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Teaching in Madrid- a summary

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2003 12:31 am    Post subject: Teaching in Madrid- a summary Reply with quote

Teaching in Madrid- A Summary by Alex Case- 28/11/02

I was a teacher, teacher trainer and DoS in Madrid for two years. I must say I loved it, but it certainly takes some getting used to. Hereís my summary:

The place
Madrid is not the Mediterranean. Itís over 700 metres above sea level, and consequently is very hot in the summer (up to 45 deg Cs) and can feel very cold in the winter- and with famously dry air all year. The plus side is wonderful clear blue skies and plenty of mountains to get away to at the weekend (a big Madrileno hobby). All the other best things are just what you see in a guide book- tapas, the Prado and nightlife. A pleasant surprise is just how well the local council do they job, hosing down streets everyday and expanding the Metro all the time.

The people
The people are not exactly Mediterranean either. But then could Don Quixote have been Italian or Greek? I think not. According to the travel writer Jan Morris the real Spain is not in Andalusia, itís on the meseta- and that includes Madrid as much as La Mancha or Toledo, and it certainly includes the people.

Some complaints Iíve seen here about the people in Madrid are that they are workshy, they are rude, and they donít like speaking English. First of all, they do call it Ďthe Protestant work ethicí, and Spain is a very Catholic country. The two Spanish words weíve famously taken into English to describe their lifestyle are, of course, Ďsiestaí and Ďfiestaí. Siestas are a slowly dying breed in Madrid, but the Spanish really do know how to go out and have a good time. They happily go from bar to bar until 6 or 7 in the morning without getting drunk, fighting or being sick (well, thatís true of the over 18s, anyway). Most of them even manage it without taking drugs. Canít say itís ever anything I got the hang of myself, but you have to respect them for it. Just walk into a Spanish bar and thereís just a great vibe of people having a lot of good, clean fun. Same in the street and on the Metro- no one pushing past anyone else because they are so important like in London. Itís all so laid-back- no clenched up stressed faces. And in the street, no one ever seems to get out of anyoneís way and yet they never bump into each other. If you walk at London pace, however, (and I still do) youíve broken the unwritten rule and you will have to dodge and weave your way down Gran Via and through El Corte Ingles like no-oneís business.

So thatís Madrilenos at play. Work, unfortunately, is just something they do to get themselves to the next piece of pay. So the service in shops and restaurants is terrible. Waiters have a superb knack of moving their eyes across the room so as to see every corner of the room but your hand. Strangely this is most true when you want to pay the bill, even when they are turning people away because there are no tables left. So you can sit there sipping on your tiny beer for hours without being hassled and moved on. Again, I didnít really get the knack, and I didnít have 3 hours for lunch. But if someone is getting stressed and unpleasant in a bar, itís not the locals- thatís for sure.

In shops again, it can seem like theyíre doing you a favour. Well, donít look it at that way. Itís the owner theyíre really doing a favour for- working a 12-hour day for rubbish money and no job security. And they are giving the owner exactly the amount of dedication to the job he deserves- you are just being caught in the crossfire. Go into a shop just for a chat and to practise your Spanish rather than to buy something, and theyíll stop everything for you. Just do all your actual shopping in VIPS, the local 7 Eleven.

The students

Spanish teenagers are what you would expect youíd get by putting those two words together. Like all European teenagers, they are not in the slightest bit interested in learning, and being Spanish they are just that bit louder than the average. They are also spoilt stupid at home, which means at least you will not be teaching Marilyn Manson fans who are going to take a shotgun to you- but also means you may as well tell their parents they are angels and geniuses or suffer the consequences. Again like all teenagers, the girls are 1000 times easier to teach than the boys, and luckily when you get to adult classes itís 75% female and even they seem to have grown up and changed personality from one day to the next.

The adults still like playing games and chatting and seem to forget homework- but what would you prefer that or stressed up Austrians who want to see an improvement of at least 2.52% every lesson? In Spain you can try out all those wacky games you saw in some Humanistic book and couldnít try anywhere else. Even in adult classes, the girls are notably more hardworking than the boys. The big mystery of the classes is that they love speaking, but the Spanish sense of the ridiculous means they just cannot take themselves seriously talking to another Spanish person in English. Thinking about it, it does seem a bit silly- but the Spanish canít stop thinking about it, even at very high levels. Hence the need to make jokes and asides in Spanish, and to directly translate expressions even when they know they doesnít exist. It keeps them happy, and you can get them to translate to you afterwards. In the street, peopleís unwillingness to speak English means you will pick up Spanish very quickly- which is good, no?

You might expect Business classes to be more serious- but no. Most companies give English classes because they have to give a certain amount of training to their staff, and English comes cheap. So- get out Communication Games again and make sure you and they have a good time but also feel like theyíve learnt something. And donít get disheartened when numbers are down by 50% after a couple of months- is this what you would want to be doing in your lunch time?

The job

Split shifts and Saturdays are a fact of life in Spanish Academias. Thatís just when the students want classes. Just make sure you negotiate only one term of Saturdays, and make sure you do something useful with your time in the middle of the day. Thereís no lack of museums or nice strolls, and then thereís Spanish lessons, or a very long lunchÖ

The money is generally okay. You can afford a shared flat and to go out for a few beers and tapas virtually every night, and take day trips at the weekend. You might have to cut down on the going out to save enough for holidays etc, though, especially if the Euro remains weak. Schools rarely offer flats or flight money, but living in a cheap Ďhostalí or Ďpensioní is not much more than living in a shared flat and is okay while you search for somewhere.

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Posted: November 28, 2002
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