Written on Thursday, 19th November
For some reason, I’ve now found some new energy and enthusiasm for blogging and, en route to a new company class this afternoon, I had an idea for a new post which might be helpful for other people thinking about moving to Berlin to teach English.
I actually arrived 45 minutes too early for this company class (how embarrassing) so I had time to sit in their very hipster foyer, complete with very hipster fishtank and assorted Nespresso-like machines and do some scribbling. I had to pretend I belonged, at least!
So, my day today looks like this:
8am – 9.30am: class with a lovely A2-ish Russian lady at a software company in Kreuzberg, who started lessons earlier this year and is learning at the speed of light. This is a class I was given by the Berlin School of English.
9.30 – 11am: class with three wonderful B2-ish (solid intermediate) students at the same software company, which is located in the roof apartment of a seriously gorgeous building (complete with standing desks and barbecues on the roof which they use in summer!) This class is of course also from the Berlin School of English.
12.30 – 14.00 (not 12.00 – 13.30 as I had clearly decided!): brand new class for a new ‘language services’ organisation in a new company in an equally cool building overlooking the river.
15.15 – 16.45: a fairly new B1-ish (intermediate) class of steel workers who are based on an industrial estate out on the edges of Berlin (ie. the end of the U7 underground line, and then a 10-minute bus journey!)
I live much more centrally in the city now than I used to, but I have just calculated that this day contains approximately 4 hours of travelling in total! If I still lived in Weißensee in the northeast, this would certainly be longer. The new addition of the lunchtime class, and the cooperation with a second ‘language school’ is new for me this week, so I’ve never actually had such a crazy day before in terms of company hopping. Usually, I have some respite in the afternoon back at the Berlin School of English to teach the third lesson of the intensive courses from 13.15 – 14.45. However, even that was quite stressful as I’d then have to hot-foot it down to Rudow. As it happened, then, this new class fits a bit better in the middle of the day, but does see me out of the house and away from school all day.
This got me thinking: what are the advantages and disadvantages between working in a more traditional language school environment versus a more typical freelance lifestyle of hopping from company to company?
So, in true WordPress style, I give you a list of exactly that, according to my own experiences and opinions (as ever!)
Advantages of a language school
- For me, the most important benefit here is the community: I technically have around 40 other colleagues – some of whom I see much more often; some of whom only rarely appear in the staff room. We all share ideas, help each other out in a teaching crisis, and rant to each other about problem students in the staff room.
- In this same vein, you *should* also have management staff in a language school, typically a Director of Studies and/or an Assistant Director of Studies, whose primary purpose is to look after the well-being of their teaching staff. Our DoS was my CELTA tutor, and is a wonderfully patient man, so I feel very lucky indeed that we’re able to ask for help when we need it. As our school tends to recruit a lot from the CELTA course it runs (makes sense), it’s common that lots of us are fairly new to ELT as a profession, and they couldn’t be more helpful.
- This brings me nicely to another point: induction. At the Berlin School of English, the senior staff run through a whole induction system with you, explain how the intensive courses work; how the staff room works and what to do with all the blue bits of paper! You don’t feel like you’re thrown in at the deep end, and you’re also very well supported in terms of your first few lessons with each new class.
- You also have somewhere to leave your things. I have already developed a reputation for being a bit of an organisational freak, so have been lucky enough to be given not just one, but two whole pigeon holes in our wall of filing chaos. I file and keep my best lessons, my class files and assorted other teaching things, and I even have space for some PG Tips and a little squeezy bottle of Robinsons Squash : ) Along the same lines, there is also endless free coffee, tea, milk and use of a fridge and microwave, so you really can live at school quite happily (as I often did at the beginning of my time here.)
- Cancellation policy: at our school, you get paid for the class if your student(s) cancel within less than 24 hours of the class, which is sometimes a real gem if you’ve prepared a great lesson and then get told they’re ill/still in a meeting/stuck on the U-Bahn etc etc. Then you have a ready-made lesson for next week and can save yourself the prep time!
- Since I teach in such a large language school, the hours are pretty regular: after six months of teaching, I now have six of my own company classes and two individual classes, which guarantees me at least 9 classes worth of work each week – just about enough to pay the bills.
Disadvantages of a language school
- The most famous disadvantage is unfortunately the pay. In comparison to what I know colleagues teaching directly in companies are paid, we are not paid fantastically. But, as per my last point above, the hours are more regular so it’s swings and roundabouts really! I expect few people come to Berlin to teach English to get rich anyway…!
- If you’re into materials-free, dogme ELT, then a language school is not necessarily the place for you. For our intensive courses, we have to follow a plan in order to comply with various regulations from the job office, from where we get a lot of students. However, saying that, I can teach exactly what I like in my company classes, so I find it’s a nice mixture. (Sometimes it’s great to be told you have to teach the Present Perfect 3 because then you’re not spoilt for choice and consequently overwhelmed!)
- There can be a lot of paperwork: files to fill out to write down what you’ve done, vocabulary topics to add, availability sheets… If you don’t like admin, then it might be a little overwhelming at first, but you do get into a routine. (Thanks to the lovely Gosia who write the fantastic Lesson Plans Digger blog for this addition!)
I actually can’t think of any other language school disadvantages at the moment… So onto the other side of the coin!
Advantages of being a *true* freelance English teacher, teaching directly in companies with no middle man
- Without wanting to sound like I’m obsessed with money (because I’m really not), this approach is generally much better paid. I can offer vague numbers from friends I know: €60 per 90 minutes to teach in a company with no middle-man like a language school. I won’t give away exactly what the BSE pays, as I don’t think that’s fair, but it’s a damn sight less than that!
- You are free to teach exactly what you want: no rules, nobody watching you, and no official office to answer to (the most of the time, anyway).
On the flip side, there are disadvantages to this:
- It could be lonely, spending your week hopping around the city from company to company on your own. You have no colleagues to laugh and joke around with, nor to discuss your classes with.
- You don’t have anywhere to leave your things, make yourself a tea or leave your lunch. Today I feel a lot like a gypsy as I have all my snacks and lunch with me, and it’s a lot to lug around!
- You have to be quite strict in terms of cancellations in order to get your money. This can require some serious bravery if you’re not great at negotiating.
- You have to manage, and even produce all your own paperwork. For things like invoices and taxes this can be pretty straightforward after a while, but it’s also a good idea to document everything you do with each class so you don’t accidentally repeat things; and that kind of paperwork can easily back up if you don’t keep on top of it.
Of course, there are numerous variations on these two themes: I have chosen to contrast the two very opposing models of teaching. In Berlin particularly, there are lots of language organisations which send you directly into companies (David McFetridge works for one of the more famous and best established, for example, and will most likely have some thoughts on this topic to bulk out my list!) where a staff room and lots of help is offered. Equally, there are undoubtedly language schools which have no real community to speak of, where people show up to teach their classes and don’t hang around to prepare and chat like we do. At the end of the day, you need to decide what’s right for you! I like the mixture I have at the moment, but we’ll see what the future brings!
If you are teaching English in Berlin, or anywhere else for that matter, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. In my current state of sleep deprivation, it’s highly likely I’ve forgotten something important…
I have received lots of comments on Twitter about this post, and with their posters’ permission, I include them anonymised here for some further thoughts on this issue. Do you agree?
‘I think everyone should work for a language school at least once. It is a great way to learn!’
‘…[I have a] very similar lifestyle, travelling, but I don’t get bored!’