Keep Your Job Teaching English in Spain
Is it Safe in Seville?
Seville, Andalucía’s capital, has over 30 language academies and is an excellent place to teach English abroad—whether you are European or North American—but is the market flourishing as normal? With over 4.7 million unemployed in Spain and over one million in Andalucía, how long will it be before the crisis starts to affect the TEFL Industry in Seville?
English is Still a High Priority
You would have thought that in these desperate times in Spain that students’ enthusiasm would be hindered and behaviorial problems increased, but they appear to be unaffected by the crisis. When I asked teenagers in my class what they thought about the current economic climate, the majority of them responded with “el que”’ and stared at me blankly. Those who did know what was going on in their country agreed that it was not affecting either their school work or social life so they saw no need for worry.
The students are not the ones paying the bills though. Many parents who send their children to an English academy are also forking out hefty sums for private schools. Some of these parents have their own businesses and small shops, which are closing down just as fast as those in the U.K. and the U.S. Given the current crisis, the fear is that these parents will not be able to afford to send their children to English academies, numbers in classes will drop, and subsequently demand for teachers will fall. Every parent’s circumstances are different and they will obviously make decisions on their child’s education with care, but currently, despite the doom and gloom, it seems as though English classes are still a high priority for parents. I only know of one example where a student—who has been studying at an academy for almost ten years—has had to stop his classes temporarily, but I am sure there are more cases like this. I work for a well-established academy and we have not seen a drop in numbers yet, but there is some doubt about next term.
Some adult students, particularly those studying for the First, Advanced, and Proficiency certificates, feel stronger than ever about improving their level of English. Employers are now asking more from current and new employees and one way to boost credentials is with a high level of English proficiency. My adult students are aware of this and feel—particularly at the moment—that such proficiency is vital in order to compete with others in the workplace, and more so if they are hunting for a new job. It seems unlikely that students who are advanced in their studies, and on their way to obtaining a certificate, will pull out now. There are always exceptions though.
Given the rising competition among schools, directors are thinking up innovative methods to maintain their student base and attract fresh students next year. Our academy has recently invested in the new e-Beam technology (www.e-beam.com), which enables us to create interesting, visual classes and use the Internet. Such usage of technology in the classroom offers an extra service to the students, which parents will obviously see as a benefit.
News for Newcomers
Having been a teacher in Seville for four years, I presume my job is safe (despite light-hearted threats from my director), but it is not as sure as it used to be. Newcomers, who may be wary about coming to Spain to find a job, need to make sure they research thoroughly and find established academies that have a sufficient client base and will not be affected next term. But such information is not always easy to come by. I would recommend looking at the academy’s website, maybe even telephoning to ask how long the school has been in business, and asking how extensive the client base actually is. During an interview it is vital to ask the right questions about classes, numbers of students, and working conditions. If you get the position, make sure you get a contract. Some schools may try to deceive you and claim that they do not offer a full time contract which pays social security and holiday pay (as happened to me in my first year), but this is illegal and you should not accept a job offer without these conditions.
In Seville, tourists and English language teachers tend to come from both North America and the U.K. Some academies prefer to take on British, Irish and Scottish teachers, whereas others prefer American or Canadian teachers. The two academies where I have worked since living here hire both. One concern—given the current economic climate—is that academies prefer to hire Europeans over Americans because of the extra time needed to sort out the working visas. Nevertheless, many academies prefer to offer a mix of accents to their students. I have one student in particular who is mad about American rap and is constantly asking me for American pronunciations. In short, whether you are European or North American there should be plenty of work over here next term.
I know a few teachers who depend on private students to bump up their salaries. The good news is that the crisis has not affected demand for private classes. People, as I have mentioned, are keen to boost their credentials, but, thanks to competition, the average hourly rate is lower than before—between €10 and €15 an hour. The main problem with private classes is that the students can sometimes let you down. I have found that younger learners, whose parents are keen for them to improve their English, are better customers than adults, who can cancel at the last minute.
Has the Recession Affected the Standard of Living?
If you manage to get a decent job with an established academy, which will give you between 22-24 contact hours and paid holidays (and possibly a bonus at the end of your contract), and you keep clear of the depressing news, then you can still enjoy a reasonable standard of living in Seville. Prices in supermarkets, restaurants, bars, clothes shops, as well as travel costs, have all risen, but not exorbitantly. The price of renting is coming down slightly, especially out of the center. It is also an excellent time to buy property in Spain, not only because the banks’ interest rates are low, but also because the housing prices have fallen substantially.
One of the reasons I like living in Seville is that everything is in close proximity and transport services are improving all the time. The metro has recently opened, and despite being slightly more expensive than buses, it is reliable and can get you about easily. There is only one line at the moment, but there are plans to build five more. If you are the type who likes to live outside of the center in a larger flat or even a house, and do not mind commuting every day, then Seville is an ideal spot with numerous villages on the outskirts where the life is cheaper.
Another attraction of Seville is that they have recently installed a bicycle service (en.sevici.es) in English, with numerous lanes throughout the city. Bike theft is common in Seville, but with the new service you do not have to worry about someone stealing yours. The service costs €13 membership for a year, which enables you to use a bike free for 30 minutes—usually enough time to get from one destination to another. Be warned though, you do need some patience; sometimes the bikes have punctures or the chains do not work, and at peak times there can be a queue to get one.
Drawbacks to Teaching: Is it All Rosy?
Not quite. Apart from the general pessimism about the economy, some teachers find that Seville is too small and claustrophobic. Like any city, once you have been here a while and have seen most of the attractions, you tend to get itchy feet.
The locals can be cliquey. I find that most Sevillianos are willing to invite you to their homes, but your actual chances of getting some homemade tortilla are rather slim.
The two main festivals have their disadvantages too. I am a big fan of Semana Santa, the religious festival held in Easter, but that is because my girlfriend’s father knows exactly where to go and explains everything to me. If you are on your own and religious art is not your bag, it can get tiresome. The other festival, the Feria, is an enjoyable fiesta, full of dancing and drinking. However, if you do not know any locals who can invite you into one of their special tents, you will end up in the public ones, where it can get crowded and rowdy locals normally turn up looking for trouble.
What Are You Waiting For?
Seville is an up and coming city and a great place to teach English and explore the rest of Spain. As I said, the recession has not hit the TEFL industry yet, so it would be an ideal time to start researching and planning which schools you are going to contact for the next term, which begins at the end of September. Some schools are already advertising on www.tefl.com.
Maybe it is time to get away from the struggles in the U.K. (and the economic slowdown in the U.S.) to enjoy living away from home. Seville is waiting.