Stephen Greene

Diary of a Freelance Teacher: Relax, don’t do it

First of all, an apology. A few months ago I started to write about working as a self-employed teacher. I had the intention of writing a whole series, but only managed the first one before life got in the way. Here I am, though, back and ready to get the series going again.

I have been a freelance* teacher first in Rio de Janeiro and now Curitiba for over 10 years.  I thoroughly enjoy it, so much so that I shudder at the possibility of ever having to go back into an institution ever again in my life. However, freelancing is not for everyone.  You most definitely shouldn’t become a freelance teacher if any of the following apply to you:

  1. You are not a businessperson

You have to promote yourself, haggle over prices, budget, do your own tax returns and bookkeeping and a million other things that are not related to actually teaching. This will help you relate to students studyng business English, but if any of these things don’t appeal then you might want to think twice before taking the plunge.

  1. You are not self-driven

It’s 6am and you should have got out of bed 15 minutes ago for your first class. You could probably still make it if you got up right now and skipped breakfast and who really needs to shower every day anyway? But you could also send a message saying you are sick and can’t make it. There won’t be any comeback from a boss, because you don’t have one, and, let’s be honest, you really could do with an extra hour in bed.

If you know this is going to be you more often than not, then working for yourself is not going to work. It’s true, there won’t be a boss telling you off, but you will soon lose customers students.

  1. You like the camaraderie of the teachers’ room

There won’t be any birthday cakes for you or your fellow teachers. You won’t have anybody to celebrate the end of term with. There won’t be anyone to help you get through a particularly bad day. You are on you own in the big bad world!

  1. You need help from others to find material

As well as having to deal with all that your students can throw at you on your own, you are to going to be told about a brilliant new idea for teaching articles, or bounce ideas off other teachers for how to manage that pain-in-the-backside student that we all get. You can create your own virtual resources and find things online, but it is never quite the same.

  1. You need a guaranteed monthly income

This can be a biggie. While you might be able to earn more during good months, it can be problematic during the lean months of summer holidays. Some students might pay you late or not at all. Others will go off on holiday for 6 weeks. It is rare to get the same amount of pay two months in a row. If you find it hard to budget effectively, or need a guaranteed income to pay bills every month, think more than twice about making the move.

  1. You only want to teach one type of student

After a while, you might be able to build up a reputation as an expert TOEFL teacher and only give this type of class. Perhaps you can exploit contacts in a particular business and specialise in business English. For me, however, especially at the beginning, I had to teach everyone and anyone, no matter the time or what their interests were. I am now in a good place that I can drop students if I don’t like them, but I am still teaching business, exams, teens, ‘conversation’, bored housewives…

Like I said earlier, going freelance was the best thing I ever did. However, if you are thinking about making the move yourself, you should be aware of the downsides as well as the upsides.

*What does ‘freelance’ mean?

According to many sources on the internet, including what is perhaps my favourite non-adult free resource etymology online, ‘freelance’ was coined by Sir Walter Scott in the 1800s. It describes a medieval mercenary warrior and the story goes a bit like this. A knight normally belonged to a particular king or other nobleman, but sometimes there would be more knights than money to pay for them. At times like these, the knights be ‘free’ to take their ‘lances’ and fight for whoever would pay them.

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Stephen Greene

Stephen is a freelance teacher, trainer and editor. He has been teaching for over 20 years all around the world, but has been living and working in Curitiba, Brazil for the last 6 years. He writes self-indulging articles about all things associated with languages at

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