How a Couple Moved from CA to Teach and Live in Spain
Quincy: Where are you right now? Obviously your domain implies you’re in Spain, but where, exactly?
Antoine: Yeah, I’m in the south of Spain, just near the border with Portugal, in the province of Huelva.
Quincy: Nice. How long have you been there, I guess, and Spain in general?
Antoine: Spain in general, I’ve been here for about three and a half years. I’ve been in the south for about a year a half, and before that, we were in the north, in Bilbao, which is bordering France.
Quincy: So why Spain?
Antoine: Well, we wanted a change of pace. We wanted to learn about different cultures and kind of branch out. We were living in northern California, and life is very busy, and we just wanted to experience something new. It’s been a good move, so far.
Quincy: So many people who move abroad … It’s hard to do it without a job, or some kind of net. Did you have a job when you went over there? Or was it kind of a jump and the net will appear?
Antoine: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. Basically, we tried to prepare ourselves before we came. We had set up interviews, we had Skype to kind of get jobs in learning academies, so there were some things that were in motion, but we didn’t really have it all ironed out before we came.
Quincy: Yeah. So you had planned on teaching, right?
Quincy: Did you have teaching experience before you left?
Antoine: I hadn’t actually taught for a school or online or anything, but I had gone through my course to get the TESOL certificate, and I had a different experience with volunteer work, but I didn’t have any actual teaching experience with a school.
Quincy: So how did it, and we’re talking about traditional classroom teaching now. We’ll get into the virtual teaching in a second, but how did it go? Did you have a problem finding a job in Spain?
Antoine: Well, that’s the thing. If you want to teach English, there’s a lot of opportunities, experience in a traditional classroom. I came here, and I was actually offered a position, but the schedule just wasn’t gonna work out for me, so I had to turn it down. But after some time, I was actually able to find a position in an academy, yes.
Quincy: How long? Just so people know what to expect.
Antoine: That was basically … It took me three months, to be honest with you.
Quincy: Okay. Yeah, so a bit of time, but it’s worth it to find something you like.
Antoine: Yes, exactly.
Quincy: Then how long did you work there, or how many places did you work at before transitioning fully online?
Antoine: So this was an academy in Bilbao. That was basically my first job in teaching, and I just stayed there. I think I was there for about six or seven months, and then the contract renews and that whole thing happens. But from there, my wife was already teaching online, and I saw that it was really interesting, so I slowly tried to make the transition.
Quincy: Nice. What was the transition like? Was she teaching for Learnship? Or were you taking it out of … Seeing what other positions were out there? How did it work?
Antoine: Yeah, she actually was teaching in the states for a company called TutorGroup, and she had experience teaching online. Coming here, she found this position with Learnship, and she was doing that while I was working in the academy. Then it was this thing where … Well, just to mention, the weather in Bilbao is really bad.
Quincy: Bad how?
Antoine: It rains a lot. It rains all the time. It’s just really unpredictable, so you know, when you’re working in a physical school, you have to go outside and go to your classes, and go to your clients, so it was like, “Wow, she’s able to teach online. She’s able to stay home.” I think that was something I wanted, so I applied, and I just tried to make the transition, and everything just kind of worked out.
Quincy: Nice. So Learnship is where you still work. It’s obviously a big, established company. Anyone that’s been looking to work online has probably come across the website or a job listing. What was the application and hiring process like, and what is the work environment now? Your students and your schedule? If you could touch a bit on that.
Antoine: Yeah, sure. The application was pretty straightforward. I basically had my resume. I listed that I worked in the academy. I think I may have still been working at the time I applied. I submitted my application. I got an email back, saying that they’d like to talk with me. We had the interview, kind of like what we’re doing now, online. So that was good. They were happy with what I was able to offer. Then from there, they scheduled a couple of mock classes. I think there were three mock classes that we had. The thing about Learnship is they’re very professional. They’re very organized, because they have a business professional clientele, so we really had to know our stuff, and know the Learnship method. So just preparing for that, just preparing for the mocks … We had some that we watched that were basically examples, then it was our turn to do the mock classes. Then we get feedback and we tried to improve. But all in all …
Quincy: Were the mocks with real students? Or was it a panel of like HR interview people?
Antoine: Yeah, the mocks were with, if I remember, I think the mocks were with real students. But they kinda also knew that they were in a mock. So it was like, they were benefiting from getting some teaching, but they also were real students.
Quincy: Okay. I’m sorry. Continue.
Antoine: No, no. It just … yeah, it was great. You get a feel for it. You get to do the mock. You get to see where you can improve. You get to try to apply the method that they teach you. So it was really cool.
Quincy: What about … What are your classes and students now? Are they adults? Are they kids? Is it a mix?
Antoine: Yes. I have all adults. At Learnship, they target the business professional market, so yeah, it’s nice. I mean, if you like working with adults, it’s great. I’m here in Spain, so my students are on a central European time zone, so they’re in Germany or France mainly. They have large corporations and mid-sized companies, and basically, the employees go through the system. Usually during working hours.
Quincy: That’s really nice. You hear about a lot of online employers that will focus their students all over Asia, with like a 12, 13 hour time difference. That’s really brutal on teachers. It’s nice that they try and accommodate your time zone.
Antoine: Yeah, and I totally know what you’re saying. My wife was working with that other company back in the states, and she’d be up really late at night, and it was kinda … It was good to get the experience, but on the other hand, it was like, wow, I don’t know if it’s sustainable. So …
Quincy: Yeah, you won’t miss it.
Antoine: Yeah, so this is perfect. Yeah, and Learnship is great, too, because they want the teachers to be comfortable. They actually want you to work on your time zone. So they don’t want you to work excessively long. They don’t want you to be waking up in the middle of the night, or really, really early there. They kinda know what it takes to have teachers that stay. So it’s really good.
Quincy: Is it one on one? Or is it group?
Antoine: The majority is one on one. We do have group classes. I’ve had some group classes. I think I worked with Amazon once, and they had maybe three or four people. I think the most is like five or six, but the group classes are 90 minutes, and the one on ones are 60 or 45.
Quincy: 90 minutes or 45, okay. Do they cap? How they assign your classes, or how often do you work? How many hours do you teach in a week?
Antoine: Basically, they ask that you’re available for 15 hours.
Antoine: Yeah, definitely. So basically, the students … We have either flexible students or fixed students. The fixed students are nice, because they can be for example, say Tuesday and Thursday at 9 every week, unless something comes up. The flexibles are … They don’t know when they’re gonna have availability, so you have to check them the week before.
Quincy: That’s really nice. At least you have some regularity. And you know you’ll probably be working around 15, 20 hours, something like that.
Antoine: Yeah, that’s about right.
Quincy: So now that you’ve done the traditional classroom and the online teaching, let’s do two questions. First, how can someone transition, like you did, successfully? What should they do to prepare from classroom to online?
Antoine: Okay. So to prepare from classroom to online, I think just being comfortable with technology goes a long way. Also taking what you’ve learned in the classroom and incorporating into the online setting. So for example, you want to be lively, you want to make sure that the class is interesting, you want to be able to teach different points. Learnship, like many other schools, they have great online tools that you can use. Yeah, in many ways, it’s actually better, because you have whiteboards, you have references, you have all sorts of things. And it’s just all there. You can really do a lot. You have audio that you can play on demand. You have all sorts of things that you can take advantage of. So I think that’s one of the main things.
Another thing, just to be aware of, is just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s easy. You have to be aware of the fact that maybe you will be in one place for a few hours. You might get up every so often. You have to give your eyes a break, and all that kind of stuff.
Quincy: You gotta be really disciplined.
Antoine: Yeah. You do. But I think the transition … Oh, yeah. Also you don’t want to just think that, just because you’re working at home, it’s not a real job, or whatever. You have to really take it seriously. At the beginning, I wore a dress shirt. I think I even wore a tie at one point, trying to be over and beyond, you know.
Quincy: Hey, that’s how it goes with virtual meetings, and stuff like that. Nothing wrong with that.
Quincy: What about someone who wants to … They don’t have any teaching experience. Would you say that it’s advantageous to start in a classroom and then go online? Or would there be any perceivable problems going straight to online if you don’t have any classroom experience?
Antoine: Well, I think a lot of people are divided with that question. I would probably say the classroom first. I just think because you kinda get a feel for teaching in general, in a real setting. Then you just know what to expect. Then online, it’s a different set of skills. I think it’s easier to transition from teaching in a classroom to online.
Quincy: Yeah. I tend to agree, and I see what a lot of the big employers are doing, where they have their own material, they have their own techniques, and they’re really heavy on the mock classes to make sure you’re familiar with … Teaching online is so much different than teaching in a classroom, that you really need to be even more engaging, just to be able to use all the skills and stuff.
Antoine: Yeah, it’s true. So I think that’s the way to go.
Quincy: And how long have you been teaching for Learnship now?
Antoine: I’ve been teaching for Learnship now for, wow, maybe two and a half years, I think.
Quincy: That’s great. Do they do contracts? Or how does it work there?
Antoine: Yeah. Some of the other companies, you work for six months or a year, and then they’ll see if you’ll renew your contract with them. You do have a contract, but it’s not like you’re up for review every six months or a year, it’s just you get hired and you have your contract, and you’re okay unless obviously you do something wrong.
Quincy: Yeah, unless you’re a terrible teacher or something.
Antoine: Yeah. Also, the great thing, too, is that you’re up for review every year, as far as for pay raises and things like that. So they try to take care of their teachers. Yeah.
Quincy: What about like upward career mobility? Is there anything like managers or anything above teaching?
Antoine: Yeah, basically there are a few avenues. You can do sample lessons. So basically, you’re representing the face of the company, and maybe a new student is coming and they want to see what this is all about. So I do those now, and you have to … Some teachers have that, so that basically you can just show the student what the company’s about.
You also can do oral evaluations, so basically, you just evaluate the student’s level, and you have to know all the different levels, and then that assigns them to a certain area. If you have a certain skillset, like if you came from an accounting background, or a legal background, or a technology background, you can specialize in certain types of information, so that way students that request that can have you, and you can get paid extra for that.
Antoine: Most of the teachers stay on the online realm, because they do have the physical offices in Germany, with the actual physical employees, I guess, for lack of a better word. I mean, if you wanted to, you could transition to that, but it’s probably … There’s not so many positions for that.
Quincy: Gotcha. It sounds like a really great company.
Quincy: Let’s talk a bit more about working and living abroad. What do you do for healthcare and visas? Does Learnship provide anything, or are you on your own?
Antoine: Like most of the companies, Learnship, you’re an independent contractor. So you do your own taxes. You sort out all that kind of stuff. For me, I have European citizenship, so I don’t have to worry about the visa for Spain. Then my wife benefits as a result of that. But it’s still kind of a pain in the butt. You still have to go through the process, the bureaucracy, and everything.
Quincy: It’s still something that you’ve gotta think about and plan for.
Antoine: Yeah. I’ve seen people that just come over, and two months later, they’re heading back home to the states or Canada. You feel bad for them, but you do have to research. You have to do the work. You have to-
Quincy: Yeah. I mean, it’s a process. I’ve seen a lot of people get turned away from countries. They didn’t know they needed a visa. Or have to leave a country, because their visas expired and they didn’t renew, or something like that. It’s something to be conscious of, for sure.
Antoine: Yeah, totally. And you asked about healthcare. For that, Spain, like many European countries, they provide health care if you’re working in the system. So that’s an option. The other option is to go the private route, which you can get much better service, much faster, and it’s really not as expensive as maybe we’re used to in the states.
Quincy: Yeah, it can’t be much more expensive.
Antoine: It’s a little ridiculous over there.
Quincy: Yeah. So what’s next for you and your wife? Are you gonna keep teaching? I know you’ve got a book out? How did that come about? And what’s next?
Antoine: Yeah, we like teaching. We definitely cut back. When we started working, we were working five days a week. Now we’re working four. Probably in a few months, we’ll be working three. You know, we’re just scaling down a little bit, to be able to enjoy other things. We do have the book out, because we get a lot of questions from people that say, “Oh, how do I get started teaching,” or, “What can I do? What companies are good?” So we created this book. Basically, it’s 10 Best English Teaching Online Companies, but now it’s actually 15.
Quincy: Yeah, I saw that.
Antoine: Yeah, I need to retitle that.
Antoine: Basically, it’s like … When we were starting this whole online teaching, and all this stuff, it’s like this black cloud. Nobody knows, or at least we didn’t know. We didn’t know where to look. We didn’t know anything about it, and we just had to figure it out on our own. So this book … If we had this before we left, I mean, it would have saved us so much time and money, and just anxiety. It basically goes into, first of all, what companies you can work for, how to apply, what the requirements are. It goes into the mindset that you need to have if you want to teach online. Really everything. It talks about the certificates, TESOL, TEFL, what you want to go for. Even from our experience over the years, what’s gonna make you successful. Some of things we touched on, you know, taking breaks, and being balanced, and-
Quincy: Yeah. How to not stress out about everything or how to be up for the long term?
Antoine: Yeah, totally. When we started, we were working eight, nine hours. We’re like, “Oh, it’s just teaching online.” We would have like no lunch, and we’d be dead at the end of the day. Even taking on low level students. That can be really draining. So those are the kinds of things you learn with time. So just good tips like that.
Quincy: So much of the ESL industry is exactly how you described it. There’s just … They put it together piecemeal, right? You’re reading independent blog posts, and hoping that just because it was published in 2013, it’s still the same now, because you’re gonna base your decision on that.
Quincy: Your book is awesome. It’s even better that you’re updating it, because that industry is moving so quickly, that it changes quick, yeah.
Antoine: Yeah, totally. We want it to be a resource for people over time, as we add new companies, and we just kind of add new things. We’re happy with it.
Quincy: What about any other ventures? What about opening your own online school, or anything like that? I know that’s somewhat of a dream for a lot of online educators.
Antoine: Yeah, it’s funny you mention that. At the time, we did think about that. We even bought a domain name, we were looking into that. But I think for us at this time, just the time investment, and what we would do to get everything set up, it’s not so appealing at this time.
Quincy: It’s a huge investment. So much goes into that.
Antoine: Yeah. I know it’s a great market. We took some courses about setting up your own thing and those kind of things, but for us, we’re happy teaching, we’re happy helping people learn how to teach. We want to invest more in the blog, and just build that up, and just keep everything balanced.
Quincy: Awesome. Well, all of this sounds great. I really appreciate the time you took to break everything down, talk about Learnship. Everyone always wants to know what are good companies to work for, and Learnship sounds like on of those. So I appreciate that detail. And congrats on the book and your life abroad.