Having worked as an English teacher for five years here in Madrid, I know how hard and exhausting this job can be. Here are some lessons that I learnt over the years that will be helpful if you’re just starting out.
1. Don’t stress about not having enough classes!
There are so many job opportunities year-round in Madrid that you don’t need to stress and take the first classes being offered to you. It’s worth waiting around for block hours or better pay or classes in the centre. It’s normal when you’re putting your teaching schedule together to panic that you might not be earning enough money but be patient and students will come! Don’t take that class out in Torrelodones out of panic!
Advertise on websites like www.tusclasesparticulares and www.profesoringles.net where you will be contacted by so many private students. Pick and choose and tailor your schedule. And yes… there are job offers all year round!
2. Minimise your travel
To keep your sanity intact try to take classes no further than 20 – 30 minutes away by metro. In my first year, I remember accepting a class at Tres Olivos which took around 40 minutes by metro, remember it’s not only 40 minutes! It’s 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back! That’s unpaid time! Remember that time is money and the shorter your commute the more money you can earn or the more precious time you can recover for your mental health.
In my first year, I was spending around 6 hours a day commuting. The constant travelling on the metro drove me insane. I was exhausted and depressed from spending so much time underground… have you noticed that people on the metro always look so miserable?? Most of them only do one commute a day!
Try to find classes within walking distance or a short metro ride away… your mental health will thank you. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt.
Look how miserable everyone is…
3. Get private students to pay up front for a whole month
Over many years I have learnt that students are flaky. If you don’t put your foot down they will cancel last minute and often. Most students have no idea or don’t even consider that your classes are your bread and butter, I’m sure they would be incredibly angry if their job suddenly decided to pay them a couple of hundred euros less one month.
As a private teacher, you need to work out how much money to earn per month to cover your bills and cost of living. I always try to factor in around 100 to 200 euros of lost income per month due to cancellations here and there.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt is to charge private students for the month in advance. State your terms clearly and implement a 24-hour cancellation policy. Once they’ve forked out the money they are less likely to cancel especially if they think they are going to lose their classes. Also, this is a good way to weed out the serious students from the flaky ones… if anyone tries to argue that they want to pay class by class, ditch them! These people will start cancelling with more frequency when they don’t have to commit.
This is no guarantee that people will agree to your cancellation policy and pay for classes that they cancel, you might find that some students will suddenly forget they agreed to your policy and decide not to pay for the missed class. Ditch them! There are plenty more fish in the sea!
The good thing is when you work with academies and private students you will be paid both in the beginning and end of the month, thus reducing the financial stress when you get to the end of the month and are running low on cash. I would balance my students out to be around 50% academy and 50% private students.
4. Don’t undersell yourself!
NEVER UNDERSELL YOURSELF! There are academies paying laughable wages because people will work for them. When I started working many years ago, 15 euros per hour was the norm. 18 euros was considered a good hourly wage, this meant that earning enough money to save was a struggle. Since then, teaching wages have gone up and 18 euros is now considered a low wage. I would aim for around 20 euros to 30 euros per hour based on your experience.
Remember if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Are you a monkey? No. You paid good money to get your DELTA/TEFL and most likely you have a university degree, you’re an educated professional offering a much-needed service in Spain. Remember, you need to pay your way and all your bills in a city where the cost of living isn’t cheap! Ask for what you deserve and you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t forget to factor in the (many) holidays, so the more you charge per hour the more you can save towards the dryer months in the summer and around Christmas when work becomes scarcer.
5. Teaching can be a lonely profession
Spending all day running from A to B and only speaking to students and stopping to eat a sad sandwich in Rodilla in the 30 minutes you have between classes can lead to a lonely existence. It’s important to develop your social life and establish a good network of friends to counter the loneliness of working as a teacher. It’s hard sometimes as you miss the camaraderie of the office environment but you have the advantage of organising your schedule and being able to manage your time. Make the most of it!
6. Don’t try to do too much
I went through a period where I was teaching 36 hours a week. I was so anxious about cancellations I took on more classes than I could handle. Teacher burnout is very real. I was exhausted and broken.
The most important thing is your health and mental well-being. Drop the class with the annoying student who you don’t get on with; don’t take the class that has the extra-long commute; make time for sports and naps and whatever you need to stay sane. It’s one of the most important lessons I have to impart in this post.
7. Form allegiances with other teachers
This was a lifesaver! Make friends with other teachers and form a dropbox folder where you can share your lesson plans. This minimises the (unpaid) time you need to spend creating lesson plans and two or more heads are always better than one. Plus it’s great to have different materials and different points of views in your materials! Aside from using online resources this is a godsend and will make your lesson planning a breeze!
8. Sometimes you’re a therapist
Sometimes students don’t want to do worksheets and really just want a cheap therapist where they can talk about their work or personal problems. Give them the space and vocabulary and listen! Teaching includes coaching and you’ll often find yourself privy to TMI. As long as they do it in English, that is.
So here were some of my tips for making your life as a teacher much easier! If you have any other tips please drop a comment as I would love to hear your tips!