Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
Generally speaking, with few exceptions unless you wrote one of the coursebooks that appears in schools everywhere and has done since before most of us got our TEFL certificates, you’re not earning very much as an EFL teacher.
Thanks to private language school sector zero hours contracts or guaranteed but low pay hours, EFL teachers who’ve got past the stage of just wanting to fund a couple of years living abroad need to earn more money to have a decent standard of living. Here’s how.
You’ll instantly be able to charge more than your school pays you, probably with a timetable that suits you better. Doing that in Spain (as the example I can most easily give from personal experience) means upping hourly rates from 10-16€ to 30€. Typically this doesn’t mean giving up benefits like sick pay, holiday pay, pension as there weren’t any anyway. Or there is nothing more than country specific mandatory cover, which can also amount to zero depending on the laws where you are. Yes, you now have to find your own students but, let your classes know you’re leaving, and chances are high you can take a few with you.
However, just going freelance and cutting out language schools doesn’t mean teaching automatically pays enough. Not unless you can clone yourself and pick up double the number of private students or somehow have them all in the same location. You need to teach the kind of class that maximises what you can charge, preferably while minimising preparation time.
Firstly, you want to acquire or form group classes, in much the same model as language schools do so students get a cheaper class, while the hourly rate to the lesson provider stays high.
The best way to get groups is to offer exam classes. When I did that it was easy to find students, form groups and, most importantly, charge more because there was a tangible goal for the students, often the qualification would mean more earning power to them. I even had students themselves bring me more customers and had to set up different groups. In my case, I was focussing on First Certificate (FCE) and Advanced (CAE) but I would bet the same applies for IELTS. I went from earning 30€ an hour to 50€ as I had classes of five, still a great deal for the students. I did have to do marking of writing but preparation is less once you know the exam well, so it balances out.
To offer students exam classes you really need to know the exam inside out and back to front. If you don’t yet have that experience, I wrote a book which tells you everything you need to know to teach the First, much of which applies to the Advanced as the principles and most of the techniques students are the same. Once you start getting good exam passes from your students, more come by word of mouth and it’s also something you can use to advertise with.
Find Teach First Certificate: All you need to know, all your students need to know on Amazon or as a pdf. Read more about the book here.
Yes, there are worse ways to earn a living but not that many that pay university graduates so poorly with no real prospect of a raise, pension or other benefits. Ever. I recently saw a Facebook post asking for advice from a freelance teacher in Germany struggling to pay all their social security deductions and taxes on their earnings from teaching.
But you can still teach and earn more. I tutored for a year for a family in Germany through an agency in the UK. For about 20-24 hours of work a week, I was basically an after school homework helper and English speaking companion to two girls. I had a rent and bills free flat to myself (the first time in my life not having to flatshare) and one month paid annual leave on a salary of 36,000€. That’s about 31.5€ per hour, but with no rent or bills to pay which means being at least 1/3 better off. I had most of the day free and wrote two books during that year as well as doing some summer school consulting on the side and some of my work involved a skiing holiday, NYC, New Mexico and the south of France. That said, it was quite a tough job in some ways.
Were I PGCE qualified and able to homeschool, I could be earning thousands of pounds a month. Check out Tutors International for the kinds of mindblowing opportunities there are for fully qualified teachers, especially those who can offer cross curricular support. I’ve seen jobs for £8,000 a month. Yes, that’s a month and will come with accommodation.
Given my time again, I’d do TEFL for a couple of years post university, get a PGCE somehow getting through the placements and NQT year, then tutor for two or three years to build savings/buy a house and then return to the more fun TEFL life wherever I fancied.
I’d also train as a locksmith somewhere on the side.
Quids in. Forever.