Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Teaching House Nomads Blog | March 7, 2021

Scroll to top



Un Auténtico Chorizo: Teaching for a Cowboy Outfit in Madrid

Un Auténtico Chorizo: Teaching for a Cowboy Outfit in Madrid
John Harrop
  • On December 17, 2015

Juan Motilla’s dark eyes looked us up and down with contempt; he was wearing an impeccably pressed, pastel coloured shirt and a designer suit, his gelled hair gleamed under the florescent light and he gently tapped his manicured nails on the desk as if he was playing flamenco guitar. It was Friday morning and I was nursing the hangover from hell and feeling very delicate. The smell of the Ducados (super-strong Spanish cigarettes) he was smoking and his liberal use of aftershave was making me feel nauseous. “Right team, remember the three Ps?’’ He paused, waiting for an answer. I stopped doodling and looked at the other teachers, hoping someone knew the answer. “This is something he must’ve picked up from his MBA” whispered Jane, a straight-talking teacher from Yorkshire. Motilla realised that nobody was going to volunteer an answer, so he trotted out “Punctuality, Professionalism and Pride”. He took great pleasure in rolling his ‘r’s, especially in the word pride. “Pride?” asked Jane quizzically, this time out loud. “Si, señorita…have pride in what you do and this will make you a great teacher”. She rolled her eyes in response.

This was our so-called monthly professional development meeting. More often than not we didn’t learn anything as Juan droned on for 45 mins about one thing or another vaguely connected with teaching. The only reason we all came along was that it was also payday. We’d scribble our signature on a suspiciously unofficial piece of paper and be handed an envelope stuffed with grubby peseta notes. It wasn’t long before I’d come to realise that the outfit I was working for wasn’t of the highest calibre, to say the least – in fact, they were no more than cowboys.

We were a motley crew, Juan’s sartorial elegance only serving to exaggerate our shambolic scruffiness. The meeting finished, and as we shuffled out he reneged us with ” Remember the three Ps”, “Yeah yeah yeah … pathetic pedantic prick”, said Jane under her breath. “Una cervecita, anyone?” said Monica, the exception to our group, a vivacious Puerto Rican who was taking some time out of her world tour to teach English, and was always keen to go for a beer.


Photos by Manuel Carmona

With more bars per capita than any other European city, we spent the first few minutes arguing where to go before plumping for a beautifully tiled-bar which took you back to a bygone age as soon as you crossed the threshhold. Our friendly mustachioed waiter, who (in his black vest and bowtie) looked even older than the bar, quickly served us ice-cold beers. Then, over a plateful of olives and slices of piquant manchego cheese, we swapped teaching ideas, passed on any other work and gossiped. Monica claimed that Juan had set up the language academy, or ‘enterprise’ as he liked to call it, to support his coke habit. I wasn’t convinced, though what did I know? The nearest I’d come to the world of cocaine was watching Scarface.

Our job was supposedly teaching business English (English for Special Purposes, or ESP as it’s known in the trade … not to be confused with clairvoyance or any mind reading activity) in various companies in Madrid. Most of my classes were classes at Telefónica, Spain’s national telephone company. I’d drag myself out of bed at 6am, often just a couple of hours after I’d gone to bed, cross the city by Madrid’s incredibly efficient metro and teach English to groups of bleary-eyed telephone engineers, salespeople, operators and administrators before they started work.

The money wasn’t great, but luckily Madrid was still relatively cheap for a European capital. Plus I was more than happy to have a job only a couple of weeks after completing my CELTA course – I still couldn’t believe that you could turn up in a foreign country and walk into a job that wasn’t just washing dishes or cleaning toilets while not speaking the language!

Now I wished I’d spent more time on planning what I was going to do once I’d arrived in Madrid. I didn’t have that many teaching hours and the money I’d made in the summer school was gradually being eaten into.

Luckily, some of my students at Telefónica started asking me to do private classes (‘clases particulares’) for their children, in-laws and friends of friends. I also put up small flyers in local shops and supermarkets and had some business card made. To my surprise, people started to call. What started off as a sideline ended up as my full-time job, and eventually I reached a point where – thankfully – I could leave the so-called academy.

So what did I learn?

  • Use your common sense: before taking a job with a language school, do your research.
  • If you can’t find work in a language school, be proactive: the demand for learning English hasn’t abated in Spain, and it is possible to live from giving private classes. But you do have to remember that over public holiday holidays (there are around 14 a year in Spain), both national and religious, people don’t usually want to study.
  • If you do offer private classes, try to get students to pay for the month in advance – if not, you’re likely to end up facing lots of last-minute cancellations and not paying the rent! Better to offer a cheaper monthly rate and get the cash in hand than to charge more and end up earning less.
  • Try to organise small groups (up to 4 is a good number): more fun for all of you than one-to-one, plus you can make a sliding pay-scale, so that they pay less per person, and you end up earning more per hour.

Oh yes – I mustn’t forget to give you my own three Ps:

Proactivity, Personal growth … and Putting yourself out of your comfort zone!

A better way to find private work nowadays, rather than scotch taping bits of paper to lamp-posts as I did, is the internet. Spain, after initially being wary of spending money online, is finally embracing the internet – here are some places to advertise your classes, for face-to-face or Skype classes.

The going rate for private classes is around € 20 an hour in the larger cities (depending on your experience) and about € 12-15 in the smaller towns.

The laws on being-self employed in Spain are pretty complex. This article in El Pais (written in English) explains it quite well:

The black economy in Spain in massive, The Guardian claims it is now worth €253bn (around $270 bn);


John Harrop

John Harrop

A small, freckled traveler from Liverpool, John never imagined he’d end up working in education. Then, one night in a British pub, he met some Spanish students, ended up moving to Spain and the rest, as they say, is history. Based in Seville, he now spends his time teacher-training, teaching, writing and performing interactive puppet shows with Bat-i-Burrillo Teatro de Títeres.
John Harrop


  1. Chris Barker

    Brings back memories! Good advice.

    • Hi Chris

      Glad you enjoyed the piece and thanks for taking the time to leave and comment!

  2. Raif Collis

    He he, enjoyed reading that. It also brought back some memories of when I first started teaching in Tokyo. On paper the outfit I worked for seemed quite professional when they recruited me in the UK but they were just cowboys at the end of the day, like all too many schools in the EFL industry. However they did at least help me get a working visa for Japan, even if this tied me to them as they were my sponsor. I’d strongly advise anyone to get a visa if it’s required by a country because if you don’t, you leave yourself open to being exploited by your employer and possibly blackmailed by third parties, or even deported if rival schools find out about you. A good read, thanks for getting the advice out there.

  3. Raif Collis

    Btw, if I want to know what the industry’s like in a particular place, I always find the Jobs Forum on Dave’s ESL Cafe to be a salutary read:

    • Thanks Raif. We’ve also got a huge database of just jobs- with over 200 new jobs each week on our site: Teaching House Jobs Center You can search by country, it’s also a good starting place. The only thing I’d warn about commenters on Dave’s ESL Cafe- you need to take things with a grain of salt. People tend to complain at length when they have a bad experience, but not post if they have a positive one, so opinions can occasionally be one-sided.

      • Good points made by both Raif the the Teaching House Team of Trainers. Another option is to ask a potential employer if you can talk to/meet /Skype call one of the teachers who work at the school…the worst thing they can say is no!!

  4. Carine C

    A very amusing piece. And some good ideas for new teachers on avoiding the many pitfalls. Made me think that getting together with others and forming groups to support you in your early days of teaching is really such a good idea.

    • That’s a good idea Carine – check out FaceBook groups, there is one for teachers in Sevilla which is really lively, especially people passing on private classes – most days someone has posted something like “My friend’s cousin wants classes from 12-14 everyday…anyone interested ? PM me for details”

  5. Tim Gillbanks

    Great article brings back memories of working in Southern Italy in the late 80s for £1,100,000 Lira a month! Wish I had taken the advice to plan. My best advice would be to network with other teachers use the Internet; plan and get a support network around you. is a good way to meet like minded people.

  6. Hi Tim – Glad you enjoyed the article, CouchSurfing events are a great way to meet new people, especially if you’re working on your own and don’t get the chance to meet many people at work. It also keeps homesickness at bay too!! Plus it might even lead to more work or at least language exchange or a chance to practise the language of the country you’re living in.

  7. Dave Wenham

    Some very good advice there John, especially your 3 Ps. Keep it coming:)

  8. Thanks a lot for the comment Dave – glad you enjoyed the piece.

  9. John Turcany

    One more tip to give to any would-be EFL teachers: use your sense of humor liberally, as the author does. This article gives solid advice and a good laugh to boot!

  10. Hi John – thanks for taking the time to leave a comment…and yes you’re right, a sense of humour goes a long way in the classroom (especially when things are going wrong) While at time some activities, especially storytelling can feel as if you’re doing stand-up!!

  11. Matt

    Hi John,

    I have recently completed my CELTA and am embarking on a journey of self discovery….its a new career path for me.
    I’ve got a question….where in Spain do you think is the best to start and get more experience? I have done the Camino last year and loved Santiago de Compostela, have you heard of any possibilities teaching in Galicia? Also, are there places (anywhere in Spain) that you might know of that accept short part time contracts (6 months). Really informative article by the way! Thanks

  12. Hi there Matt

    I’m glad you liked the post, and I’ll try to answer some of your questions.

    First of all – you can get the same teaching experience anywhere in Spain, it depends more on the school rather than where it is. Though, more importantly, think about is where you’d like to go…this is a purely personal choice, but statistically there are more opportunities in cities than in small towns/villages and every place has its pros and cons.

    There are plenty of teaching opportunities in Galicia, Santiago de Compostela has a large university student population and the demand for teachers is high, as it’s a beautiful place, there will be more competition for jobs, but don’t let that discourage you. I also like the other cities in the region too; A Coruña, Pontevedra, Lugo and Vigo.

    Generally, schools in Spain offer 9 month academic-year contracts, from mid-September until June. Sometimes schools offer contracts from Jan to June (to replace teachers who have gone back home for Christmas and decided not to return)

    Check out the Teaching House database or just do an internet search.

    A good start might be to look for a job in a summer school/summer camp in Galicia (or anywhere in Spain for that matter) as a teacher/group leader. They start recruiting about now. The contracts are for either for a month/6 weeks/2 months and expect to earn around €800-€1000 a month depending on your duties. I loved working in summer schools when I first started teaching, usually you’ll be teaching teenagers and they just want to have fun. It’s hard work, but rewarding, you’ll get tons of experience and it’s a great way to spend the summer. Plus if you realise it’s not for you, you’ve only got a few weeks to stick it out. Check out my other posts…they’ll give you some idea of what working in them is like.

    Good luck and let us know how you get on.

  13. Hey John,

    Great article, found it really entertaining. Reminds me also of my first job in Seville (I think you are based here now?) I won’t say who it was for, but it was a shambles to say the least. No contract, no way of knowing whether I’d have classes once the three month courses finished, and no way of knowing whether I was an actual registered worker.

    There were two good things that came out of working for them though. I learnt how to deal with tricky Spanish adults students, plus I met my wife. She was my student, don’t worry she was 21 and I was 25.

    Luckily I’m working for a more professional academy now and have been for the last 10 years, This is my 11th year here, scary thought. Where are you based now? Are you still teaching?

    Thanks for the chuckle.

    Barry O’Leary

  14. Hey there Barry

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to leave a comment, really glad you enjoyed the piece.

    I’m happy to hear that working in Sevilla was a ‘learning experience’ and you were lucky enough to meet you wife too!!

    I’m still in Sevilla, though most of my work is working in the state school system; I do a lot of work with puppets/drama workshops and masks, while for secondary I mix mentalism and storytelling as well as doing quite a bit of teacher training for state school teachers too. At the minute am just gearing up to do my most surreal job of the year, CyberSanta. Schools tell the kids that while Santa is on his break, the class are going to call him via Skype and have a chat to him in English and ask him so questions…the kids believe it’s real (or at least they want to believe it’s real)

    By the way, I’ve stumbled across your website before, lots of interesting stuff and good luck with your book.

    Maybe bump into you in Sevilla sometime, el mundo es un pañuelo as they say.

    All the best


  15. Hey John,

    Ha, that sounds wicked, Santa by Skype. Do you get Rudolf involved as well? I might wear a Christmas hat but that’s all my lot get.

    I often think about getting into the state school system, but not sure I could handle the all Spanish environment. How did you get into it? Have you done oposiciones then?

    Glad you like my website. Yeah hopefully bump into you while wandering round the hanky!

    All the best


  16. There is another page like Tusclasesparticulares (listed at the end of the article), called Preply, it´s pretty good too.

  17. John Harrop

    Thanks for that Sergio – their website looks pretty slick. Have you had much work from it??

  18. Hindsight as they say, is 50-50. This article reminded me of my time in Madrid from 2008-2010. I was so naive back then and definitely did the run around picking up every class going and spending upwards of 20 hours a week commuting.

    However, teaching gave me the experience of more or less being self employed which has got me where I am today – fittingly enough still in the education sphere!

  19. Hi John,

    It’s an interesting article. You have shared some important points and make them helpful for others.

Submit a Comment