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Practical Advice for Freelance English Teaching
You may have heard that the real money in English teaching is with private students. And it’s true, being a self-employed teacher can be a lucrative (and rewarding) experience. However, it’s not as easy as sticking up a few flyers or making a Facebook post. When I moved to Tbilisi to teach English, I ended up working part-time for language centers and part-time as a freelancer. If you’re interested in freelance teaching, here are some practical points to consider first.
1. Charge more, work less.
When I first started out teaching private students, I was not confident in what I was bringing to the table. I charged what I thought was average and sometimes even lower. But once I got into the groove of things and I gained more experience, I realized that I was actually offering a very valuable service. And if I wanted to work less but earn the same amount of money, I should charge more.
Yes, this might mean that you’ll be out of some people’s budget, and so yes you might have fewer clients – but that’s the point! Work less and make the same (or more) money. Of course, you need to make sure that the service you’re offering does match the price point you’ve set. And you have to understand that some students might start lessons then realize they don’t have the budget for them after all. But if you’re truly confident in your skills as a teacher and you tailor each lesson to the individual student, you both will find it more rewarding.
2. Help your students strategize.
I noticed that a lot of times when people contacted me for private English lessons, they didn’t have very well defined goals. They just thought the extra practice would help them. One of the first things I did with them – that I do with any student, really – is try to get them to make their goals clear. That way you can prepare them for your teaching methods, the materials you bring to class, and the work they need to do on their own. It also provides you with easy sub-goals and benchmarks for students to see how they are achieving and making progress.
3. Give written feedback.
Written feedback is a paper trail, proving that you have been doing your job and that your student is (or should have been) learning something. Not only that – it’s an excellent resource for your student! And it doesn’t have to be time consuming for you. I had a number of strategies for giving written feedback depending on the student. Often I would just use a blank piece of paper as my ‘whiteboard’ for the lesson and hand it to the student at the end, if they hadn’t taken notes themselves. Other times, I would type up language on my computer and email them the document later.
You can go into greater depth, especially depending on the client. Perhaps you have a student who’s preparing for an exam or a special business situation. You might want to record them and listen to it at home to give feedback later. It doesn’t always have to be that intensive, but giving written feedback is a way to remind your student about how relevant your lessons are.
4. Consider your travel time.
If you decide to be a freelance English teacher, you’re going to be spending a lot of time traveling. This may seem like common sense – but it’s something to consider. Travel is a lot more tiring than you might first think! And as you take new students on, see if you can block them with other students who are in the same neighborhood. If you’re spending the same amount of time commuting as you are teaching, you might want to think about adapting your schedule.
5. Remember that you’re a professional.
Even if you’ve completed a CELTA and you have a strong methodological foundation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your students are your friends, especially if they are one-to-one students. After all, many times they are people you have a good rapport with, and the flexible nature of a private lesson gives it a friendlier atmosphere. In fact, some of your students may want to have ‘chatty’ English classes. One-to-one students have opened up to me about all sorts of things, from family issues to visa drama, and I’ve had to determine how to toe the line between teacher and confidant.
Still, it’s important to remember that you are a teacher, not a therapist! You, and the student, have language goals for your time together. Keep yourself focused. Some students may not really want to chat as long as you think; they’re just keeping up the conversation to be polite. And other students might want to be more relaxed, but they could find themselves frustrated with an apparent lack of progress in the future. And in any case, I always felt more motivated as a teacher when I took my classes seriously – even if I knew a student would try to derail my lessons anyway!
Here’s a bonus tip: Freelance English teaching is not for everyone! It can be lucrative, but it’s also a lot of work. You work as the marketer, teacher, and administrator. In the end, I decided it wasn’t the way I really enjoyed teaching or working, but others may really enjoy the freedom it offers. If you’re interested in getting started with freelance English teaching, begin by adding private students to a full-time job or going part-time with an employer to free up your schedule. At the very least, make sure you have some savings before you embark on your self-employment adventure. Building a client base can take time, especially if you’re doing it right!
Are you interested in freelance English teaching? Or have you already done it? Is there any extra advice you would give?
Amy snagged a CELTA from Teaching House New York in 2013 and since then has taught on three continents (and counting). Having a CELTA has made her dream of moving abroad possible, and currently she is slow-traveling through Europe. She loves getting to know students, wandering around cities, and trying to find the world’s best donut. You can check out her travel adventures and mishaps at The Wayfarer’s Book.