Summer of deception
The moment when I realized I didn’t stand a chance as an English teacher
2011. Not a perfect time for job hunting; therefore, I was over the moon when, just two days later, I got hired in one of local language schools.
‘As a matter of fact, we had a teacher scheduled for this academic year, but she just disappeared. Was supposed to start classes three days ago and never showed up. Her phone is off, so there‘s just no way of contacting her. She was Turkish, came here after her Spanish boyfriend, so maybe they broke up and she went back to her country. Oh, and you ‘re going to be Agnes around here. I don ‘t think the students should ask you where you ‘re from, but if they do, don‘t say you ‘re Polish.‘
Why was there no alarm going off in my head? I should have known from the beginning the school was a funny business. Soon, I realized my employer was a real con artist who made me work overtime promising extra pay, which, of course, I never laid my eyes (or hands) on. At least, it was pretty clear why the previous teacher suddenly vanished into thin air. Looking at the labour market situation in Spain at that time (not that it got any better) and the fact we were in the middle of the school year, my chances of changing an employer were really slim, so I decided to endure it and start another job hunt in May.
Since I was going door to door offering my CV around, it wasn‘t until much later that I learned almost all languages schools had the following information on their webpages – profesores nativos con titulación – and by titulación they usually meant TEFL or CELTA, which they would often specify in the ‘work with us’ section. Apart from that, a lot of those websites were available in Spanish only, so to apply, you would actually need to know Spanish or have someone translate the offer to you. I keep wondering why they didn‘t even bother to put the info in English, since they were looking for native speakers. The heat was growing stronger, my contract was close to expire, and the things I was being told at schools were getting more and more bizarre. School after school, everyone was turning me down because of their natives-only policy. Yet, there were also other cases.
‘To tell you the truth, we normally accept only native speakers, considering our clients‘ demands, and even if got the job, you mustn‘t tell anyone where you ‘re from. They won‘t notice.‘ – said the school head who didn‘t even speak English herself (I ‘m sorry, what?).
Same thing happened in a few more places.
The coast in high season, tourists in high spirits, temperatures were also high, obviously. The only thing that wasn‘t high was the demand for non-native speakers. I was trying my best to make ends meet, but still, if it wasn‘t for the unemployment benefit, I wouldn‘t have made it through the summer. I did find some parttime jobs, eventually. Not in language schools per se, but in two centres offering tutoring mainly in school subjects, one of them being English that children had failed and needed to pass in September. What is essential to mention is that in one of them, I was explicitly told to teach English in Spanish. Yes, exactly.
‘You can‘t speak English to them, because they won‘t understand you. What they need is the knowledge of grammar sufficient to make it to the next grade. That‘s why it must be explained in Spanish.‘
I got mixed abilities classes of 7-11 and 12- 17 year olds, some of the latter preparing for the baccalaureate. The only thing I could, and was required to do, was to give them tests and grammar exercises adjusted to their level, while explaining topics on the board. First for two front rows, while the others were working on some revision, then for the two following ones, and so on. Never have I felt worse as a teacher. It all seemed pointless and somewhat humiliating. No wonder they couldn‘t get a native speaker to do it.
That summer I began asking myself a lot of questions about my life choices. What was the use of studying to become an English teacher if you weren’t a native? Ok, so you could work in your own country, but that’s not what I had been told during my university years. English is spoken and learned worldwide, which means an English teacher can work anywhere. Wrong. Have they lied to me? Should I have chosen a different career path? I was on the edge of giving up. I searched the web for start-up assistance and grants possibilities for establishing my own school, started taking up some professional courses to retrain, and was even considering going back to Poland. Finally, my degree in education came to the rescue, as at the very end of July, I was offered a lower primary tutor position in a private bilingual school.
Now, after three years of working as a primary teacher, I am willing to give Spain and its language schools a second try. Sadly, digging through the websites, I can only come to a conclusion that not much has changed since that summer of deception.