Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Earn more money in ELT

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.

Go freelance

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.

Maximise classes

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.

Buy from Amazon as an ebook or paperback (simply switch to your country’s Amazon page after following the links)

OR as a PDF for 5.99€ by clicking the Buy Now button below
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Get out of EFL

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.


16 comments on “Earn more money in ELT

  1. nmwhiteport
    November 23, 2017
  2. Giulia
    November 23, 2017

    This is all so sad. 😦

    • Nicola
      November 24, 2017

      Yes,it is and the industry could do so much better but won’t. Whenever anyone tells me they’re thinking about doing a TEFL, or asks me if they should, I always say do it, but have an exit strategy and get out after 2 years. Though I think my idea above is the best of both worlds.

      • Giulia
        November 24, 2017

        Well, in Italy the only exit strategy would be teaching in state schools, where pay is higher and benefits abundant. But I honestly don’t think I could be a good high school teacher, and I’ve already tried freelancing which in Italy doesn’t pay much (taxes are too high). Basically if I want to improve my situation I need to change jobs all together. 😦

      • Nicola
        November 27, 2017

        Do you think the exams route and group classes would work for you? I know Spain and Greece have a high demand for those exams, how is it in Italy?

      • Giulia
        November 27, 2017

        It could work in big cities — maybe. But it would require A LOT of organisation and extra time, so in the end you’d end up working three times more for the same salary. And of course there are no benefits (forget about sick leave, paid holidays or maternity leave).

      • Nicola
        November 27, 2017

        I’m surprised you think that because I found exam classes easier to teach, easier to find students, easier to charge more for and very little prep once I understood the exam properly. It meant some marking every week but they are pretty short texts. You’re right about no sick leave etc when you’re freelance though of course. What’s the organising you’d need to do? Often students want the class at their work or home and so you don’t need to organise a room.

      • Giulia
        November 28, 2017

        Well, you need to FIND the students, agree on a time/date that’s suitable for all of them, decide what to do if one of them can’t come to a lesson…
        I opened my own little “language school” (i.e. an office and a website to advertise my courses) four years ago, and I had to close it because of taxes and the difficulty of finding enough students to cover all the costs. I would never go back to the stress of having to organise all that by myself.

      • Nicola
        November 28, 2017

        Ah, yes, if you rent an office space then it becomes a stress. I never did that as I feared exactly that problem with the overheads so I only went to their office or home for lessons. Cancellations is an issue too. Private students can mess you about more because part of what they feel they pay for is flexibility. I think as long as you have a policy ahead of time it works out. I made them pay for any cancellation made within 24 hours of the lesson. But this is where groups are great as, if they know each other, they are often dividing up the cost of the class between themselves so it is up to them to decide if one misses class, do they pay or do the other students cover their part that week. Then it is the students policing themselves to get the money together and the teacher just sets the class fee, not the individual fee,

  3. Cara Leopold
    November 24, 2017

    I left after a couple of years to get as Master’s degree in international business and make a sideways move.
    I was looking back at old earnings the other day. In 2009 I worked for 9 different employers according to my French tax forms and made around 12K. This is less than the minimum wage. Thankfully the French tax system is quite progressive and I didn’t have to pay any income tax on that pittance. Thanks France!
    In contrast, when I made a career move into being an export assistant, I made 24K and had a sweet, sweet benefits package.
    But I hated the corporate environment and for various reasons, I left this job where I could use my language skills and went back to ELT because I wanted to freelance online.
    I worry about myself!
    Nothing has turbo-charged my personal development more than dealing with the money issue “for real” as a business owner. I’ve had to figure out how to go beyond the “going rate” and get creative with what I offer and my niche.
    We all need to grow a pair of outer ovaries and ask for what we need to thrive, not just survive. 20 bucks a lesson won’t cut it if we want to eat AND pay rent AND god forbid go on holiday once in a while or save for a pension.
    We work in a multi-billion dollar industry for goodness sake and our collective worth is priceless. So going forward, employee or freelancer we need to ask – where’s the money?
    Anyway, thanks for opening the debate Nicola and offering up a couple of alternative solutions.

    • Nicola
      November 27, 2017

      It is as if TEFL (in the sense of the industry and schools) thinks that teachers are already on holiday so don’t need to be paid enough to take one or be paid while on it. And, the’re young so will not think about a pension. And will marry a local who earns more at the point they want to have kids. And so, it retains the people for whom any of all of those things are true and that then perpetuates the standards everyone else has to accept. And, you’ve said exactly what I have always been wondering – how is it that a billion dollar industry never seems to have a decent share for teachers?

      • Cara Leopold
        November 28, 2017

        Yes, I think that’s part of the problem for sure. It’s still treated as a holiday job for backpackers, as if the schools are doing us a favour by hiring us and providing pocket money for our travels or something.
        I think more of us freelancing or creating our own businesses can go someway to alleviating the problems, but as Giulia has indicated above, sometimes the tax burden is just too high for solopreneurs.
        That means that a lot of the money is still held by the gatekeepers and the middle men. So schools and increasingly the online marketplaces that have sprung up. But even online, it seems there are more and more entrants and just less to go round.
        I try really hard to stay positive about all this, but it’s tough sometimes.
        But surely it’s not asking too much of a multi-billion dollar industry to let me do a job I enjoy and pay me well for it!

  4. EiC Student
    November 26, 2017

    Very wise Nicola!

    • Nicola
      November 27, 2017

      Thanks! I hope it inspires someone to earn $$$$!

  5. wirralboy70
    November 26, 2017

    HI Nicola,

    I liked you latest blog post!

    I am working at a bigish private language school here in the UK and

    I’ve been having problems trying to fit in and students have complained

    about my classes which I think are better than the other classes I have

    observed! I just cannot align myself to teaching with a course book when I

    see how detrimental these are for the students! Ironically, I think

    I have educated myself out of the system in that I cannot return to

    just “going through the motions”!

    I need to get out of ELT I think!

    Thanks Steve


    • Nicola
      November 27, 2017

      Are they complaining you’re not using the coursebook? What would you do instead of ELT? Could you see yourself homeschooling (I am pretty sure there are options in the UK too for kids. especially those about to enter the private system and needing to pass entry exams etc

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2017 by in Teaching English and tagged , , , , , .
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