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My Experience in Madrid

A local English teacher, who shall remain unnamed, tells his story:

Making a living as a “Profesor de Inglés” has not been easy here in Madrid, Spain, but neither has it been too difficult. My life in the U.S. was terribly unsatisfying for me, as it is for many of you, and in many ways my prospects were far worse than here.

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William Christison
William Christison.

William y Steven: MadridTeacher podcast: "Anatomy of a Murder" (MP3, Text)
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I was working a split-shift with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up and an 8:00 p.m. knock-off, an hour-long walk back and forth to work (we had wrecked my new car and I refused even to accept a gift of one from the family because we were saving for the move here), medical insurance that was eating into my savings at a rate of over $250.00 per month and a very stressful job that was causing stomach problems, headaches and hemorrhoids. Despite the terrible problems I have had here since coming from ……, ........, ……, I cannot say I would have done it any differently had I known what I know now: I have no regrets whatsoever.

Life is good here; it is better than in the States I am afraid, at least for me, and I have no intention of ever going back. You can argue all you like, but there is still a freedom and warmth here that I found non-existent in America and which, unfortunately, may soon disappear here as well. For the restless of spirit and the perpetually unsatisfied like me, there is no better place. On the other hand, though I am an American, I have had it easy here compared to other Americans, as I am also a dual citizen of ……. I have not had any problem with papers or permits, whereas I have seen others suffer tremendously. I highly recommend going the legal route unless you are either a masochist or a genius. A masochist I can identify with, but I will admit that I would never be able to understand why a genius would want to come illegally.

Language School Requires Teachers

IH MaddridUpdate: July 20, 2017:

We are now recruiting for two different types of contract:

i) In-company teachers for up to 12 hours a week. Freelance or on contract. We are looking for enthusiastic, experienced In-Company teachers. We can give you work each morning and lunchtime. Competitive pay rates, access to first class training, development and resources. CELTA or equivalent essential. Mid-September or October start date.

ii) Adults and YL teachers on around 20 hours a week, lunchtime to evening schedules. If you are an enthusiatic and dedicated teacher who loves working with young learners and adult students, we are looking to fill a limited number of positions. Competitive pay rates, excellent resources, support and teacher development. CELTA or equivalent and relevant experience essential.

For either position, please send your CV and teaching qualification certificate to For more information see our website

More info on International House Madrid on MadridTeacher, and more info about IHMadrid's TEFL Course.

Just like I was never able to understand why a past boss at ……………. would confess to me while I was working there that if she had it to do over again, she would not go the legal route, that she would open a “pirate school.” What that is I do not know, but it could not have been much different than what she already had. I still remember sitting and listening to how the receptionist tried to sell customer after customer on the idea that all of the teachers were native speakers of the language and had at least 5 years of experience. Aside from my South American and Jamaican English teaching colleagues, I do not think that much of anybody else had that much experience. I certainly did not. However, I have seen a lot of language teaching and business practices in Madrid that I do not understand much, but I have always been humble about it and willing to try to understand what might well be a more superior intellect or level of culture than mine.

As an American English teacher I can appreciate that a lot of the world does not think we Americans have “culture.” By working in Madrid I have had a lot of opportunities to take in the wisdom of the ages that Spain has to offer. Another boss at ……………, a private Elementary and High School, remarked to me over a stomach churning lunch in the school cafeteria (I was gifted with at least two cases of gastroenteritis in my ……. years there.) that Americans just would never be able to understand the Spanish concept of “picaresqua.” I took his word for it, but checked back with my Spanish family anyway on the off chance that they might be able to educate me further on it. “It has to do with a period of time in Spain and its literature” (Lazarillo de Tormes, for example), they said, “it was a period of time when the very poor had to resort to trickery to even be able to eat.” Thanking them very much for their wise words, I resolved to sneak in a lunch-bag and have it in my classroom everyday.

With the passing of the years I have had to develop many other sneaky techniques like Lazarillo’s in order to get ahead and, fortunately, for the observant there is a veritable wealth of role models to learn from and almost anybody is willing to educate you under the right circumstances. My boss at …………, for example, was really forthcoming with a helpful phone call while I was on a three week medical leave from an appendicitis operation gone wrong. It could have been selective amnesia or the side effects of the pain medication, but I do not remember the exact details of the conversation. I do know that she was very concerned with the possibility that I might be taking advantage of the Social Security System (government hospitals and such) and taking too much paid time off from work or that I might well have even taken that job because I needed the Social Security System for my upcoming appendicitis operation (and I suppose I had sneakily planned it two months ahead of time). Lo! that I had thought of it first, but such are the shortcomings of an inferior mind and culture. In any case, it was a simple operation that turned out to be just as simple to mess up, and which resulted in a three-week stay in the hospital, but Hey! It was free (or rather, my oh, so, helpful boss had financed it), I recovered my lost pay and, most importantly, I am still alive!

You do have to be thankful these days to be alive. Not too long ago, the owner of the “Atletico de Madrid,” a local soccer club, said that he had players that did not even deserve to be alive. They, on the other hand, responded that he might be able to say that if he did not usually pay them two or three months behind schedule. Unlike those poor soccer players, when I have been paid, I have generally been paid on time.

On the other hand, there was the time that I lasted two days on one job at ………….., which had a funny-money working program that I am still trying to work out: basically I just wanted 10 hours of classes with them in the mornings, but they told me I would be at the office for twenty, 8:00 – 12:00, and that if I worked any of the other ten hours that those would be tallied up as time-and-a-half hours that would be paid off in July. I thought “wonderful,” as those 10:00 to 12:00 time slots are difficult to fill, and went on with the training sessions. One of the other teachers explained the situation to me: if you work 50 hours of overtime in the fall, you can expect to work 50 hours less in the Spring. How much would you get in overtime pay? Zero, Zilch, Zippo! Nothing! Fifty minus fifty is nothing. This school tied up your whole morning, kept a lot of the money that they really owed you well into the Spring (preventing you from running away, for instance), told you that you would get a big fat check at the end of the year and in the end you got paid nothing extra for it… Why didn’t I think of it first?!

After a while here you develop a sixth sense of when to run away and you really have to pay attention to it. The problem is when those instincts are going full blast day in and day out. It is a toss up whether English teaching produces burnouts or attracts them, but I have met quite a few of them. A few years ago, for example, I worked at a Summer School in …………… with a few 45 year-old burnouts. Two were burnt out from teaching English in Madrid and one had burnt out as a social worker and had gone into English teaching. Of the first two burnouts, I have to say that one ended up working in ……. as a civil servant and the other is going back to school in ………. I have lost contact with the social worker burnout, but I am sure he is still burnt out. In fact, I am nearly burnt out myself too. I often think I have been burnt out since the first day I got here, but I still manage to find ways to keep myself going.

Unlike most of the rest of the burnouts around here, I am stuck with whatever I can make of the situation. When I came over from the States I knew I had to teach English as I did not think I would be qualified for much else (the State exams are hell). What is more, my Spanish family had filled me in on the situation by telling me about the Spanish concept of “enchufismo” or the local equivalent of the “old-boy network.” Since then I have seen a few Americans and British people working in Spanish companies, but I just do not think that they are treated any differently from any other Spaniard with regards to their generally low pay and the incredibly long hours they have to work. A colleague at ………….., for example, got hired on as an in-company translator, but six months later got fired for “childish behavior” for daring to complain for not having gotten any of his promised overtime pay.

Imagine that! Why I have seen more than one Spaniard have to work all night to meet an 8:00 a.m. deadline and then have to stay and work all day because they worked from 9:00 to 5:00 (on the books anyway: 8:00 to 21:00 is a much more common work schedule.). After one of these grueling all-nighters, an engineer blew his top in one of my classes because I had cleared the conference room table of his material (as I had done for two months) and though he was not even a student of mine, he tried to get me fired. Thankfully, he had a bit of a reputation for wild behavior and a mature student supported me with the English programs coordinator as did my boss “………” at “…………...” Quite frankly, this boss was one of the frankest people I have ever had the pleasure of having as a boss and a real human being. I left …….. hanging mainly because I was working in one of his client companies, a ………… subsidiary of ………., that got sold off to …………. in the U.S. and which I was sure was going to get rid of its English teaching program. The big fish eat the little fish and the little fish have to be fast. The fact that it did happen as I had predicted it would, comes as no consolation.

Normally, not in this boss’ case, you can generally bet on the teacher or worker getting the blame for everything if there is ever a problem. Part of my Manager training at ………….. included a session on firing: “if you fire an employee, make sure that you have given him a bad evaluation. You would not have fired him if he were a good employee.” I am still not sure if I was fired from …….. for being a bad employee or because I was a risk for being in bad health (the appendicitis case above). However, when I was laid off on the last day of my trial period (my boss had convinced me that it would be better for me and everybody if I went back to work, so I convinced my doctor that I could do it.), I felt lots better when she cooled me out with a nice chat about how we could have been very good friends under different circumstances. My eyes still tear up just thinking about it; what a heart warming experience!

Still, it is not easy to get fired. The opposite is generally true: you almost have to beg to get out of a job, fight your way out, or as previously stated, resort to “sneakery.” In one case, I did not feel that a particular school had honored its promises in our job interview as presented to me regarding materials and support (i.e. they promised a computer lab, English learning software, video camera, etc.), so I quietly let them know right before the Christmas holidays that I would not be coming back in January. Well, it was as if a tornado had paid the school a visit. What a show! I can now understand why teachers just simply “disappear.” Not that I have disappeared much, it just seems that it would make it so much easier in so many cases.

I often felt I could have just disappeared when I was working at “………….” in ………. The boss there did not believe in textbooks and so we had to come up with a lot of our own materials on his computers, which he claimed to then get copyrighted. I have never worked so hard in my life. I have to thank this man for indirectly educating me in the wisdom of using textbooks. Also, I will have to say that though he seemed to have quite an attitude problem, he was a good teacher, a professional TEFLer (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I think) and a decent human being when it came to hiring multi-racially. I suppose it is just terribly difficult to be a totally balanced person in this mad TEFL jungle. Everybody either starts out or ends up an eccentric. It is almost unavoidable.

After this last job I worked for a guy who a few years before had been a teacher just like the rest of us and who hired me in a bar (he had no office at the time). Now he has one of the biggest and best paying agencies in Madrid and Spain and you have to go through his employees to get to him.

I was getting paid 27 euros per hour when I started with him, but then he lowered the rates to 22 euros per hour and I moved on to my last big company, which paid as much as 36 euros per hour (I got 30.). It was a darn shame when they decided to outsource the whole language-training program to ………….. Friends tell me that they now pay new teachers far less.

I have heard lots of second-hand reports that there are still big companies left that like to hire large numbers of freelancers themselves. There were lots of us at ……… and even more teachers who were working through agencies like ………... In any case, I am fully independent now and I don’t work for big companies anymore.

It’s been a few years since I started teaching English for myself as a freelance in an Australian multi-national and pulled in almost 35 euros an hour. I might have left agencies altogether right then and there, but the classes were a real problem logistically and the classes in …………. were great! In other words, I got on with my students at ………. just fine, whereas in this Australian company they were mostly just interested in getting it on with each other. And NO! I will not give up that Company’s name. Sorry! Even though I do realize that it would be pure gold for many in more ways than one.

It’s a good thing that English teaching has got a high intrinsic entertainment value because the low pay here rules out any but the most rudimentary forms of entertainment. I love teaching here and I love the life. However, from experience I can emphatically tell you that it sure as heck ain’t been easy!!! Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything back Stateside.

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Bray's English

Bray's English has a list of lessons they're looking to fill Tuesdays 20:00 to 21:00, Thursday 20: to 21:30 or Saturday 11:30 to 13:00 near Goya, Madrid. Mondays-Wednesdays 17:05 to 18:00 and Tuesdays-Thursdays 17:05 to 18:00 in Getafe.

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