Monday, May 26, 2008

Should you tell students you're illegal?

One problem I had when teaching English in Madrid without a work visa was dealing with questions about my legal status -- not from employers or the police, but from students. With lower-level students, this was never a problem, because we had only basic conversations. But with more advanced English students, there were always conversations about the growing number of immigrants in Spain and the problem of illegal immigrants in Spain… which inevitably led to the question: Have you got your working papers?

This always made me feel uncomfortable. Admitting to students that you are working illegally not only lets them in on your little secret, but your academy’s little secret as well. While I’m sure most Spaniards are aware of the fact that English academies in Spain do hire illegal teachers, you can never be sure if your students know – or if they’d care.

Of course you could just flat out lie and tell them that you’re legal, but I found this difficult to do. I decided to settle on the answer: “I’m working on getting them.” While I may not have been actively in the process of getting my work visa for Spain at the moment, I don’t think a single day has gone by when I haven’t been at least thinking of ways to get one.

With some students, however, I told them the truth. These were the students who I felt a “bond” with, and I was confident they would not react badly. In the end, most of them were very supportive. Some would come to class with ideas or suggestions on how I could become legal. One student even offered to help me get my work visa by sponsoring me (in the end, it fell through, but I greatly appreciated his efforts).

So, what should you do if you’re working illegally in Spain and your students ask you about it? There’s no right or wrong answer. If you want the easy way out, just lie. But if there are students with whom you have a good rapport, you may want to tell them and let them know that you’re really interested in becoming legal. You never know who may be able to help you make that happen.


Sagar said...

i really love these blogs. k bien colega

eslhell said...

Thanks, Sagar! I'm glad you like it!