by Chris Webb
One month after I’d uprooted from the post-apocalyptic vistas of Birmingham, UK to set up base under the Barcelona sun, to find shade under the glorious architecture and to embrace a culture that refreshingly puts love before money.
One month after I’d tumbled into Gracia with a wife, a son and a daughter to feed and not a single promise of income.
One month after I’d started training to be an English teacher on the Trinity CertTESOL course.
It was February 2017, and I was taking my end of course exams, finishing my last practical training lessons, and I had fallen in love with teaching English. It turns out I had a natural flair for it, which was fortunate considering the hungry mouths situation I mentioned. I passed with a good grade but much more important was that I’d managed to make enough good impressions in my first month to bag two jobs starting the Monday after the course finished. One was just two lessons a week in a company, the other was a one-month paternity cover in an academy, but that bought some time, put food on the table and bulked up the CV while I was looking for permanent work.
As I had already suspected with my management background, I loved teaching in-company, whilst the children in the academy terrified me, you never know what they’re thinking. In fact, I didn’t even know what they were saying to each other as my Spanish was (OK, still is) very ropey. The upside was that I knew what I wanted and set about constantly advertising myself on Lingo Bongo and Tus ClasesParticulares. Through this, I bagged my first private student, a two-week intensive course, and most importantly, 20 hours a week teaching in-company with a small but, crucially, legitimate, agency.
Speaking of legitimacy, I have had jobs that won’t let you step in the classroom without all the official paperwork completed and all the boxes ticked, and conversely, I have also had jobs that never dream of offering you contract and will only pay cash. I even had one academy owner in Sabadell threaten to call the police if I didn’t carry on teaching for her. I took it as a marvellous compliment to my teaching abilities, then blocked the lunatic from my WhatsApp.
More private classes followed, with most coming from word of mouth. I also formed a good relationship with a much more pleasant academy that brought some more work my way. I was riding high, it was June, the weather was incredible, I’d taught lessons on the beach, I’d taught in a bar with a beer in my hand, I’d taught in a lawyers chambers and I’d taught company CEOs. And then summer came.
Summer in Barcelona has three downsides:
- It’s so hot and humid that it’s scientifically impossible for an Englishman to move without leaving behind a lake of sweat.
- It becomes almost impossible to find space to lay a blanket on the Barceloneta beach.
- Teaching jobs evaporate in the heat and are replaced by tumbleweed. Tumbleweed that cannot be sold for precious ice cream buying euros.
Summer intensive jobs are promised and then cancelled due to lack of students, vague promises are made by private students and not fulfilled, and if you teach in-company classes you can forget about it as the students go on holiday and so the companies refuse to pay for classes. This means there are no hours to work from the end of June to the end of September. And you are paid by the hour. By the end of summer, my family was almost financially ruined. It doesn’t feel good to return to the Bank of Mum when you’re in your 30s, but I count every blessing I have.
Eventually, September came, the sun relaxed, it became safe to touch metallic objects without blistering the skin, and more excitingly, work returned. This term I had increased hours and a more reliable flock of private students, in total, I now teach 45 hours a week, which during term time will pay the bills and might even leave a little in the bank for a rainy day. And when I say rainy day, I mean scorching hot summers day. My kids are settled in a beachside school, learning Catalan and Spanish, I am an autonomo, and my wife and I are now able to start putting our own independent ideas into action, watch out for our Biscuits and Beer classes!
So, I thrived and survived in my first year after TEFL, and here are my Top Five Recommendations on how to do the same:
- Take EVERY job possible. If it’s bad, learn from it, and if it’s good, cling to it!
- Be willing to travel, the further you travel, the more work you can get, at least until you bag the cushy job 2 metro stops from your apartment.
- Always look and behave professionally. There’s a lot of competition out there, and the students and employers are wary of teachers just looking to fund their party in the sun.
- Be relentless with your advertising of private classes and don’t be downhearted if you don’t get a quick result. Eventually you will get the result you need. Then network network network!
- Have a plan for summer. If you don’t want to work with children then you could join me in my next challenge, online teaching!
In conclusion, teaching in Barcelona can be fantastic, but it takes determination, imagination and a lot of anti-perspirant. Good luck!
Note: Although August is generally very quiet, there is quite a lot of work in July teaching in summer camps or teaching intensive courses.
Latest update August 2018: Chris has lots of work this summer teaching private students and teaching in a company. And is also the proud father of a third child. Congratulations Chris!