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.
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.
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!