What the academies don't want you to know

Like a lot of teachers, I advertise on the Internet. It's not the most efficient way to find students, but given that it's fairly passive (you do it once and then it's OK), it's another way of advertising. And I think that, generally, I'm pretty good about being professional about contacts. I try to contact people in a respectful way. I try to be respectful when people contact me. But there are some contacts that make me shake my head.

I'm sure that the academy that contacted me thought that €16 an hour is a good deal. And if you've got block hours and very little travelling, sure. It sounds like a lot of money. But I'm about to reveal three bits of information that language academies do not want you to know. I'm not writing this to cause trouble, but I think that if you decide to sign up for academy classes, there are some things you should be aware of.

a) You do not need to be a certified language teacher to be an English teacher in Spain. Why not? Because, technically, private language teaching does NOT come under the control of the Ministry of Education: state schools, such as the Escuelas de Idiomas, yes; Bob's Language Academy, no.

English academies come under the control of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, just as driving schools or dance classes do. In fact, you probably don't even have to be a language teacher IN Spain: more than one academy uses telephone language classes that are done with phone operators in the Philippines. (Or used to, anyway.)

Outstanding language academies will demand that their teachers have some kind of teaching certification (a TEFL/CELTA/Trinity/DELTA accreditation) and some kind of experience. Many others will offer €9 to €13 an hour to backpackers, American university students (who can work up to twenty hours a week to support their studies), which means that "teachers" are making less than a cashier at the local Dia, and probably be as qualified to do it.

b) Working for an academy is very similar to being a prostitute. Yes, that sounds harsh. But think about it: if that academy offers a teacher €16 an hour, they're not charging clients €16 an hour. The client is probably being charged €30 to €35 an hour, and the teacher only sees half the money, even though the teacher does most of the work. (That's exactly the same way that ETTs work.) That €16 an hour does NOT include travel time, by the way. If I'm being paid €16 an hour, my class lasts for one hour, but the class is at the airport and I don't get paid for my travel time, that's basically a THREE HOUR commitment for one hour, which means that I'm getting just over €5 an hour. Would YOU work for €5 an hour? I didn't think so.

c) Your needs as a learner will never be as important as the academy's need to be profitable. How many times have you gone to a language academy and had classes that had NOTHING to do with the English you need? That's because the academies need to pay for those nice, shiny offices and expensive books, and the easiest way to do that is to get as many students into the same class as possible - whether they are working at the same level, or not. Reputable academies will try to help students as much as possible, and there are certainly schools like the British Council that are cultural agencies, as well as academies, so they're not as driven by profit. Many schools, however, will not start a class unless they have three or four students, minimum - especially now that we're in a recession and they're losing a lot of money.

Let me make one thing clear: I work for academies, have worked for academies and will probably work for academies in the future. Not all academies are bad. Not all academies are out to take all your money and give you nothing in return. If you choose to learn with an academy, you need to be a smart consumer and defend your rights, and stand up for what you want.

And remember that academies are NOT your only option. There are a lot of friendly, smart, professional teachers who can help you. It won't be as cheap as paying €200 per year, but you'll be happier with the results.

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