Teaching in Madrid- A Summary

This is a little out of date, but think things were getting a bit too Japan-otaku on this blog recently, so here’s a bit of Europe to clear the palette. Anyhow, if it’s good enough to be sticky on Dave’s ESL cafe then it’s good enough for the likes of you, young man…

“I was a teacher, teacher trainer and DoS in Madrid for two years. I must say I loved it, but it certainly takes some getting used to. Here’s my summary:

The place

Madrid is not the Mediterranean. It’s over 700 metres above sea level, and consequently is very hot in the summer (up to 45 deg Cs) and can feel very cold in the winter- and with famously dry air all year. The plus side is wonderful clear blue skies and plenty of mountains to get away to at the weekend (a big Madrileno hobby). All the other best things are just what you see in a guide book- tapas, the Prado and nightlife. A pleasant surprise is just how well the local council do they job, hosing down streets everyday and expanding the Metro all the time.

The people

The people are not exactly Mediterranean either. But then could Don Quixote have been Italian or Greek? I think not. According to the travel writer Jan Morris the real Spain is not in Andalusia, it’s on the meseta- and that includes Madrid as much as La Mancha or Toledo, and it certainly includes the people. Some complaints I’ve seen on ESL Cafe about the people in Madrid are that they are workshy, they are rude, and they don’t like speaking English. First of all, they do call it ‘the Protestant work ethic’, and Spain is a very Catholic country. The two Spanish words we’ve famously taken into English to describe their lifestyle are, of course, ‘siesta’ and ‘fiesta’. Siestas are a slowly dying breed in Madrid, but the Spanish really do know how to go out and have a good time. They happily go from bar to bar until 6 or 7 in the morning without getting drunk, fighting or being sick (well, that’s true of the over 18s, anyway). Most of them even manage it without taking drugs. Can’t say it’s something I ever got the hang of myself, but you have to respect them for it. Just walk into a Spanish bar and there’s just a great vibe of people having a lot of good, clean fun. Same in the street and on the Metro- no one pushing past anyone else because they are so important like in London. It’s all so laid-back- no clenched up stressed faces. And in the street, no one ever seems to get out of anyone’s way and yet they never bump into each other. If you walk at London pace, however, (and I still do) you’ve broken the unwritten rule and you will have to dodge and weave your way down Gran Via and through El Corte Ingles like no-one’s business.

So that’s Madrilenos at play. Work, unfortunately, is just something they do to get themselves to the next piece of play. So the service in shops and restaurants is terrible. Waiters have a superb knack of moving their eyes across the room so as to see every corner of the room but your hand. Strangely this is most true when you want to pay the bill, even when they are turning people away because there are no tables left. So you can sit there sipping on your tiny beer for hours without being hassled and moved on. Again, I didn’t really get the knack, and I didn’t have 3 hours for lunch. But if someone is getting stressed and unpleasant in a bar it’s not the locals, that’s for sure.

In shops again, it can seem like they’re doing you a favour. Well, don’t look it at that way. It’s the owner they’re really doing a favour for- working a 12-hour day for rubbish money and no job security. And they are giving the owner exactly the amount of dedication to the job he deserves- you are just being caught in the crossfire. Go into a shop just for a chat and to practise your Spanish rather than to buy something, and they’ll stop everything for you. Just do all your actual shopping in VIPS, the local 7 Eleven.

The students

Spanish teenagers are what you would expect you’d get by putting those two words together. Like all European teenagers, they are not in the slightest bit interested in learning, and being Spanish they are just that bit louder than the average. They are also spoilt stupid at home, which means at least you will not be teaching Marilyn Manson fans who are going to take a shotgun to you- but also means you may as well tell their parents they are angels and geniuses or suffer the consequences. Again like all teenagers, the girls are 1000 times easier to teach than the boys, and luckily when you get to adult classes it’s 75% female and even they seem to have grown up and changed personality from one day to the next.

The adults still like playing games and chatting and seem to forget homework- but what would you prefer that or stressed up Austrians who want to see an improvement of at least 2.52% every lesson? In Spain you can try out all those wacky games you saw in some Humanistic book and couldn’t try anywhere else. Even in adult classes, the girls are notably more hardworking than the boys. The big mystery of the classes is that they love speaking, but the Spanish sense of the ridiculous means they just cannot take themselves seriously talking to another Spanish person in English. Thinking about it, it does seem a bit silly- but the Spanish can’t stop thinking about it, even at very high levels. Hence the need to make jokes and asides in Spanish, and to directly translate expressions even when they know they doesn’t exist in English. It keeps them happy, and you can get them to translate to you afterwards. In the street, people’s unwillingness to speak English means you will pick up Spanish very quickly- which is good, no?

You might expect Business classes to be more serious- but no. Most companies give English classes because they have to give a certain amount of training to their staff, and English comes cheap. So- get out Communication Games again and make sure you and they have a good time but also feel like they’ve learnt something. And don’t get disheartened when numbers are down by 50% after a couple of months- is this what you would want to be doing in your lunch time?

The job

Split shifts and Saturdays are a fact of life in Spanish Academias. That’s just when the students want classes. Just make sure you negotiate only one term of Saturdays, and make sure you do something useful with your time in the middle of the day. There’s no lack of museums or nice strolls, and then there’s Spanish lessons, or a very long lunch…

The money is generally okay. You can afford a shared flat and to go out for a few beers and tapas virtually every night, and take day trips at the weekend. You might have to cut down on the going out to save enough for holidays etc, though. Schools rarely offer flats or flight money, but living in a cheap ‘hostal’ or ‘pension’ is not much more than living in a shared flat and is okay while you search for somewhere. ”

Originally posted on the Teaching in Spain board of Dave’s ESL cafe, 28/11/02

This entry was posted in Teaching English Abroad, Teaching English in Spain. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Teaching in Madrid- A Summary

  1. chris says:

    hey alex,
    is there much demand for teaching business english in spain? eg a la shane gig i was doing last year. Does liveable wage mean you have to live like a scummy student, can on elive a semi-dignified life?

  2. Alex Case says:

    Business English teaching is definitely growing and as a lot of the teachers who go out there are young and inexperienced, once you know your way around there are some good jobs. Knowing Spanish really helps though.

    Otherwise, there is a certain amount of studentishness going on (often need to share a house etc.), but as the real Spanish students stand round in freezing cold parks drinking 2 litre plastic bottles of cheap red wine mixed with coke (calimocho?) you will at least still be several steps above the local teens.

  3. merve says:

    as a ELT student ın Turkey, I am really ımpressed by the sentences you said about their havıng good tıme. I belıeve you bu when comparıng them wıth Turkey am really shocked. Here usually you cant return to your home from a bar wıthout havıng argument wıth somebody you dont know. however ı dont want to make any generalısatıon.:)

  4. Alex Case says:

    You surprise me, merve. Lived in Turkey for a year, and although there were plenty of times I was near shouting myself (at hard-selling carpet salesmen and bus counter people who always said the bus is leaving ‘now’) I was never close to getting into an argument outside a bar. In fact, the only people I have ever had a row with in a bar is Englishmen…

    Of course, there is always hospitality towards strangers etc. to take into account and all my experiences are given as typical of an outsider rather than typical of a local.

  5. Nancy says:

    Hey Alex,

    I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with you, but I’m a recent college grad and have worked a “normal” job for a year but have found cubicles are simply not meant for human beings.
    I’ve been wanting to teach English abroad for some time but am feeling overwhelmed by the infinite amount of programs. I’m looking into TTMadrid right now to get my TEFL and then have them place me somewhere in Madrid. I would like to get your thoughts on the TEFL programs and if you had any recommendations about Madrid or other programs in Spain.
    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  6. Alex Case says:

    Couldn’t find anything bad about TTMadrid on the web, which must be a good thing… We were the only non-Cambridge training course in Madrid back when I was a trainer on the Via Lingua CTEFLA, I would like to think we inspired all the others…

    You will find a lot of debate on eslcafe.com etc. on whether Trinity and RSA/Cambridge CELTA courses are worth the extra money and hassle to find a place on. I would say yes, if you think you might spend more than a year or two teaching. The training might be no better, but it will be accepted in more places.

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