Diary of a Freelance Teacher: Reasons to be cheerful
In December last year, there was a particularly popular chat on Facebook hosted by the wonderful people at Brazil ELT (BRELT) on being a private teacher. The end of the academic year is always a time for change, and so lots of teachers might be thinking about striking out on their own.
It’s almost exactly 8 years since I decided to give up teaching for schools and concentrate only on myself. I had always had the odd private student to add to my meagre income, but going it alone was a big step to take. Looking back, I can say it was one of the best decisions I made.
Before, I look at why it is so good to shake off the shackles of employment, a word on my terminology. Different people have different names for what I do; a private teacher, a self-employed teacher, a freelancer, a lazy, good-for-nothing waster (this last one is my brother’s preferred phrase).
Personally, I prefer ‘freelance’ because I like to think of myself as an updated medieval mercenary warrior fighting the good fight on behalf of whoever might be able to pay me. But whatever you want to call me it was the best move I ever made.
I have a 5-year-old son and a wife who works unpredictable hours. Being freelance means that I can cancel or rearrange classes to fit in with their schedules. Up until next year, my son doesn’t have to go to school which means I can go on holiday outside school holidays which makes everything a lot cheaper and quieter.
This flexibility suits me down to the ground and is something that I never had when working for a school. If I had to go back to a language institution full time I think this is the aspect I would miss the most.
There was a question recently in a Facebook group that I am part of about teachers’ pet peeves. I was able to say that I don’t have any because if I don’t like something I don’t have to do it. When I did teach at a school, though, the bit that I hated the most was the box-ticking and the form-filling.
I hated taking registers, so I often ‘forgot’. I hated writing and marking tests, so these were left until the last possible moment. And don’t even get me started on writing reports. The fact that I had rarely done the registers meant that a lot of the reports were pure fiction and I am still convinced that nobody really reads them anyway.
I haven’t had anything to do with registers, tests or reports for the last 8 years. My students are all improving and the world hasn’t stopped spinning. All is good.
Cutting out the middleman (the school) means I can take the cut that would normally go to them. I charge slightly more than most of the language schools in my area do. However, when the student pays the school the teacher gets less than half of the money. Now it’s mine, all mine.
I decide what I am going to teach and when. I choose the material to use. I dictate how much homework there is going to be.
Actually, it’s not quite true because I do all lof this in discussion with my students. But even so, the feeling of freedom is not to be underestimated.
I no longer have to teach from a crap, boring course book because my DoS has a thing for the sales rep (it can be the only explanation for some of the dross I have had to use). I don’t have to give x amount of homework from the study book every class, even when it’s not really relevant or if there are more interesting things that could be done.
Teachers of the world, resign! You have nothing to lose but boring coursebooks and outdated methodologies.
No crap students
Related to the idea of control is not having to teach students I don’t like. I am now in a position where I can pick and choose my students. If I don’t like one, or it turns out we don’t get on, or they are wasting my time, that is it. They are history.
You might have a decent DoS who will try to find a different teacher for a group or student you just don’t gel with, but it is incredibly rare to find one.
Good for my health
I have a good few students who come to my home, and a few more who I teach online. Most of the time, though, I go to my students. I have organised my schedule so that they are in clusters with Monday afternoon spent in one part of the city, Tuesday morning in a different neighbourhood and so on.
I could walk or drive to my students. However, it turns out that walking doesn’t add that much time and helps to keep my fitter than just standing in a classroom would. I also get to see the city, notice the changes in the season and keep up my obsession with linguistic landscapes.
Something nice to study
While I have a lot of freedom in the run of the mill stuff like who to teach and when, I also have freedom in how to develop myself as a teacher. There is nobody telling me to read something about a subject I have no interest in or that I have already studied 5 times in the last couple of years. I direct my teaching and my development.
At the same time, I have the opportunity to experiment with other aspects of the job. I have had the time to write my own material and write for big publishers. I have branched out into teacher training and giving online courses. Recently, I have started to find a lot of work editing texts for Brazilian academics who wish to publish in English. I am pretty sure it would have been difficult to find the time to do all of these things if I had had a full time teaching job and the demands that go with it.
On the other hand…
Of course, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Life as a freelance teacher can be hard and there are lots of potential problems. But for now, I have to get to a class, so I’ll write about those next time.