Teacher Burnout

giphy1

Unfortunately this term is not as common as it should be. It can affect anyone at any time and is no different to work related stress or simply being pushed too hard day after day until you break. It is in fact all too common in the EFL world as bosses push employees to their limits day in day out until they either quit or are replaced.

Everybody’s different and some are affected more than others but the toll it can take on people’s lives, no matter how small, are quite frankly unacceptable. Most bosses turn around and say if you can’t handle it then quit, others may say it’s a product of the self entitled millennials who don’t know real hard work but in a world where stress related illnesses are on the rise and where it is being spoken about more openly than ever before perhaps it is time to speak out and address the issue in our field and let employers and employees alike know that teacher burnout is very real and very damaging.

We reached out across the Facebook group sphere, these private groups where every kind of EFL teacher dwells from here to kiribati (shout out to our reader over there), to find out what some teachers thought and if they could take some spare time to answer a few questions about teacher burnout. We asked them to answer four questions and here are some of their answers we received….

1. What is teacher burnout?

Hakan Durmaz, Istanbul.

In my opinion teacher burnout means losing the passion to teach.

Walter C. Anyanwu Native Instructor: Mektebim College, Istanbul,  34 , Nigerian living and working in Turkey

Teacher burnout from my own experience is a mental or physical collapse caused by overworking or stress through class management.

Katerina, 30, Rethymno Greece

As a result of work-related stress and loads of work, the teacher’s mind “shuts down” and they feel exhausted and unable to think clearly, work, or take on any more responsibility. At the same time, the teacher finds no fulfilment at work, and he or she is unable to be inspired.

Flora Michti, Thessaloniki, Greece.

To my mind, burnout is a feeling of total exhaustion, both physical and mental and a feeling that there’s no pay-off from teaching.

Ellen Dubois a semi-retired business English teacher who now lives in Nice, France and writer of BusinessEnglishallure.com

When we slow down or even stop preparing our classes in a personalized, creative, stimulating way. That is teacher burnout.

2. What causes it and what are the signs?

Ellen Dubois, Nice, France, writer of BusinessEnglishallure.com

Burnout is such a strong word. It brings to  mind harried, exhausted and stressed teachers. Usually burnout is caused by overwork coupled with a feeling of not having any control over the situation.

Katerina, 30, Rethymno Greece

Burnout is caused by exhaustion: when it’s accompanied by no leisure time and personal life. It appears after long periods of stress and hard work and, to my mind, not taking care of yourself (both emotionally and physically-which means that you don’t eat, sleep and rest enough) this leads to burnout. The signs can be very clear, exhaustion and inability to feel happy and fulfilled.

Walter C. Anyanwu 34, Nigerian living and working in Turkey

What causes it:

  • Longer working hours for example the standard working hours in Europe  (23 / 28 hours per week) may differ from working in Turkey (30 / 40 hours per week) or China (30 / 35 hours per week).
  •  Mental Stability of the teacher e.g. Emotional trauma, family predicaments etc.
  • Physical Stability of the teacher e.g. Unpreparedness, etc

What are the signs:

After a couple of years of teaching, the signs and causes depend on the mental or physical “metabolism” of the teacher.

  • Tiredness: this is a sign of unpreparedness for the lesson to be taught.
  • Severe Headache: this could be as a result of lack of class management. The ages and levels of the students as well as pressure from bosses and parents.

Flora Michti, Thessaloniki, Greece.

From what I have experienced, burnout manifests itself when a teacher starts to feel more tired and stressed than normal and has no desire to resume teaching. Other signs might be a sense of hopelessness, as if it’s just not worth it and that feeling we get when we hit a wall at the end of a path and have nowhere to go. Personally, I also feel that my energy is drained during classes.

Possible causes could vary, depending on how much one actually likes their job and their own personality. I think that low payment, no sense of accomplishment and development and an exhausting list of responsibilities (ESPECIALLY those that are not directly related to teaching, such as paperwork, meetings and all that) are main contributors to the feeling of being burnt out and are common to most teachers. I also tend to believe that the growing number of duties and tasks that are assigned to teachers lead to more cases of burnout. Finally, Payment plays a major role as it causes the same feeling both directly and indirectly (low salary – need to work all-year-round- no time for vacations or professional/personal development = burnout).

With regards to prevention, well, higher payment would be a good start! Tasks could be divided evenly to groups of educators and teachers should not be assigned duties that exceed their role/abilities (e.g. extra paperwork and grading, integration of technology without proper training, tests-exams-activities that pop out of nowhere, teaching students with SpLDs or psychological troubles without proper training).

Extra benefits and career opportunities would definitely help, as I think most teachers feel stuck in positions that lead nowhere, and groups where teachers could gather and talk and/or share resources would make probably make a difference.

3. How can it be dealt with and prevented? 

Katerina, 30, Rethymno Greece

It’s important to find time for yourself and avoid thinking about work-related (stressful) issues all the time. OK, this may be impossible for a teacher, as we have to worry about each and every student’s progress, struggles, and exam results, but we can try to do only as much work as we can handle. I think the most exhausting part of work is the homework, especially when there’s a lot of tests/essays to be graded, so it would be useful if we could avoid teaching only exam-oriented classes. What’s more, it’s important to sleep well and to eat several (healthy) meals a day.

Hakan Durmaz, Istanbul

Whomever rules the country should do more to increase the respect that people have for teachers. In society if people don’t respect their teachers the students won’t either. A teacher has to be happy, both economically and spiritually.

Walter C. Anyanwu , 34 , Nigerian living and working in Turkey

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” — Lena Horne. I’ve done self and class management for 5 years and it sucks at times. I’ve worked on myself through making sure I do thorough lesson plans, get a proper orientation before I move to another job and making sure I have worked the hours signed on my contract before I start working for the school, so as not to exceed my own limits.

Flora Michti, Thessaloniki, Greece.

When dealing with a burnout, I have found nothing more helpful than taking some time off – like REALLY off though, not relaxing-while-correcting-homework-or-tying-up-loose-ends off. Travelling, relaxing and engaging in something productive is the key to handle burnout and is the only way I have found and read about that can keep a burnout from appearing again any time soon.

Of course, even if a teacher deals with burnout but still gets no satisfaction or benefit from doing their job, they are very likely to experience another sense of being burnt out sooner or later – so maybe long-term benefits and prospects would cause the numbers of burned out teachers to drop.

If you can’t take time off, then laying back is vital for a teacher to make it to the end of the year. Maybe picking up a hobby could benefit burnt-out teachers – it has worked for many of us. Counselling is also something one could try.

Ellen Dubois, Nice, France, writer of BusinessEnglishallure.com

A good work/home life balance is critical.  Ask for advice from the teachers around you who seem to ‘have it together’.  Look for a teacher who has a similar home life: a teacher with young kids for example, or who lives far from work.  Set up a lunch or coffee date with him and her: some place where you both feel relaxed and pampered.

Be honest about your feelings of being overwhelmed and ask for concrete suggestions on improving your daily life that you can put into place tomorrow.  It shouldn’t be a gripe session, but a positive one where you will come away feeling invigorated by the new ideas and anxious to put them in place.  Be attentive, take notes and be grateful.

4. Personal experiences and advice for teachers

Walter C. Anyanwu , 34  Nigerian living and working in Turkey

My advice is this; be yourself, get ready to face the challenges without fear and keep your head up.

Katerina, 30, Rethymno Greece

In my first year working for a language school, I taught only C2-level writing classes (lots of them!), so I had to grade about 100-150 essays per week. This means that I was back home (from work) at about 9 p.m. and I had to work for at least 3 more hours. Of course, I had zero social life and I lived to work. I didn’t have time to eat during the day, so I would eat my one and only meal at 2 a.m. Apart from the exhaustion and the burnout symptoms I put on 15 kg and I had some health issues. My advice is to find some tips in order to achieve work- life balance and to fight stress but, above all, get quality sleep and eat regularly!

Hakan Durmaz, Istanbul

This is my fifth year as a teacher. I remember the time when l started teaching. I was really an idealistic teacher but as the years have passed l can now see the exhaustion setting in. Nowadays l am even unwilling to go to school. In my country most of the students are prejudiced against learning English. They think they wont be able to learn. And as a result of this psychological barrier they cant. At the beginning l was doing everything to break down that obstacle but now l see that it is nearly impossible or in other words l could succeed with just a few of my students. After 5 years of teaching, l have become like a robot who goes to school and leaves the school according to a timetable. What l want is ; better classroom conditions, more motivated students and more concerned parents…

Flora Michti, Thessaloniki, Greece.

So, for me: if you get the feeling of being burnt-out too often, then maybe it’s the job itself that isn’t right for you. Finding the cause of a burnout is the key to dealing with it and It will save you some time for yourself which is very important for you and for your students. Happy teachers make happy students – if you’ve long stopped enjoying your own classes, then there’s definitely something wrong and it won’t just stop being there unless you find it and address it.

Ellen Dubois, Nice, France and writer of BusinessEnglishallure.com

I did have periods in my 25-year career in business English teaching  where I had a bad home life / work balance,  especially at the beginning of my career. I was the new-hire and was afraid to say no to courses that interfered with my home life: evening classes or Saturday mornings. I finally set up a meeting with my boss and set very clear limits on when and where I could give classes. I was so afraid she would fire me, but she actually treated me with more respect!

I also spent a huge amount of time on preparation because I accepted any and all classes with diverse subjects such as banking and finance to accounting, without taking into consideration the added prep time needed for such specialized subjects.  I began to say no to those classes, unless there was a good course book and supplementary teacher’s book. For example: a four-hour workshop in negotiating took me hours of extra preparation.  I even read a best seller on negotiating. The return on investment was low, even though I kept everything just in case I was asked to teach “negotiating in English’ again.

Get organized to reduce stress before and after work:  One of my students (a mother of two) advised me to do all preparation on the weekends.  Save the week nights for dealing with family emergencies.   I began to get up early to have enough time to pack my brief case with the class materials needed for the day.  I had a folder for each class, and in the class notes for each session I jotted down a plan for the next lesson.  I only had to read my notes and pull out the corresponding material.

Bring joy to your classroom.  Use fun games where there’s lots of laughter.

To sum this all up: firstly I want to say thank you to all the people who contributed and shared their thoughts both professional and personal. It has been very enlightening for me and I hope enlightening for you the reader. It is clear that teacher burnout/ work related stress is an issue that can’t be ignored and should be taken far more seriously by employer and employee a like.

These testimonials show that we can all be perceptible to this issue and that preventing it and overcoming it is a very real struggle indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EFL Interviews- The questions I like to ask

giphy

The classic tête-à-tête. The first formal meeting between employer and potential employee. They are a fundamental part of the recruitment process for any EFL teacher and can also be quite nerve-racking. Especially when the job is in a place you really want to go. Through my experiences of doing interviews for positions in Spain, Italy, Malta and England I hope to put together some questions that you should definitely ask during the interview. And I’ve had it all, from why are you asking so many questions, to why aren’t you asking enough, to even… I don’t want to answer that. Well, with some decorum and respect you can ask these questions below and, hopefully, it will help you get a better picture of what you are stepping into and, like the once bitten twice shy teacher that I am, you can avoid the trap of working for the kings of this pyramid scheme we call EFL. (a term from a comment on a previous blog I wrote that still makes me chuckle)

Some of these are obvious, I KNOW, but they are nonetheless important and worth a little explanation too.

Replacement- Am I replacing another teacher and why? (phrased in a more polite way, obviously)

When applying for a job in the darkest depths of winter. I always cast an eye of suspicion on any advert I see. The reason for this is that most of the time you are replacing someone and I think it is reasonable to want to know why. Now, prying into some poor teacher’s reasons for leaving is of course not on ,but you have to ask yourself why they left and in my experience they did so because they weren’t happy with/at the school. A school with a high turnover is something to be wary of and a school that loses teachers after 3 months is also a worry. However, there are multiple reasons for why one might leave, so asking this question might get you an honest answer or more than likely a cryptic answer, filled with buzzwords, that only cause alarm bells to ring out even more.

Should you simply not accept any position in January? No, of course not, but it is important to have as much information at your disposal before you make a decision and from the behaviour of the interviewer, in response to your question, you can get a good gauge of the situation and the type of person you are dealing with. When I ask this question I find out a lot. A lot from what is said and even more from how they handle the question and what they don’t say. A case in point: I once applied for a job in January and it turned out that I was replacing a man who had quit due to stress and another woman had been fired because they didn’t like her. If I’d asked them during the interview this question perhaps they wouldn’t have told me anything and lied or perhaps I would have found out just enough to not accept the job and in turn leave 4 months later. If you don’t ask; you don’t get.

How many teachers are there and how many schools?

I always ask this question in any interview. Knowing the size and number of teachers can give you a great idea of what kind of school you will find yourself in and what kind of school you like. The hustle and bustle of a large school can be a new teacher’s nightmare and a lot of the large chain schools in Spain have a somewhat questionable relationship between teachers and bosses. On the other hand, you may absolutely hate a small school where you are all on top of each other or you might love the cosy “family-like” environment. Either way it is a good question to ask and can really help you make a choice between a big school in a big city or a big school in a small town or etc etc.

Where will I be put?

A follow up question would be, If you have more than one school, where will I be put? I worked for an academy with three schools and was told I would move from one to the other every three months. A great proposition, however, I ended up in the smallest school in a small village which required me to get a 55-minute bus every day and I was never moved I just stayed there, in this tiny village, for 5 hrs every day. So perhaps the question should be where are your schools and how will I get to them? So many interviewers say “we are based in this city” but actually you will end up working far far away from there. Don’t fall for this one.

Pay, accommodation, hours in contract (a tricky one as British people don’t like to talk about pay…but ask about it anyway!)

A real no-brainer this one and one that everyone asks anyway but I cannot stress the importance of it. Even if it looks like a good deal, always reference it against the price of a flat in that area. I applied for a job in a wealthy town in northern Spain and couldn’t accept the position as the pay wasn’t enough for me to cover my rent or bills. The haters will say “well you should go with your own money to set yourself up,” which I agree with, but eventually if the pay doesn’t cover the costs then you will have to leave. All in all no one gets paid that much anyway but this “no-brainer” of a question is a serious deal-breaker. For example 1000 Euros in Madrid doesn’t go as far as 1000 Euros in a smaller city. Always ask and always check the local prices for flats, if the numbers don’t add up then don’t take the job.

Also make sure you double check your hours, a lot of the time the hours can be “flexible”. One week you can be working 25 and then another you can suddenly be working 30. You can’t guarantee this won’t happen during the interview but you need a clear idea of what you will be doing so that if they screw you over you know what you agreed on when you first spoke. Furthermore are the hours morning, afternoon or evening. You would be surprised how many people don’t ask this and suddenly realise that they are driving to business at 8 in the morning and not finishing until 10 in the evening.

What Methodology do you use?

You need to know how they work and operate before you can do your job successfully, it is as simple as that. Some academies are hands-off some are hands-on and some follow strict methods that are inflexible and, quite frankly, don’t suit everyone. Every school does things differently and you need to know this before you start. It is always good to know whether you will be observed and how many times this will take place, also what support they offer to teachers who need help following the methodology in place. People in Spain either quit or lose their jobs because they didn’t/don’t follow a methodology they were offered no help on in the first place.

What age ranges will I be working with?

This is usually specified in the job description but what you need to know is how often you will be working with certain age ranges… and ask yourself; is the advert being cryptic about who exactly you will be working with? A lot of academies say YL (young learners) and then stick you with 4 year olds all week. It is not for everyone, trust me. Always ask how the hours break down and what a typical week for a teacher looks like. The bulk of Spanish work in academies comes from kids from 3 upwards and of course a lot of teenagers so don’t expect to be working with competent, well-behaved adults all week.

Do your research before the interview

This is not a question to ask but, make sure you scour the Internet for reviews of the academy. There are even blacklists out there to help you. Check out their Facebook and ask on forums for any help you can get. Don’t be afraid to investigate and ask around and do your research on the town or city you might go to. Try to find out the things that they won’t tell you in an interview so when you do go into the interview you are prepared and don’t just lap up whatever they say.

But let’s face it, during the interview they may well bend the truth, to get you there, or sugar coat it or maybe that is how they actually see it but by asking the questions above and of course some of your own, then you might just find a place you want to go back to and you might just cut through some of the bullshit that comes out of some of these peoples’ mouths.

This is not a definitive guide to what you should and shouldn’t do in an interview but it does contain some questions that I have learnt I NEED to ask in order to get the maximum information I can about an academy.

Also what I really want, is to start a discussion about what questions you should always ask in an interview. I am not the “be-all and and end-all” of questions to ask in an interview but if you agree with me or disagree with me, put it in the comments and wherever you see this, add some more tips and questions so we can (hopefully) save anyone the potential disaster of choosing an academy that screws them.

Part 2: Going Private in Spain

source.gif

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

10

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.