Are you a freelance teacher? Do you remember how you started being a freelancer? For me it began in the days before PCs and Internet. (And that doesn’t make me an old fogey, by the way)
When we moved to Germany, I had this romantic vision… Me teaching happy students over a traditional English cup of tea and biscuits. There should be no shortage of students – after all I’m a NUTS (a Native User Teacher Speaker). If you need more explanation about NUTS and SLUTS, you can read Maurice Claypole’s controversial essay: Why most teachers are sluts, on page 61 in his book Controversies in ELT. I had no experience as a freelance English teacher, but that wouldn’t be a problem, would it?
Being a freelance teacher is easy, isn’t it?
You don’t need much experience to become a freelance teacher. It’s easy after all, isn’t it? Most of us start our teaching based on an idea that life would be better on the other side. It’s going to be easier, more fulfilling, and we will make more money as a freelancer. Right?
Wrong! Think again…
But right too! Now I’ve got you confused, haven’t I?
For some of us, freelancing is like a birthday suit. It’s natural and everything works like Adam and Eve’s garden. For others, there was this apple that turned paradise into a garden of “hell”.
For some teachers, freelancing isn’t much short of disaster.
I struggled. There was not one student coming. They simply didn’t fall over themselves to come knocking on my door. How in the world do I find students? Internet didn’t exist in those days. I couldn’t speak German, and like the next teacher, I didn’t like pushing myself forward singing my own praises as a language teacher. In short, I was no different from many teachers starting out today.
I was going under, but I don’t give up easily when the going gets tough either. I knew my idea to teach English was good, but when the students didn’t come, I realised they didn’t know how to find me. I had to find a way to get rid of the apple in Adam and Eve’s garden.
I spent a few days working out what these problems were. These were the main areas I isolated: Marketing and Sales: How to find students and customers and how to set and collect my hourly fees. Plan an on-going (but unobtrusive) marketing schedule to ensure a permanent cycle of new and reoccurring strategies to win or keep students and customers.
Students and customers: How to manage, care and guide my students and customers in their learning experience. I needed to know how to create a suitable “classroom” environment in my living room. I wanted my students to be motivated to learn and enjoy coming to my lessons.
Teaching and teaching materials: How to gain the creditability students and customers needed to see me as “their” teacher solution. It meant I needed to define what students I wanted to teach and what these students needed to learn. Further, I needed good teaching methods and realia for my chosen students and customers.
Back office work: Life-work cycles are important. Separating and dividing free time from working hours needs a strong sense of discipline to keep to schedule. Bookwork and accounting duties, as well as spending and costs and all the other necessary legal paperwork. Let’s not forget to keep tabs on students, their lesson plans and their lessons.
Technology: In the days before Internet, it was all about tape recorders, flip charts and blackboards. Today, it’s the Internet and website communications, iPods, DVDs and Interactive Whiteboards – a double-sided knife that is a blessing in disguise for a few of us.
Finding students and customers is easy, isn’t it?
Marketing and Sales: How do you find students and customers? The best method (every teacher knows) is the personal recommendation from one student to another. Easy enough except you first need a first student!
Getting referrals is also cheaper than paying for an advertisement that becomes obsolete with the next issue. What about direct (advertising) mail? Nearly all of it lands in the waste-paper basket – along with your printing and postage fees. In a world of remorseless SPAMs, advertising e-mails are automatically ousted into a “SPAM” folder and deleted. Why bother?
Thank goodness for computers and the Internet – when both are working and not driving you round the bend. Here is a medium and tool you can unobtrusively proclaim your services without falling prey to “advertising SPAM.” Worded rightly, you can even reach the students and customers you want.
Knowing what to charge is easy, isn’t it?
And talking about your services, have you ever had a plumber or electrician work without giving you an invoice? They feel entitled to be paid for their knowledge, expertise and presence. How do they know what to charge? Why don’t I feel the same sense of entitlement? What were the reasons causing me to undersell myself? Why was I underselling myself in the first place?
Should I charge time for curriculum questions? How about marking time for mock exams? There are business parallels (and differences) between contracted tutoring for colleges or universities and your own private students and customers. However, the parallel road joins when it comes to deciding who receives and who benefits when the sums are added.
What influence does the Internet have on freelance teachers earning powers? There are no longer bargains to be had because the prices have become standardised. Companies offering airline tickets, holiday offers or the vendors and buyers on eBay all do the same; check the Internet to see what prices the competitor is charging. If commerce has discovered the long reach in Internet to sell their products and to recruit new personnel, let’s see if the Internet can find a few willing (and paying) students…
Having the ability to choose how many hours or days to work is easy, isn’t it? The distraction of Internet is not to be ignored. It can be a big devourer of your time. Time is already a problem when you work as a freelance teacher. It is great to be able to choose when you work, but the discipline to keep to your working schedule is hard.
Being able to choose and plan your own working time needs strong discipline. Lessons, lesson plans and realia have to be prepared. E-mails have to be written and answered. Trial lessons have to be carried out; the provas and Needs Analysis completed and analysed. Let’s not forget the shopping, the washing (we’ll forget the ironing).
Teaching students and customers is easy, isn’t it?
If you think your family, friends or colleagues cause a few time problems, teaching your students and customers will never cause you problems. They never bring their problems from the home or the office with them, and of course they remain open to your teaching, teaching style and are willing to learn. They never let old grudges from 30 years ago influence them or their learning habits.
Of Mice and Men… Technology is easy, isn’t it?
And talking of learning, modern technology is a blessing in disguise. In ELT circles,it’s commonly talked about as “Blended Learning” after Pete Sharma’s book.
What exactly is this “Blended Learning” angle in language lessons? Blended Learning is a combination of face-to-face English lessons with interactive e-learning (electronic = internet).
Publishers and language course books have adopted the technology trend. Renowned publishers are making the change to technology in English lessons easier for non-techy teachers like me. They have (inter)active learning platforms, with and without Internet and example video lessons to help teachers teach business students or ESP students. How can you teach 12 students in your living room when its only 25 m2 large? A publisher’s teacher platform with online students – and you don’t have to be a language school or a wizard at the technology. The learning curve is agreeably short. On the other hand, the time spent on chasing up and motivating lagging online students is more difficult and time consuming.
Modern language lessons expect modern technology and research using interactive white boards, beamers and online forums. The advantages are many – if it were not the problem of first learning how to use it.
We can tweet or register feeds, and share favourite bookmarks in De.licious & Co with other colleagues or people we know and admire. Suddenly the horizons of brick and mortar English lessons go beyond its physical boundaries. Skype is available and with it all it application tools: Pam Call Recorder, InnerPass and Collaborate, Sketch, etc. You can live in any country in the world (with Internet connection) and give language lessons to students on the other side of the world. Freelance Teachers unite! We have come a long way – we’ve become international in our own homes. Those far-off-places teaching jobs are safely left to singles with itchy feet and the urge to travel and explore new countries.
Yes, there are struggles a freelance teacher has to face and pitfalls to avoid. But when going alone these are more likely to be confusing, or overload in nature, rather than insurmountable. Often enough, the focus of start up and running problems are self-inflicted. In a world of trying to please everybody, it is difficult to say “no.” It’s even more difficult to ask for the value of your work and keep your motivation going when the going gets tough. That was the down-side of freelancing.
The upside is when you do persist and you get to the other side, the grass really is greener!
Here are two quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt to remind you why you are embarking on your career as a Freelance Teacher:
“No one can make you feel inferior except yourself.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
©2011 Janine Bray-Mueller, www.ft-training.com. All Rights Reserved.
Article written by Janine Bray-Mueller. Wouldn’t you love to stumble upon simple, yet electrifying ideas on freelance teaching? Go to http://www.ft-training.com/Articles and judge for yourself. If you haven’t done so already: Subscribe to the FTT newsletter (FTT Ezine)
(That’s a clue!)