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…
…and had time for a little trip to the lovely city of Carcassonne in France…
…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.
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.
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!
- 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.
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…..
…as well as many group activities, games and socializing.
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!
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.
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 1350Kč 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.
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!
If you’ve been following my blog, you know this process takes some time. The good news is that the final visit to the immigration office is quite simple. On your previous visit you were given a time and date to come back, so here we are!
Make sure you have your passport and the 2,500Kč in koleks you had to buy from the post office. If you have picked up any Czech you should be fine by yourself, the only questions were to ask for my passport, ask me my address and ask me to sign and date something.
What to do and what to expect?
- Go back to the biometrics office and take a seat – there is no need to check-in with anyone. You could also check the appointment list on the wall just to make sure you are on it.
- Arrive early! My name was called ten minutes before my appointment time.
- After my name was called I went to one of the outside offices instead of the little room where the previous meeting took place.
- A very nice woman asked for my passport and the koleks for payment. She then tested me by asking my address, scanned my left and right pointer fingers and asked me to verify my photo. Finally I signed and dated my original application form and she handed my my long-term residence card.
We are done!
Almost……if you think way back to the beginning of this process you applied for an extension on your zivnostensky list and they gave you a temporary one while your application was being processed, remember? I made two final trips to the zivno office, one for them to copy my residence card and the final one to pick up my new zivno with the same expiration date as my residence card.
And NOW we are done! Good luck!
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.
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.
Congratulations to me! I survived my first full (22 teaching hour) week as an ESL teacher in Prague. Whew.
Wondering what this looks like? A brief summary of the highs and lows:
Sunday: Lesson planning, fun! Yes I could have done it during the week but to get a running start I spent all day Sunday creating lesson plans for my week ahead. A little work now and hopefully less stress during the week. It gets easier the more you do and I’ve gone from the 3 hours per lesson it took during school to a mere 30 minutes for something basic.
Monday: 8am class – private one to one with an executive who wants conversation with a native speaker. Cancelled! And I had such a nice plan for the first lesson. 1-3, back to back beginners classes – a new experience but I enjoyed it. Downside is that it is 40 minutes from the centre (tram, metro, bus) but the upside is I teach the same lesson twice which is great practice. 430 class – a nice one to one with someone who just wants to improve her English in a business environment. A good end to day one.
Tuesday: More of the same, a good conversation class followed by more time on the metro and back to back intermediate classes. 6pm class – cancelled.
Wednesday: What, another cancellation? All that time on Sunday is starting to look like a bad idea, but at least I now have a stock pile of lessons for the next classes. Great news! My first true private student (from my ad on Expats.cz) has signed up for Friday! Already hoping to build independence from the school. Back to back beginners classes that went very well – you can see the improvement so quickly, it is very rewarding.
Thursday: A free morning, relax and sleep in and buy some groceries. Back on the metro again for back to back intermediate classes with a fun group of people. 6pm cancelled as well.
Friday: A great conversation class to start the day at 8am, makes up for the 30 minutes of commuting. Fun advanced class as well. Ended the day in style with a nice tea at my favorite tea room while giving my first true private lesson.
Reflections? Some lessons go well, some go poorly and generally the students enjoy it no matter how you feel. Fake it if you have to!
It Is A Lot Of Work! I know it will get easier, but with 5 of 8 school based classes cancelled my net for the week was around 3,500 czk (don’t do the conversion, it will make you cry).
Week two under way! Full class load so far and excited to see how it goes.