When 700€ Isn’t Enough: Teaching Private English Classes in Spain
If you fellow language assistants are anything like I was two years ago you have spent the last six months (or longer) waiting eagerly to find out your placements, painstakingly waiting for your visas, and all the while dreaming about finally getting on the plane and arriving at your destination. For most of you the dream has already become reality (you’re in Spain!) and I’m sure you are all exhausted from looking for apartments and trying to get someone from your school to actually answer a question or two. And after the initial excitement wears away there comes the realization that you are earning 700€ a month… not exactly enough for those glamorous weekend getaways to Paris and Amsterdam.
When I lived in Seville, 700€ was definitely enough to live on and enjoy your free time. I can’t speak personally for other cities, but many have told me that they agree (especially in Andalusia!). To give you an idea, my budget was more or less the following:
Bills (My share of electricity and internet): 30€
Prepaid Orange Phone: 40€/month (and I hardly used it other than text messages)
Groceries: 120€/month including a few bottles of wine here and there
Transportation to and from Carmona: 40€ (counting on the bus card discount and that I’d carpool a few times a week)
Eating out: 120€ (Going for tapas and drinks three-four times a week)
Going out: 100€ (This really depends on how often you go out, how much and what you drink, and if you go to places that charge a cover fee)
Total: ~ 670€
As you can see it is cutting it close, but you can definitely live in Seville with the grant money alone. However, I’m sure you haven’t accepted this job without contemplating traveling through Spain and other parts of Europe on your vacations or maybe you plan to take some classes or join a gym. Extra money is always appreciated and easily spent! Luckily it’s really easy to make extra money in Spain using little more than your good fortune of being a native English speaker.
A very common, in demand, and easy way to make extra money in Spain is by offering private English classes, or clases particulares as the Spaniards call them. This will make you more money than almost any other side job you have the luck of finding. But, as with any service you offer, it is essential to know how to connect with potential clients and market your services.
When I first arrived I had no idea how to find students. I was lucky to meet some veterans of the program who gave me some great advice and I had also just completed a TESOL course from SIT prior to arriving in Spain that really boosted my confidence in teaching. Before long I was swimming in clients, working too much, and eventually had to give away or refuse new students. Here I’ve summarized my advice for giving private classes in Spain. Hope it helps!
1. Decide what types of classes you will offer.
Conversation? Grammar? Test Preparation? Business English? What do you know how to teach? If you haven’t studied grammar for years, perhaps you shouldn’t offer grammar classes right away. If you’ve never heard of the First Certificate don’t accept a student who needs help preparing for it! You will be doing your students a disservice and I believe it is unethical. Be honest with yourself and if you only want to offer conversation classes or pronunciation correction at the beginning make that clear to your students.
2. Sell yourself!
There is a large demand for private English classes in Spain but no one can find you if you don’t advertise your services. Place advertisements on popular Spanish websites like loquo and mundoanuncio. They should introduce you and describe your experience and geographical availability. Don’t offer to give classes too far outside of your neighborhood because you will lose half of your pay in transportation and lost time. Remember that if you include your phone number people will call you… at all times of the day and they’ll start speaking to you in very fast Spanish. If your Spanish isn’t up to par consider including an email contact only. In addition to advertising on websites you should print out flyers to post around your neighborhood and at nearby universities, libraries, etc. It sounds a bit old fashioned but I got at least half of my students this way, and they all lived close by since I only put the flyers in my neighborhood!
Check out The Tired Teacher’s Guide to Private English Classes for a semester’s worth of private class activities, ideas and printouts for only 8€— the cost of about 30 minutes of a private lesson!
3. Screen potential students.
This is important. If someone sounds very strange by phone or email they probably are. Use caution when agreeing to meet someone for the first time and don’t meet at their home unless you are positive of their identity and reputation. I usually meet my students in a café for the first class but then I do give the majority of my classes in the student’s home. I still think that it is risky that way, but my roommates, boyfriend, etc. always know where I am and when I should be home. If you start classes with someone and you just don’t feel comfortable, apologize and explain that you’d be happy to recommend another teacher. There is no reason to suffer when you are your own boss!
4. Network with past and current auxiliars in your city.
Like I said previously, I had so many classes at some points that I had to give them away. I searched for willing teachers on facebook or through friends. I also got many offers from friends who couldn’t give a class or who had moved out of Seville and had a student to pass on. These classes are usually great because you know what to expect of the student, what they were already paying, and their level of English based on what their previous teacher tells you.
5. Know what to charge and be firm with your price.
Ask other teachers in your city what they charge to get a general idea of what people in your region are willing to pay. Then, evaluate yourself as a teacher. Are you TESOL certified? Did you study English or Education in college? Are you a super talented teacher? Only you can self-assess yourself and put a price on your time. But don’t undercharge just to get some students quickly. Most people understand that price reflects quality and having 2 good students at 20€/hour is much better than 4 flaky students at 10€/hr. People will always try to negotiate with you, but stay strong and don’t sell yourself short; students will come eventually!
6. Don’t become a workaholic.
Soon enough your afternoons will be filled with private classes and your 700€ will become 1200€ in a flash. It’s tempting to keep accepting classes, but remember that you are abroad to enjoy the experience too. Having money is great, but if you don’t have the time to take a flamenco class or go to a concert it’s not worth it. Leave yourself some free evenings and have a clear cancellation and make up policy with your students.
7. Embrace a relationship with your students but don’t become unprofessional.
Some of my students have become great friends and others are like family. I’ve been invited to Christmas dinners and been given movie tickets and bottles of wine. You should embrace having a good relationship with students, as they provide a real glimpse at Spanish life and can offer you advice, experiences, and connections that you wouldn’t otherwise have. But be careful of becoming unprofessional. Class time should be serious and a friendship shouldn’t mean that a student starts canceling whenever they want or that you do the same. If you get to a point where class time isn’t spent on anything productive you have a responsibility to end the professional relationship and just stay friends.
Hopefully this helps everyone who would like to teach private classes this year while in Spain. I honestly think that they are a great experience for teaching, getting to know Spanish culture, and meeting some interesting people.
Does anyone have any personal advice to add? Or maybe a funny story about a past student (no names!)?