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An Irishman’s Philosophy of Teaching in Madrid

Take a well-known airline brand, well-attired air hostesses, confident and famous footballers, and mix them together.

The result is a clever and inspired promotional video.

In many ways, it’s a classic fish-out-water conceit beloved of comedies on both the small and silver screens. In this campaign from 2013, Emirates have taken footballers from Arsenal F.C. and have tasked them with landing one of their new planes in their new flight simulator centre in London. The footballers, a mix of nationalities, then compete against one another. It’s a classic match-up between England and Germany, and France against Spain.

The winning team are presented with their wings and the best pilot on the day wins a pint-sized teddy bear pilot. The real prize, for those partaking and viewing, is the fun the players have in bringing the plane down smoothly and safely onto the tarmac of the simulated world.

Why So Serious?

Back on the non-simulated terra firma of teaching, I find my approach to the craft rooting itself into the same fertile garden of inspiration. Well, inspiration is a loose term… rather it is the boldness and the cheekiness. To be a good teacher, sure it helps to be professional, but you’re not allowed to be dry. We are performers. We have a public.

Our greatest glory, a teacher might surmise, is to be vaguely remembered – oh yeah, I liked his classes.

Teachers are both important and irrelevant. Such is our numbers here, we can be replaced quite easily and our students, from the banker to the punk, can vanish after, after… after what? Your amiable, affable, agreeable, and animated conversation that was a glorified client-patron relationship.

Then we are Teachers in an abstract way. We are working the landscape of the Spanish mind, actors in the cultural revolution of a nation. They are the students whose lives we may help and, if we do, rarely do we know about it, save for the odd, effusively grateful students that vocalize it.



The power we have, should we choose to use it, is humour. My approach to teaching is always, whatever the class or level of the student, to use humour. In the same way that companies leap onto association, no matter how tenuous, the teacher must do the same.  Use the chapter title as your cue, let it launch it into bizarre and the fun. I recount the role-plays and games that I have done but the black and white of your screen wouldn’t do them justice.

But remember, these lesson plans are currency. They are currency to be used outside of class to share with your friends as anecdotes and stories. It enriches your life in your adopted city. You are an ad man selling the best version of yourself and of life.

A Friendly Ear

This larger than life persona can have substance. I distinctly remember a handful of students using the class as a confessional, with the teacher an elevated acquaintance – given a status by the job title – and being the perfect ear for complaints, doubts and personal worries. We are not close enough to be friends nor distant enough to be strangers, but the classroom can be a therapeutic space.

It’s not only one-way traffic; I also remember a student’s kind words lifting the fog of  bad day, barely realising how they helped me as they went back to work.


I’m a chilled out entertainer, yeah?

What does this philosophy mean in real terms? All I can say is that when the students ask the reception desk, or to the boss, for you as their teacher, then you know that you have some meaning in your job. You know, as an immigrant not sure of his position or his place, that there is some value to what you do here in Madrid.

My favourite show is the BBC’s The Office. Its protagonist, David Brent, is a guy who has one basic drive, to make people laugh. Often, he is insensitive and crass because of his underlying insecurity.

In one final piece to camera, he mentions that he just wants to be remembered as a good guy, as someone who put a smile on people’s faces.

In the great expanse of this world, and for when we leave it, what better way to mark it than by making someone laugh or, if possible, even by helping them.

And remember…

You can listen to our podcast on RadioPublic. In the latest episode, we take a look at La Movida, which was a cultural phenomenon in Madrid during the 1980s. It’s a good ‘un!

You can also read another cool article here, and learn about what’s like to travel around the Spanish capital as a foreigner.


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