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Teaching English in Europe by Susan Griffith

ESL Teaching in Madrid

Lessons of an Unqualified First-Timer

I went to Madrid for a gap year between a corporate job and graduate school. Having studied in Spain before, I longed for its sunny Mediterranean lifestyle that offers more spontaneity and more freedom. In the end, I got what I wanted, but it’s best to come prepared for anything.

First of all, arriving in Madrid in early summer to look for teaching work is not the best idea. Forgetting how desolate and hot the center of the city becomes, I hit the ground running with my Spanish-style CV but had to settle for an unpaid internship program with the ENFOREX language school. Without teaching qualifications, an internship program arranged from home is actually the best way to get housing and work right away. I worked at a press agency in the busy Plaza Castilla district. It was a wonderful experience, with morning coffee and daily chat sessions with co-workers—a nice change from the boring corporate environment I had been in before. I learned a great deal about Spanish business culture in informal ways.

The only problem was that it was unpaid, and I did not count on the city having become so expensive since 1998. If you want a good flat, you either have to be lucky or pay a lot. It’s best to find a place on your own or through friends and not use apartment-share services. They charge exorbitant fees and you can’t see the apartment until the fee has been paid. I found mine through the newspaper InMadrid and was happy for the rest of the year.

Without an ESL teacher certification, I combed through English-language newspapers like InMadrid and Spanish Segundamano for job listings at private schools. The few schools hiring preferred CELTA qualified teachers. I then tried something other expats recommended: searching bulletin boards at youth travel agencies (Madrid has several in Moncloa and Callao) and my own strategy, searching signposts, and I found the phone number of a school called English Only in the Malasaña district. I called, explained myself, and before I had spit out a sentence the director called me for an interview that same day. I was elated.

My “interview” consisted of small talk and arranging my schedule before informing me of the pay. Since I was desperate, I took the job. The classes were conversation sessions with two other teachers, which, while fun at times, were mostly very long and dehydrating experiences. We sat in a hot stuffy room with a mix of Spanish and Latin American students. Thankfully, the students appreciated our presence and peppered conversation with off-color jokes that introduced us all to the world of Spanish humor.

Before long I was sacked along with my fellow teachers, and we all had problems getting paid.

Glad to be away from there, I decided to reach out to private students, posting flyers around the student barrio of Argüelles and placing a 2-month classified listing in InMadrid, which was relatively inexpensive. The calls poured into my mobile phone, and before I knew it I had three students: a lawyer, a 12-year-old girl, and an employee of a multinational. From each one I learned how to understand and work with the student’s needs and weaknesses and how to enjoy it. It was the best two months of my life and I have since dedicated myself to the cause of language learning and, armed with a CELTA certification, I will venture forth again and try to be the best teacher I can be at a reputable school, now that I know how it should be done.

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