27 set The freelance language teacher
A fellow teacher told me about a well-known language institute that started selling a new, faster course. He asked me how I thought he could compete with them. I told them he shouldn’t, they are not his competition. What many teachers do not understand is that when they decide to work as freelance language teachers, they should be offering something different. Perhaps as an independent teacher you do not have access to many resources that schools do. What you have, however, is yourself and believe me, that is your greatest asset.
For starters, you can choose your own materials. Many teachers like to work with coursebooks and adapt accordingly. Have you ever wondered why very good language academies sometimes use ‘bad’ books? Most of the time it is not by choice. If the school does not have its own material, it has to choose from a list of publishers. Schools will not choose the same books their competitors do. In an industry where there are so many options, differentiation is key. We know that adopting the same books does not mean anything, but reality is students often don’t know. No one wants students to think that their school is just like the school across the street. The other day I heard about one of the top leading language institutes in Brasília is adopting a series of books. They are able to tell the publisher they do not want those books to be sold in Brasília to other schools and make it exclusive, though most schools do not have such power.
Recently, regular schools, especially private ones, have been investing in language programs. While that is great news because it means more jobs for everyone, it also means that there are fewer books to choose from. Not all regular schools choose to work with books that are specific for schools, which would, in theory, solve the problem. That means there are fewer books on the market for language institutes to work with.
As a freelance teacher, you decide how to assess your students and you may even negotiate that with them. Some people do not respond well to formal assessment and because at institutes procedures need to be standardized, there is usually little negotiation with students. Your assessment may be based on your learner’s needs. For instance, your student needs to talk on the phone in English daily. You might decide that focusing on speaking skills is what they need and your assessment should reflect that.
I am not saying that everyone should go solo, though. Being a freelance teacher is not for everyone and for a very simple reason: not everyone is interested. Some people prefer the idea of financial stability, which schools offer. Not everyone wants to make decisions all the time and that is perfectly fine. If you decide to go on this career path, consider ways to stand out from the crowd. Competition is fierce and there are many people who consider themselves teachers because they speak the language. Working independently is not an excuse to stop developing.