School v freelance

From Teflpedia
Revision as of 07:54, 15 October 2009 by Toast (talk | contribs) (External links)

There are two main ways of being an English teacher: working in a school and working freelance. The difference between them is really the difference between having security and a relatively low salary and having little security and a relatively high high salary.

It is accepted that, for various reasons, some teaches may have no choice in the matter; but for those who are in a position to make an informed choice this article attempts to compare the two possibilities.




Most teachers will, at some time or another, teach in some sort of language school. The other usual way of teaching is as a freelance teacher.

In many ways working for a school has advantages, especially for those who are new to the profession.

Working as a freelance teacher is the obvious alternative to working in a school.

It should be clear that this way of working is not for the faint-hearted, and is probably not the best course for inexperienced teachers. Nevertheless, for those who make a go of it, it can be a highly rewarding venture both in financial and emotional terms.


Your monthly/weekly salary should be guaranteed. Emphasis is on the "should" here, as there are many horror stories of teachers having to fight for their pay. So try to check out a school beforehand.
In any event, you won't get rich working for a language school.

If you chose the market segment properly then your potential hourly rate could be many times greater than the hourly rate paid by a school.

Your income will depend on the number of students you are able to find, your ability/reputation as a teacher, local competition and the sector you are targeting; it will not be guaranteed. If you are starting from scratch you might initially find that you need savings or a "fall back" source of income. In some cases, for instance working in a bar or "temping" in a business, this income source might enable you to "network" for clients.

Some teachers like to charge private students in advance to reduce students' tendency to cancel classes.


Many schools will give you a "bookend Schedule" - a schedule where you have to work from seven to ten in the morning, and then seven to ten in the evening. While at first it may seem pleasant to have your afternoons free, this type of schedule is very trying. It is impossible to have any sort of social life in the evening and get enough sleep. In theory you should be able to create your own schedule, although in practice you will also be constrained by the needs of your students. If your classes are mostly in businesses then you can expect to have classes early in the morning, at lunchtime and after work. The definition of these time periods will depend on the society.

If your clients are mostly private individuals then things change somewhat and evening or weekend work is more likely.

Preparation time

If you are lucky the school will pay your lesson preparation time. Check this out beforehand. This will depend very much on the objective of your classes, the methodology chosen, the motivation of your students, your experience etc. Remember however that you are selling something of value to the student so you will want to be seen to be taking the lessons as seriously as your student. Turning up empty-handed day after day to talk about the weather is not a good way to keep students.

Many schools don't pay for preparation or correction time and some teachers begin to resent this unpaid work. At least if you are working for yourself you can decide how much time and effort you wish to invest.


You won't have to find students but you have no control over the selection of the students you have to teach. If you don't like them or they don't like you there is not a lot you can do about it. In theory you will only need to teach students you want to teach, although if there is a shortage of students, or you land a company contract, your choices may not be quite so free. See: marketing.

Holidays and sickness

The school should give you paid holidays and sick leave. Check your contract thoroughly before commencing employment; see here. If you don't speak the local language then have the contract reviewed by somebody who does. In some cases schools have offered contracts to inexperienced teachers at ludicrously low rates of pay. You will not be paid for these. Sickness insurance is one option but it tends to be expensive.


Students will vary from highly motivated adults who are a joy to teach to utterly disinterested teenagers who would rather be somewhere else. Students who are paying their own money for individual classes will usually be highly motivated. On the other hand they are also likely be highly demanding.


Depending on the school you may be left to do your own thing or have a DOS looking over your shoulder every moment. You will be accountable to nobody but your students for the quality or content of your classes. Naturally, this also means that you had better give good classes as your students will be free to vote with their feet whenever they like.


You will probably have little control over the coursebook chosen by the school. You may love it or hate it, but you (probably) won't be able to change it. You will be able to decide whether or not to use a coursebook. At first, some students - especially if it's their first experience with a class outside of a language school - may feel uncomfortable about not having the "support" of a coursebook should you decide not to use one. This is likely to change as they come to realize the benefits of a more personalized approach to the learning process.


This is not an issue - though if students stop coming to your classes the school may wonder about your quality as a teacher. 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 than 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.

(Times are illustrative only.)


While most of your classes will probably be at the school itself you may also be asked to give some in-company classes. Find out if the school will pay your travelling time. You may need to budget for travelling expenses and travelling time. You may have to spend a considerable period of time travelling between classes. You might be able to adjust individual fees to allow for travel distance.
You will probably need a car and should give some thought to contingencies in case of breakdowns.

Materials and equipment

These should be supplied by the school. Unless you intend to follow a coursebook you will have to create your own topical classes, materials, handouts, listenings, etc. You may wish to obtain a PC and encourage your students to use one as well. For example students can also use memory sticks to record "homework" on if they are coming to you or are in a business environment. (You could even use the internet to conduct lessons

Liability insurance

This is the school's problem. If you are conducting lessons in your own premises, you will probably need liability insurance of some kind depending on local regulations.


Working for a school should give you the opportunity to make contact with other English teachers, start some networking and exchange opinions and class ideas in a social setting. If you are fortunate one of the "old hands" will be prepared to show you the ropes if you are a new teacher. Your opportunities for social contact with other teachers may be reduced, as will the ongoing exchange of material and ideas. Partial solution: sign up with Teflpedia!


The school should ensure that appropriate tax deductions are made. You will be responsible for things like your own invoicing and tax records. If you do not have at least a little experience at accounting and administration this may cause a problem.

Location of classes

Probably at the school, but you could be sent to company training locations as well.
  1. Probably the best arrangement is to manage to obtain a contract with one or more local companies. This has many advantages:
    • Your payments should be guaranteed.
    • 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.
    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 yours will 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.
  2. The next best solution is to have private students come to you. Select a separate room in your house and set it up as a classroom. Obviously this will only really work if your house is relatively close to your students as even the smallest failure of motivation on the part of your students will start to lead to cancellations.
  3. You can visit your clients' houses. This can work, but in such a case you should try to target a relativity small geographical area to reduce your travelling time or schedule areas by time so that your travelling time and distance between clients is minimised.
  4. If you have more than one client in a particular area, it might be possible to combine their lessons to one time and location, amending charging accordingly.


Not really relevant if you work in a school. You will possibly have to learn a new skill: 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 if you are a good teacher your reputation should spread by word of mouth you will need some way to start things off.

Opinions vary over whether you should go for niche marketing and aim for a particular group, or go for the shotgun approach and claim that you are a specialist in "everything". If you decide to be more targeted, the method of marketing you use will depend on that market. For instance, if you are trying to "sell" yourself as somebody specialising in giving expensive classes to executives, your marketing literature will reflect this.

Try to maintain a list of satisfied past and present pupils who will agree to give you a (good) reference. Similarly, if possible and appropriate, keep in touch with ex pupils both to use as examples and to promote your teaching.

It must be admitted that 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.

Your language ability

Not knowing the local language is no big impediment if you are working in a school as the arrangements are made by the school authorities. Indeed, some schools maintain that they prefer their native English teachers not to know the local language as this means that they are obliged to use total immersion. Unless you are confident in your ability to negotiate and explain things in the native language (or have somebody to do it for you) then you will have some problems working freelance.

Gaining experience

If you are new to the profession then working in a school should give you a lot of valuable experience of teaching a wide range of abilities, group sizes and ages. You may also get an opportunity to practice teaching English for specialised purposes. While some teachers start off without previous experience, or even training, it might be better to gain some experience before going freelance.

See also

External links