5 things pupils ask that you wish they wouldn’t

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Welcome to students say the darndest things or should I say any EFL class anywhere. It can be a hoot and a holler teaching them to an outright existential crisis causing nightmare. Here are some of the more humorous episodes that we’ve experienced, perhaps you can relate and add some more in the comments.

1.What page?

Well little Timmy if you look at the board it is there and I told the class several times and asked you about 5 seconds ago what the page number was. It is p53… no no not 23, 53. I’ll find it for you. And on the walk home you often think to yourself maybe I should have had it tattooed to my head before the class… YES that would’ve worked.

2. Are you married?/ How old are you?/ Have you got any children?

Old and young alike revel in the awkwardness of asking this question. I must admit there is never any bad intentions but trying to explain to 7 year olds why teacher no longer has a car and is struggling to pay the divorce laywer is not a gracious conversation topic. Sometimes bosses have even asked me whether I am married or have children or even better am I planning on having any…. Well errr when I am at peak ovulation I’ll let you know what I am thinking about doing….

3.Do you speak insert their language here?

The most innocent of questions that leads to non-stop harassment in said language and a refusal to use English because they know you understand them anyway. We’ve all been there or even accidentally let it slip that you might just know your ‘ser’ from ‘estar’ or your confusing greek spelling from that other confusing greek spelling but when it leads to imminent translations you’ll regret it.

4.What’s the thing you use that helps you put on your shoe? (vague explanations and oddly specific vocab requests)

The answer was shoe horn, and to this day I haven’t fully found out why they needed to know that word but they did… Have you ever forgotten a word or not been able to understand their vague explanation and then been told “I thought you were an English teacher” I have and I am under the impression that for a moment they mistook me for google.

5. What’s insert horrendously offensive swear word here in English?

Ok I get it, maybe going round in your language saying ‘Fuck’ left right and centre is all right but for the quaint English folk of England it’s not a good idea and you won’t get far. Then, of course, you get the funny ones that don’t really translate into English but are highly amusing to watch as your students call each other the most badly translated and meaningless English term because you told them that was the word they were looking for. Mwahah better luck next time!

 

5 things not to ask an EFL teacher

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Strange questions are abound in our field so we thought we’d add to the list of peculiar inquisitions we put up with in our most humble of fields.

1.Are you a native?/ You speak very well for a non-native

Guess what people, not everyone is a native speaker, judge me on my qualifications and experience not my passport. Yes yes ‘student preference’… ‘ EU discrimination’ and so the wheel turns but it is infuriating and inevitability followed with “wow your English is good for a non-native”. Well no shit Sherlock I’ve been studying it for 20 years.

2.Can you work on Saturdays/ bank holidays?

You would be surprised how many times teachers are asked this by academies and private classes alike. Some people want to do it some people don’t. I prefer not to be asked because I spend my weekends planning for the following week whilst trying to defrag from the previous week. A response to refusing this generous offer can often be “well, if you managed your time better you could work on weekends” If I managed by time better I could also finish that book I want to read and get jogging again but…. I am a human too.

3.Do you enjoy your 3 month holiday? (i.e you don’t work a lot do you?)

Firstly, we all have to admit that following the academic year does have its perks. However, a lot of teachers find it impossible to make ends meet throughout summer and often do summer schools or carry on their private lessons. It can be a mad dash at the end of the academic year trying to find that lucrative summer school job that might give you the chance to earn a bit of money over the summer. And if you happen to live in Spain you quickly find out that no one does anything over the summer anyway so they can get on their bike.

4.Can you do a conversation class with my 4 year old?

Perhaps a minor exaggeration but how many times have we been asked to do the impossible? I will try my best but I am not sure I can help you pass your B2 exam this year when you aren’t really B1 yet. Sometimes the expectations put on us are too high and sometimes the learners’ expectations are too high also. Aim for the stars but be a little realistic whilst you’re at it.

5. If you are in our country why don’t you speak our language?

This is a funny one and one I’ve been asked so many times in Spain. My response is a mixture of “did that guy really just ask me that?” and “it’s just as well I don’t have the skills yet to take you down”. I am here to help people in your country learn a language that is vital in the grand scheme of things. I am learning your language, trust me, in Spain it makes things so much easier to get some of the language under your belt; everyone who comes to Spain quickly realises this.

If you have any more things to add about what not to say, put them in the comments or in a local Facebook group. The questions will never cease but there is nothing wrong with having a bit of fun mocking them every now and again.

What are your teaching qualifications worth in Spain?

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“We want a native teacher with a CELTA with 3 years experience to work for pennies in our industrial park academy.”

“We want a native or non native teacher,no experience necessary to work in the centre of a great city with full sponsorship for CELTA.”

An exaggeration perhaps but there is no doubt that the adverts for teaching jobs in Spain are at times baffling.

At times I wonder if people know what they are looking for and what they really want. From interviews with tests in them to simply knowing someone so you land that assistant director job with little experience. It really all feels up in the air and when I see auxiliares charging 15 Euros an hour for private classes the term ‘farce’ comes to mind too.

The system in Spain is far from perfect and, in fact, borders on broken with schools changing the curriculum almost every year and churning out students with no confidence or interest in the language; to the afore mentioned auxiliares plying their wares in academies and private classes without a shred of teaching experience, just arrogance and swagger to get them by.

And the battle over native vs non-native still rages despite the fact that is the under-qualified that we should be uniting against.

Rant over… For now. But i want to list the most common teaching certificates you find in Spain and with anecdotes and intrigue I wish to inform you of what they are worth in Spain and then you can choose whether you need them or not.

The first certificate I want to cover is the CELTA. Does it really help you in Spain? What salary can you get? What types of jobs can you find?

CELTA

The typical qualification that many bring to Spain and also one of the most valued, within reason.

There is no doubt that the CELTA is a valuable teaching experience and offers you a lot of techniques that will be helpful in the class, but it is important to note that in Spain you will be working with children let’s not say young learners let’s be honest..kids with all their problems and development issues their energy and levels. The CELTA did not prepare me for that nor did it prepare me for private classes and other one on ones. But overall it will help you and that is that.(I would like to see in the comments your opinions on the CELTA and whether it was useful)

However, this certificate should give you access to many jobs where no experience is required but getting your foot in the door in Spain is not always as easy as you think.

Many academies only offer jobs to people with experience, despite the job being no different to what a NQ CELTAteacher could do, which brings to mind the adage of waiters wanted 18-25 with 10 years experience. I kind of get it. Experience means you are a better teacher…. Right?…

Despite being qualified it is still not always as straight forward as you think to get that position in Spain: if for example the place you want to go is popular, you will really be up against it as competition can be fierce.

By all means go for your dream place but a little exploration of Galicia or maybe some other lost mystical region might just give you the experience you need to move into a perfect job in the future if you are in this for the long hall.

Salary

The salary for a CELTA qualified position can vary depending on hours and location but a typical 25hr contract can net you from 1050 to 1400 Euros post tax. Some offer more for more years experience but I’ve been doing this 3 years and never had an increase.

The salaries for CELTA qualified teachers are now under the spotlight however, as one post I recently saw demonstrates, it is now becoming harder to attract experienced teachers for this entry level wage as going private with 2 to 3 years experience could net you 1500 to 2000 Euros given time and connections. Furthermore, a person with a fresh Celta in hand will still have a BA and is deserved of more than a basic teaching salary and that is not even mentioning the non native or local teachers who are taken for a ride, with academies paying as little as 8 Euros an hour to a Spaniard with the same qualifications.

Underlining all this is the fact that you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with and working alongside non qualified people. In my first post CELTA position only 2 out of 5 teachers at my academy had a CELTA yet we were still being paid and worked the same.

The turnover during the year was far higher amongst the non qualified but that is the peril of walking into a classroom with absolutely nothing to back you up.

Another case is that if there aren’t enough teachers in town this causes the worth of a CELTA to fall significantly. People are hired for being English and auxiliares are hired for reasons beyond me.

It was these experiences that gave me the idea for writing about what the CELTA is worth as at first I saw it as vital if I wanted to work in Spain. However if you only want to teach for a year or two and don’t care about doing a decent job then a CELTA isn’t necessary and you can just go to Spain and look around.

Disillusioned would be a term that comes to mind when I think about the worth of a CELTA in Spain. The experience from the course is vital in my opinion but for many others it is superfluous and frivolous and you may as well just come to Spain use and abuse the already broken system and enjoy yourself. I’ve heard countless times from many colleagues that they didn’t get the CELTA, what does it even do and I quote ‘I just wing it’.

To conclude, the experience gained from the CELTA course is very important for overall teaching progression and can easily land you a job in Spain however for private classes I must say that the general public don’t know what it is and are more fixated on natives than anything else.

Academies on the surface want them but many hire people without them and at a hefty price tag for the non committed amongst us it may seem completely pointless but for the dedicated teachers who want to do a good job and take things seriously it will help you and it certainly helps if you find a decent academy and want to climb the ranks.

I am in the process of asking DELTA teachers what they think their qualification is work in Spain and what it can do to help your prospects. So stay tuned….

Teacher Burnout

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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

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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

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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!