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.

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.

Conclusion

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!

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!