not without difficulty; the expectation of seeing improvement plagues everybody and it can cause frustration afterall, what are they paying for private classes for? Unrealistic expectations can cause problems, if they don’t want to do grammar but they sorely need it,then well…. you have to use your intuition and teaching/people skills and try and sort the problem out. Don’t bow to the pressure, do it your way, and if people don’t like it that is a risk you have to take. You are the teacher you are supposed to know best…. and another point to finish this matter is that everybody wants conversation classes. What you think of them is a moot point you’ll probably have to give them and it can be an interesting experience.

Interestingly I have heard several stories of people looking for jobs in academies after working privately and the work they’ve done has not been counted as experience. Why is beyond me but if it is all legitimate I see no reason why it can’t be considered and even if it’s not then it is EXPERIENCE! (not bitter)

If you’ve made it this far then congrats! Let’s finish on a high. You can earn a pretty penny from teaching privately, you can control your timetable so no more early mornings if you don’t want them. You won’t earn mega bucks but in the, as one comment suggested, ‘pyramid scheme’ that is EFL teaching, nobody does (pretty pennies are relative by the way). No boss to shout out at you just’ angry’ mothers and a sense of independence and pride when you can look back and say ‘Vine, vi, conquisté’ ( or however they say it here!).

Academies or going private- Which one to choose when teaching in Spain?

Part 1: Academies

To go private, or not to go private; that is the question. Despite the obvious Shakespeare hijack this is an issue that interests a few and scares many. The decision can determine how your academic year will play out, whether you will make money or not, and at times truly push you to the limits of your teaching and the limits of your sanity. From grumpy bosses to unrealistic students and from a comfy classroom to a busy rush hour bus, desperately trying to get from class to class. Both choices have big effects on your time, social life and enjoyment of, wherever you happen to be, in the land of opportunity, more commonly known as… Spain.

When one is browsing their computer looking for jobs, thinking merrily of jetting off to Spain to live in the sun, academies and their advertisements can offer you a great way of achieving this and can get you easy access to Spain as well as acting as a great foot in the door with whatever you want to do next. The finer points of the academy advertisement will be looked at in another blog but what is certain is that once you have jumped through the various hoops, ranging from having an arbitrary amount of experience and whether said experience is actually deemed relevant to the benevolent boss; you will have a perfect safety net for when you arrive in your new town and hopefully you will be able to build up connections from the day you arrive.

Decent academies will also offer to help you find accommodation and some might even have an apartment available either from teachers that have left, or it could be as simple as a phone number of a friend, who will offer you a ‘great deal’ which you in turn can’t refuse or else you’ve already insulted someone on your first day. Furthermore instead of having to struggle through the bureaucratic system of Spain alone, you may receive help from the academy in getting all your documents, which of course can vary from someone coming along with you to ‘here is the form, go there, do this’ either way it may just save you some hassle.

One thing you will have is guaranteed hours and thus guaranteed pay with a contract in place to ensure this. From my experience a contract is better than no contract after all everything is legitimate even if half your pay is under the table, but and it is a big but, a lot of the contracts really screw you over, even if I do think it is better to have one than not. They are so flexible that hours can be added or taken away willy nilly and there is nothing you can do or at least you feel like there is nothing you can do and although it offers some protection from firing most contracts have a 3 month probation period in them where the boss can fire you for any reason he wants. I have seen people get fired because the bosses didn’t like them personally also I have heard of teachers failing ‘class surveys’ and then instantly let go with no teacher support available to them at all. Depending on the type of contract you get, a temporary or permanent one then if you want to leave you have to give either 2 weeks notice or a months notice depending on the contract, so if this is ever an issue remember to try and make it amicable or else you’ll be stuck there for a minimum of 2 weeks.

Another point to add is that if you want to do some work on the side then check your contract for a non compete, they love to put these in and it can get you really tied down and reliant on them. Most if not all the contracts will be in Spanish so you can either ask them to explain it to you and take their word for it or get them to translate it or learn formal Spanish contractual vocabulary that may help too. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in Spain and everywhere in the world for that matter don’t read the contract before they sign it, me included, and the consequences can be far reaching, however if you refuse to sign or want to renegotiate then good luck as new teachers are ten a penny and they will just hire someone more complacent. However ‘replaceable’ you are remember that academies do not want to lose teachers just after Christmas or in the middle of the term and especially after Easter for the last push to the exams. Knowledge is power and don’t let anyone tell you that you are ‘replaceable’ it may just be a way of keeping you in your place.

In terms of teaching methodology some academies are more than happy for you to do what you want as long as you follow the curriculum and use a course book, which is reasonable, unless you don’t like the course book or you find it useless and then you have to take it upon yourself to address this issue and well… see what happens. Other academies will be more strict, I myself have experienced a situation where every Friday morning a 4 hr ‘planning period’ was put aside, whereby all teachers had to come in for 4 hrs (unpaid) and discuss with the assistant director what they were going to do during the following week. Nothing wrong with this, except when every choice you made had to then be taken upstairs to the boss, who decided if that was what he wanted or not. As you can imagine 4hrs went by quite fast and nothing got planned per se but the page number did get decided on in the end. But for every bad academy there is a good one and of course my experiences are only as a guide and not the rule. There are some truly awful academies out there and some honest good ones and on how to find them I may write another post and hope that some sort of compendium of information can be arranged so that the bad ones are never again responsible for another persons’ misery.

A benefit of working for an academy, and be under no illusion you work for them not with them, is that many offer career development opportunities. Such things can include workshops, meetings, observations/ feedback, paid online courses and you can work alongside teachers with more experience and use this to your full advantage. Promotional prospects are only available for those who really have a desire to stick around and love the place; most of these people will have some sort of vested interest in the town and have been there several years.

Teacher support is of course offered by most academies and by teacher support I mean personal support and professional support. This, as in most cases, depends entirely on your boss. I knew a girl who was living in an awful shared flat with people extorting her for money every month and after telling one boss, nothing at all happened, partly because he was friends with the land lord, then after telling another boss (top heavy academy) the matter was resolved promptly, she moved out the next day and was from then on in an all together better situation. If you go private then of course you will have to rely on a different network of people to resolve these issues, and owners, director of studies etc will have more experience of living in the country so therefore are more capable of sorting things out. Furthermore if you have a professional problem, you don’t know where to go with the class or how to help then an experienced and helpful boss can make all the difference and really takes a load off your shoulders.

There are other practical things working in an academy can give you that going private cannot; you don’t have to deal with the parents of spoiled kids, you don’t have to do your own taxes and you may just get your holidays paid for too. So working for an academy in Spain can be a roll of the dice in many regards but it can also offer you certain benefits that are unobtainable when working for yourself. Whether the things mentioned are good or bad, that is for the reader to decide.

Part 2 about going private and its benefits and draw backs is under way!

Natives vs Non-natives: Our experience in Spain

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The battle rages in Spain between natives and non-natives. The streets run with blood and Euros fly out of the hands of desperate parents looking for a good teacher for their precious little ones. Working and toiling together in Spain as a native and non-native pair has given us an interesting insight into how the two, completely random coincidences of where you are born, are seen and in turn respected/disrespected in Spain. A little background to the situation, for prospective teachers:

Countless times have we seen teachers refused jobs or not even given a job due to them being ‘non-native’. A case in point; myself a native Greek with a CELTA (B) with 3 years experience have been passed over for multiple positions simply because of the elephant in the room. What is driving this cult of the native is, as one director said “ The parents want their children to be taught by natives” So, the parents push the idea and of course the academies have to oblige. This makes business sense but does it give the students the best experience, in this supposed meritocracy? It is easy to sound bitter about such a matter but one cannot fault an academy for providing a service suited to what the payers want. It’s business and perhaps that is that.

However an interesting point to note is that in private classes the parents in Spain are more than happy to employ a ‘non-native’ if the price is right and they come recommended, as a good teacher to trust in your house with your kids is hard to find. So it is not all one big conspiracy against johnny foreigner, there are positions for ‘non-natives’ and don’t despair because in Spain the private market is strong for ‘non-natives’ with some business nous, and there are of course some academies more than happy to employ the right person for the right job regardless of where your choice less birth, within man-made borders happens to have been.

This gives you some background and perhaps some hope when looking to move to sunny Spain (despite at the moment of writing there being only rain). We want to help start a greater discussion about this topic wherever you may be reading this, so below we list some pros and cons, that we hae come across in Spain, for the age old topic of ‘natives’ vs ‘non-natives’ and your opinions are more than welcome.

Pronunciation, real life vocabulary and the accent

Natives speakers have the accent, they have the pronunciation, and the semantics of the language. This is a built-in system learned from early age through constant exposure, which in Spain is highly desirable for parents, as they believe that it will perhaps rub off on their children who they think will be drinking a cups of tea with their pinky finger sticking out before they know it. Having these skills however, are inherently useless unless a teacher knows how to transfer these skills to their students and also how to focus on inherent language specific problems for example, the ones that Spanish people have when it comes to the English accent and pronunciation. Furthermore, an accent is a double edged sword, it is great to have it but doesn’t a CD also have that and the Internet too. I used to live with a guy from Liverpool and even when toning down his accent I still needed a translator so now, somewhere out there, are a group of Scouse Spaniards, the benefits of which I will let you decide.

Natives on the whole have a stronger vocabulary, especially with those torrid phrasal verbs that one only comes across when living in England, but on the other hand, the system of learning vocabulary can completely elude natives, whereas a non-native has been there done that and got the T- shirt. A well prepared and clued up ‘non-native’ is more than a match for any ‘native’ in the classroom but the Spaniards love a good conversation class where a natives fluidity can really make the difference. The benefits of such a class are cause for another post.

Prestige

For better or worse the academies want that prestige. “We have a native speaker” they cry from every Spanish techo. “Come to our language school we have natives” as if they are some Zoo animal worthy of letting your child see if they pay the ticket price. Parents love it too, “oh did you hear that Maria has a native teacher for her child?” NO I did not and I don’t really care. Prestige is everything in Spain and if you live by the sword you die by the sword. If it is what they want then it is what they get, but to overlook a more experienced teacher for the sake of prestige lowers the overall teaching efficiency of your school. The key to getting a job here as a non-native is to play the system. Around the start of the academic term the schools are desperate and also in January when the teachers decide that life in blighty is better than Spain, that is when prestige goes out of the window, and they will hire non-natives and rightly so because they may just get someone to step into the breach and make a real difference in their school as in Spain doing a good job and having the students like you counts for so much more than what passport you have.

Culture

There is so much more to learning a Language than just words and grammar rules. Learning about the culture is equally as important as many students use English to access the culture (games, internet, tv) and this in turn increases their love of it and willingness to carry on learning it. With a native speaker an academy gets instant access to this and students benefit from the direct access they can get between language and culture. If you want to learn about food, customs, music, comedy and so much more, a native speaker can reminisce and instruct about theses matters first hand, and really help bring the language to life. This weighs heavily on academies in Spain and adds another string to their advertising bow when trying to attract students, or should I say parents, to their academy. Can non-natives learn all this….? Yes of course they can but if for example an English joke is intrinsically linked to the culture of the people then isn’t it just the blind leading the blind? Or what about Christmas customs, you really need to experience it first hand in England if you want to bring it to life; I am just not sure that reading about it is enough, however I remember the joy of a non-native teacher explaining to me their favourite English music and how much it meant to them that they could now understand and full enjoy it. And this enthusiasm and thirst for cultural knowledge is perhaps something natives don’t have or indeed take for granted. I can’t tell a student about my journey to understand an English song, about how overjoyed I felt when it finally clicked. It is an interesting issue and perhaps one that affects overall learning in a minimal way but it is worthy of a mention nonetheless.

Teaching of higher levels

The dreaded C1 and C2 class can be the bane of any teachers life. It is generally considered acceptable in Spain to give these higher classes to natives. Some academies may do otherwise but in my experience it has generally been like that. What I don’t understand is why I may be put in one of these classes but my fellow writing partner may not be even though she has done these classes herself and passed the exam. She in fact knows more about it than me! I am not so sure that being a native offers any inherent advantage except perhaps in practising speaking fluidity and really getting into the nitty gritty of when to use words and how to say them. But the C2 seems to me to be a purely academic exercise and if you have already got your C1 then go to England and bloody use it, really get down and dirty with the language. Perhaps these higher levels are the great leveller where natives and non-natives unite in head scratching and bafflement at the ludicrous nature of the English language. I have to study to teach these classes, you have to study to teach these classes and whatever inherent advantage I gain from being a native is immediately destroyed when I realise that I don’t know what half these words are and I need a god dam dictionary! So neither side can win this battle and at times we both lose, therefore native and non-native goes out of the window in my opinion and with these classes the term SURVIVE becomes more and more germane.

Under qualified

So, here is the scenario, I put an advert up for my teaching services at a reasonable price. I listed my qualifications and experience and the fact of course that I am native. I get a few classes from it no problem then to my horror I find that a friend of a friend who works as an assistant teacher in a school is charging more than me and has a sum total of zero qualifications/ experience. Then to top it all off said friend comes in to tell me that he now has a B2 exam class under his instruction and calmly asks ‘ is that a difficult level?’ ‘do they use a book for it?’ and other such questions that make me question all remaining faith I have in the Spanish system. At closer inspection of the website, I then find that a non-native university student, in the town, is charging twice as much as me and in her advert liberally smashes native speakers, with famous quotes from people I’ve never heard of…. that is her whole advert.

What is going on? This is where the moot divisions of who is better meet reality. Every boss is different and so many of them are hoodwinked into thinking they are getting a decent teacher because said teacher struts in and says ‘I am a native and I can teach….’ well welcome aboard I guess. I honestly feel sorry for parents too, who want to find and do the best for their kids, who end up with two bit wannabe teachers. The system here is broken and I don’t know how you can fix it.

The CELTA means diddly squat to parents and when there aren’t enough teachers you can find yourself working alongside someone in an Academy whose only qualification is an American passport. These people in turn push out Spanish native English teachers, who have to work twice as hard to get work and must feel quite appalled when walking past an English academy with a bundle of qualifications in hand, only to see a group of people at the window waving passports at them; an exaggeration but an analogy that sums up the system here quite well. It is not that natives triumph here it is that people with no qualifications to teach are given jobs, paid more than Spanish teachers and quite frankly turn the teaching of English in to one big farce. Some people need to realise that nationality may in fact have little to do with quality and that this nonsense doesn’t pass in any country where English is spoken with a shred of decency.

To conclude this divisive affair, it is fair to say that regardless of where you are from, there are good teachers and bad teachers, teachers who work hard and teachers who don’t. Who is better than whom is a debate that will rage on as long as the market favours one over the other. Don’t be discouraged from applying for a position in Spain as a ‘non-native’, be confident and fight for it. We’ve both worked alongside countless natives and non-natives all with unique strengths and weaknesses as teachers. There is much we can learn from people who were born into English and people who have studied it for most of their lives, a mix of the two in one academy can only lead to success in our most humbled opinion.

If you enjoyed our first blog post then wherever you find this start a conversation about natives vs non-natives in your country. We are interested to know the thought processes behind it in your country and we also like to read internet arguments.