auxiliar program, reflection, work

Life After Auxiliaring

Are you working as an auxiliar de conversación in Spain? Starting to think about what to do when your year finishes, whether to renew or not? I’ve been here for several years, renewing a few times and finding other work outside teaching. Here’s my story, but disclaimer: it’s not very clean-cut or simple!

So…. Much…. Silence.

That was my first thought when I arrived on my first day to the office. The shiny hardwood-floored office, with its enormous windows and balconies, likely converted from what used to be a flat in a beautifully-preserved building in Madrid’s Salamanca district on Calle Alcalá.

I sat down at my new desk, opened my work laptop, and started plugging away at some work. I drank coffee or tea when I felt like it, I went to the bathroom whenever the need arose, I ate lunch when I wanted at my desk (or in Retiro Park), I decided on the general flow of my work, and most notably, I spoke maybe 200 words the entire day. “Huh,” I mused to myself, “this certainly feels a lot calmer than my old life.”

My old life, just two weeks before, involved spending my mornings from 8:30 until 3:30 shuttling myself from one high school classroom to another, with an occasional free period spent in a crowded teacher’s lounge, frantically printing off lesson plans.

Talking, talking, talking, and more talking. I spent from 2013 to 2017 as an auxiliar de conversación, or Language Assistant, talking endlessly, from morning to evening. To teenagers, to little kids, to adults. Explaining my life story over and over, role-playing, explaining concepts, leading activities. Sometimes trying to manage a classroom of 12-year-olds by myself, which I guess is the closest thing to herding cats I’ve ever done.

Granted, in my old life, I only “officially” worked 12 hours a week, and in my new life I’d be working 40. But if you’ve been in my shoes as an auxiliar, you know that you can easily total well over 25 hours a week by the time you add up clases particulares, academies, online classes, and one year, 6 hours in the evenings in the adult language school.

Even when I discovered Life Outside Auxiliaring, when I was hired in a full-time non-teaching role, I still kept teaching (as an auxiliar, yep) on top of that at a high school AND an academy. Did I need the money? Nope. Old habits die hard! That auxiliar lifestyle is a little bit addictive, even when it burns you out. I’ve since learned that just because you can work or give classes doesn’t mean you should.

That non-teaching role was with Lingo Live, where I worked as a community manager after having been an online language coach with them the previous year or two. I managed around 50 other coaches around the world, helping them with various issues. That was the year (2017) that I became officially autónoma – legally freelance in Spain. I could finally demonstrate that I earned enough money! While I worked teaching on the side for the first year of that position, I was finally able to drop all my teaching gigs in 2018 and fully focus on that job. I worked from home 100%, which was pretty glorious, though a little isolating.

However, I came to a crossroads in which I decided I should try to upskill myself in technology and try to become a web developer. I joined a Master’s program (online) here in Spain and decided to dedicate myself to it full-time. I undid that decision after the first semester, ultimately going back to the auxiliar life – it really is addictive! (I was only able to do so because Cantabria operated outside the national program, and I had to take a huge pay cut.)  So, back to teaching again, taking on several private students (there was a huge demand!), and using online tutorials to keep learning JavaScript and web development. I ultimately let teaching take over my personal life, giving up nearly all my afternoons and evenings for the chance to make more money.

As yet another year as an auxiliar was coming to an end, I started applying for jobs around Spain, landing a Marketing and Editing position at a small publishing company in Madrid, on the 5th floor of that beautiful building on Calle Alcalá. Thanks to already being legally in Spain as autónoma, I was able to be hired by that company. I decided to accept it, as money was getting tight and it seemed like a good experience.

As I mentioned before, it was quiet. So much flexibility in the day to attend to personal needs, no need to rush from one place to another, a sense of general calm (most of the time), and an office of young people conveniently located a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I improved my writing skills, learned how to hand-code emails in MailChimp, and practiced my basic JavaScript in Shopify’s backend. I took a lot of elevator selfies (hey, I was dressing kinda professionally for the first time in years!), occasionally went out to lunch at local Chinese, Indian, or poké restaurants, and I even got sent to Austria for a conference!

Not pictured: Birkenstocks (I said *kinda* professional)

So why on earth, in early 2020, did I opt to go BACK to teaching yet again? Aside from the issue of having a couple of tricky personalities😬  to deal with in my job, the main catalyst for the change was this: I sat down and read Your Money or Your Life, one of my favorite finance books, and charted out my financial position and my goals, and realized that I could increase my earning potential by taking on some private students. (Againnnn, old habits die hard.)

Little secret: If I take an honest look back, I think I developed impostor syndrome, believing I wasn’t valuable in the professional marketplace after so many years teaching part time.

While browsing TusClasesParticulares, the best website to find private English students to tutor in Spain, I found a company looking for a native teacher for adult professionals in the pharma industry around 20-25 hours a week. After a quick informal interview, the gig was mine. The main downside: I had to start commuting again. I managed to work out a part-time contract with my marketing and editing job, so ended up doing both of those jobs – even during the pandemic at home! – until summer of 2020, when I let the marketing/editing job go and dedicated myself 100% to teaching.

The bright side: I’ve been able to consistently earn the same or more net income (after Seguridad Social and taxes) working 25 hours a week as I was in my 40-hour-a-week job. I’ve been able to stay home and do my classes by phone or Teams. I’ve been able to travel a bit and give classes from, for example, a balcony overlooking a beach. With my sufficient income, I’m able to set boundaries like not taking any students after 5pm (though I easily could!). My students are very well-behaved and kind, and we have some wonderful conversations. I have a lot of time off for summer and holidays (unpaid).

I absolutely worked from this balcony in Carboneras.

The tradeoffs: The number one tradeoff is that the online situation is pandemic-based. So my comfortable remote work life has an expiration date. Also, now I’m back to not being able to take bathroom breaks exactly when I need them, and I have to make sure to block out 2-3pm as my sacred lunch hour. My schedule wildly varies from week to week. I have a lot of unpaid time off, so my income varies a lot. Students always need to reschedule and cancel, and I’ve been left waiting for some of them the entire class period when I could’ve been teaching someone else or doing other things. (Honest feelings: getting no-shows and cancellations really starts to wear on my professional self-esteem after a while.)

Sometimes it feels like my life is just a more grown-up version of auxiliaring. I also get the nagging feeling I’ve developed impostor syndrome, and that I’m not qualified enough for any other jobs. Pair that with my tendency to drop web development studies too quickly, and I’m left wondering what’s next in my career.

While location independence these two pandemic years has been amazing, it won’t be forever, and if I want to keep living this lifestyle, I’ll be needing to find either a) new online students, or b) a new career path.

Will I be able to continue to increase my income in the future to reach my financial goals? Do I need to suck it up and join a coding bootcamp so I can get a better handle on web development? Or, on the other hand, do I need to just be content with my life as a teacher and ride the wave that is a massive demand for learning English language skills?

So as you can see, there IS life after auxiliaring, but it’s not always clear what to do other than teaching. Even when you stop teaching, it can be hard to resist being pulled back in.

We shall see what 2022 brings, but one of my new year’s resolutions is to kick impostor syndrome to the curb and take a deeper look at my career goals!

More Madrid office views