Interview with Jack Dearden, Spain Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is Jack Dearden, I am 31 years old and I am from London, UK.

What is your education level and background?

I have a BA Honours degree in History of Art from the University of Leeds, UK specialising in modern contemporary art and photography. Soon after graduating in 2008 I worked as an Intern at a photography gallery in Camden, London.

Due to a lack of permanent opportunities in the art sector during this time, I accepted a role working in the International Removal and Shipping Industry at a small company in West London. I worked there for a total of 7 years before becoming an English teacher here in Madrid, Spain.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

Throughout my life I have been lucky enough to do a fair bit of travelling. It’s something that I love doing and I always have a new place in mind to visit in the future. My most recent travels were to Central & South America in 2015, of which I spent around 9 months backpacking on my own starting in Mexico and finishing in Brazil.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I have always been interested in teaching, and after I finished high school I worked for a year as a Physical Education teacher at a Prep School near my home in West London. Though teaching sport is totally different, I enjoyed it immensely and it was a good experience prior to studying at University.

Considering I had not returned to teaching until now, I believe several factors motivated me to give it a shot. For instance, I had become a little tired of my job in London and I thought I could do better, enjoying a different challenge instead. Coupled with my enthusiasm for travel, I felt teaching abroad would allow me to accomplish some goals of mine like learning another language, and of course, living in another country.  

During my travels in South America, I noticed a trend that there are so many people that want to learn English but do not have the confidence to pursue it. I met various people in most of the countries I visited that had a good level of English, loved practicing it but did not have a particularly high opinion of their speaking level. Having a role whereby I could help such people with their confidence in speaking English, and allowing them to gradually improve was (and still is) a motivation of mine.

What did you want to personally achieve with this experience, and have you succeeded?

A number of things come to mind. For instance, meeting new people, carving out a new career for myself without looking back and improving my level of Spanish which is reasonable but I’m a long way off being fluent that’s for sure!

Becoming a respected teacher in a new country is something I want to achieve, it is early days but I believe that I have made great strides with my students and the academies I have been working with over the last few months. I have a great relationship with all my students, and it gives me great pleasure to help them achieve their goals when learning English.

When you receive positive feedback from your students it only helps to improve your own confidence and subsequent motivation to continue enjoying such a new and interesting experience.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I applied for the TEFL program on my own, having experienced a short TEFL course in London in 2015 I felt a longer more intensive course would be beneficial for my development and teaching qualifications overall.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

Yes, my best friend taught English in China for a year in 2012. He absolutely loved it, though found the cultural differences and of course the language very difficult to get used to at first. He saw this as a good challenge, and approached everything with a positive perspective.

Myself and couple of friends from University met him in Shanghai after travelling through Russia, Mongolia and China on the Trans-Siberian Express, which was a fantastic experience. Meeting him near the end of the trip was the icing on the cake as I hadn’t seen him for months, and it was like old times but in a completely new city! His enthusiasm about his experiences definitely helped me with my own decision to teach abroad.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

Without trying to sound too over confident, I didn’t have many major concerns prior to teaching abroad. I think my travel experience in South America helped with that. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years now, so I was looking forward to it more than having any reservations.

Naturally, I knew I would miss my family and friends but it was comforting to know I could easily return home for a weekend in London as I was only a 2-hour flight away. Whilst they could visit me here and I could act as tour guide which is always nice.

Though my Spanish was at a reasonable level, practicing and becoming better has always been a goal of my mine. I think it will be a while before I am anywhere near fluency, I have good days and bad days so the speed in which I learnt the language was always a slight concern. To look at it positively, I really enjoy speaking another language and progressing albeit slowly feels great.

And finally, would I be any good at teaching? Well, I had a teacher/trainer base from my last job so I was confident I’d be good. Once you start the TEFL course, the trainers will instil lots of confidence in you and this will help you become a better teacher than you ever expected!

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

I’ve always wanted to live abroad at some point in my life, and teaching English was always an option that appealed to me. Putting those two elements together seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a go. Especially after I realised I no longer wanted to stay working in the same industry as my last job.

I did a little research on the internet and found TEFL Heaven’s options for various courses and opportunities very attractive. It seemed to me I could pick many places from Europe, Asia and Latin America at reasonable rates. Whilst each person I was in contact with during the application process was extremely nice and helpful. When working a stressful job and looking for a career change, having patient and understanding people help you make those changes like those at TEFL Heaven really helps.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

I feel I am more receptive when learning in an environment where I can discuss ideas with the teacher and my fellow classmates. Face-to-face interaction for me is the best way to learn as you are thrust into the same situation you would be when teaching yourself.

You have to face similar scenarios when you teach your own students, this helps with the experience and allows you to learn what teaching techniques best suits your personality and teaching style.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I took the Madrid, Spain TEFL program in April 2017.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

Pretty much everything! The trainers were great, down to earth and made you feel very welcome right from the first day.

The approach to learning and the general atmosphere around the school was very positive, without being too over the top. The management of the students and course was very well organised, in that each student was not left unaccounted for and if you had any questions or issues each trainer made time to help in any way they could.

For example, the various projects that must be completed in the 4-week period can get a little overwhelming especially for someone like me who has not been in education for a while! The Head of Studies helped immensely by working through a study schedule with me, which set out an organised plan for each project and their respective deadlines.

It’s not just the teaching methodology, ideas, discussions and practices. The course is also designed to help you with how to complete an attractive CV, they apply for teaching roles on your behalf, assist with how to prepare for interviews and offer any advice when needed.

You also get to meet great like-minded people, who go from classmates to great friends in no time at all!

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I felt as prepared as I could ever be! What’s great about the course is that it gives you confidence with each aspect of teaching, and you always have the opportunity to seek advice from the trainers should you need any.

An extensive library of teaching materials and textbooks helped immensely, along with the knowledge of how to prepare lessons plans for specific grammar or vocabulary.

Also having the TEFL certificate on your CV really turns prospective employers’ heads, especially from TEFL Heaven. They have a great reputation here in Madrid and so you will always have people interested in hiring you.

How long have you been teaching in Spain and how long do you plan to stay?

I have now been teaching in Spain for 4 months, and currently I expect to stay in Madrid for at least a year and see where it takes me. I really like the city, people and the culture!

Overall, I’d like to stay in Spain for the long term but I’m taking one step at a time and enjoying the experience so far.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

I currently teach for various Academies and Agencies, who give me ‘In-Company’ classes teaching Business & General English. So technically I don’t have 1 job, I have several which I obtained through a mixture of my own endeavours sending applications for various roles, and job advertisements with my agency.

I also teach private students who I met through a website designed to find private language tutors where you can create your own profile, confirming your background, availability and rates etc.  

What does a typical working week look like for you?

Currently, I mainly work during the afternoons and evenings and I am in the process of finalising some morning ‘in-company’ classes for the academic year.

Teaching private students can at times be less reliable in terms of income, as they can cancel and become unavailable due to work commitments etc. So, at the moment my hours per week can vary between 14-20 hours.

20-25 hours of teaching a week is quite normal, it allows you to prepare your lessons whilst also allowing you to have some time to yourself in between.  

What age group or range do you teach?

Most of my students are adults ranging from around 25-50 years of age, though I have also taught teenagers preparing for school and university entry exams.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The thing I enjoy the most is having fun conversations with my students, feeding off their enthusiasm, discussing an array of subjects and helping them improve whilst ensuring they are having fun in the process.

I enjoy getting to know my students and what they like about learning English. I try to incorporate their interests into my daily classes to make sure the topics are fun & interesting.

How did you get your work visa?

As an EU citizen, I do not require a visa to work in Spain.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

I’ve now lived in 3 different apartments in Madrid. The first 2 I found through the Accommodation agency that are partners with the training school.

The first was like a student apartment with other people st​​​​udying, one of which was also doing the TEFL course but had just finished the course prior to mine. It was a nice flat, very close to the school and in a good area. 

The second was an apartment owned by a landlady that also lived there, since her children had grown up and left home she rented out the rooms to students and professionals. She was very friendly, the apartment had everything I needed and it was a pleasure living there.

Finally, I found my current home using the various ‘rent a property’ websites that are available here in Spain. This one was using ‘Idealista.es’.

I live in an apartment with 3 other people just outside the centre of Madrid, with great transport links. It’s a nice flat with everything you could ask for!

COUNTRY INSIGHT – SPAIN

Spain is a beautiful country; the people are passionate and lively but also laid-back in a way that can be extremely admirable. Like in many capital cities you see people rushing around and there can be traffic, but generally compared to London, Madrid is a smaller, more manageable and laid-back place. People seem happier here, to be fair the sunny weather helps, though, during July & August it can be too hot!   

The pace of life is much nicer here, especially as Spaniards do everything much later than say the English. For example, lunch and dinner are much later and even going out you would be seen as strange if you tried to head to a bar before 9 or 10pm. Some even eat dinner at midnight, so your own eating habits may alter after a while.

The nightlife here is great, and most places stay open much later compared to London. As everyone goes out later, it makes total sense. You can have a good night out without breaking the bank, and a lot of bars also provide the odd free tapas with a drink which is always a nice touch. There’s a wide range of bars & restaurants to go to and many areas of the city where you can explore different types of nights out.

For a small city, Madrid has plenty of places of interest whilst outside the city there are easily accessible towns and countryside for day trips for hiking etc. My favourite thing about the city are the many parks, including Retiro, Arganzuela and the huge Casa de Campo.

Also, a personal interest of mine is Street Art and the city has many areas where street artists have thrived, including my favourite areas of Embajadores and Lavapies in the south area of the city.

If you like sport, Spain are crazy about football and have a keen interest in basketball as well. You can do tours of the Santiago Bernabeu where Real Madrid play whilst the new Atletico Madrid stadium is extremely impressive, I’ve now bought a season ticket for Atletico and it’s so much cheaper than English football it’s amazing! The atmosphere created by the fans is fantastic, especially when there’s a big game on and city’s streets are full of people looking to watch the game!

When it comes to food, Spain loves meat! The amount of Jamoneria’s (ham shops) in Madrid is impressive to say the least, with large legs of Serrano or Iberico ham hanging in the window and covering every inch of space they can find around the window’s edge!

If you are vegetarian or vegan there are plenty of places to eat in Madrid, you just have to be wary that ‘jamon’ will be a prominent sight in most places you go. In more rural areas of Spain you may not be so lucky and will likely have to stick with fried potatoes or a tortilla.

Finally, getting around Madrid is cheap & easy. You have many buses, the metro system which runs from 6.00am-1.30am every day and the main rail line called the Cercanias. You can also use great bus and train links to reach other parts of Spain with the buses having particularly reasonable prices. One thing to note is that if you are under 25 years of age, you can buy a monthly travel pass to all zones for only €20! Unfortunately, I’m too old to grab that bargain, but if you’re under 25 there are certain deals you can take advantage of.  

…Oh, and everyone goes on holiday in August as temperatures can regularly reach 40 degrees Celsius in Madrid! So, work can understandably be quite scarce during the summer.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: €300

Food: €80-100  

Other bills: €50 (gas, electrical, water, internet)

Social life: €100-150

Transportation: €52-86 (depending on zones), €20 (under 25 years of age)

Phone: €15 (SIM only)

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

The difference to living in London, is that Madrid’s living costs are much more relative to what you earn. You may earn a lot less but the cost of living is a lot less too.

Obviously like any city it depends on where you live, where you go out, how much you go out, what supermarket you shop at etc to what you end up spending. I try to be careful with my money as my salary is not fixed considering I currently work like a ‘freelancer’, but generally I feel I can live comfortably if I take home between €800-1200 every month.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Spain?

Whether you’re thinking of teaching abroad after university or looking for a career change like I did, you will find the experience will change your life one way or another. For me, of course that change has been a positive one and I think I’ve dealt with the transition well.

It has been a challenge and one that I am enjoying, it has its difficulties and there are plenty of things I miss about home but ultimately, I think I have made the right choice. In light of this I recommend to anyone considering teaching abroad to keep an open mind and have belief in yourself that you can do it. The experience has to be right for everyone, so make sure you consider what obstacles you may have to overcome to make it a good fit for you.

An obvious one is contemplating living away from family and friends for an extended period and whether you could handle that, but also living in another country where you possibly have no prior knowledge of its culture or language. This can be a difficult decision, and probably your most important one so make sure you’ve thought this through beforehand.

Be prepared to learn another language, it’s fun and a great feeling when you can strike up a conversation with someone. It takes time, so don’t be deterred by this as understandably you will be speaking in English a lot with your job. However, getting to work on a second language can be very rewarding and helps you with the experience of living in a foreign country especially when locals appreciate you making the effort.

Make sure to ask yourself, ‘will I enjoy teaching?’ If yes, then great! I can honestly say I thought I would but not as much as I do now, it’s been great fun and my students are a pleasure to teach. The good thing is you can teach an array of people with a range of levels in schools, academies, businesses or even in your own home.   

I’d definitely recommend teaching here in Spain. For me the pace of life is a little calmer than London and its often frantic pace. The weather is usually nice, the food is good and the people are friendly. There are plenty of places to visit in your free time for day trips to weekends away, whilst there are a lot of things to do in the city.

Most importantly there is a very high demand for English teachers in Spain, especially in Madrid. So what are you waiting for?

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