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.