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
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