Like any other job, teaching English as a foreign language in Madrid has its upside and its downside. Here are a few pros and cons for your consideration.
PRO: Teaching EFL is cool
Your job is basically to form relationships with some awesome people and to think of fun and interesting things to listen to/watch/chat about in your native language. In addition to the standard text books, I’ve used BBC’s The Office, articles from The Onion and that classic 80’s pop song “Safety Dance” in my classes. And when you’ve had a really good class, everyone comes out smiling and you feel high as a kite, all without the aid of drugs.
CON: There will be hard times
Sometimes for months at a time. Sometimes you’re sleep-deprived and exhausted from trying to communicate in a foreign language and sick to death of lesson planning and of bocadillos and Doner Kebap and all you want is to go home to your friends and family, familiar food, and your large, comfortable bed. All I can say is that culture shock hits everybody differently, but eventually it does get better.
PRO: There’s a lot of teaching work and it pays fairly well
Certified teachers practically have to beat agencies and academies off with a stick once their schedules are full. And while you’re never going to get rich teaching English in Madrid, you can certainly live comfortably. I was only working 17 hours a week my first term teaching, yet I had enough to pay rent and bills, buy food, go out once or twice a week, and take several weekend trips to places in Spain, England and France.
CON: You commute, a lot
On an average teaching day I spend anywhere from 4 to 6 hours getting to and from my classes. However, if you’re smart about it you can use that time productively: to lesson plan, to read for pleasure, to listen to music, to study Spanish, etc. Or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can shorten your commute dramatically by buying a moto, as my friend Alan has, and then you get the added advantage of being perceived as a sexy, moto-riding European.
PRO: Madrid is cheap for a major European city
Where a fixed menu costs on average €12 in Paris, you can get roughly the same menu for €8 here. Groceries are dirt cheap (unless you buy a whole leg of jamón ibérico). Madrid is also a cheap and easy place to travel from. If you know where to look, you can usually find a plane ticket to just about anywhere in Europe for under €100.
CON: Madrid can be dirty
A large part of the population still smokes in public, so a night out results in you smelling like an ashtray at the end of it. It is also tradition to throw your wrapper/cigarette butt/other garbage on the floor of the bar when you’re done with it. In the street you have to watch your step, as everyone has an adorable little terrier but no one seems bothered to clean up their adorable little turds.
PRO: Teaching in Madrid brings with it a built-in exercise regimen
My roommate and I sat down one day and figured out that we walk an average of six miles a day, just going to and from classes. When we first moved here we both experienced a dramatic and rapid weight loss. We’ve since plateaued, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so fit in my life. I have buns and legs of steel, and I can eat as much chocolate as I want without gaining an ounce. Yeessssss!!!
CON: The schedule
When I was in the U.S. and fantasizing about teaching in Madrid, I had convinced myself that the new job would mean I wouldn’t have to get up at 6am every day anymore. Sadly, this turned out to be an unrealistic expectation. And not only do I get up at 6am every day, but I don’t finish my day of teaching until 8:30 or 9pm. Some people finish later.
PRO: The schedule
Yes, the days are long, but there are only four in the work week. Most teachers in Madrid also take Fridays off, which means a three day weekend every week! You run around like crazy Monday through Thursday, but it’s worth it to be able to have two full days in Paris or Amsterdam. Or two full days to recover from a particularly ___ night out. Another plus to the schedule is the morning break. After my morning class I have several hours to kill before I need to leave for my lunchtime classes. I use this time to grocery shop, eat, read, write, catch up on email or sleep—whatever floats my boat. Some people also schedule social time into this break, stopping for a coffee or lunch with other teachers.
PRO: Finally, probably the most important highlight of this job is what has probably motivated you to research teaching abroad in the first place: living and working abroad is a life-changing adventure
Living and working abroad can teach you things about yourself that you can’t learn in any other way. It’s hard at times, sometimes you want to give up and get on the next flight home, but in the end you’ll emerge as a stronger, wiser, more competent and more worldly person. And as an added bonus, year one or two (or ten!) abroad and the Spanish language skills look great on your resume no matter what career you choose.
Obviously this is not a complete and unbiased picture of what it’s like to live and teach English in Madrid, but hopefully it helps you decide whether this is the kind of adventure you want.