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. (Although, in some cases the "security" of working for a school may be a little illusory as our article cowboy outfit mentions.
Some teachers recommend teaching a mixture of school and freelance classes so as to obtain the "best of both worlds"; others will always opt for security and yet others for freedom. It is accepted that, for various reasons, many teachers 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.
|If you are very 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
|This is the school's problem.
||If you are conducting lessons in your own premises, you will probably need liability insurance of some kind - though this will depend 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 regulations are complied with and that tax deductions, insurances, pension contributions etc. are made.
||You will be responsible for things like your own invoicing and tax records. Keep records of all income and expenditure no matter how trivial it might seem. 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.
You will need to make your own arrangements. Our article freelance has more information.
|Not really relevant if you work in a school.
||You will have to learn a new skill: marketing. Our article Freelance has more information.
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.
|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.