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How I Became an English Teacher in Madrid

by Sarah E. Rogers

Growing up in California, my sister and I wanted to be sheepherders in the Shetland Islands, open a bookshop in London, run a bakery in Paris. So running a little freelance editing business (Innoword) from Madrid, Spain and teaching the occasional English class isn’t such a stretch for me.


 

Baxter Business Services
Expanding language school is looking for full-time and part-time teachers.

 
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William Christison
William Christison

Teaches English classes in companies and in his own private home.

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My first introduction to Madrid was studying abroad here for a year as part of my university studies. I liked Madrid so much that I didn’t want to leave, but I had to go back and finish my degree. Then one thing led to another and I settled down to work in San Francisco, where for two years I carefully plotted my escape to Spain.

In fact, I had said “I’m going to move to Spain” so many times over a two-year period that my family and friends took it as nothing more than an over-used meditation mantra until one day I announced: “I’m quitting my job, I’m starting a business, and by the way, I’m moving to Spain.” And I did. And I loved it.

The only problem was that entrepreneurship is harder than it looks. I even pasted the quote “Failure is simply a step in a learning process that eventually leads to mastery” to my desk in a twisted attempt to ward off failure, but one day it became clear that I needed to start replenishing my rapidly dwindling savings.

 


Apps In English


As a fluke I applied to be a kids’ camp counselor for a week. The company called me in for an interview, at which it then became clear that they were hiring English teachers to do in-company classes for civil servants. I had had dozens of language exchanges, could correct people’s pronunciation, and was able to find my way around English grammar when need be, so I thought: Why not give it a try? So they deposited ten textbooks into my arms and wished me luck.

I quickly considered teaching English as my next great challenge and spent the weekend poring over the textbooks. Then I bought a used book from J&J Books and read as much about English teaching as I could glean from the Internet.

Only one student showed up to my first class on Monday, an elderly gentleman. He thought it was ridiculous to have class with only one student, and I didn’t know any better, so he convinced me to cancel class and have coffee with him in the cafeteria. There he told me about all the English teachers he had had over the years and why he had liked or disliked them and how they had helped him or not. As I sat there listening I decided that if I tried to teach with no experience, I would be doing my students a grave disservice and make a farce of the teaching profession.

So I marched back to the company’s office and quit. As expected, my boss was not at all pleased. He brought me in to his boss’s office and the two of them spent almost an hour convincing me of the good I could do and to give teaching a try.

The next day I put on a suit and gave it my all. A couple classes asked me why their teachers always leave. They told me that they never had a teacher last more than two months. This perplexed me, and I vowed to stay more than two months. Other classes told me that their previous teachers didn’t speak Spanish. In fact, at the end of one class I quietly witnessed a whole conversation about myself because they thought I was like their previous teachers and didn’t speak Spanish either. They didn’t know I had a degree in Spanish and had made a hobby of studying their country. But after I had established a good rapport with the students over the course of the next few weeks, I let them know that I did in fact speak Spanish.

In many cases, I found that speaking and having studied Spanish was a distinct advantage. I could better understand the source of my students’ errors and help them avoid making the same mistakes again and again. And if a student was really, truly stuck, instead of just allowing them to shut down, I would allow them to express what they wanted to say in Spanish and then together we’d work out how to arrive at the same meaning in English.

I was given the freedom to use or not use the books as I liked, and there wasn’t a set pace or curriculum. In fact, I usually only used the books half the time, and ironically it took me twice as long to prepare lessons from the book as lessons that I created myself. The book was heavy on grammar practice and with it I felt more pressure to “perform” correctly. I focused my home-grown lessons on vocabulary and practical reading, writing, and speaking exercises, often adapting ideas from English-teaching resources I found on the Internet.

Once I found that the company I was working for acted like a giant revolving door desperate to recruit any college graduate from an English-speaking country, and not expecting them to stay nor working to keep them, it became obvious why many teachers didn’t stick around. Teachers passing through Madrid would up and leave, people looking for extra income would decide that it wasn’t worth it, teaching schedules would be changed without explanation, and the pay was low. I quickly found that for every hour I was paid, I had to work three hours, which as you would imagine turned out to be slave wages. Besides the time spent teaching in the classroom, there was time spent getting to and from each site, preparing lessons, keeping attendance and lesson records, and coordinating schedules and makeup classes with students and the boss. Luckily, I could make photocopies for free at the students’ workplaces. A friend of mine who taught English in Syria (and had paid prep time along with other perks) was horrified when I told him all this, but it just seemed to be the norm in Madrid.

As the months wore on, some days I would teach one class at 8 a.m., have a midday class, and then another in the evening. Other days I’d just have the 8 a.m. class and a late afternoon class. I tried to work on my business at home between classes, but the classes ended up dominating my schedule. I didn’t give classes on Fridays though. I was very firm with the company that I had to devote Fridays to my business, and for the most part, they respected that.

After six months, I was comfortable teaching and could tell that I had greatly improved, but my business still hadn’t taken off and I wasn’t happy with my teaching schedule. So I decided to orient my business in a different direction, and it worked.

Business got better and I didn’t need to teach anymore. However, I work from home, which is great, but it’s boring sometimes all by myself. There’s no watercooler talk, and while working from cafes is a good solution once in a while, I don’t like to bring my laptop with me.

So I still teach English once in a while, but on my own terms. I carefully weigh whether or not to accept a class, rather than accepting every class I’m offered as I did before. For a while I did have some private students on the side, which allowed me to charge more, but for the most part they wanted a long-term teacher and I found myself needing more and more prep time for their classes. Right now I prefer short-term stints with different people. You may ask yourself: What’s the point then?

The point is that occasionally teaching English allows me to shake up my work-from-home schedule, lets me see different parts of Madrid at different hours, and brings me in contact with a variety of Spanish civil servants, who are generally pretty motivated to learn English, which of course makes teaching more fun.


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The Green Monkey Schools and BBS are seeking English teachers for 2017-2018 teaching season Corporate classes are in-company, usually in Madrid but also in the suburbs. Classes to children, adults and teenagers are in our schools located in and around Madrid as well as Barcelona.

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