Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summertime reminders of why I hated teaching English in Madrid

We're a third of the way through June, and for the first time in years I don't have to worry about how I'm going to survive until October. Why? Because I'm not teaching English in Spain anymore! But recent conversations with English-teaching friends and the increasingly hot weather have reminded me of one of the major reasons why I hated being an English teacher in Madrid: the constant battle to find a source of income.

Now, there are some Madrid English teachers who don't have to worry about this. People I know who teach at "real" schools in Madrid (like bilingual primary schools) have 12-month fixed contracts, so they are guaranteed to get the same pay each month. But if you work at a private language school, chances are you'll have no contract (if you're illegal or autonomo/self-employed) or you'll have a temporary contract that is terminated at the end of the academic year (usually end of June).

So although you may have a set of classes that should pay, for example, 1400 euros/month, it's rare to get your full pay in most months. Just take a look at the typical year in Madrid:

January: Most classes are out of session until after Los Reyes (Jan. 6), and some students take even longer to get back in the swing of things after the winter holidays. So you end up teaching for at most 75% of the month, which means you'll get 75% of your full paycheck.

February: No holidays, but it's a short month, so your pay usually ends up being a bit less than normal.

March/April: Usually one is a full month and the other is another 75% month -- which is which depends on when Semana Santa falls.

May: A great month to relax in Madrid, but not always good for the finances. Madrid has three holidays in May (the 1st, 2nd, and 15th). If any of these fall on a Thursday, Friday, Monday, or Tuesday, it can mean even more days off of class due to the Spanish puentes (long weekends).

June: Most classes through private English academies in Madrid end at some point in June. My friend, for example, has two classes ending this week and another two classes ending next week. Considering that most classes meet for 2-4 hours per week, and you're paid by the hour, it can mean a huge loss of income.

July and August: Some academies in Madrid have classes in July, but most don't have enough hours to give a full schedule to more than a handful of teachers. In August, there is nothing. Madrid is basically a ghost town, unless you go to the touristy parts. If you teach legally throughout the academic year, with a contract, you can claim unemployment benefits in the summer after your second year of teaching. That provides at least some relief (unless your academy screws you by reporting your base pay as 300 euros and the rest of your pay as extras -- your unemployment benefit is based on the 300 euros). If you are illegal or autonomo, you're on your own. So unless you've budgeted very well throughout the year and managed to save up some money, it's summer camp hell, starvation, or moving back home for you!

September: There used to be plenty of academy work in September, now it seems the start date for classes is getting pushed back later and later each year. Don't expect it to be a full month.

October: Just one holiday, and it's a long month, so it's usually pretty good. The only downfall is a lot of classes are just starting up, so you may miss out on a week or so of pay.

November: Two holidays in Madrid, so it can be a bad month if they form puentes.

December: A really bad month! First, you've got holidays on the 6th and 8th, so there's almost always a puente in there somewhere. Then you've got classes ending in the third week as Christmas approaches, and they won't start up again until after Los Reyes in January!

And to all of this you also have to factor in the many times students cancel classes during the year (every academy has its own policy on whether you get paid if students cancel class, or under what circumstances -- i.e., if they cancel less than 24 hours before the class) and classes that don't last the full year. While you can almost always find a replacement class to fill the empty slot, it's still annoying having to fret constantly about what your financial situation will be.

Of course, if you just want to teach for a year, and you've got some money saved up, it's not that big a deal. But in my opinion, if you're looking to stay in Madrid for a few years teaching English without a fixed contract, you can expect to either become a master at budgeting or rack up a lot of credit card debt -- or maybe a little of both.


bird said...

unsurprisingly almost the exact same situation here in seville.

like a lot of teachers, i'm looking to claim unemployment at the end of this month but don't know the steps to take. maybe a topic for a future blog post?

Troy said...

The same story in Madrid, in Seville out here in Caceres and I'm sure up in La Coruña too. Unemployment softens the blow, but only if you have accumulated 12 months work since last claiming, meaning that most teachers can only claim it every other year and then it depends if the academy that you are working for actually pays the full amount of Social Security for the actual hours you work, not the imaginary ones on your contract. You could end up with an Unemployment payment that will pay your electricity bill and little more.

The solution...CCOO!

eslhell said...

Thanks, Troy... Hey, if you have any more info to share on teachers and unions (e.g., costs and benefits), please feel free! A friend of mine here was thinking of joining...