Tag Archives: ESL

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.

School

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.

 

 

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The countdown begins, long term residence permit (again)

I was approved for my six month visa on May 4th, and although I didn’t pick it up until May 15th it expires 6 months from the date of approval  That is November 4th.  A little over six weeks from now.  The appointment for the long term residence or, dlouhodoby pobyt, has to be at least 14 days before the visa expires.  What this means is I realized last week I need to get moving!

These next posts will be a summary, if you want detailed information start back in November 2013 when I did this the first time. If you are new to the idea of moving to the Czech Republic you need to get a six month visa to start and can find details here.

You can find a list of official requirements as well as the application form on the Ministry of Interior website.

Step one:  try to achieve a calm state of mind.  There is some bureaucracy you will need to work through to pull this off, and it makes the initial six month visa and the trip to an embassy seem like a much nicer way to spend time.

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Six weeks out:

Make an appointment at the appropriate Ministry of Interior office.  In Prague they now have a central number for appointments and they will tell you where to go and when.  If your Czech isn’t good (and I admit mine is still very poor) it is best to have a friend call.  They will need your:

  • passport number
  • date of birth
  • full name
  • visa number
  • visa expiration date
  • home address (this determines what office to go to)

They’ll give you an appointment data and time, in my case I asked for a specific one.

Apply for your social service tax clearance letter.  You’ve been paying your 1943Kč every month and now you need to prove it.  Find the appropriate office to go to, which in theory is based on your account number.  For some reason even though I went to the appropriate one I was told I had to go back to where I originally set up my social service account.  I muddled through this in Czech and got a document listing all my payments to date (they issue this on the spot) as well as applied for a bezdlužnost which will take about four weeks and be sent to your home address.  On the application form I had to the list reason for application and I put povolení k pobytu (residence permit).  Cost:  0Kč.

Apply for your income tax clearance letter.  Even though you likely weren’t working here the year before (or in most cases not even living here) you need a clearance letter to show you owe no taxes.  You will need to go the appropriate finanční úřad (financial office).  There seems to be some confusion, but I went to the one based on my residence address.  You will need 100Kč for payment, get it in kolek from the post office as usual.  This will take about four weeks as well and will be mailed.  Cost: 100Kč.

Next stop živnostenský list extension.

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 three – it all comes together.

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Back to Vienna: This is the third and final instalment in my “second time around” Czech long term residence visa process.  If you’ve just stumbled upon my site and you are doing your first visa I recommend you start here with the more detailed posts from 2013.  If you just want the summery start back at part one. I had my first visa appointment in Vienna on April 7th, 2015 and got the email saying I was approved on May 6th. That’s one month less a day for approval and well ahead of the expiry of my 90 day entry on May 20th.  Whew!  As I was busy with other things I didn’t go to pick the visa up until May 15th and did the normal midnight Student Agency bus to Vienna.  Cost 979kc plus €4.40 for the Bahn.  **Actually, I didn’t take the Bahn both ways – instead I walked the 11+ kms from Stadion to the Embassy since I arrived at 4:30 am and didn’t need to be there until 8:30. You see interesting things on the streets at 6:00 am, including cool old cars.

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Once at the Embassy I handed in my passport, health insurance documents (including proof of payment) and waited about 20 minutes for it to be processed.  When it was done they gave it back to me along with instructions to check in with the Foreign Police within three days of entering the Czech Republic. So, back to Stadion, back on Student Agency and back to Prague by 17:00.

Back in Prague: Visa in hand there were still four things that needed to be wrapped up:

Živnostenský List finalization: I visited the office where they copied my passport and visa and told me to come back next week.  The zivno is active as of now, even if I don’t have a copy yet. Cost: nothing, as it was paid for last time.

Social Service Tax registration: I also dropped by the social service tax office, they gave me forms to fill out and told me to come back when I had my actual Živnostenský document.  **A Czech person is helpful here.** Cost: nothing (but it will be 1943Kc per month)

Income Tax registration: The income tax office is in the same building as the zivnostensky office.  All that was needed was a change of address as my account is still active. Cost: nothing.

Foreign Police registration:  Ah.  The foreign Police. Take a Czech friend with you.  And a snack.  And some patience.  There were about 200 people in the building and it took about three hours to get in.  When you arrive take a number for “tourist registration” and fill out the two forms the reception will give you. Cost: nothing

Elapsed time: If you are keeping score, the total time from start to finish – from the time I arrived and started applying for things to the time I had a visa in my passport and was legal to work – March 9th to May 18th or 71 days.  Keep in mind I could have taken a slightly earlier appointment in Berlin and/or gone to pick up my visa one week earlier if I wanted to shave some time off this.

Costs:

My total cost from start to finish for the Živnostenský, criminal record checks, visa and travel was 8,350kc (which is about $415 Canadian or €305).

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!

Angloville, a volunteer experience…

At some point I stumbled upon the Angloville website and liked the idea of a week in the country with a group of native English volunteers and Polish participants.  After contacting them I signed up for a session in Zabuze, east of Warsaw, from April 1st to the 6th.  It was a really great experience!

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You don’t:

  • need to be a teacher.
  • need experience.
  • need a lot of money.
  • need to worry too much!

But you do:

  • need to be a native English speaker.
  • need to be interested in other people.
  • need some patience.
  • want to share your life very closely for an entire week.

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Think of Angloville as a mini-immersion process – they create an English environment within the host country.  During the week we spend all day, every day, speaking English both in the sessions and during meals or social time.  The participants pay for the event and as a result are quite motivated.  Participants were professionals from a variety of fields, all of them with interesting backgrounds and stories.  The English speaking volunteers were also amazing, all of us from different countries and different backgrounds.

Days consisted of many one to one or two to two sessions…..

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…as well as many group activities, games and socializing.

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There were two organizers with us, so all the logistics were looked after.  Just show up at the meeting point and go from there. The venue was amazing: beautiful countryside, nice rooms and meeting spaces, and good food three times per day (even for a vegetarian like me).

For an interesting, fun, challenging and economical experience, I highly recommend Angloville for your next trip to Poland! I’ll be heading to Wroclaw in May for another great week!

The quick and easy visa process, part one.

If you have been following me, you know I already had a visa and residence permit once and am back to do it all again.  If you are new here and stumbled upon my blog while looking for Živnostenský list or Czech immigration information, I recommend you start at the beginning. Even though I had a visa before, because I let my residence permit expire I need to start from scratch.

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This post will cover from the start of the process to waiting for the visa appointment and I will post more once things move ahead.  This process is for someone here on a trade license (Živnostenský list).  I’ve included actual dates so you can see the real timeline here in 2015.  If things have changed from 2013 I will make an effort to update the original postings to reflect this.  As I arrived in the Schengen Zone on February 19th, I am on a bit of a timeline to pull this off by May 20th.

Useful information:  The Ministry of the Interior website.

Documents needed:

Canadian criminal record check:  I applied at the Embassy in Prague on March 9th, it was ready for pickup on March 10th.  You can get this in Canada before you come, but it is no faster, no cheaper and won’t be in Czech so you will need to pay to get it translated.  Note that they are only open from 9:00 until 12:00 but you can make an appointment for afternoon if necessary.  Cost: 1,000kc.

The criminal record check needs to be super-notarized by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minsterstvo zahranicnich veci) located at #5 Toskansky Palac, very close to the castle.  It is often busy and I arrived at 13:00 to be the first in line when they opened at 13:30 – I was in and out in five minutes.  Cost:  600kc (note, you will need to pay this by “kolek” which are financial payment stamps available at the post office – they won’t accept cash).

We aren’t done!  Take your super-notarized Canadian criminal record check to a notary (there are Czech Points all over Prague) and have an official notarized copy made – you will need this copy for your Živnostenský list.  Cost:  60kc.

Czech criminal record check: Because I lived here for two years, I needed to get a Czech criminal record check (rejstřík trestů) as well.  There is a good explanation of this process on Prague.tv.  The article says the wait will be long but I was in and out in five minutes and was able to pay the fee in cash, they didn’t need koleks.  Cost:  100kc (not the 50kc stated in the article).

Housing document:  You will need some proof of housing, a lease or doklad ubytovani.  This document must be signed by the registered owners of the flat and notarized – they will check it to make sure they are the registered owners.  It must be good for at least the duration of your visa plus the waiting period, so try to get one that is either open ended or at least good for one year. Cost:  60kc?  Or zero if your landlord is nice like mine is.

Proof of funds:  You need a document to prove you have at least 110,000kc available to you.  I had my Canadian bank provide this proof of funds before I left Canada but note it can’t be more than three months old.  You will need a card that can access this account.  You will also need a certified translation, I had mine done at Grabmuller, if took three days. Cost: $20 (from my bank in Canada) plus 400kc for the translation.

Passport photos:  Available at most photo shops or even photo booths in the metro.  Cost:  100kc

Živnostenský approval letter:  I won’t go into detail on this, please look at my previous postings for the how and why of the trade licence.  Or, stop by the office in Prague 7, room 203, and get details about what you will need.  They do speak English and are vey helpful.  Cost:  1,000kc.


The initial visa appointment:  Now, before, during or after this you will need to have made an appointment at a Czech Embassy somewhere.  From Prague the most common are:

Berlin.  I emailed them on March 16th, they replied to my email but asked me to call the embassy, and they could have fit me in as early as March 25th.

Bratislava. When I managed to get through to someone on March 17th they were booking appointments for the middle of June!

Vienna.  This is where I have my appointment, I finally managed to contact them by phone on March 17th and was able to get an appointment for Aril 7th.  This is the same embassy I used last time.  Note:  they wanted me to email them all of my documents including my zivnostensky list BEFORE they would give my an appointment, but I managed to convince them to make the appointment and then scanned and emailed things as I got them.

This is the end of part one, watch for an update after my visa appointment on April 7th.

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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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Why substitute?

It’s great when you have a regular class that you like and can look forward to meeting your student(s) every week,  but I’ve learned I really enjoy an alternative:  substitutions.

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During the last week I doubled my class load from my main school by taking on as many substitution classes as I could.  I’ve spoken to other teachers and there are mixed feelings about “subs” and some teachers avoid them like the plague.

What can you expect?

There are some negatives to consider:

  • Short notice.  Most subs come available one or two days before the class, and some only the day of the class.  Flexibility is key.
  • Unpredictability.  Often you will get a sub and then have it taken away again within minutes as the class was cancelled or rescheduled.  I’ve learned it is better to lesson plan as late as possible.  Don’t expect a consistent income from these classes.
  • Confusion.  One Tuesday I got up early to make my 8 o’clock sub an hour from home.  On arrival I found the permanent teacher already there!  There was confusion about the dates and I was supposed to come the following week.  The following Tuesday I was back, setup and ready to go, when a student came in to inform me they had cancelled the class the previous week.  A little frustrating to say the least, but with the minor benefit that I still get paid for both classes as it was not my fault and I did show up.
  • Mixed abilities.  It might say “pre-intermediate” on your course sheet but don’t be surprised if you show up to find students who can barely say hello.  Your group of six people might only be two in the end.  Have a backup plan, and a backup backup plan.

But the benefits can make it worth it:

  • Extra income.  Throwing a couple of extra hours into your week can be a nice bit of padding and make up for your other regular cancellations.
  • Flexibility.  You can keep a morning or two free for yourself and only take on the extra work if you want to.
  • Interesting people.  That nice feeling of meeting new students for the first time just happens over and over!  Most of them will be happy to meet you and want to learn something about you.
  • Interesting material.  Chances are very good you won’t have to follow a text, the regular teacher will want to continue in it, so this leaves you free to do something fun and interesting with the students.  Pick something you like to teach.
  • Less lesson planning time.  If you have been teaching for a while you will have a stack of lessons to pull from.  Keep a few of your favorites for each level and use them as your sub plans.  Almost no preparation required.

One thing I have learned is if you want a substitution you have to ask for it.  Try to get on good terms with whoever manages subs for your school and talk to them so you come to mind when something comes up.

Have fun!