Tales of bad employers abound in the Spanish Tefl industry. Jasper Knight tells you how to spot a good job and how to protect yourself once you get it.
Spanish friends often bemoan that while living in Spain is great, working in Spain is not. Private language academies are no exception and tales of unfair work practices, exploitative employers, poor pay and dubious payslips are all too common.
There are positive aspects to working for an academy. In contrast to private classes, they provide financial stability (some even pay a salary) - many classes last the academic year and there are fewer cancellations.
Through an academy, morning and afternoon classes are far easier to find - these are times that are notoriously difficult to fill with private classes. Most provide materials, a course outline and the Head of Studies is on hand to provide help and advice, which can be essential when teaching children. Academies are also good places to find private classes, either through recommendation or by subtly poaching students.
The problem in Spain is that there aren't many academies that treat their employees very well. Academies recommended by teachers are few and far between. Also, they are not altruistic educational institutions, but businesses that need to turn a profit. The student is the client, and what is good for business is not necessarily good for students or staff.
Some academies put students into the next level even if they fail, so that they continue to receive their money. This makes teaching harder. Many people who run academies appear unconcerned if their students don't learn anything. To them, the teacher's job seems to be to entertain, to ensure students are happy and, more importantly, to keep the euros rolling in. Experienced teachers expect nothing less, and many prefer to be left to teach what they want, how they want.
Legally, all employers have to give their staff contracts. After one year, employees are entitled to a permanent contract, with paid holidays and no dismissal without a redundancy payment. Academies get around this by offering temporary contracts for seven or eight months, and rehire teachers after the summer.
The holidays are therefore a period of uncertainty and worry. Teachers have to find additional employment in July, August and September, often working in summer schools or living off savings. Some contracts state that they finish at the "end of the course", leaving plenty of room for interpretation - some teachers have been given just one day's notice. Be warned that the academic year finishes on June 30th, and contracts may be terminated even if classes run until the end of July.
A contract is only really important if teachers plan to stay for the longer term, but many teachers work without a contract because they aren't given the choice. If teachers are working legally, they and their employers have to make social security payments.
Working for a year entitles you to three months' unemployment benefit at 70% of your salary. The Spanish benefits system is modelled on a savings scheme - it is your money, and it is set aside for you. However, very few academies declare everything you earn. Instead, many only declare between 10% and 50% of your salary - the rest is handed to you in an envelope. This creative accounting means that when it comes to claiming unemployment benefit, teachers are entitled to very little.
According to the agreement made between the government and the unions, teachers should earn 8.90 euros an hour. Assuming that English teachers do 30 minutes' preparation, arrive 10 minutes early for class and travel around one hour for every hour they teach, ¿8.90 is not a good deal.
Some academies pay less, while others pay up to ¿20 an hour. Teachers work, on average, 20 hours a week. Some teachers may be salaried to work 10 hours but will actually work more and only get paid for 10. Wages in Spain are generally bad. Since the introduction of the euro, prices (especially property) have increased while wages have not. Marking extra exams, writing reports, collecting and dropping things off, taxiing other teachers to classes in the academy's car, meetings and preparing specialised topics also take up more of the teachers' time. All of which is covered in the hourly rate for contact classes.
Teachers have been told that they can't be sick; one girl who had lost her voice still had to give her classes by writing on the board. Bullying is not unheard of. Some managers use meetings as a platform to publicly criticise teachers to the point where staff are literally terrified in case they have done something wrong; no matter how petty, small or ridiculous. One teacher ended up having anxiety attacks before meetings. Friends have spoken of being insulted and shouted at in front of students for minor things. These are extreme examples, but they are too often heard.
So why do teachers put up with it? Competition is tough and teachers know that, if they complain, they won't be rehired in September. Some academies receive five to 10 CVs a week, meaning that teachers can be replaced, as one manager put it, "with one phone call". In reality, a contract offers little security.
So what is the best way to deal with exploitative employers? Don't be afraid of moving on, try to work for at least two academies, and find as many private classes as possible. Talk to other teachers to discover the employers that take care of and listen to their staff. However few, they do exist; you just have to look for them.
Inspector McHammered of the Lard in Pamplona, Spain