Freelance teachers are not formal employees of a school and consequently are responsible for finding their students, doing their own marketing, finding their own classroom, and so on. Our article School v freelance explores the differences between these modes of working and talks about the pros and cons associated with each.
For for those who make a go of it, it can be a highly rewarding venture both in financial and emotional terms. But take care - becoming a successful professional freelance teacher is not something you can expect to convert yourself into in weeks or months. People frequently spend years in the profession before they achieve this goal.
- 1 Types of freelancers
- 2 Location of classes
- 3 Arranging groups
- 4 Marketing
- 5 Methods of payment
- 6 Cancellations
- 7 Charges
- 8 Other options
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Global
- 12 References
Types of freelancers
There are many types of teachers who can be regarded as freelancers.
The Gurus of English teaching
These are highly-respected people who get star billing at conferences, write teacher training books and articles and further the development of the art.
Teachers who do a "bit on the side"
Teachers who spend most of their time working for schools but who also give some private classes.
General English teachers
Teachers who have gone through the school teaching system, become disillusioned with it or decided to move beyond it and decided to strike out on their own. The successful ones are independent, motivated and interested in their craft.
When Teflpedia refers to "freelance teachers" we are usually talking about this category.
See main article backpackers
A somewhat disparaging term used by TEFL professionals to refer to untrained university students who do a bit of English teaching on their travels to earn an extra bit of beer money.
Freelance - but not really
There is another type of "freelance" teacher - the type who is technically freelance but who gets all their work through a single language school. Indeed, some language schools insist that all their teachers work in this way and this may be a sign of a cowboy outfit.
In this case the teacher is sent where the school wants at the hours the school wants; but instead of being paid a salary by the school, the teacher invoices the school for the hours taught. In this instance the teacher has no security of employment or any of the other benefits of being an employee - but will be subject to most of the disadvantages of being freelance.
The advantages for the school are clear as they have no responsibility for providing sick pay or any other benefit but they are able to direct the teacher as though the teacher were a full-time employee. The teacher, however, is in the worst of all possible worlds, having the all the disadvantages of being a school employee in addition to having the disadvantages or being a freelance - while having the advantages of neither.
Location of classes
If you are working freelance you will have to decide where you are going to give classes. There are various possibilities though you may end up mixing and matching.
Probably the best arrangement is to manage to obtain a contract with one or more local companies.
- Your payments should be guaranteed.
- You should be able to charge higher rates for classes to executives.
- Your schedule will be more predictable.
- You may have the possibility of gaining more clients at the same company.
- You will probably have to present a formal invoice to the company and receive payment through a bank account. This is convenient as it clearly shows up as income from your business as opposed to the cash-in-hand from private students.
- Many companies have meeting rooms which have equipment which can easily be pressed into service by the teacher.
- You may be able to organise a "stand by" student in case of last-minute cancellations.
- Although it is tempting to work all the time for one company, you run the risk of losing your entire client base if you lose that one client.
- Depending on the priority which the company gives to English teaching, it is possible that that external services such as teaching may be among the first to go in the event of business downturn or restructuring. (On the other hand, in times of increased international competition, they may regard English teaching as more important.)
Using your house
Another solution is to have private students come to you. You will need to select a separate room in your house and set it up as a classroom. However, if you go down this route you should spend some time and money trying to make it look somewhat professional. It is probable that the majority of you payments will be in cash.
- You have zero travelling time. (On the other hand it may only really work well if your house is relatively close to your students which rather reduces the travelling time advantage.)
- A potential problem is that your cancellations may be higher using this system, as even the smallest failure of motivation on the part of your students could start to lead to cancellations.
In a bar or coffee shop
You can give classes in a centrally-located bar or coffee shop.
- Free heating and light.
- It may raise your visibility as a teacher.
- It is a very natural situation. Typically language is practised in a classroom which is, in reality, a pretty unnatural environment.
- It may not seem very professional.
- The noise level may be higher than you would like.
- Some activities such as listenings may be hard to carry out.
- Some clients may feel embarrassed.
- It will probably appeal more to the lower end of the market with a consequent reduction in your income.
Going to clients' houses
You can visit your clients' houses. This can work, but in such a case you should try to target a relativity small geographical area in order to reduce your travelling time or schedule areas by time so that your travelling time and distance between clients is minimised.
- If you provide a service to your clients "at home" then your prices should reflect this additional service.
- In theory it should reduce your cancellations.
- May involve you in extensive travelling time.
Another location consideration is your personal location - will you be better placed in a large city or a small town.
Most people will reach the obvious conclusion that a big city is the best place to set up shop as you will be closer to a larger pool of potential students. This is certainly true, but it is the same logic which will have been followed by many language schools and other freelance teachers.
Additionally, as an individual teacher, the total number of one-to-one students you can realistically service is really quite limited. As a result you may find that setting up in a well-off out-of-town location may be very effective you will be able to offer a unique service in that area and price it accordingly.
While a lot of freelance English teaching will be one-to-one, it by no means has to be. Although many teachers will be happy with one-to-one classes, others will consider creating groups. There are a some positive aspects to groups:
- Not all teachers are comfortable with the one-to-one format either because they consider it too intense, or because it does not fit their style in other ways. It is certainly true that one-to-one classes tend to be less structured and more student-driven than "conventional" classes, and this can be intimidating for some teachers.
- If you have more than one student in a class you can charge each student for the class and multiply your income for the hour. However you must remember that students can do maths equally as well as you - and you would do well not to appear to be ripping them off. You might consider a sliding scale for additional students, which can lead to students doing some of your marketing for you and actively looking for others to join the class.
Be aware however that although groups are quite attractive financially they are really quite difficult to set up and there are a number or reasons for this.
- Level - you may have two or more students who are interested in a combined lesson, but difference in their levels prevents this.
- Time - you may have two or more students at the same level but who are not available at the same time.
- Location - your may be able to match both level and time but the students may be too separated geographically.
- Getting a classroom - if you have a number of students you will need to find a classroom. This may turn out to be more expensive than you expect or you may not be able to find one in the location.
See main article freelance marketing.
You will need to go out and find students - at least initially and it may take some time to build up a good clientèle. Although your reputation should spread by word of mouth if you are a good teacher, you will still need some way to start things off.
Some teachers start up by stealing students from the school where they used to work. Teachers will need to make their own decisions about the ethics of this.
Methods of payment
The method of payment you use will depend very much upon:
- the type of client you have
- cultural norms
In many European countries private individuals will pay you cash-in-hand at the end of the class or week. Businesses may expect a formal invoice and are more likely to pay you weekly or monthly in arrears.
Many teachers, on the other hand, would prefer to be paid in cash in advance. It depends upon your negotiating skills.
Cancellations with private students can be the bane of a freelancer's life and you will need to consider how to deal with them. If your students have paid in advance, you may wish to be pretty ruthless about this, but on the other hand you will also want to keep the student and your reputation.
Typically, teachers use a sliding system along the lines of:
- No charge for a class cancelled over 48 hours in advance.
- 50% charge for a class cancelled 24-48 hours in advance.
- Full charge for a class cancelled within 24 hours.
Alternatives to cancellations
Frequently private students will be executives who may initially have unrealistic ideas about their ability to attend classes. If you wish to keep the client, and continue getting paid, you will really want to try to avoid cancellations and cancellation charges altogether. There are a couple of possibilities:
One is to carry the class forward and still charge for the week. But teachers need to keep on top of such issues in order to ensure that a vast number of hours do not accumulate. If you are lucky you may be able to obtain a client who agrees that any hours carried forward over a maximum number will be waived. On the other hand, such students may come to think they are not getting value for money and cancel completely.
A much better solution is to arrange for your client to provide a substitute student or students. In this case if the executive is not available, his deputy or his secretary may be happy to stand in and receive the class. For various reasons this makes cancellations less likely and should also make your contract more secure.
One problem all freelancers have is the question of how much to charge. To a large extent this will depend on the market you are targeting and whether you are a permanent resident or a backpacker.
If you are a backpacker then the answer will be "whatever the going rate is for backpackers in the area".
If you are a permanent resident with experience and confidence in your ability then your calculation will be different. You should first find out the going rate and then charge towards, or at the top of, the range. There are a number of reasons for this, not all of them selfish.
- High rates will probably reduce your clientèle. This will enable you to give a few high quality classes for the same price as a large number of mediocre ones. Think travelling times here.
- High rates will ensure that you get committed motivated students.
- If they pay in advance they are less likely to cancel.
- Students will value your classes more and have more faith in you as a teacher if they have to pay a lot of money for them. This will enhance their learning.
When thinking about how much you charge there are a number of points you will need to bear in mind.
- How much preparation will the class need? If it is an exam preparation class or if the class is for a substantial number of people then your preparation time will increase. If you are teaching one-to-one dogme then your perpetration time will be minimal.
- How much time will you need to spend traveling to the class and what costs will this involve?
- When does the student want the class and how flexible are they prepared to be? You will be more interested in students who are very flexible and who are able to receive classes in the mornings than you will be in students who are only available during the prime hours in the evening.
- Is the student prepared to pay in advance and (perhaps) relinquish the possibility of cancelling classes?
- What is the value for the student? Or to put it another way - how much are they prepared to pay?
There are two man ways of selling your classes and competing with the competition. You can sell on price and attempt to be the cheapest teacher in the area, or you can compete on quality and attempt to be the best (or one of the best) teachers in your area.
If you compete on price you may easily become part of a "race to the bottom" where each competitor tries to be cheaper then the competition.
If you compete on quality then you run the risk of losing clients if you announce your prices on first contact as your potential clients will be aware that they can get cheaper classes elsewhere.
The solution therefore is not to reveal your prices on first contact and instead to offer a free trial class which will enable you to "get a better idea of the clients needs and your costs before quoting a price".
However, if a potential client insists on being given a price then feel free to tell them in advance as such clients are almost sure to be shopping around on price anyway and if your high price scares them off then you will have saved yourself a wasted demonstration class.
Teachers should be aware that there are other ways of teaching.
The following links are to external sites which have specific advice about different countries. Most of them also have more general advice and ideas.
- Freelance teaching - Ever thought about going it alone?. Interesting and informative article on freelancing in Thailand.
- How to Become a Freelance English Teacher in Bangkok. Another article on freelancing in Thailand but useful internationally.
- Freelance English Teaching in Thailand: Is it Possible and How Successful Can You Be?, Tasty Thailand, 11 April, 2017.
- Short article on freelance teaching in China
- Excellent guide to freelance teaching in China and freelancing in general.
- The freelance teacher in France, Bethany Cagnol. A blog.
- Freelance language teaching in Germany. Technical article.
- The unacceptable face of freelance teaching in Germany today. Some difficulties faced by contracted-out freelancers in Germany
- General article on teaching in Spain with some reference to freelance.
- Making it as a freelance teacher in Spain
- Short article on freelancing in Madrid
- Freelancing in Spain
- An article on the trials and tribulations of teaching in Moscow along with information about freelancing
Freelance discussion groups
Freelance TEFEL A forum dedicated to freelance teachers.