The grass is always greener on the other side

Today I ran into a teacher I met once at an ETAS workshop and we got to talking about work. He asked me if I had enough work and I said, at the moment, I do, but that with January coming up, I can never be sure. Teaching freelance for private language schools always involves uncertainty and there’s always a shuffling of the deck as some courses end and others may or may not start. I thought about how I’d like to work for a school like the one where he works. Teaching at a “Berufschule” means there is a steady course load. Curriculum is designed with longer term goals in mind, not one-off lessons created to keep students signing up for another six months.

married_greener_grass_750Meanwhile, however, he complained that he misses the days when he taught at a private language school, working in companies and learning so much from the various groups that he taught. It can be so stimulating to go into varied contexts and we as teachers learn almost more from the students than they do from us. It also constantly challenges us to customize our course objectives and this creates intrinsic motivation for ongoing professional development. For him, teaching twelve courses, each with 24 students, is gruelling. Teachers are faced with designing and grading three tests per semester, strict fixed course objectives, and lots of pressure to get their students to pass.

So I realized that although I loathe the inconsistent paycheck, the pressure to keep clients happy, and the uncertainty that I face every six months, I shouldn’t take for granted the advantages that I have. Every job has it’s perks.

We all have our complaints. What are the good sides of your job?

And if you work at a “Berufschule” or state school, do you know of a job opening? … 😉

Share your comments below!

Teachers as workers

I recently joined a Google+ community on this very topic. The founder of the community page, Paul Walsh, wrote this about his and Nicola Prentis’ rejected proposal to set up a Teachers as Workers IATEFL SIG. One thing he said particularly resonated with me:

A lot of us are fully-paid up members of The Precariat, a term first coined in a book by Guy Standing in 2011 to describe a new class that has little social protection, low or unsecured wages and no trade union representation. This precarious work  leads to precarious life, with individuals unable to form stable occupational identities.

If you also feel that we need to do more to make ELT teaching a sustainable career path, I recommend signing up for their newsletter, following them on Twitter or joining the Google+ group.

What do I look for in a school?

This is related to Fabienne’s “What do I look for in a teacher” post, but it’s in no way intended as any kind of reply. Hopefully just starting a new conversation or continuing it from a new angle. 🙂

If we’re honest, there are two stages in school-choosing. In the first stage, the main consideration is really, “Do they have hours?” “Do the hours fit in my existing schedule?” If the answer to either of those questions is “no”, then that’s the end of the consideration. The more complicated part of school-choosing is after the end of the first year when we have to decide whether we want to keep working at this school or start looking for new hours at a new place. Here’s what matters most to me (and I’m interested to hear what matters most for you in the comments): consistency, professionalism, and good atmosphere/colleagues.

By consistency, I mean how far in advance can I know my schedule? When a course is booked, how certain am I that it will run? By professionalism, I mean two things: am I treated as a professional (ie, do I have an appropriate amount of freedom in my lessons) and is the office run professionally (is the admin work completed efficiently, is the communication handled well, are the wages paid reliably without undue effort on my part)? The atmosphere and colleagues are also important, but I find it easier to work with someone who’s good at their job but I don’t get along with rather than the other way around. Ideally my colleagues will be both professional and nice, although I have been in situations where they were neither.

What about the money? Money is important too, of course. But typically I’m working in 2-3 schools and I don’t get a lot of offers for a 100% position. So if I did get a new offer, I’d be using the above criteria to decide which school to cut, rather than whichever one pays the least. Simple things like being able to plan my schedule and not having to deal with a bunch of repetitive paperwork add up for me and these are the kind of places I want to stick around. The grind of doing work I don’t like takes time out of my life that I’m not paid for anyway, and these kind of factors motivate me to look for something new anyway so I may as well get rid of those jobs first.

The many stakeholders in an in-company class

One sometimes-overlooked fact about private language teaching, and especially in-company classes, is that the instructor must be aware of a much broader set of needs than just the students’. Of course, as teachers, we always pay attention to the learners’ needs (or what we think they are) but sometimes we can lose sight of the other stakeholders.

The learners

Obviously, we need to acquaint ourselves with the needs of each learner in a group. We want to know where and how they use English, what problems they have and why they decided to take the course (among other things). This will help us choose materials, design a syllabus that covers their needs and keep them motivated.

The teacher

We are stakeholders in our classes as well! We need reliable scheduling and location information as well as something more general which is related to stakeholders 3 and 4: we need to get paid.

The company HR or training director

Many times the course objectives will be shared by the learners and the training department who is paying for the lessons. But it is our responsibility, as the leader of the class, to be sure that this is actually the case. If we do not provide good value, as defined by the person who pays the invoices, and if we do not know what that is, we’re going to run afoul of stakeholder 4.

The school

The school needs to sell courses to stay in business, and they especially want to get repeat business. The only way they can do that is if the courses meet the needs of all the other stakeholders. The school administration should certainly keep you informed about the company’s needs and requirements, but it’s our responsibility to get in touch with our admin if we are unsure about anything. If I lose a client because I didn’t provide the value they wanted, I’m probably not going to be trusted with too many more clients. Whether I like it or not, there is definitely a customer service aspect to teaching in-company classes and I need to be a team player if I want to get more hours with my school.


It’s not always easy to keep everything in harmony, but sometimes we have to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good and give the students good lessons in order to give them more lessons.

Have you had any problems with groups like these? Tell us about it in the comments!

Cunning schoolmasters

We’ve all heard teachers gripe about shortcomings of working at a school. Bureaucracy, money, people problems. . .

There are glowing benefits of working in a school too. Free books, copy machines, travel allowances, regular classes, not having to look for your own clients. . .

And every school is different. There are small and large language schools, state schools, local schools, schools for adults, schools for kids . . .

They differ in the resources they offer, the support the administration gives, pedagogical advisory, and communication with clients, (not to mention what they pay!).

They differ in expectations too. I applied for a job once and the first question in the interview was, “what’s your availability?” Some say language schools only want maximum availability, maximum flexibility, and maximum professionalism.

What’s important to you regarding the school where you teach?

Finding dates with one-on-one students

Q: How do you share your availability so that you can schedule appointments with students in one-on-one lessons?

A: I use Apple iCal and I have a calendar just for availability. I create events for the times when I want to have lessons. So next to the regular courses and already booked lessons, I have time slots that are available. It looks like this:

week screenshot

When a one-on-one student needs to schedule more lessons, I go to iCal, select “print” from the dropdown menu, then use the options to deselect all calendars except the one called, “availability”. I print as PDF, save the file, and attach it to an email that I send to my student. The final product looks like this:

week availability screenshot

What’s the result? It works! Students respond positively. They book big blocks of lessons at a time and seem to appreciate the visual overview that this method provides. It would be perhaps more efficient to sync a calendar and make invitations for appointments. But I like this method because it increases the person to person interaction, and appeals to visual type people like myself.

How do you schedule lessons with one-on-one students? What works? What doesn’t work? Post your comments below!