Sunday, June 29, 2008

TEFL in Madrid :The academy point of view

Anyone who's interested in the "other side" of EFL in Madrid -- the academy side -- can check out this new blog by Janice at Windsor Idiomas. I don't know of any others written by academy owners or directors of studies in Madrid.

I'll be interested to see what other English teachers in Madrid think about what the academies have to say. While I understand many of the frustrations that go into running an English academy in Spain, I continue to believe that improving life for the teachers would go a long way in improving life for the academies as well.

As far as I can see, a situation has been created whereby academies in Madrid snatch up whatever classes they can -- regardless of whether they in fact have any qualified teachers for the classes -- and then scramble to find "bodies" to fill these classes. In doing so, quality is often overlooked, since there's just no time to wait around for a good teacher -- one who knows English grammar, knows how to communicate, treats the job as a job and not a year off, etc. This leads to unhappy students, who complain about crap teaching and unserious teachers. In the case of those teachers who do take EFL teaching seriously in Madrid, they often face an uphill battle of trying to earn respect from students who now assume that every English teacher in Madrid is a lazy drunkard. The more serious teachers also suffer from bad wages and bad working conditions, because academies are used to having so many flaky teachers who don't deserve to be paid well and who have to be treated like children, lest they step out of line and just disappear or decide not to show up to classes every once in a while.

My solution? Pay more attention to the teachers. Look for the ones who consistently go to their classes and reward them for that. Pay attention to students and their complaints -- are there teachers that are consistently praised by their students or, at the very least, never have unhappy students? Reward them for that! And when you've seen that a teacher is serious about the job and wants to make a career out of it, give them the respect they deserve. Pay them more. Give them a real contract. Let them choose classes (as much as possible) at the beggining of the year.

Yes, the majority of English teachers at private academies in Madrid do not take the job as seriously as they should, and they won't be around in a year's time anyway. But those who stick around for another year are often serious about the job and worth keeping. However, they need some sort of incentive not to turn into all the other less-serious teachers.

Quite frankly, after a while, you just start to wonder: Why do I bother dragging myself out of bed at 6 a.m., when other teachers just skip their morning classes -- and nothing happens to them? Why do I bother planning my classes, when other teachers just make up answers or force students to do nothing but conversation -- and nothing happens to them?

It seems to me that it's a vicious cycle, and one that won't be broken until some academies start to focus more on their employees first and then their clients. To us, the English teachers, it's quite clear that most academies really don't give a sh*t about us, no matter how responsible or dedicated we are. Their first priority is finding clients, their second priority is keeping clients, their third priority is getting as much money as possible out of the clients, their fourth priority... not sure... but I'd say keeping teachers happy and making them feel appreciated and respected would be somewhere along the 10th priority, if even. We are just nameless faces thrown into slots to teach -- or not teach, nobody seems to really care -- nameless faces that are thrown into the classes by their employers to learn English. The academies don't care about the students or the teachers -- all they seem to care about is whether they'll be getting a check from the company/client.

I would love to see an academy in Madrid that first focuses on finding good teachers and creating conditions that incentivize the teachers to work hard and stay on the job. Obviously, this would result in a harder working, more responsible group of teachers, which should translate into higher quality classes and happier students. The students may have to pay more -- but isn't that pretty normal? To pay more for better quality?


Janice said...

What a great passionate post. I completely agree with you, teachers are our most valuable resource as they are what we stand and fall by, and your ideas about incentivising the good teachers is really interesting.
We are quite upfront with the clients and tell them that if we can't find a suitable teacher for their classes we simply won't give them one, what's the point in giving them a teacher you don't feel confident about, it only comes back to harm you in the long term. Having said that, it really is hard to gage how responsible a teacher is going to be at interview.

Just wanted to add that we've changed our server so having some problems with my blog at the moment. I noticed the link on the post isn't working.


eslhell said...

Thanks, Janice. I've fixed the link to your blog!