Category Archives: Teaching

Driving 101

I am a car guy, I love cars.  My first car, when I was 10 years old, was a 1973 VW Beetle.  I’ve had my license since I was 16, had many, many cars and driven more than the average number of kms both for work and pleasure.

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One of my commitments to myself in moving back to the Czech Republic was that I would get a car. Of course this means I also need a Czech driving license.  You are not able to get a Czech license on your initial six month visa, but once you have a residence permit you are not legally allowed to use your foreign license anymore. There are people who have lived here for years and still use a North American license but I am not willing to risk it.

Why is it a challenge?  Canada does not belong to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.  This means that in order to get a license here (or anywhere in Europe) I need to go to driving school.

What does driving school mean here?

Class “B” – theory lessons:
Regulations on vehicle operation 5 lessons
Regulations on driving and maintenance 1 lesson
Driving theory and safe driving practices 3 lessons
Basic first aid 1 lesson
Revision and practice test 1 lesson
Class “B” – driving/practice lessons
Driving – closed course 2 lessons
Driving – light traffic 5 lessons
Driving – normal traffic 12 lessons
Driving – heavy traffic/difficult driving conditions 9 lessons
Vehicle maintenance practice 2 lessons
First aid practice 4 lessons

One lesson = 45 minutes.

This is a rather large commitment!  And prices range from 10,000Kč and up.  In the end I chose a school called Amos, in Dejvická.  It was recommended by my girlfriend and they offered me the course without charging an English language supplement.  The instructor speaks as much English as I speak Czech, so although I don’t need driving lessons, I am getting Czech lessons out of this.  If you don’t have any Czech, or driving experience, spend the extra money and get an instructor who speaks English.

Medical

You will need to find a doctor to give you a medical exam before you can start at school.  This proved a challenge and in the end I found a very small clinic that did it for 400Kč.  You can download the form here.

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We have now completed all the necessary drives around Prague.  The school also supplied me with badly translated English versions of all the pertinent regulations to study.

One grey area is that I am still waiting for my long term residence card.  I have been assured that as long as I can prove I have lived here over 185 days, and can provide my passport and address information, they will allow me to take the tests.

Sites you might find useful:

Czech online test system.  Note there are printed tests available and you can translate these as I have done.

Online intersection tests.  Again in Czech, but it will give you an idea what to expect.

What next?  

I am scheduled for a written test at the magistrates office in Vršovice.  For this I have to bring a registered translator.  Cost is 700Kč for the test (this will include the driving test fee).  The translator charges 1,500Kč.

After this, but the same week, I will have the driving test at my school in Dejvická.

Once complete, I should receive the actual license in 10 to 20 days.

Total cost will be approximately 13,200Kč.

I’ll update with more on the experience once it is all done.

 

 

Long term residence permit part three (again!)

Whew!  It has been even quieter than usual here.  I do apologize.

If you have been following, since my last post I have been waiting for my residence approval. There was a complication. At the end of December I received a nice letter stating two things:

  1. My proof of income had been rejected as it was not in Czech.  This was my fault as I took a risk sending printouts from the website rather than certified copies.  FIO was able to give me a summary of all months in one giant statement and only charged one fee. 120Kč.
  2. They wanted me to prove I made enough money not only to support myself, by also my partner. In 2012 I had applied for a partnership visa with my Czech girlfriend, after nine months of trying to provide enough information to make them happy we finally broke up and I went back to Canada just long enough to reset my Schengen clock.  Being asked to prove I could support a partner I no longer had, and that they never accepted I had, was interesting.

So, I mailed (by registered mail) my updated a bank statements as well as a notarized místopřísežné prohlášení, a document my ex signed to state we were no longer partners.

On January 11th my application number appeared on the approval spreadsheet.  I had a friend call and make an appointment for January 28th.  This means my application took from October 15th to January 11th to be approved – 89 days.

On January 28th I went back to the Chodov office for my biometrics appointment.  They took my photo and fingerprints.  They also verified my address.

One complication.  They now wanted my expired residence card from when I lived here in 2014.  This is the first time it was mentioned, no one has ever asked to see it or verify it as I was starting over again.  I offered to bring it back when I pick up my card, that seemed to satisfy them.  They issued an approval document and gave me an appointment to come back to pick up the card (as well as pay the 2,500Kč fee in kolek).

The final steps:

On February 18th I went back to the office at Chodov and picked up my shiny new dlouhodoby pobyt and paid the 2,500Kč.  I am now legal until November 2017.

The following Monday I returned to the zivnostensky office where they copied my new residence card and issued my zivno with the same expiration date as my permit.

Total cost of this entire process:  2,880Kč (primarily the actual fee for the permit)

I’m now done this lovely process until the fall of 2017.

Moved? Change of address on your initial six month visa.

Last month I moved to a new flat, which means I needed to change my address with the Ministry of Interior / Foreign Police.  If you recall, after arriving back from an embassy with your shiny new visa it is necessary to go and register and have your address stamped into your passport. You have 30 days to change your address if you move.  The good news is you can make an appointment to do this and if you live in Prague or Central Bohemia they now have one central number to do this.  I would recommend having a Czech friend call and make an appointment for you.  They will need your information including name, date of birth, passport number and new address location – there are different offices based on what district of Prague you live in.

You will need to take your passport as well as a housing document – either your original signed lease (in Czech) OR a notarized confirmation of housing.  See details here, but remember these documents most be in the name of and signed by the actual owner of the flat and good for at least the duration of your visa.  They will check the owner in the building registry.

My appointment was for one week later at the lovely office in Chodov…..

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Which is, honestly, not my favourite place on the planet.  It is always very busy with lots of stressed clients and equally overworked employees.  Come early.  Bring patience.  What I learned this trip is that if you have an appointment you can go straight to the first floor, but what was not so obvious is that you need to go to the machine, find yourself on the list of people and then it will print you a number.  You may need to scroll ahead quite some ways if you are early.

The good news is I was in an out in 30 minutes, no drama, my limited Czech was enough and I am now 100% legal again.

Reflections on teaching, take two – how to get ahead

If you have been following my blog you might have read my reflections on teaching after my first year here in Prague.  I’ve now been back for three months.  It’s been a little quiet on my blog, but traffic shows people are still dropping by to get information.

Now that I have my own flat again…

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…and had time for a little trip to the lovely city of Carcassonne in France…

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…I have a chance to update you on what it is like coming back.

So, what have I learned?  Strangely, if I had to give ONE piece of advice to ESL teachers who have been working for a couple of years I’d say:  Quit.  Then start over.

Now, this may seem like strange advice, but it is not so different from the way people have to leapfrog from company to company to move up the corporate ladder.

What has changed?

Value of experience – time:

After returning I very slowly took on new classes to try to build a good schedule.  I quickly found that most people want someone with a couple of years experience.  This puts you at the top of the list, and gives you the opportunity to pick and choose the classes more than the first time around.  The result?  My week now looks like this:

Monday:  16:00 to 21:00

Tuesday:  08:00 to 09:30 and 17:30 to 21:00

Wednesday: 08:00 to 20:00 with very few breaks

Thursday:  08:00 to 12:30 and again from 18:30 to 21:00

Friday: 09:30 to 10:30

This compact schedule allows me plenty of spare time to lesson plan as well as extended weekends to travel without huge opportunity cost.  I am averaging around 21 hours (not teaching hours which are 45 minutes) per week, and could easily take more if I wanted to.

Value of experience – money:

When I left Prague in the fall of 2014, my best rate was 350Kc per hour (60 minutes) and most classes were still at 300Kc per hour.  Since I have been back many of my classes are at 375Kc per hour or better, all the way up to 500Kc per hour.  This may not sound like much but 300 to 375 represents a 25% increase in pay.  Factor this by my average hours and, allowing for cancellations, that equals 28,000 to 31,000Kc per month.  A much better wage that I was making last time around.

Value of experience – variety:

Where in 2014 I was working for two schools and a handful of private students, in June 2015 I sent out 10 different invoices.  These ranged from schools (one large and two small ones) to direct to companies as well as individual students.  On top of this I still maintain four individual students who pay by cash.  Not only does this give me more control over what course to take, it gives me the security of being able to drop a class or contract and not starve to death.

The variety also makes teaching more interesting.  Currently my students include IT professionals, accountants, homemakers and students.  I teach mostly as close to home as possible including skype lessons to students in Poland and Germany. I also spend one day per week in another Czech city where I can work the entire day as well as take my own Czech classes.

Bottom line:

Even if you don’t intend to leave Prague and return like I did, it might be an idea to drop classes that are not profitable or enjoyable so that you can make room for the good stuff.

The quick and easy visa process, part two – the appointment.

Getting there:

At midnight on Monday the 6th of April I caught the Student Agency bus from Florenc.  Transit time to Vienna should have been 4.5 hours, but the first bus had issues and we had to return to Prague and switch to another bus.  My visa appointment was at 9:30 and I had considered taking the 3:30 am bus but, after my bus broke down, I was happy I had taken the midnight bus.  The bus drops you at Stadion bus station on the U2 Bahn line in Vienna.  My intention was to walk around all morning (I’ve been to Vienna twice and don’t have any need to see much more) but it was so cold that instead I went to Westbahnhof and hung out eating fresh bread, drinking tea and using the free wifi.  Cost:  Student Agency bus (return) 976kc plus two Bahn tickets at €2.20 each.

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From Westbahnhof it is a pleasant 25 minute walk along Mariahilfer Strasse to the Embassy. There are also trams that will take you most of the way there.  There are many nice shops and cafes on the way and you will also pass the Technical Museum.  The entrance to the visa section is down the left side of the building.

The Appointment:

I arrived a few moments early for my appointment and was greeted by the friendly staff who took all of my documents and my €91 (in cash, exact change required).  Moments later I was invited into the office where I was asked a series of questions:

  • what do I intend to do in the Czech Republic?
  • how long do I intend to stay?
  • how much money do I plan to earn every month?
  • where do I live in Prague?
  • how much is my rent?
  • how many people do I share a flat with?
  • do I have a Czech bank account?
  • when did I first visit the Czech Republic?
  • when did I arrive in the Czech Republic this time?
  • when did I previously live in the Czech Republic?

At this point I also supplied copies of my previous visa and residence card.  I brought up the fact that I am studying Czech and used a few well rehearsed phrases to emphasize this.  Interestingly I was NOT asked what I would do if my visa was not ready by the time my 90 day Schengen limit expires on May 19th.  The staff translated my statement into Czech, read it all back to me in English and then had me sign the application document.  I received a stamp in my passport to show I had applied for a visa and a receipt with a reference number.  The staff informed me that the process can take up to three months, but that I would likely hear from someone sooner by email.  They were friendly, polite, helpful and even thanked me for being so well organized. The entire visit lasted about one hour.

Getting back:

When I originally booked my ticket I chose the 15:40 return bus that would get me to Prague around 20:00.  Out on the street at 10:30 in the morning I was at a loss as to what to do, so I returned to Westbahnhof and used the free internet to look for an earlier bus.  Student Agency allows free changes up to one hour before departure so I was able to switch to a 12:40 bus that would get my home by 17:00.  This left time for a stroll, lunch at the Stadion shopping centre and then onto the bus with time to spare.

Of course there was construction on the way home and we had to take a rural detour….

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…but it was a good trip and I was happy to be back home and into my bed.  10.5 hours bus travel time for a one hour meeting! And now I wait, patiently, for the email to tell me my visa is ready to be picked up.  Watch for the final installment sometime soon!

Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Solstice too.  Veselé Vánoce a šťastný Nový rok.

If you’ve been following, I’m sorry it’s been so quiet here!  Traffic statistics show that people are still coming by and I hope the information has been valuable.  Watch this space as the information will all get updated, verified and put to the test very soon – I’m going to do it all again!

This has been an interesting three months back in Canada.  I’ve learned that I have changed, perhaps more than I thought I had.  My friends advice about visiting before moving back would have been good to follow I guess but now I can move on with more clarity and certainty.

Although my Plan has not yet come together, I think it will all come together and I can leave North America behind with a clear conscience.

See you soon in Prague, and if anyone who is following is now in Prague I would love to meet up to compare notes and see how life is treating you.  I would also love to know of any opportunities people know of in Prague or elsewhere – I’m game to try just about anything.

See you around!

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Time to wrap things up!

If you read my previous post you might remember that I was debating if I should stay or go.  It was very hard to finally decide, but the combination of looking for new or better contracts, a better offer elsewhere and my impending residence permit renewal resulted in a decision.

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So, if you are in the same position I am, there are a couple of things you need to do before you go.

Cancel or suspend your živnostenský list:

To do this will require a visit to the same office you got the zivno from in the first place.  You can actually suspend it, but only up to the expiry date, so this is not very helpful for us North Americans unless you are just leaving for the summer and want to avoid social service tax.  In my case cancellation was the only option.

Do this before month end so you can avoid paying extra social service tax.   Good news!  There is no charge!  Finally, something for free!  My office in Prague 7 took one week to complete it.  It does require two visits as you have to apply to cancel it and then go back to sign off on it and they will give you a document proving you cancelled it.  Save this document.

The zivno office will also notify social service tax you are leaving, but they recommend you visit them to make sure the assessment is stopped.

Cancel your social service tax:

Again you want to do this before month end so you aren’t assessed for the following month, 1894Kc is still 1894Kc!  With my zivno cancellation letter in hand I dropped by my social service tax office.  They will have you fill out a form to cancel your business activities and stop the tax.  While my zivno office speaks a little English, here I took along a letter to help me communicate what I wanted to do.  A Czech speaking friend might be helpful.  **Remember that they amount you pay each month is for the previous month, so even if you cancel this month you still need to pay once more**.

And that is about it!  For now.  Make sure you keep records of all these things as you will need them next year for, you guessed it, TAXES!

 

 

 

Should I stay or should I go?

If you’ve been teaching in Prague for any length of time you have seen the revolving door that is ESL.  People come, people go.  Very quickly.  Some of us plan it this way, ESL is a means to an end and a way to spend some time in Europe.  Others, like me, didn’t really come into this with an end plan or an exit strategy.

Just recently I terminated my contracts at both my schools which leaves me with only my private students as of September 1.  So now the big decisions come:  stay (and get my shit together to work for companies directly or fill my private student schedule) or pack it in and return to British Columbia (and familiar territory as well as a challenging but well paid career in the automotive industry).

Prague is a spectacular city, it really is.  High praise from me as I am not at all a city person.

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Teaching can be a rewarding  job.  I meet lots of interesting people, I have control over my schedule and am not sitting in an office or, god forbid, a cubicle.  On the other hand there are some challenges:  the compensation is quite poor, schedules can be erratic and you don’t have the benefit of co-workers to interact with.

The compensation is a particular sticking point.  If I was choosing between an entry level job in Canada or teaching here it would be a reasonable comparison, but I am not.  Compared to other teachers I know I am in a slightly different dilemma as back in Canada I am a professional while here I am “just another” ESL teacher.  A good teacher, but still easily replaced.

Other considerations?  It does get tiring always being a foreigner, always struggling at least a bit with the language and the culture. Immigration is an ongoing challenge as well as it needs to be renewed every two years at the most.   The appeal of something familiar, comfortable and easy is hard to ignore.

Oh, and a car!  Gosh I miss owning a car and a motorcycle.  (for those from North America that are new here, your license is not transferable.  You need to go back to driving school before you can ever consider a car here, and then consider the cost and fuel at $2 a litre).

But British Columbia, Squamish in particular but Vancouver as well, are hard to beat for beauty and nature.

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Most of the people I have met in Europe that learn I am a) Canadian b) from British Columbia and c) from outside Vancouver have one simple question:  Why?  What are you doing here?

Sometimes I can’t answer them in a way that satisfies either them or me.  Squamish is a recreation  capitol, full of places to hike, mountain bike and climb.  Although it is certainly more expensive than Prague, the earning potential is so much more that it makes the math look ridiculous.

Work is a definite consideration.  Teaching ESL has a plateau, you will never move past a certain level and would need to work very hard indeed to make a salary that will cover more than expenses.  This is particularly true of you want to travel outside of the Czech Republic as the crown does not go far at all in euro countries.  Working in automotive has it’s own challenges but the pay scale is exponentially better than teaching.

And of course my family and friends are back in Canada.

 

Watch this space.  Decisions will come, and I’ll document the process either way.  You can expect to either see “how to exit teaching” or ” how to grown your teaching career”.

 

 

 

The trials and joys of teaching over the summer months…

Ah, summer in Prague!  Beer gardens, walks in the park, long warm days.  You’ll wish you had more time to be outside instead of teaching.  Fortunately you most likely will.  This applies to teachers like me who work for schools or private students and teach either in companies or privately, if you teach children in a school setting you were already expecting to have free time over the summer.

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When you take TEFL training, and even when you accept a contract with a school, nobody mentions that your summers will be quieter than you expected.  This is my second summer in Prague and now I know what to expect, but the first summer was a little stressful.  If you are new to the ESL world be aware:

Students take vacation.  This is normal and expected of course, but it leaves you with holes in your schedule and since they are all early cancellations this also means holes in your income.

Classes get cancelled for the summer.  You would think this isn’t a surprise to the schools but somehow it seems to be.  I thought maybe it was just my school but a random survey of other teachers confirms this.  Three of my 90 minute classes took the summer off and I wasn’t informed until the day of my final class with them.  Not a nice surprise!  The loss of 1350 per week is noticeable.

Classes end.  This happens at other times of the year as well, but expect it in June as it is the end of the semester.  Some classes run on terms and, again, your school might not warn you in advance.

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What to do to cope with this problem?

Save.  Those busy winter and spring months are the time to put something away for now.

Ask your students.  In the late spring I have a lesson I do that is all about travel and vacations and I have adapted it to work in most of my classes.  This is a perfect time to simply ask “Hey, what vacation plans do you have?  What happens to your ESL classes over the summer?”.  Don’t expect your school to communicate this to you.  Avoid surprises.  Alternatively, ask your school – they will certainly be asking you about your summer plans so it is a perfect time to have this conversation.

Take your own vacation.  If you are planning to take a break, this is a good time to do it with a minimum loss of income.

Take on substitutions.  The one upside here is that summer is also when other teachers will leave – either for the summer or for good.  If you are staying and can be flexible you can take on extra classes. I’ve worked hard to be on good terms with the person in my school who handles substitutions.

Try intensive courses.  If your school offers intensive English programs you might be able to get involved.  These will be high intensity, up to eight hours a day of teaching for anywhere from one day to a week.  The benefits are a good experience and a great way to top up your earnings while not really needing to cancel many of your normal classes.

Not to worry, come September things will pick up again and you’ll look back on these quite summer months fondly.

Enjoy the summer!

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Reflections on teaching, one year down the road.

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Whew!  It’s hard to be believe I’ve been here over a year already!  Time flies.

2014 has been challenging.  My accident in January kind of side-tracked me but I am back on track, more or less.  Over the last four days I had a chance to teach a high intensity English/presentation skills workshop and it was a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come since May of 2013.

The good stuff….

In the last year I have met fantastic students.  Some genuinely interesting and motivated people have sat across from me.

I’ve gotten to see inside many companies in Prague and see how they operate.  There are such a variety of places to teach and that part is never boring.

My skills have improved exponentially.  What would have terrified me a year ago is commonplace now, no stress at all!  It’s a nice feeling.

I’ve seen Prague through the seasons, cold and wet, hot and humid and everything in between.  We’ve had storms that sneak up in the middle of afternoon and dump centimetres of hail on my window ledge.

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What has changed dramatically from the start is my balance between private students and school students and I hope to continue to add more private students as time goes by.

And the challenges…

Cancellations are, in my opinion, the biggest challenge to face a teacher.  People get sick. People go on vacation.  People are busy.  There are weeks where it feels like you didn’t teach anyone at all.

Communication with schools is my second most challenging issue.  Often you will be contacted last minute to take a class and only after scrambling to try to accommodate will you find out that, in the end, it was cancelled.

Maybe the less obvious challenge is keeping things fresh.  I have conversation students that I’ve been teaching for a year – that is 50+ classes of conversation and it can take an effort to come up with new ideas.

Recommendations for new teachers?

Recycle.  Recycle.  Recycle.  Try to take classes of similar levels and goals so that you can use material many times, even if you have to adjust it slightly it saves time over creating new material.

Back to backs are your friend!  Push hard to find classes that fit together thus saving you transit time.  If you are about to accept a new class be sure to ask yourself what the opportunity cost is – what else could you fit in that time?

Relax.  Be yourself.  If you work for a school you will face observations, these are a good opportunity for feedback but be sure to separate technical feedback from stylistic feedback.  We are all individuals.

Have fun with it!