Should I: Teach English in Madrid?

There is no doubt that English skills are at a premium here in Spain, even in the capital city, where one might think that there would be less demand. Interestingly, teaching English privately – I am not here to discuss the auxiliar/language assistant scheme – rarely occurs to second-year linguists making plans for their year abroad, despite it remaining a popular option for recent graduates and (usually) American auxiliars working in Madrid. If you’re a second-year languages student thinking of spending your year (or part of it) in Madrid, this may be an option you haven’t considered before and may be interested in! So how do you know if this would be something you’d enjoy? Hours and routine I was overjoyed to switch from my 40-hour a week job (more on why I quit another time) to a working week consisting of perhaps nine hours on average. Ridiculous, right? If you’re lazy (like me), devoted to other projects (maybe you’re a successful YouTuber who relies on having a streamlined uni timetable to film) and/or maybe disabled, chronically/frequently ill, or generally require a lot of free time for whatever reason, this could be for you. The figure can be slightly deceptive, though, as I spend additional hours (on top of the official nine or ten) travelling to classes and planning my lessons, time I don’t get paid for. Another important point to consider is the times you’ll be able to teach. I teach between 4.45pm and 9pm during the week – of course, it varies from day to day, but that’s the usual margin – and I have to account for a half an hour to an hour travelling each way. I’m currently negotiating adding classes starting from 11am on Saturdays and Sundays, but that’s my own choice and I totally understand people not wanting to work at all over the weekend. Apart from the weekend, it’s important to realise early on when considering teaching English privately that people only want classes in the evenings. Yes, it’s limiting. Yes, it requires travel during rush hour. Yes, it means I have to eat my dinner from a plastic box sitting at a bus stop. Yes, I either have to miss evening plans or rush straight from work with a bag full of books. The only common alternative is to teach classes that start at 8am and finish at about 9.30am, which is definitely not for me! These inconvenient hours are what prompt many people to find work in childcare (e.g. teaching English to babies through the medium of play during the afternoon, or even full-blown au pair jobs) or schools instead. However, when I was searching for a new job I understood the importance of being flexible, and having a job that also rewards me with flexibility in return. I can pick and choose my classes, and when I want time off I can simply take unpaid leave (i.e. not do the classes). Being able to take time off to visit England is really important to me, and it’s wonderful not to have to grovel to my superiors and work all the missed hours to compensate. I have to admit that I’m still working on my routine (I started work just this week – give me time!). Now I have no bus to catch at 8am, I have nothing absolutely forcing me to get out of bed. This encourages my Oxford-trained brain to stay up working/chatting/scrolling through Instagram until well past 3am…naturally meaning I get up far later than I would like to. (Although discovering one of my alarms had been set to silent all this time can’t have helped.) It is seriously tricky attempting to make yourself get up at 9am when you technically don’t have to leave the house until 5pm. Just another thing to consider for those who are not naturally early birds. Travel This job involves a lot of travel. If you absolutely detest spending your life rattling around in metro carriages or holding on to a bus rail for dear life while trying not to fall on top of a stranger’s crotch (which I did) and have everyone notice and laugh at you (which they did), this job is probably not for you, unless you are based in an academy, which isn’t particularly common or easy to find if you’re not highly qualified. I confess that I, while acknowledging that this part of the job is probably the least attractive, actually really enjoy it. I love the act of travelling, not just #travel meaning luscious holidays, so I’m unfazed by the several hours of commuting around Madrid that I have to put in a week. Luckily the Madrid public transport system is excellent, (especially when you wear your transport card in a pouch around your neck for maximum ease, a trick I desperately wish I had discovered months ago) – as is the mobile and desktop app Citymapper, without which I would surely be several hours late for all my classes. Again, you can be flexible and only accept classes within a certain radius, but it does feel like everyone seems to live in the outskirts! (Be aware when perusing maps online that Zone A1, the central zone of the transport system, is incredibly large.) Planning This part of the job – and how much time you put into it – is totally up to you. I am personally very big on structuring my lessons very well. I rely on reading comprehensions, YouTube videos and song gap-fills to provide the stimulus which will then help my student to speak. Spanish people will ask for “conversación” classes but I’ve come to realise this is a total misnomer. They don’t want to simply sit and have a conversation for an hour (in most cases, anyway!) – they want English lessons which focus on improving their speaking skills. This realisation stopped me feeling guilty about taking several sheets out of my bag at the start of each lesson: while you may “lose” some speaking time while the student is watching the video or listening to the aural comprehension, you will ultimately have a lot more discussion material. There’s nothing worse than internally fretting about whether you will have enough material to fill the lesson or whether it will run out of steam with fifteen minutes to spare. Of course, the opposite can happen and the discussion can be so lively and interesting that you don’t even get to cover half of what you had planned, but it’s best to be prepared! The flipside of this is that, no matter how much hard work and time goes into your planning, you don’t actually get paid for it, which is something to consider. Interaction A minor note: if you are easily tired by prolonged, intense interaction with other people (as I am), this may also influence your decision. Working in a school is less intense in this regard than private tuition, and I, a proud introvert (someone who gets tired when interacting with other people), often leave my classes feeling quite mentally tired. Luckily I balance it out with lots of alone time during the day, but I feel it’s still an important point to bear in mind if you’re like me. Pay Now to the bit everyone’s been waiting for – again, if you’re working privately, this is entirely up to you! An unqualified teacher working for an academy can expect to earn about about 13 EUR an hour, but I know qualified and experienced language teachers earn more. As a private tutor, you can set your own wage, but I think it’s really important to be ethical here. As I mentioned, English skills are at a premium in Spain, so it is entirely possible for an inexperienced, unqualified teacher who rarely plans their lessons to charge 20 EUR an hour, but I would personally feel uncomfortable with that. The parents of the children I teach are usually incredibly friendly, eager-to-please and desperate for their child to acquire that all-important lingua franca, and I would feel guilty exploiting them. I think 15 EUR is reasonable for one student an hour: obviously experienced and qualified teachers can charge far more. If you’re travelling very far, you can add a travel subsidy onto your wage, and if you’re teaching more than one student at once, you can also choose whether or not to increase the amount you charge. I’m positive that there will be a lot of people who disagree wholly with my attitude, and feel you should take advantage of your skills being in demand, which is fine. I just have an issue with the idea of teaching English as this easy, no-effort way to take a holiday in a foreign country (which is why I disagree with the idea of certain schemes where British students rock up at a random country with no knowledge of the language and no desire to learn it, only the intention of doing as little work as possible for the money), and I think that if you’re charging 15 EUR and upwards an hour, you should certainly put the necessary effort into planning your lessons to make them worth the money. How do I get started? There are two main ways to do this kind of teaching in Madrid, and they’re certainly not mutually exclusive! You can work for an academy, or you can work totally privately. The concept is pretty much identical – you teach English in the client’s home or workplace – but you usually earn slightly more teaching privately. I work for an academy that is based a short walk away from my home, and I really recommend it as they provide all the materials, meaning I don’t have to spend my own money on books and printing and the like. It’s also a good way to meet other people in a similar situation, as they will be your colleagues, and it’s easy to get talking while waiting for the printer to start working. I like the academy because they put no pressure on the teachers to take on any classes on offer, even if the times and dates match up, and there’s no set way to teach, so you can really do your own thing. I also teach a few hours a week privately, and it’s almost exactly the same, apart from being able to negotiate your own pay and being able to move the time around at shorter notice. Many teachers build their main schedule around academy classes and then look for private classes to fill in their gaps, as it were, as you might be waiting a while to receive an academy class that starts at exactly 6.45pm every Friday. I found both my academy and my private class customer base online. It’s easy and free to put up adverts, and academies will often contact you through your listing for private classes! To start with, I recommend:

It’s as easy as that! This is just a rough guide based mainly on personal experience, so if you have any corrections, suggestions or comments, please share! I hope this was useful and helped you when planning your time in Madrid.

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9 thoughts on “Should I: Teach English in Madrid?

  1. KC says:

    That said, if you didn’t work 40 hours, (more like 28), that misleading statistic could put off other good candidates for applying for a rewarding and exciting position in a dynamic school which will provide valuable work experience for their future CV as well as a potentially excellent reference

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  2. carambalache says:

    It’s not misleading if my employer wrote that on the form. It was indeed a great job, and if a candidate is dedicated and interested, I’m sure my little blog post on a totally different matter will not put them off.

    You seem pretty invested in this- perhaps you should consider writing your own blogpost encouraging people to apply for dynamic schools 🙂

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  3. Ian says:

    I’m in a similar situation to you. I have a crappy internship that I hate and would much rather go freelance as you have done. I’ve got a couple of worries though

    -what did you go about your erasmus grant? I’ve been given a tonne of money and I don’t see how I could live here (Barcelona) without it. If I leave my internship I’m scared I’ll be forced to pay this money back.

    -what have you done about declaring tax on your private classes? I’ve heard on the grapevine that freelancers pay a flat rate of hundreds of euros a month, no matter how little they earn, but my Spanish isn’t good enough (yet!) to navigate government websites in Spanish legalese.

    Thanks for writing this though – I felt like I was the only one and really don’t feel comfortable talking to my year abroad supervisor 🙂

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    • carambalache says:

      Hey, I’m so sorry to hear about your situation!

      About the Erasmus grant: are you registered for two placements this year or just one? Try and get registered for two if that’s still possible, and if you’ve been at your current internship for three months you can quit. My situation is also a wobbly one, as it now means I won’t get any grant for the three months I have to spend in Germany, which is super not ideal. As I’m now leaving Madrid two months earlier than I had originally planned, I’ll probably have to pay back a good €700 😐

      About tax: I don’t think I’m earning enough from the private classes alone (i.e. not the academy ones) that I need to pay any tax? Either way, it’s all done cash in hand for most people to get round this. Not sure whether I should be posting this comment, but I’ll have a look online at some point and edit as necessary 🙂

      I’m again so sorry about your situation, but super glad this helped. Let me know what happens!

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