Code Monkeys (Dave)

Been about 2 weeks

Well, I'm slowly sliding into a groove at work. The place is sort of cramped. There are 3 small though well-equipped classrooms that hold a maximum of 10 students. Really, it's about the size of a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment.

The hours are still low. I've been asking for more but the amount of students doesn't appear to be large enough to accommodate my request. I'm probably going to have to apply elsewhere, but pickings will be very slim for part-time work now that nearly all teachers are hired. Plus, my classes coincide with hours that most other academies hold.. I would need some morning hours.

Speaking of which, I could stand to wake up earlier. I'm getting pretty frustrated with my inability to hold a reasonable sleeping schedule. I've gone to get a NIE* three times and each time it's been the wrong place. Apparently, the place I have to go to is outside of the city limits and just going there with the necessary paperwork doesn't guarantee me a card because the lines are long and they only do the cards in the morning. Even when you turn in the application, it could take up to a month to get the physical card.

There's a Spanish language school for foreigners that I'd like to register for. It's a costly, but helpful intensive program. 20 hours of instruction per week for 145 Euros/week. Figure that I try a week and see if it helps. If I feel it helps, I'll do some extra time. Another benefit might be that it could get me into some kind of social circle because it's still been a bit rough in that respect.

The best news is that I finally found full-time housing.  The place is a 4 bedroom apartment but just me and another guy. It's a big place with plenty of privacy. It's also in a quiet neighborhood. So, there are no fireworks shooting off or noisy restaurants out late at night. For 300 Euros/month, it's a steal. To put it into perspective, another option that came my way was 250 Euros/month but I'd be living with 6 other people, most of whom would likely be college students. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Once I get my NIE and some extra hours, I'll be set here.

*NIE = Numero de Identidad de Extranjero (Foreigner Identity Number): Think of it as a social security card for foreigners.
  • Current Music
    Ennio Morricone - "The Ecstasy of Gold"
Code Monkeys (Dave)

Work starting tomorrow

Excited, though nervous.

Yeah, I'm going to use this more often now. Probably try to open this up to other communities.

The logistics of teaching a 90 minute class to 6-7 year olds is challenging especially when it's something I have no experience doing it. It just requires a different mindset and approach. I just have to mentally prepare myself for that environment. But that's why I came here. Teaching in Asia was boring and the standards were low. Here you have to work a little harder and overcome other challenges. I only have to do two of those classes during the week though. The rest are middle school and high school. I'll have to temper my expectations because starting to teach is really like just outright being a total newbie at teaching.

Hours are pretty low at the moment. I'd like to fill my schedule to get around 20 when I get into the swing of things. But 12 hours is a good start. Low hours will result in less stress which will result in an easier learning process. Unlike when I first started, I actually give a shit about teaching to start. Before I was just doing it as an excuse to leave America. Now, I actually enjoy it.

I do have some work to do outside of that. I have to apply for my NIE which is a pain in the ass since there'll likely be an enormous line at the police station. I have to start scoping out apartments and find a place closer to the school while still staying in Valencia. Due to finances, I'll probably be sharing an apartment with at least one other roommate which I don't mind. Hopefully, I can get a roommate who can connect me to a social circle or a girl or two rather than one who would be a complete nightmare.

Sleep time.
  • Current Music
    "Cortez the Killer" - Neil Young
Code Monkeys (Dave)

Looking back

I like looking back on past forum posts and journal entries. I get to see the news of the day then and what my plans are for my future. All of the posts have one thing in common: they were all wrong.

In one post, I laid out odds on what country I would be teaching in next. Obviously they weren't real. I was just using them to show which country is more likely to be my next stop. I think I ended up deleting it at some point because I cannot find it. Czech Republic and Hungary were big favorites. Poland was next on the list with Germany a bit behind. In case things did not work out, long shots included Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Virtual impossibilities included (in order of likelihood) going back to South Korea, committing suicide, or living with my mother.

Notice that in all of that, Spain was never mentioned. As a matter of fact, it didn't even come up with the idea of teaching there until April 2013 when I saw how many advertisements there were relative to other EU countries. I had been talking about teaching in Central/Eastern Europe since early 2012. After some deliberation, I realized that I really didn't want to live in Poland. You really had to be bilingual German/English to teach English in Germany. My friend recommended me to not teach in Hungary. So, I committed to Czech Republic should I plan to teach in Central or Eastern Europe. I started firing out CELTA applications for Czech Republic and Spain. For a bit, it was a pretty close call between the two. Basically, I picked the first country to get back to me. International House in Barcelona got back to me with an acceptance e-mail first. It wasn't my first choice. I applied to Seville, but they were full and Valencia wasn't running a CELTA class during August. Prague's CELTA class for August was full and I had little interest in any city in CR aside from that. Barcelona was there and I just took it.

I finished my CELTA and figured that I would lock up a job pretty quickly given my credentials. For some reason, it didn't work out right away. Hell, my odds of going to one of the backups was pretty damn high after all of the failure. I could have ended up in Thailand after all and had 50-1 odds on that list that I made.

My final interview in Valencia secured my place in Spain. If I was in China, I wouldn't be celebrating just yet due to the paperwork involved and the shadiness of the locals when dealing with westerners. In China, I am a migrant worker who has no leverage in any legal matter and can be pushed around pretty easily. At least in Spain, I'm a citizen living in a developed, democratic country which gives me legal rights that make it less likely for me to get fucked over.

Now, I'm living in a country where I don't have to run to the police station every year to get a new visa. I can live in my own place and hopefully have some stability in my life. I can't be kicked out of the country by my employer or the government. Even if I do lose or quit a job, I can go on living there. This stability is very much needed and is a huge step forward in my life. It'd be nice for life to become a bit more predictable.
Code Monkeys (Dave)

¡Conseguí un trabajo!

¡Viviré en Valencia!

Yes, I got a job offer today and promptly accepted it.

It completely turned my day around. I went to asleep around the 3rd quarter of the 49ers/Rams abomination of a game last night (around 5 AM in Spain). I was woken up at 11 AM by a previous interviewer notifying me that they would not give me the job. Wonderful start to my morning. Apparently, they wanted somebody who was bilingual English/German (why interview me if that's what you wanted?). I followed up on another job that I interviewed for and they refused as well. They lost some students and the vacancy for a teacher was taken away. I'm not sure how many of these excuses are bullshit and contesting them won't really accomplish anything. I'd rather have somebody cut the shit and just tell me that they found somebody better rather than making an excuse.

I was ready to take a trip back to Barcelona and do some job searching there for another couple of weeks. I even reserved a room in Barcelona for the upcoming week. I figured that after a dozen interviews, Valencia was pretty much done for. I had one more interview left and that was it. I had already sent out my CV and cover letter to schools in Barcelona figuring that I would not get the job.

I did some laundry and off I went. Since the laundry took longer than I expected, I had to take a cab to the academy. It's actually in a municipality of Valencia which is around 30-40 minutes away by public transport from the city center. The area that the school is in is an upper-middle class neighborhood. I mean there are houses! Real, actual houses! Those were the first houses I have ever seen in Spain. Some of them are enormous too. Definitely got some money flowing there. Anyway, the interview was quite short and the interviewer only asked me one question. Figured I was either a lock to get the job or had no chance at all. Given that my resume was pulled out of a large stack of resumes, I figured that I didn't. I asked some questions and went back to the hostel. They told me that they would contact me Monday afternoon since they still had some people to interview.

Later, I check my e-mail to see that I was offered the job. I immediately accepted it and here I am.

Not everything is finished yet. I have to get my NIE card^ since I needed proof of employment to get it and I can't get a paycheck, health insurance, social security, or a Spanish bank account until I get the card. Once I get that proof, I get the card and officially the job.

I also have to begin apartment hunting. The neighborhood the school is in is boring as hell. I'd like to commute from the city into Godella for my job. Figure that I have to get one in a couple of weeks. Probably looking at shared accommodation. Not overly keen on shared flats, but they're cheaper and teachers don't make big bucks in Europe. Plus, I would be very lonely in a studio or one bedroom apartment. If I can connect with a roommate, maybe I can get some friends in the process.

I have to wonder what I would do if I didn't get work in Spain. A couple of my friends said that the market wasn't all that great in Barcelona either. I would only be there for a week or two before having to make some difficult and costly decisions. Since all of the EU schools start and stop at pretty much the same times of the year, I wouldn't have time to get a job in any other EU country. My backup option was Thailand. I could get in visa free for 30 days and start searching for work. If it takes longer than 30 days to get a job, then I'd do a visa run and keep searching. All the other countries I'd show a modicum of interest in have an awfully long paperwork process just to get a visa let alone a job. I'd probably have to go back to America or live with relatives in Ireland while getting the visa which would be costly for me and inconvenient for my family.
Code Monkeys (Dave)

Failing @ job searching + recurring back pain

UPDATE: I have another job interview tomorrow and possibly two more on the horizon should the HR manager of a place get back to me. Hopefully persistence pays off.

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Well, I just had 5 consecutive work days with a job interview. Three were laughably bad in terms of salary* and/or workload**, one was okay, and the other was really good. Sadly, the latter two jobs went to somebody else.

Yeah, I'm kind of depressed. I've been firing out my resume and cover letter like crazy but haven't received responses from most places. It appears that my lack of teaching experience with primary school children is hurting me.

*Some of them had a salary that weren't even at subsistence wage. Others were in schools that were so disorganized that they couldn't offer me a schedule or even a proper job description.

**Refers to # of hours worked per week or diversity of lessons. In other words, I don't mind 25 classes/week if I'm only preparing 4 lessons per week. However, preparing 7 or 8 is a different story. Toss lesson planning on top of paperwork, private lessons, and traveling out of the city to businesses for company English and it gets a bit crazy.

------------------------------------

Aside from that, I've been having recurring back pain ever since I came to Valencia. While I was carrying my luggage off of the train, I pulled a muscle in my lower back. Since I could not just leave my bags there and rest, I had to drag my bags up 5 flights of stairs to the hostel after dragging them out of the station and putting them into the taxi. The pain was quite bad then but went away after a day of rest. Then a few days with no problem. Now it seems that I strain doing the most simple things. I can't bend down without feeling the pain. No idea how to fix this except for rest (which I cannot do much of due to job searching) and NSAIDs. Any advice?
teaching is serious business

Fail #2

Just had the first interview where I wanted to bail less than 5 minutes in. Knew it when I told him that I wanted full-time hours and he hesitated for just a bit. Honestly, it wasn't even much of an interview. It appeared to me that he decided on hiring me just based on the resume and wanted to confirm that I was who I was.

The business was recently bought and the guy basically wants to start from scratch. I'd be responsible not only for teaching, but signing up and communicating with new students. Since my Spanish is at level A2 and nearing B1*, I would not be suitable for that. I'd start off teaching only 2 or 3 classes and spend the rest of the time signing up new students. In short, it would suck. Doing it for 10 Euros/hour net would be really, really bad especially when few hours would be guaranteed early on. If I had been in Spain previously, had more experience, and was offered more money, then I might be interested. After all, getting in on the ground floor of a business could pay off handsomely if it takes off.

The man who bought the place is a successful businessman whose other business is sending people overseas on foreign exchange programs. His personality reminded me a lot of Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad. I was half expecting him to toss me a pound of meth before I left the building or show me his English super-lab. In all seriousness, he was a savvy, charismatic businessman with a cool demeanor.

Anyway, my feeling is that he wants to use the language school to build a customer pool for his exchange program business. I figure that at some point, he'd try to merge the two companies and funnel the students from the classes to the exchange program. He has high aspirations, but really doesn't have a clear plan on how to get done what he wants to get done.

I knew almost immediately that I didn't want the job, but I didn't want to be abrupt and cut the guy off. When he was done showing me the ropes, I let him know that I felt that I wasn't the best candidate for the job. At that point, he shifted his tune and it seemed to me that he just wanted to latch onto anybody just to fill in the spot that was left when a previous employee had to cut down her hours due to recently becoming pregnant. However, I just didn't feel comfortable in that environment. I guess I didn't have the heart to outright reject the job on-site. So, I asked if I could get back to him with a decision later and he was cool with that. I'll send an e-mail removing myself from interest in the position and wishing him the best of luck later this afternoon.

*http://www.examenglish.com/CEFR/cefr.php (Common European Framework)
--------------------------------------------------

I know only a few people read this blog, but I am not sure if I handled it correctly. If I feel uncomfortable with a job or am uninterested when everything is fleshed out, should I tell the interviewer on the spot? Or is it better to let him know your answer at a later date? I didn't want to be rude and shut the guy down, but I also didn't want to leave him hanging either. I guess I can be more direct if the person is an HR manager in a large firm looking at hundreds of resumes for multiple positions rather than this case where I am speaking to the owner of a small business who might have a handful of applicants to interview.
Code Monkeys (Dave)

lol schools

I really wonder how some schools manage to stay in business.

I interviewed at one today which was straight out laughable. First off, it was quite clear that he didn't even read my resume. He handed me a paper that required me to fill out information that was already on the resume in the first place. After reading the paper, he didn't even ask me any questions about teaching methods or philosophies at all. Basically, the guy made no effort to find out anything about me. He went on to claim that I may not be employable because I was born in America. Of course, I have an Irish passport and brought it out while providing the most basic prerequisite information. He still said that I was wrong. So, he doesn't want to know about me, never read my resume, and doesn't understand Spanish labor laws. Good start.

He talks about the school's methodology. Says that classes are 95 minutes long and that there's a lot of talking. Not too bothersome as I have taught long Oral English classes for a few years now. I'm used to having to drill and repeat things. I know about having energy. Quite frankly, this introduction was patronizing. Then, he showed me a sample of a typical class using their method and I really understood what he said.



[information about method if you care]

The method is called the Callan Method. It was developed 40 years ago and is basically constant drilling and repetition without stopping. The only interaction is when students have to individually repeat what the teacher said or answer a question the teacher asked you. Everything is straight out of some ancient textbook that is actually quite demeaning towards women in some "lessons" (lol sexist textbook). It's efficient but it leaves no room for flexibility or autonomy with the language. The structure is so rigid that you could actually program a robot to teach it. No real teaching skills are needed to teach it. I learned the communicative method in CELTA and used the same method before CELTA. It's more fun and appears to be more effective.

Anyway, the Callan Method is nice for learning the basics, but eventually they will have to use the language in an open-ended environment and at that point they'll be lost. The students do not interact with each other in any way. The method is also an awfully intimidating one to use. With a teacher moving at such a fast rate, students could become easily overwhelmed. All they do is listen to a teacher talk way too fast for 50 minutes straight and respond to the occasional question. It's boring as hell for teachers as they are restricted from really doing anything beyond the book. Why the hell would you use a 40 year old method when years of research have developed more effective teaching methodologies? Should I use an Apple IIe when I can use an iPad instead?

I'm impressed how such systems stay around for so long. Granted, every language teaching methodology has its flaws. I remember being in China when the Crazy English teaching method hit full swing. There was a meeting to advertise it on campus and the creator (Li Yang) was a slimy douchebag. It was pretty much a Chinese English class only students would scream loudly rather than talk. Everybody was given a full copy of his work and not a single teacher kept the books on their desks. I know all of the foreign teachers promptly disposed of the material upon getting to their apartments. Callan Method's intents are far less capitalistic and the method was developed by an actual teacher whereas Li Yang is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman. Getting off topic now. Back to the rest of the entry.

[end method stuff]

Anyway, I had to hold back some laughter while watching the video. I couldn't believe that this person could be considered a teacher. I can't believe that it actually works for some people. It looks terribly boring and wouldn't be fulfilling for any teacher looking to actually improve their skills as a teacher. If anything, it would probably hold me back from improving as a teacher.

From a business POV, it's great. It is very efficient (the teacher is supposed to speak over 200 words per minute) and uses outdated materials. So, the price for the lessons is cheap. Since it requires little skill and prep work to teach, the teachers are paid quite poorly. I would work 30 hours/week for 1100 Euros/month net, which is a woeful 9.16 Euros/hour. In comparison, the first job I interviewed offered 13.5 Euros/hour net and 21 hours/week. Despite having 36 less hours per month, I'd still get paid more. Plus in the shit job, I would have to work split shifts which are a nightmare.

In short, that job is out. I have an interview mid-morning tomorrow which I should get some sleep for. This one is about a 10-15 minute walk away. So, it'll be easy to get to.
Code Monkeys (Dave)

On the search

Took the train from Barcelona to Valencia a week ago. Hell of a nightmare getting there. I overslept despite setting two alarm clocks to wake me up at the right time. I got out the door in a heartbeat and (thankfully) made it in time. Before I got on the train, a tourist asked me if this train was going to Alicante (another city in The Community of Valencia). Earlier, I saw on the timetable that it was going to Alicante. I said "Yes" and moved on.

Lo and behold, the train does not go there. Rather, it goes to Albacete which is in central Spain. Guess I got the first and last two letters right :(. Right now, I'm hoping that the girl I spoke to is not in the same train car as me. Of course, I turn around and she's talking to one of the attendants two rows behind me. We make eye contact and she gave me the nastiest look. The train stopped at a different station and she got up. I thought for sure she was coming for me, but thankfully walked right by and off the train. Kind of a non-story, but shit I was scared because she looked like she wanted to throw down. Don't want to be caught in the ultimate lose-lose situation*

I got off at Valencia and started my stay there by pulling one of my lower back muscles lifting my luggage. I put my bags in the trunk of a cab and took off. The driver was a bit of a douchebag, but that might be because I asked him to put the heavy luggage bag in the trunk to save my back from further pain. I let him keep the change on the fare after he helped me with the bags again. Of course, I had to drag them up 4 flights of stairs, wincing with every step I took. My room was right next to the entrance of the awfully small hostel. No complaints. After a nap to rest my back, I started applying for work that night and continued to do so into Friday with one response, asking for an interview on Monday.

During the weekend, I decided to do some touristy stuff. Quite frankly, Valencia doesn't have a whole lot to see. The city is about the size of San Francisco with regards to population and area, but you can cover everything in a weekend. I actually like this fact. Unless people take a long-term vacation in Spain, it's a city most people will overlook. It has beaches, but at least a half dozen other places have better beaches. It has some history, but nowhere near as much as Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville among others. In terms of nature, little effort is needed to find better in Spain. In BCN, nearly every Spanish local I spoke to spoke English at an intermediate level or better. In Valencia, your usual touristy places will have English-speaking staff but outside of that you'll be hard-pressed to find anybody with anything beyond an elementary grasp of the language which forces me to adjust to the culture and language.

My philosophy with nearly every big city I've been to has been, "Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." While Valencia kind of stretches the definition of what a big city is to me (it's the 24th most populous city in the EU), it has the complete opposite appeal to me.

Anyway, I nailed the interview and fully expect a second interview with the owner of the academy. The pay is good but not great by ESL standards. Today, I did very little but got two more responses for an interview. So, I have one tomorrow night and another Thursday morning. In all likelihood, I'll probably have another next week with a place I visited by foot twice.

Tomorrow (well later today I guess), I have to check out of my current guesthouse and into a new one. Much cheaper with a better quality room. I'll stay in Valencia for another week. If there are still no hits on the job market, I might travel to either Alicante or Seville. Given the amount of hits I've gotten in such a short period of time, I find that scenario unlikely. There's a pretty good chance that Valencia will be my new home.
  • Current Music
    Yoko Kanno - "No Reply" - Cowboy Bebop OST
Thinking - Onizuka

More CELTA Reflections / Job Searching

I started searching for jobs yesterday and looked at the prerequisites for the jobs available. Basically, all of them require a legitimate (not some online nonsense) CELTA or TEFL certificate to obtain a job. There's one exception and that's because they use their own training and teaching methods for their schools. Simply put, the CELTA is the certification to get before pursuing teaching positions in most countries. So yeah, anybody who wants to work outside of Asia or do this for more than just a gap year must get this done.

I'm not happy with choosing Barcelona as I don't want to work in Barcelona. On my list of three options, it was third after Valencia and Seville. Valencia and Seville had waiting lists while Barcelona still had room for me. So, I had no choice but to do my CELTA there.

Now that the class is over and schools are accepting applications, it's time to get cracking. Since I don't know where I want to teach yet, I started to cast a wide net outside of Barcelona and Madrid and sent my updated CV + cover letter for any job listing so long as the school was in a city I deemed livable. Last thing I want to do is commit to searching for a job in a city with no job vacancies or competition strong enough that I become unemployable.

Based on the replies given, it seems that schools are in the phase where they are accepting resumes and cover letters, but won't decide who to interview for the next couple of weeks. This is likely due to the fact that they are still accepting students for the next school year and don't know how many teachers they will need.

I found a directory of English language schools and the population for the cities that the schools are in. I then made a people-to-language school ratio (best way I could describe it) to get a broad, unscientific idea as to which city will be easier to find a job in. Here's the top 5 out of the cities that I deemed livable:

1. Alicante (Communidad de Valencia) - 14,554:1
2. Cordoba (Andalusia) - 19,319:1
3. Valencia (Communidad de Valencia) - 21,851:1
4. Seville (Andalusia) - 21,973:1
5. Granada (Andualusia) - 23,432:1

While Alicante and Cordoba are more appealing job markets, my next trip will be to Valencia. Valencia is the closest city out of the 5 by a huge margin. From there, I can travel to Alicante if I don't get any hits in Valencia since Alicante is just 1 hour 45 mins from Valencia by train or travel to Seville since I got a couple of hits on some applications I sent. I'll be job searching the old-fashioned way. I plan to hit the ground running with my directory of language schools, resume, and cover letter in hand while trying not to look like a piece of crap.

But until Wednesday morning, I will be living in this guesthouse in Barcelona. I hope to stay in Valencia for about a week, spending the weekdays applying/interviewing for jobs and the weekends to do a bit of tourism.
Code Monkeys (Dave)

CELTA: Reflections

The courses ended yesterday and I did indeed pass.

For the 2 people who read this, I'll give you an idea on the typical CELTA day in Barcelona. My schedule was from 12 PM - 8 PM. I could have chosen 9-5, but Spain runs on a different schedule compared to your typical American schedule.

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I believe there are four phases in the courses that every student goes to.

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I'm not quite sure what to feel about the CELTA. You might as well ask me what my feelings were about my college experience. The ups and downs you undergo make it hard to put your thoughts together so quickly. I'll have some soonish and add them to this entry or make them into a future entry.