Posted on May 9, 2019 | By Jenni Fogg
04th Apr 2019
As an EFL teacher, working at a school or centre has lots of perks, but working as a freelancer can be better for lots of teachers. Working for yourself gives you the freedom to set your own timetable, and to some extent, pick your own students – but is it all its cracked up to be? We’re going to look at the pros and cons of going freelance and give some top tips on how to do it… if you dare.
Set your own schedule: Gone are the days of working for someone else – be your own boss. You can pick the days and times you’d like to work – so if you’re a morning person, you might want to get all your teaching organised first thing to ensure you get lots of free time later in the day. Working as a freelance EFL teacher means you get to organise your job around your life, rather than organising your life around your job. This also means you can take off the holidays you want. This might be particularly beneficial if you’re a parent: you can arrange to take school holidays with your kids.
Work where you want: Manage your commute by teaching in areas that are conveniently located. You can go to the homes of your students if they request it and you feel OK with that. Or they can come to you – again there is a level of trust in this (and cleaning!) and you might feel better meeting in a neutral setting. Cafes make great places for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, especially if they’re in your local area – there are also likely to be plenty of visual prompts to keep the conversation flowing. In sunny weather, you might take your lesson outside – a walk around the city might be great – if you make plenty of stops to write notes on what your student has said. You can also sit in a local park, which gives a nice feel to lessons and feels like a bit of a treat for both of you.
Pick your salary: It’s best to set yourself a bit of a budget – how much do you need to make to cover your costs and have some left over? You might decide to work the minimum amount possible so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the country you’re in. If you’re saving for something or want a bit of cash to make life easier, you might set a higher budget and, as a result, have to find more students or charge more money. Working out how much to charge is arguably one of the more challenging areas of freelance work – it might take a few attempts to get it right!
Choose your students: One of the biggest benefits is that you can play to your strengths. Not keen on teaching young learners? No problem. In schools, you’ll often be teaching young learners or teens at the least. Whereas with freelance teaching, your clients will tend to be adults. If you specialise in teaching exam preparation classes, such as IELTS, or Business English, you can find students who are just looking for this. Depending on the demand where you are, you might even be able to pick and choose the students you’d like to work with.
Unstable income: With no school timetable to shape your week, you’re going to have to find students to fill the void. Unfortunately, people can be unreliable – and it sometimes feels a little bit like EFL students in particular can cancel classes on a whim. Forgotten or cancelled classes can result in a lack of income if you don’t have a contract with your student that has a term for fines in the case of last-minute cancellations. You might also have the unlucky situation where all your students book their holidays at the same time, which means no money coming in. Or, students might have a change of heart/job/location and simply not be able to continue with their course. This means going back to the drawing board to find new students.
Administration nightmares: In a school, you don’t generally have to think about the administration behind the job – except checking the hours you’ve worked against the school’s timesheet. When you’re in charge, however, you’re faced with taxes, student contracts and putting some money aside for scary concepts like pensions or insurance. It’s up to you to do the research – what do you need to put in place in terms of finances when working as a freelancer? This might be difficult if you can’t speak the language and have to look all this information up in another language.
Market yourself: It’s up to you to seek out students and get them on your books. Again, schools do all this hard work for you – and sometimes it can feel like you have way too many students to handle. As a freelancer, you’re going to have to sell yourself. We’ll look at how to do this in the next section.
No school means no colleagues or resources: Although we can often bemoan schools for their terrible instant coffee and unreliable technology, the sense of camaraderie with your colleagues is something sorely lacking as a freelancer. There’s nothing better than finishing a challenging lesson and having a whinge about it with your colleagues in the staffroom afterwards. They’ll be there for you when your projector/laptop/CD player suddenly has the hump, and they’ll be there for you when a student asks a question about grammar that you just can’t remember the answer to. As a freelance TEFL teacher, you’re on your own to a certain extent – both in terms of workplace friendships but also in terms of resources. No textbooks to dip into, no flashcards or methodology books. Thankfully, the internet has enough resources on it to last us all a lifetime. You’ll also have to work hard on your own CPD (Continued Professional Development), instead of attending workshops at your school.
Top Tips: How to go freelance
So, looking at the pros and cons of freelancing while teaching abroad, you might feel that one option isn’t necessarily better than the other – going freelance certainly depends on what you want and like to do, as well as the situation you’re in. If you’re certain it’s for you though, here are the next steps…
We hope our tips have provided some peace of mind when it comes to moving into the world of freelance EFL teaching. Have faith in your own skills, do some research and be persistent!