Diary of a Newbie Teacher Part Three: The dark(er) side of being a freelance English teacher in Berlin

I’ve just got back from a wonderful week back at home in England, where two sets of friends were married, a stunning baby girl was born (not mine!) and an anniversary was celebrated with my boyfriend…and ever since my EasyJet plane landed a predictable 70+ minutes late at 1am this morning, my head has been a bit all over the place.

I have often been criticised by certain people that I am ‘too positive’ and that I am happy about everything, so I thought I would write an honest, personal post about the struggles of being a freelance English teacher in my favourite city, Berlin.

Some Berlin street art with a British touch

Some Berlin street art with a British touch

Just as a reminder for any new followers, I decided to quit my job in academic publishing and move out here earlier this year because I had always wanted to live in Berlin: it has a special magic that had always drawn me back, exemplified well by the fact that my flight out here just before my CELTA course started was my 10th visit to the German capital. Teaching English wasn’t my first option for making a living here, though – my absolute dream situation would have been to continue working in publishing, but in a German publishing house because I was, and still am, determined to perfect my German. However, despite applying for a few internships with publishing houses here, I was unsuccessful so I created a Plan B to include the longer-term view of returning to ELT publishing in the UK at some point. I was, if you will, killing two birds with one stone: following my Berlin dream and also trying to advance my publishing career a little bit… (Time will tell if this was a wise move or not!)

Anyway, I have now been teaching in this captivating capital since the beginning of May, and would like to highlight some less positive areas of life as a freelance English teacher – or ‘trainer’ as some teachers here call themselves.

Firstly, I spend a lot of time on public transport. I knew this from having read countless blogs about living in Berlin before I moved here (the most relevant of which was David McFetridge’s Teaching English in Berlin blog, which I first discovered when I realised he’d stolen the blog title I originally wanted!) so I was expecting it, but I recently added up the total amount of hours I spend commuting around the city on an average week and was quite horrified. I do teach the lion’s share of my classes at the Berlin School of English, which is nice as it means I can leave my resources there, but I also teach in companies around the city, which involves a fair amount of travel on the tram, the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn – perhaps exacerbated even further due to the fact that I live northeast of the city. Although we are reimbursed a token amount for the cost of the journey, we are not reimbursed for the time, which lowers our hourly wage considerably, and also sees me traipsing around Berlin complete with lunch in tin foil, a salad for dinner in a Tupperware container and my badminton kit in a tote bag! (Playing badminton is of course my own choice, but there’s never any time to go home between lessons and training, so I have to resort to gypsying around my whole kit and my racket!)

This brings me to point two: lack of ‘me’ time. I know I am new to this whole ELT malarkey, and I am something of a worrier-cum-perfectionist – a terrible combination for a new teacher! This trait unfortunately means that I do spend an awful lot of time planning my lessons; often hunting for extra extra resources, ‘just in case we finish everything really quickly’ – which of course, we never do! I find I spend even more time planning for my company classes than I do for the intensive courses at school, and if you tot up how many hours I spend planning versus how much I earn teaching, it’s a depressingly small pro-rata amount. This makes me really miss working at Routledge, when I started at 8am and would therefore be able to leave at 4pm, sometimes even with a lunchtime gym session or spin class!

Mentioning my old job also links nicely to an experience I had when I was at home last week: I wanted to catch up with my friend Mel, who used to kindly drive me to work with her, so I suggested that she drove me to work like normal, for old time’s sake. We could then have the hour’s drive to catch up, and I would then spend the morning chatting to my former colleagues in various departments around the company. Although it was admittedly a little tragic to go back to work, I had the most wonderful time nattering away to all my old teammates from Digital Publishing, one of whom had even kindly baked a cake for me! I also visited the girls I used to sit with on my first ever ‘pod’ at Routledge when I worked in Editorial, as they are now spread around the three buildings doing various things… Everyone was so willing to spend a long tea break talking to me and asking about Berlin, and although we did of course work very hard, it really made me miss the relaxed atmosphere of publishing and all the super-friendly and interesting people within the industry. I also miss the knowledge that, when you turn off your PC at 4pm, you don’t even need to think about work until 8am the following day. Admittedly, I was a bit of a workaholic and would frequently check my work emails remotely from my phone outside of hours, but I rarely did anything about them and was certainly never ‘on call.’ As a freelance English teacher here in Berlin, I find I am planning lessons on the U-Bahn, reading grammar books over dinner (so my advanced classes don’t catch me out) and dreaming up blog posts as I brush my teeth… Of course, this blog is entirely my decision, but due to my aim of trying to get into ELT publishing further down the line, I wanted to try and develop professionally as a teacher as much as possible in however much time I am in this city, which then does result in me spending yet more of my own time doing work-related things.

Bear pit karaoke, one of the Sunday wonders of life in Berlin

Bear pit karaoke, one of the Sunday wonders of life in Berlin

Finally, and most importantly. I miss my English life more than I was expecting. During my compulsory ‘year abroad’ from university 2010-2011, I missed my family and I missed fresh milk and Robinson’s squash, but I knew I had to be abroad in order to pass my degree, so I sort of just got on with it – and did have a fantastic time. Now, the rules are a little different. I am having a fantastic time (when I’m not planning lessons!), I still miss my friends, family, fresh milk and Robinson’s squash but I especially miss the general comings and goings of life in Blighty a lot more than I did back in 2011. A few things are different now, such as my having an insanely patient and supportive boyfriend back home, which make leaving England and coming back to Germany more difficult every time, but somehow I found myself feeling really England-sick this morning. Even the thought of going to my local discount supermarket (Netto) instead of the Tesco I frequented last week was a bit sad. I’m sure it’ll pass once I get more than 4 hours sleep and the temperature drops below 30 degrees here, but I do miss little old England quite a lot.

So, if anyone has any thoughts about ex-pat or freelancer life in Berlin or anywhere else in the world, I’d be very grateful to hear your thoughts!

But for now, it’s time to go and fall back in love with this city I’d always dreamed of living in!

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About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog berlingo18.wordpress.com charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
This entry was posted in Berlin, NQT, teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Diary of a Newbie Teacher Part Three: The dark(er) side of being a freelance English teacher in Berlin

  1. gemmalunn says:

    Ah sorry to hear your not feeling great, it’s not always fun or easy having a life in 2 places. Sure it feels worse today as you just got back and it’s Monday! Bet everything will look brughtsr when you’re sat in Mauer park in the sun with a beer

    Like

  2. gemmalunn says:

    Oops pressed post too early! …amyway you get my point! Hope you feel brighter tomo (sure you will 🙂 )

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    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks for your sweet messages Gemma 🙂 I have already had two good lessons this morning and the temperature has dropped so I’m feeling much more spritely… It was weird, it was definitely the most homesick I’ve felt!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loneliness is a terrible thing and being “overseas” can make things worse, even though geographically you are no further in terms of time, than say catching a train to Durham. Hers’s one for you – how about “busking” a lesson and seeing how that goes. One thing I have learnt over the years and that is to prepare, but also go “off piste” as you never know where it might take you. Viel Spaß und sagen Hallo zu Ihrer Mama und Papa für mich wenn sie über kommen. ‘ O ‘ Niveau deutscher 1979 – M

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Your German prowess is second to none, Herr Bailey! I’ll have to fight those teacher urges to correct your grammar 😉
      You’re quite right that London – Berlin is probably a shorter trip timewise than Surrey – Durham (if EasyJet behaves…!) but sometimes it feels worlds away. I think I need to embrace Skype a little more and I have already resolved to stop planning every infinitesimal detail of my lessons and go with the flow a little more (which doesn’t come naturally!)
      You might not be surprised to know that your idea of ‘busking a lesson’ is a whole ideological field in English Language Teaching called Dogme ELT 😉
      Have fun on that mammoth journey of yours – Ich bin sehr neidisch!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. klloyd05 says:

    We often have the feeling of being torn between two places when we visit the uk. You see friends and family who have done things you’ve missed out on, you see people who have beautiful houses (this perhaps happens when you’re a bit older!) and useful technology and you walk around massive supermarkets and drool at the range of products there are.
    But then we remember why we chose this lifestyle, that when we had access to all this we were frustrated with it and the excitement and constant interest of a non 9-5 lifestyle. During those afterwork evenings back in the uk we were bored and we wanted more opportunities to travel, see new places and experience new things. Ok it comes with LONG days, potential weekend work and evenings and weekends spend studying, on Twitter or watching webinars/online conferences but you’re always learning and moving forwards.
    We find when we get back if we do some of our favourite things in our adopted city, meet up with friends there and plan our next adventures, the feeling soon fades away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks for the lovely long comment, Kate; I really appreciate it.
      You’re right, I could just as easily have written a blog post about all the reasons I left my job and came out here, but I thought it’d be interesting to write about the other side for once.
      I do love the flexibility, and being able to cross out whole days on my ‘availability sheet’ which we hand in to our DoS every Wednesday, to receive our timetables for the following week on the Friday. I of course also love the constant opportunity to learn and develop my skills – as a teacher, but also as a writer, blogger (if I can call myself such a thing!) and a keen linguist. But to be fair, as I was recruited into a new digital team in a very traditional print publisher, I was also learning constantly in my old job… It’s just different!
      I love Berlin really; I love the buzz I get after a successful lesson and I love when 1-to-1 students ask specifically for me again… and I’m sure I’ll fall back in love with it again in no time 🙂 I’ve also applied for 4 IATEFL scholarships so I’m desperately crossing my fingers that I get to experience that part of this wonderful world! I am now jabbering so I shall just say thanks for stopping by and reassuring me 🙂

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  5. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for writing this post – I think it’s important to reflect on all the aspects of our job, not just the ones which go right all the time.
    I used to get frustrated at spending so much time on public transport, but without it I would probably never have discovered podcasts – that was part of my me time, and/or the only time I got to read a book if I was sitting down!
    Planning will get easier and more relaxed as you continue – remember that you’re still only in your first year of teaching, and that’s definitely the most intensive year.
    With homesickness, I tend to find it’s a passing (though recurring) phase, and normally goes away as you fill your time more. Skype is amazing for helping with it too – I never use it as much as I plan to, but am hoping to change that when Iget to my next destination 😉 It’s a natural part of being away from home, but the experiences you have abroad more than make up for it I think. In the end, you remember the brief times when you were sad and the many many times when you were happy.
    I’m glad to see that some sleep and few positive days have helped though 🙂
    Sandy
    PS You might be interested in this: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/beginning-again/

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks for this comment, Sandy, and sorry I only just saw it! (Must get better at checking my Gmail account, to which all the notifications are sent!)
      You’re completely right about the transport time – actually I really like the ‘me’ time because I’m generally terrible at sitting down and relaxing otherwise. I am also a podcast fan, and have recently discovered the app ‘Pocket’ for reading people’s blog posts and interesting articles I find on Twitter offline, which is great with the few MB of internet I can afford on my smartphone here 🙂 If you don’t have it, I definitely recommend it!
      After some great classes at the end of last week, and a fantastic long weekend with some German friends I’m feeling much better – and my parents are visiting this weekend which will take the edge of last week’s homesickness for sure!
      I hope everything in Poland goes brilliantly at the start of your time there, and I look forward to reading/hearing all about it 🙂

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  6. I didn’t realise I had nicked your preferred blog title 🙂 I think the planning definitely gets quicker over time. When I started teaching in Spain, I spent hours planning for every class whereas now I have usually taught a similar class before and can plan quickly.

    I’m sure you’ll feel better about Berlin soon, especially when all the wasps go away and the weather gets more like home.

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    • BerLingo says:

      Hehe well it’s a pretty excellent self-explanatory title I thought 🙂
      I am definitely getting better at planning – back teaching beginners this week though, and that takes me a lot longer!

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  7. Also, could you send me an email – teachingenglishinberlin@gmail.com. You don’t have a contact form here so I couldn’t send you an email. Potential working opportunity.

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