Monthly Archives: September, 2013

One week of teaching ESL…

one week

This post is primarily aimed at new and prospective teachers, others following my blog might not find it very exciting!

Here is what a typical week looks like for an in-company teacher.  Teachers on contract to one specific school can expect something completely different.  Keep in mind I am self employed and work for two different schools as well as teach my own students.  No two weeks are ever quite the same as there are always cancellations, some early cancellations (where you don’t get paid – either 24 hours ahead or by 5 the previous day depending on your agreement) and some late or on arrival cancellations (still annoying, but at least you get paid for them).  During the last four months I have had a 22% overall early cancellation rate.

I teach about 20 classes per week, one to one and groups, either 60 or 90 minutes and covering all levels of students.


A word about lesson planning: 

I purposely keep most of Monday free for lesson planning.  No doubt some teachers do planning every day, I like to do it all at once and then not think about it again.   It takes me about 6 hours of steady work to prepare lesson plans for my week as well as a trip to my main school to print out the necessary material.  It cost about 900Kc to buy a printer/scanner/copier and it was money well spent as I scan any texts I need, this means I only have to take a memory stick to my school and I have a scanned copy on file with my lesson plan should I ever want to teach that lesson again.  And I almost certainly will!  Remember you aren’t being paid for this time, so making a flexible lesson plan that covers many lessons might take longer to write but in the end saves a lot of planning.

Number one tip for lesson planning?  Recycle, recycle, recycle.  Material can be used for different levels and different classes.  Keep everything!


A word about commuting:

You’ll see below that I spend a lot of time commuting.  This is unavoidable when teaching in-company and private students.   Some teachers plan while they commute but so far my experience is that I am almost always in full buses, trams and metros with little chance to sit down.  As much as possible try to “block” your classes to eliminate commuting time.  I live in Holešovice and have purposely taken classes that can be reached conveniently and quickly.

Number one tip for commuting?  Don’t take a new course without knowing where it is and how it fits into your plan.

The week in review.


Other than lesson planning I had three classes on Monday:

08:00  Karlin.  One hour private conversation covering business and economics topic with some grammar review.  Not my normal day for this student but I try to be flexible.

16:30  Holešovice. One hour in company pre-intermediate group lesson based on a textbook.  Two out of four students were present and the lesson focused on happiness and what makes people happy.

17:30  One hour in the same company with an upper-intermediate group.  One out of five students present, a student I had never met before, so I quickly switched gears to a backup one to one lesson with personal conversation and lots of error correction.

Total teaching time three hours, total commuting time about 50 minutes.


08:00  Skalka.  One hour upper intermediate one to one conversation lesson at a large power company.  An enjoyable class with lots of conversation about economics and the economy of Europe.

14:00  Hlavní nádraží.  One hour intermediate group conversation lesson at a finance company.  Two very talkative students and a great lesson about words to describe food.

16:45  Holešovice.  One hour private lesson at my flat with a very nice student interested in all kinds of topics.  I re-used some of my earlier food lesson plan but adjusted for a slightly higher level student.

18:00  Holešovice.  One hour upper intermediate group lesson at an online marketing company.  After arriving and getting setup I waited, and waited and then eventually sent an SMS to see where my two students were – one missing, one sick.  Packed up and went home.

Total teaching time three hours plus one paid hour for a late cancellation.  Commute time about two hours.


07:30  Budějovická.  90 minute one to one advanced business conversation lesson at a different power company.  This student is very busy and had been away for a month so we focused on general conversation as well as a short video on the importance of sleep.

09:30  Still in Budějovická but at a different company for another one to one 90 minute lesson but this time with an intermediate student.  We focused on vocabulary for the student’s specific industry.

12:30  Not enough time to go home so after hanging out and having a snack in Budějovická it was back to Skalka area for yet another 90 minute one to one lesson with an advanced student.  This particular student is very talkative and interesting and the time usually goes by quite quickly.  I brought along a conversation starter document about desk jobs and the working environment.

15:30  After a quick stop at home for a tea it was off on foot to the final class of the day.  Another 90 minute upper intermediate business conversation.  Again I brought along a conversation, this time about Greece and the crisis.

Total teaching time six hours.  Commute time just under two hours.


Normally my Thursday would start at 07:30 but this student was away on vacation.

08:30  U Elektry (Prague 8).  Normally blocked with the 07:30 class these two classes are at a small marketing company.  Currently the trams are under construction so what used to take me 20 minutes on one tram now takes 35 and involves three transfers.  A good intermediate student and a fun class with telephone role-playing.

13:00  Budějovická.  After a stop at home for a break and lunch it was back to Budějovická.  A 90 minute pre-intermediate group class focused on general English and textbook based.  Although I usually only get two from the five students in the course they are always interested in the class.

14:30  Still at Budějovická and in the same building which makes a nice block of classes.  A brand new intermediate business student with a 90 minute conversation class.  First classes usually go well and it is a good chance to learn what the student needs and wants.

18:00  After another stop at home for a light lunch it was off to the same class I teach on Tuesdays at 18:00. This time they showed up but were both very sick.

Total teaching time five hours with a commute time of about two and a half hours.


Whew, just about there!

08:00 Roztyly.  A one to one advanced general conversation class and the furthest I travel during the week.  It was a good class, recycling some of my previous sleep lessons and adding some new material for the advanced student.

11:30  Once again in Holešovice for the first of two back to back one hour classes.  This student is quite advanced, and very very busy so the lesson both started late and ended early.

13:30  Last class of the day and the week and it ended with the second one to one class, this student is upper intermediate business and quite a good conversationalist.

Total teaching time three hours with a commute time of about one hour and forty minutes.

There is a lot of variety in a week, it is one of the best things about teaching.  On the other hand for the 21 paid hours of teaching I had an additional nine hours of commuting plus six hours of prep time.  Of course there is also down time between classes where you can’t really do anything or go anywhere, but none the less aren’t working.

To put it in simple perspective, assuming you don’t get a huge number of cancellations you can expect about a 36 to 40 hour work week in exchange for about 25,000Kc before taxes.  Not fantastic, but not unreasonable in Prague.


Canadian, eh?


Being Canadian isn’t something I give a lot of thought to, we usually aren’t a very patriotic people and I’m less patriotic than most.  One of the things I admire about a lot of the people I meet is a distinct sense of culture.  Most or my students can easily point to something they consider to be “Czech” – often beer or food – and then ask me to tell them something that is typically Canadian and I am at a loss.  It is too big a country with too many different cultures mixed in.  Usually at this point it comes up that I don’t like hockey, and can’t even skate.   Still, many of my students want to know something about Canada.

Fortunately a friend recently posted something that helps me explain some things about Canada and also works wonderfully to demonstrate how not all English is equal.  Or comprehensible.  Language can indeed be a barrier to communication:

“I’m going to collect the loonies and toonies out of my knapsack and head to The Beer Store for a two-four.  On my way back, I’ll pick us up a double-double and some timbits, then we can have that back bacon for breakfast.  If you spill your Tim’s because I’m driving 20 clicks over the speed limit, I’ll give you a serviette to use in the washroom.  And don’t worry—I’ve got a mickey of vodka to put in our caesars. Save me a seat on the chesterfield, eh?”

After reading this I realized that about 90% of my ESL students would have only a vague idea what the hell we were talking about.


Loonies and toonies?  Okay, so we can figure out it is money quick enough.  But what kind of country calls its currency a loonie?  This leads us back to waterfowl – the loon that appears on our dollar coins.  Introduced in 1987 to replace our one dollar bills, they quickly became known as loonies.  So in 1996 when the two dollar coin was introduced the name toonie was quickly adopted despite other suggestions.


Knapsack, rucksack, backpack – all more or less the same thing.  I can’t explain why Canadians adopted a word of German origin to describe this essential accessory.


You will notice it is not the beer store but instead The Beer Store.  Only people from Ontario will see the difference.  When I was a kid I remember it being called Brewers Retail – renaming themselves The Beer Store is marketing brilliance, it’s what everyone called them anyways.


And a two-four?  Easy, we buy our beer in cases of 24, the way nature intended!  The idea of this quantity of beer seems to make many of my students very happy.

Tim Hortons

The next couple of references come from what can only be described as real Canadian food:  Tim Hortons.  Coffee, doughnuts, food, and named after a hockey player – how much more Canadian can it get?  You will find them on every corner, in every town, everywhere.  Starbucks pales by comparison.

Double_Double  timbits

I’m not a coffee drinker, another strike against me as a true Canadian I guess.  Standing in line at Tim’s, as we affectionately call it, you won’t hear anyone order a tall non-fat soy latte.  No way, the most common thing will be an extra-large double-double – 24 oz of coffee with two cream and two sugar.  Not enough sugar to get you going? Add an order of timbits.  What other companies do with the holes they cut out of the doughnuts is a mystery – Tim’s cooks them, covers them in various sweet substances and sells them by the hundreds.


Reflecting our British connections, you will often find the option of back bacon on a breakfast menu – a different cut of meat than the traditional bacon found elsewhere.  Outside of Canada you might find it referred to as Canadian Bacon.  Once again people from Ontario might disagree and call it peameal bacon, a leftover name from when the meat used to be rolled in cornmeal for a distinct taste and yellow colour.


Unlike our friends to the south, Canada uses the metric system.  Kilometres are used for both distance and speed and you will often hear kilometre shortened to “k” or “klicks“.


Need to clean up a little?  Here, have a serviette, or napkin.  Perhaps not as common as it used to be, but still heard all over Canada.  This is also a good time to introduce the idea that we don’t use toilet to describe the place where you go, only the actual toilet.  Washroom, bathroom, restroom, facilities, we will go to any length to avoid saying toilet.


Had enough of all this?  Open that mickey of vodka and let’s kick back and relax.  There seems to be some disagreement about what a mickey is, and where the name came from but it is generally accepted to be about 375ml of alcohol.  Perfect for carrying with you.


If you have some Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce and celery we can make a Caesar.


In your living room you might find a sofa, couch, or chesterfield.  In some places a chesterfield is a specific kind of couch covered in buttons and quite plush, but for us it can be anything multiple people sit on.  It’s becoming an older word and fewer people use it now, but you still might be invited to have a seat on one.

Last, but certainly not least.  Eh?  Canadians will stick this at the end of sentence, always with a question mark.  It’s our way of inviting comment, asking for confirmation or just checking if you were listening.  

Take it easy, eh?