Un Auténtico Chorizo: Teaching for a Cowboy Outfit in Madrid

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

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.

ESL teacher John Harrop shared his insights and experiences working and teaching English in Spain

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);


Our Partners & Accreditation

We partner with the best brands in the English Language training industry