The Truth About English/ TEFL Teaching in Barcelona.


My first blog is one out of frustration, I’m sorry to say, but at the same time it illuminates on why exactly I find myself here writing these blogs in the first place… Over the last two years I’ve felt something inside me slowly fade, and I began writing in a bid to rekindle some passion within before it dies completely, without sounding too dramatic…

I gave up my passion to ‘make money’ by teaching English as a Foreign Language, only to find it’s still not enough to gain what I really want, just buy shit I don’t need, or even really care about, in turn continuing to fund and facilitate a system I abhor. I thought politics in the UK were bad, but this is almost another world entirely!  
One thing at a time though, lets start with some information on the truth about TEFL Teaching, in Barcelona…

The Truth About English/ TEFL Teaching in Barcelona.

I’m a Scottish expat living in the suburbs of Barcelona having worked here for almost three years. I moved here wanting to learn Spanish and heard that the salary for teaching English was decent, and figured that it would complement learning Spanish well, having to decipher and teach grammar every day…

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade but I have to be honest and get this information out into the public online and out of my system!!

I’ve just come from home from yet another tiresome TEFL classroom full of Spanish kids who don’t want to learn English.

All teachers know this problem; a lot of kids don’t yet understand the value of learning and want to mess around and play constantly due to their abundance of energy and underdeveloped attention span, it could be considered normal.
However, I feel completely deflated and unwilling to even do my paperwork and billing let alone work ever again! And this is no joke; I have seriously considered taking my savings, moving to a hippie commune and ceasing work all together as a result of the last three years teaching English as a foreign language.
Here’s a list of reason why (I will discuss the benefits toward the end not wanting to shed a completely negative light on what could be a good job for some):

Spanish children are quite different from those in the UK, or other parts of Europe, I’m told. I’ve temped in some private schools here and at a summer camp where the kids were of a higher aptitude; whether this was due to to smaller classes and better facilities is probable. Regardless, it was a better teaching/ learning experience and I could have continued to work in that environment had they not already had contracted permanent staff.
I don’t like to stereotype but from my own experience the majority of Spanish/ Catalan children I have worked with are excitable. You can use a little L1 (native language of the country) in the class to grab their attention, but this is technically not supposed to happen. It should be spoken in English the whole time.
Don’t get me wrong some days I go in to school and have a great class! The kids can warm your heart and it’s always encouraging to see your students progress.

L1 (language one) is the terminology used for the native language of the country. L2 (language 2) is, in this case, English “You are not supposed to/ don’t have to speak any L1 in the class”… hahahaha. Right.

Contracts are hard to come by and are offered to staff after they have proven their value to the company/ academy – whether or not you are able to get that far is your own prerogative… A contract was hinted to me once – over what seemed to be a lunch date! Having agreed to meet to talk about potential for consistent and regular work I found myself stuck at the table for more than an hour as the man ordered wine, and I had to wonder how rare and sought after these contracts were exactly…

Autonomo is the Spanish term and system for being freelance. I’m just going to tell it like it is. The autonomo fee is flat rate fee charged to anyone or any business who registers themselves as self employed, it goes as follows:
50€ p/m for the first six months
100€ p/m for months 6-12
150€ p/m for months 12-18
200€ p/m for months 18-24
250€ p/m for months 24-30

I haven’t had the stomach to look more into what happens after month 30 (also the information seems to be elusive…) but heard from someone who has been autonomo for several years here as an English teacher his last bill was 320€ per month… These are your social security contributions and will enable you to enrol with the public health service and various other tax deducted benefits of the country… (I would like to add here that when I went to the dentist needing a filling I was told I would have to pay somewhere in the range of 200€, and a lot of the medication on prescription at your GP you also still have to pay for!).
Depending on what quota of autonomo you pay – basico, medio or alto – you will be entitled to some other typical benefits of being a tax payer – state pension contributions, unemployment benefit etc (it is a more complicated system than for contracted people and is dependent on how long you have worked here and what you have contributed).
The autonomo fee is in addition to the IRPF (income tax) which for the first three years you work is 7%, and after is 15% (automatically deducted from your pay cheque by your employer or accountant).
You will need an accountant unless you have time to do your own taxes and can read and write well in Spanish or Catalan.
Like any other freelancer you will have to declare your taxes, not once a year as in the UK, but quarterly! Your accountant will need all of your invoices billed and tax deductible receipts relevant to your work once every three months: petrol, travel, phone bills and any devices or materials purchased for your work are the main ones to consider!
After which this tax contribution will be debited from your bank account depending on what you have earned for the trimester. It is about another 10% of your salary judging by my own accounts.

Once a year you will get a rebate, the sum refunded is offset by the income tax paid (IRPF) and the federal tax held (autonomo fee, I think… But really don’t care to read or write any more about this!).

Festivos are public holidays in Spain, being a catholic country there are many! Freelancers are not paid for public holidays or the holiday seasons. In Spain, August is basically a non working month for a lot of people, especially teachers given that school is out. This applies to the business classes as well. Non teaching month. Most places don’t teach for the second half of July and the first week of September either, so that is 7–8 weeks unpaid over the summer to be prepared for. Oh, and you still have to pay your autonomo fee regardless of whether you have earned for those months or not!
I did just find out recently that after one year of working here you are entitled to some ‘paro’ (government benefits) over the summer months while you are unemployed, but bear in mind this will be deducted and considered should you ever become unemployed in the future and need unemployment benefit.

Paro/ Unemployment Benefit for autonomos isn’t as generous or straight forward as for contracted staff… I don’t know why as we pay a damn sight more in tax! Basically if you have worked paying tax for 12-17 months you are entitled to 2 months of benefit up to 80% of what you earned.
18-23 months = 3 months, 24-29 months = 4 months, 30-35 months = 5 months, 36-42 months = 6 months, 43-47 months = 8 months, 48 months or more = 12 months of unemployment benefit.
It stops there.
You get this advice from your local INEM office (in Spanish/ Catalan of course).

Job Availability is good! English teachers are high in demand, but the competition is tough… With more and more native English speakers hearing of well paid jobs in sunny places they are flocking here in the thousands. Hence the lack of contracts/ job security. The academies are quick to separate the wheat from the chaff, and it all comes down to the student/ client satisfaction…

Client Satisfaction seems to be everything in this industry. And I mean everything. This was a big surprise to me. “Back in my day…” I’ve used this expression many times since starting this job!
I’ve had a group of the same students in an adult company class for three years because we get along well, they haven’t really progressed with their English, but rather have maintained a good level via conversation practice and some textbook work, at their request.
I lost a job after a month because some of the children didn’t like that I couldn’t speak Spanish yet and complained.
I was also pulled into a meeting because I raised my voice to a child who would not sit down, open the textbook and do their work, but kept distracting the other pupils and giving me backchat. Luckily this meeting went ok and amends were made but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I would be under surveillance for a while after and might lose this class if dare shout again…
In an adult company class, a student, the secretary, took a disliking to me (her attendance was poor and her level was too low for the group) and I became a target for her and her new devout catholic friend… I lost this class very soon after. It was a mixed level group ranging from elementary to upper intermediate therefore was obviously difficult to regulate and teach cohesively. No textbook was provided to work with at first, the class being presented as ‘conversation led’, but then after one was provided, it was almost always resisted by all of the students who would often slip back into speaking in Spanish and Catalan intermittently chatting away amongst themselves.
They have a saying here in Spain ‘tienes que darles mas cana’, which basically means give them the cane. Adults and children respond differently to this – the children will take it to an extent because they are obligated to be there, the adults will take it – if they really want to learn. Too often adults and professionals enrol into these courses, funded by their employers, because they have a nice idea of being bilingual and speaking better English, but are not really interested in the work required to get there. They want to sit and chat in English, which is fine as adults tend to learn inductively and build on what English they learned in school, but you cannot bypass the grammar and structured lexical work involved and necessary to progress.

Learning a second language is not only extremely complex but challenges the ego, big time. I know this because I am a language learner myself. If you are having a bad day, are tired or stressed, the last thing you need is not being able to communicate freely.
When teaching professionals in company classes age 40+, you will encounter some agitation and insecurity which could be disguised as arrogance, chauvinism, bitchiness or avoiding the work. Not all of the time of course, but connecting with your students is KEY in making progress and gaining regular work.

You have to be a people person to do this job. And by people person I mean everyone’s butt monkey. Some you will get along with, others you will have to find a way of appeasing. I really struggled here. Unlike teaching other subjects, (I used to teach film making), EFL classrooms are all about the conversation and reading, speaking and listening together.

Mixed Level Groups should-not-happen, for obvious reasons, yet, they do too often, for obvious reasons. Why pay three teachers when you can pay one. If you are offered a mix level group ask what materials are provided to work with and suggest that they should be largely conversation based classes, if they are not already. You will have to get along well with the group or one of them will feel shunted and complain; either their level will be too low and they’ll slip through the net, or the level will be too high and they will get bored with the pace and end up taking all of the attention and time by speaking the most English.

Out of Class Hours are a lot! If you want to do the job well, and like I say competition is tough, there is a lot of class preparation, grammar revision, marking, reports, paperwork and maybe travel between the classes – which you are not paid for.

The Time Table is unforgiving. People who want to learn a second language will want to do so in the morning before work, starting as early as 7am, at lunch time if you’re lucky, or after work any time between 5-9pm. You will be working split shifts, sometimes finishing late and starting early.

Class Cancelations are common! Adults are busy and learning a foreign language is not high priority for a lot of them. Make sure your employer, if you have one, is willing to still pay you should the class be cancelled within 24 hours of it starting. If you are working for yourself sourcing your own work, have a contract in place with your students stating so.

The Difference Between TESL and TEFL is worth noting here if you don’t already know it.
TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language is when you are teaching English in a country where it is the native language, thus, absolutely necessary for the students survival to learn.
TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language however, as in the case here, is when you are teaching English to students who live in a country where their own mother tongue is native, thus, learning English is not entirely necessary to their survival…

So what’s good about teaching English? Well, you get to pick your own hours to an extent, travel, meet new people, advance your own language learning, the holidays are long albeit unpaid, and the money’s ok… The pay ranges from 15-30 euro per hour on average, even after all that tax, rent and bills (which are quite high in Barcelona, hence the rioting and independence desperation), you have some left in your pocket…
If you can manage to work full time in this job, and I did for a year (as well as editing in my spare time, and in turn lost a lot of weight, hair, aged and said welcome back to insomnia) there is potential to earn decent money, about 3k per month! That makes the autonomo fee bearable.
What I couldn’t bear though was the nature of the job itself. Way to precarious and unforgiving.

Right now teachers are paid 20% less than other professionals with same qualifications, and unlike other jobs teaching a language requires you to be present every-god-damn-minute. The average person slips in and out of concentration every three minutes apparently, teachers must-be-on-the-ball-all-day-every-day. As soon as a student sees your attention drift they will get agitated and want to leave, understandably.

It’s fine for the first few classes of the day, but let’s see you manage it at 8pm on a Thursday night after getting up at 6am every day to start at 7:30am.

Very taxing profession literally, figuratively, and actually!

God speed.

The Journey Begins

Freedom is the Oxygen of the Soul ~ Moshe Dayan

On the other side of Fear is Freedom, let us Break the Chain of our Inner Fear and Paint the Sky to Make it One of Our Own ~ Richa Srivastava

The Secret of Happiness is Freedom,
the Secret of Freedom is Courage ~ Carrie Jones

Good Company in a Journey Makes the Way Seem Shorter… ~ Izaak Walton

Thanks for joining me!
I am starting a series of blogs here aimed at shedding light on things lesser known, ignored or denied.
I have some outlandish ideas flowing through me these days and I have to wonder how many other people out there feel the same.
I look forward to hearing your ideas and comments and engaging in some meaningful and honest dialogue!!!