Teaching English in Spain. Is it Worth it?
It’s nothing unexpected that Spain is a well known destination for outsiders to teach English abroad. It’s a country with such a great amount to offer: a sluggish speed of existence with the notable break, a rich culture revolved around flamenco dance and different types of human expressions, and delectable food and drink.
My name is Allen Adam. I’m thirty-seven years old, and I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Canada is what I know, and it’s what I’m proud to be. So, I don’t think I need to tell you that making the move to Spain after spending much of my career in the corporate world was quite daunting, to say the least. It was, however, the thing I knew I wanted to do, especially after spending a couple of years in an office. I had already travelled to Europe in 2013 and experienced a lot in doing so. You know what experiences I’m talking about: travelling between countries by train, late nights out, friendly locals, good food and wine, accumulating into an unforgettable three-month chapter of my life. I knew that I wanted more. I also knew that the experience that I had working in security and commercial real estate may not have been, as it still isn’t, what countries in Europe were looking for. What did I do then? I asked myself what Europe was looking for, and that’s when I saw that they were always looking for English Teachers. I remember being a fledgling screenwriter once upon a time, and I brazenly thought that it was enough for me to be able to teach it to people in Europe. So, I saved up my money, looked up a reputable TEFL Certification Course in Spain, quit my job, and with a British Passport (in 2015, by the way – I know that certain things have changed since then), I was able to walk into the European Continent with their arms open to me. What happened afterwards is what this story is all about.
THE TEFL CERTIFICATION
I had been out of university for over seven years when I walked through the academy’s doors for the first time. I’ll never forget it. Once I took my seat, and saw the curriculum of lecture, classroom instruction, and teacher practice, it was as though I had returned to university. Lessons were taught once, and the onus was on the small group of prospective English teachers to either absorb or forget what was being taught. Quite the tall order, to say the least. I knew that from day one. They say that you’d be surprised what you can learn from what you already know. That is quite true with the English language. Not only were there things that I was not aware of, but there were also many aspects of the language I was getting wrong, at least from a grammatical standpoint. After one shocking linguistic revelation after another for the first three days, it was my turn to practice working with local Spanish students. Now, I’ve given presentations before, so I tried thinking about that before standing before a group of people who were born in Spain. Of course, it was at the critical moment when I went up to do that first teaching practice that I remembered that I only gave presentations to other Native English speakers, and the last time that I gave one was when I was in High School. I don’t think I need to tell you that I never perspired quite as much as I did that first time I gave an English class to Spanish speakers. I also couldn’t begin to describe the number of mistakes that I made in doing so. My teacher was quick to point these little things out. That was the routine, though. Learn more about the language, prepare for teaching practice, do the class, and be evaluated. That was the four-week intensive course that I endured before I was ultimately certified. It was the tough love that I needed to push me forward. I needed the constructive criticism, I needed to be thrown into the fire from the onset of the course, and I needed to make mistakes. It’s something that every teacher needs to go through and needs to understand: To be a good teacher, you need to be a good student. A good student never stops learning. With that mindset, and enough mistakes made over the four weeks to last an entire career, I was officially certified as an English Teacher, and ready to go out to apply for work.
MY FIRST JOB TEACHING ENGLISH IN SPAIN
One of the kind things that my TEFL Certification Course brought me was their assistance in finding a job in Spain. Of course, I was more than willing to do some of the leg work myself, but they were helpful, as well. Before long, I landed a job in Madrid in the Auxiliares Program. I had never heard of it before, but as I was bleeding through cash quickly enough, I decided to take the offer. That first day in a second-grade classroom, and the energetic screams of seven-year-old children was, for the first time in my life, exciting to say the least. Some of them picked up basic language skills quickly enough. Others took a little more time. Some were more focused on their ‘futbol’ to be thinking about something like English, but that was my daily routine. I would show up, work with the kids, make sure that they understood the language that they were being taught, and every so often, show them a little bit of Canadian culture. You know, hockey, maple syrup, and people apologizing for everything – the things that Canadians are known for around the world. Every so often, we would do a listening test, but beyond that, my job was primarily to prepare them for Trinity Language Tests. There was also the weekly trip to some historic part of the country where I would walk, have tapas, and suffer through speaking with people with broken Spanish. It was great, to say the least. I was living a very European experience and contributing to society. Towards the end, I knew all of my second graders by name, and they knew the first three Metallica albums because they danced around to them instead of whatever was popular at the time. I taught them well.
TEACHING ENGLISH TO PRIVATE STUDENTS IN MADRID
It wasn’t long after my brief stint as an assistant with the Madrid Public School System that I was offered a job giving private lessons to students all over Madrid. It was interesting. I mean, I had to travel a lot, and I had to make sure that I had a lot of materials with me, but it was nice. I wasn’t kept inside a particular building all day. I was outside. I went to the gym very regularly, and then I hit the road to a business or a home, and I sat with my students helping them with their presentation skills, or their homework. It was also here that I developed a bit of a feel for exam preparation, and I started getting to know each of them, and the skills that my students needed to pass them. Before long, I had a track record, and some of my students were able to get certifications like their B2 (First Level – Upper Intermediate) or even their C1 (Advanced Level). They would go on to university or go back to work confident in their skillset that they could do business or even go off and get a master’s degree in whatever they were studying. It was right around here that I began to have that ‘proud parent’ feeling every time I got a message saying that they had passed that test or got that job. It instilled a greater sense of purpose for my life, and I wanted more.
EXAM PREPARATION CLASSES TO STUDENTS IN MADRID
After a couple of years of teaching solely private students, I wanted a consistent, more structured work environment, so I began looking around, and sure enough, I was able to find a job close to several private universities, looking for exam preparation instructors.