Doomed/Destined to Teach English

Or the life of a native English speaker in Spain.

Auxiliares de Conversacion

When you move to Spain, you might have high hopes of finding a job, a job that will satisfy you, hone your skills, perhaps even assist in your professional formation and networking. If you moved here with such aspirations, I salute you—for your optimism and your naïveté.

If you are here, you most likely teach English in some form or another. To quote my parents, you don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. Suck it up and do it: speak slowly and deliberately at all times, learn to deal with ridiculously low pay expectations, and search for endless Youtube videos to entertain your six-year-old students with amazingly short attention spans. Lauren from Spanish Sabores writes eloquently about this dilemma in her post, The Quarter Life Expat Crisis.

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be an English teacher, I would have laughed. Hard. You see, I got my degree in Spanish (surprise, surprise!), and teaching wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. So to find myself here is rather ironic. Disheartening is a word I’d like to avoid.

Colegios Bilingües

Bilingual elementary schools … where many end up

It seems that many of us (by us, I mean fellow native English speakers) want something more than private classes, language academics, and applying to the Conversation and Language Assistant program for the third year running. But we’re stuck. Spain’s rampant unemployment (56.5% for youth!) isn’t exactly helping. So we stay here, we schedule classes with reluctant sixth graders, and we learn to refer to tennis shoes as “trainers” in order not to confuse anyone. We get used to being paid under the table, to being part of Spain’s undercover economy that doesn’t show up in the jobs’ numbers.

Five years from now, I may still be here in Madrid. Perhaps I’ll still be trying to get students to remember to add an “s” on the third-person singular present verb forms: “She runs” and not “She run,” please and thank you. But here’s to hoping—hoping that, as many expats before me, I might break out of the English-speaker mold and find that, somewhere out there, Spain has a place for the Spanish major in me, too.

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16 comments

  1. I consider myself lucky to like teaching, though I won’t be in this forever. Next year, I’m directing an academy, phew! After six years, you start to tire of it, even if it’s been with different students, ages, environments, etc.

      1. Hola Kaley, soy un seguidor de tu blog, aunque desgraciadamente no hablo inglés, pero lo entiendo algo escrito, así que perdona que te escriba en castellano. Yo creo que lo que te está pasando no es un crisis de expatriado, en realidad estás viviendo la crisis que en la actualidad está viviendo la juventud en España, ¡preparados, pero sin demasiadas expectativas de trabajo!, quizás por ser tú nativa americana, podrías plantearte la posibilidad de explorar la posibilidad de trabajar para los americanos en la Base Naval de Rota (Cádiz), donde para el 2014 se preveé la incorporación del primero de los cuatro destructores americanos AEGIS que formarán el escudo antimisiles en esta zona, y que va a traer a España unas tres mil personas entre profesionales y familiares… (es una idea), también podrías explorar el mundo de la tecnología donde empresas españolas se han lanzado al extranjero en busca de mercados (INDRA, TALGO, etc), así como ONG’s, españolas que necesitan de interpretes. En fin, igual no te he ayudado mucho, pero son ideas, y no te desanimes, como suelen decir los mayores “todo tiene solución menos la muerte”. Animo.

  2. It’s definitely a great way to spend a finite amount of time while you’re young and want to live abroad, and it’s easy and pays decently, but I could never imagine being stuck in this for more than 2 years. We’re meant for more! And I’m sure you’ll find that something more soon! ¡Suerte, tía!

  3. It might seem like you’ll be teaching forever, but if Five-Years-Ago-Kaley is surprised by where you are now, just think what twists and turns are in store for the next five years. And when you get discouraged, just take solace in the fact that you’re a native English speaker and will never say “bis-kweet” or “free-end” like your Spanish students :) Good luck with the escape from Auxiliar life!

  4. Even for those who are not native English speakers, this country has not a lot to offer right now. I’m also teaching English and French at the moment, and all “en negro”. All I can think about is that if you’re a native speaker and are abroad and feell like doing it, you can have to do it. That’s mainly what I’ll be doing next year in France for sure although it’s not what I want forever.

  5. I would love to teach in Spain but of course I can’t do that because I would have to leave my family! It’s not the last job you’ll have. try to enjoy it and I am sure there will be students who don’t appreciate it and others who will be thrilled to have you! A real American teacher! I remember how much I wanted a real native speaking teacher when I learned Spanish and you’re young, smart and have a good sense of humor.

  6. Ain’t that the truth. And one of the reasons why I had to leave Spain. :( I was an auxiliar for one year and one was enough. I could have looked for another job (dual French-American citizenship) legally but there is nothing to be found over there. I’m assuming you can also find another job aside from teaching since you are married to Mario now? It’s just really, really, really hard right now with the lack of jobs.

  7. Ah, the trade-offs of living abroad! I definitely understand your frustration. When I was trying to decide whether or not I would stay abroad or go back to the US, this was one of the points that I considered. I knew that I could be relegated to a life of teaching English… and I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. That said, having a husband and getting to live in the country of your college major is pretty darn sweet! I hope you’re able to eventually find an opportunity that suits more of your desires. :)

  8. The situation is similar here in France, at least, here out in province (outside of Paris), the only easy job to find is an English teaching job.

    The pressure on me to teach is tremendous. It seems like everyone and there mother thinks that I should teach, that just because I am a native speaker I would make an excellent teacher and that I am over the moon to teach. I know that I am not a good teacher, but every time I tell people that, it falls on deaf ears. I always have teaching offers and the people offering these jobs think that I’ll jump for joy over their offer saying, “oh, you’re so perfect for this job, you’d do such a great job, the students have never had a native teacher, etc, etc.” No, I am not perfect for the job. Everyone always talks to me about teaching, even my husband, and I hate it. I have threatened to take off and move to Paris so I could get a “real job” so many times. And I have seriously thought about it.

  9. i see myself here medium-long-term (though i’m not married, ni siquiera in a committed relationship) but have the same duda. there’s no way i’m doing this forever.
    also: if i can master the difference between como, comes, come, comen, comemos, and comeis, FOR F*&CK’S SAKE YOU DAMN STUDENTS, you can master the difference between run and runs! i mean really, me da tantas ganas de pegarles una hostia…

    1. “I am agree!” Arrrrgh!

      And then try to get Spaniards to use the past tense.
      Comí, comiste, comió, comimos, comisteis, comieron OR (depending on the sentence) he comido, has comido, ha comido…haya comido, hayas comido, haya comido…comía, comías, comía… comiera, comieras, comiera…comiese, comieses, comiese…Well, you get the idea.

      Just “ate” for ALL THE SUBJECT FORMS. Done. Helloooo and/or ¡Hoooola! Easier, it could not be.

      Yet, inevitably, “The past week I eat in one restaurant.” Even after I keep saying ad nauseam: “The past is your friend.” They just smile and continue using the present tense for everything– this, if they don’t try to challenge my correction with “¿!¿!Cómo qué no?!?! You are sure? Maybe is one British uso what you, American, no hear after.” Not joking.

      Fortunately, good wine is cheap and abundant here–an English teacher’s “little helper.”
      Je… Je… Je….(???)

  10. I lived in Madrid for several years in the 80s, and in the end this is most of the reason why I left. The rigidity of the job market in general was hard to take.
    After returning to the US, I went to law school and have been practicing for 20+ years now – but from time to time, given the stress and tedium involved in the practice of law (not to mention the hours), I wonder whether I should have stayed in that dead-end job in Madrid.
    So, I don’t have an answer for you!

  11. I completely understand your frustration. I do enjoy teaching, and I’m lucky to have a very good job as far as TEFL in Spain goes (solid hours/pay, all declared so full social security etc) but I sure as hell don’t want to do it forever. I’m now in my third year teaching and may have just committed to another by opting out of a PGCE in the UK but I feel as though the relative lack of stress/pressure involved with teaching is what suits me right now. Trapped!

  12. Hola chicos, I can totally relate to every one of you. I lived in Barcelona for two years and worked as an English teacher. I actually really enjoyed it (at least I enjoyed teaching adults, I hated kids), but like you, I felt I had more in me. So I packed my bags and moved back to the UK where I ended up with my “dream job” at a London digital marketing agency. I now earn 3X what I earned in BCN, I have a beautiful flat, a car and a motorcycle – everything I came to London to achieve. But what can I say, every single day of my life I think back to how much happier I was when I lived in Spain. I felt alive, free – excited about life. And now, as I grind away each day, dreaming of might have been, I wish I could swap it all for the simple life I used to have in Spain. I might work in London, but I don’t LIVE like I did back in Spain. I think it’s only natural to want to try new things, and for expats that often means going home to do “normal” things like working a 9-5. But as I’ve learnt from experience, you really should be careful what you wish for. ~ Ben :)

  13. Yep. My idea in 2007 was to go to Spain, maybe use the language assistant gig to get my foot in the door and then look for other opportunities, which I assumed there surely would be plenty of. Fast forward to 2013, 1 hell of a crisis, 3 different schools and 6 years of being a language assistant and under-the-table private class teacher later here I am. Still, I’m pretty sure I outearn most Spaniards when I put the hours in. And I feel like most people value what we do.

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