Get a hair cut and dress smart. The schools may be targeted at businessmen and they won’t want a hippy with facial tattoos and bead bracelets teaching them how to say ‘I am stoned. I was stoned. I will get stoned.’
The first rule of any English teacher is to have back up. Bring more material than you could use in a week to each class. If your clever idea or game falls flat on its face you’ll always be able to pull out more activities to make those minutes tick by.
Get the students talking as much as possible and don’t let them slip into their native language. Sometimes you’ll get to play the stand-up comedian but the basic idea is that they should learn to say stuff.
Basically each day you’ll want to warm up the class with a quick game. Then introduce the topic and write the new vocabulary on the board. Give them an exercise to do in pairs and then after they’ll all do it in front of the class. Then you get your coffee and think about a career change.
Your students (if adults) might invite you out on the town sometime and this is a good way for them to see you as a normal person. Maybe they’ll relax more in class after that.
If you’re working with children then remember that your basic job is crowd control. They’re probably bored out of their minds and they’ll see you as a soft touch to make fun of in front of you in their own language.
Their attention span will be minimal so go heavy on games and songs. Use the melody of something like twinkle-twinkle-little-star, and get the class to sing “where are you going? Where? Where? I ‘m going to the train station”, “Where are you going, where, where, I’m going to the li-brar-y, I’m going to the fire sta-tion” – and so forth.
If all else fails you can resort to bribery to get the kids to behave by giving out sweets or balloons.
This is where the real money is. You can charge people around twice what you might be making an hour in an institute and the student can learn five times as fast as you mold your lessons to suit his needs.
Finding enough private students to get by is another thing altogether. You can put advertisements in the newspapers, post on notice boards of universities and social centres or just rely upon word of mouth – if you’re any good then hopefully your students will tell all their friends about you.
Most people will tend to support their private lessons by doing some hours in a school. Be ultra-careful but you may be able to snare some of the students for private lessons.
Sometimes your students will be so chatty you can just pass the hour in conversation, correcting them and teaching slang as you go. With others it may be helpful to work through an article or song so that you have a focus for what you’re doing.
In countries where punctuality is as foreign a concept as the future conditional tense, (i.e. anywhere in Latin America) you’ll want to get money in advance for forthcoming lessons. Otherwise on the day of the lesson you might find that your student has decided to go to the cinema instead.
To avoid waiting around all day, some teachers prefer to travel to the homes of their students but then you have to factor in a lot of transport time.
It would be nice if every English school got your work visa for you. In reality this is something that only happens in East Asia with any regularity. That’s actually one of the reasons why they’re more insistent on having the right paperwork. Most teachers will end up teaching on a tourist visa and may have to make frequent border runs to leave and re-enter on a new visa. Naturally, this begins to look suspicious after a while.
One of the key things to understand about English schools is that they are often quite chaotic operations run by people who know very little about teaching English. The owners are in it for the money and all their decisions follow from that premise.
They’re also aware that most foreign English teachers are itinerant. They have no interest in treating you well for the long term and are probably worried that you might just up and split at any moment. And with good reason, the way some of them act.
Remember that you are probably getting twice what the local English teachers are making and it may well be that they both speak and teach English better than you. Your only asset above them is the colour of your passport and your skin. It’s shameful but that’s how it is so be as sensitive as you can to the other staff and take them out for beers when you can.
It might also be said that the majority of the students actually end up learning very little. They’re hoping that by paying money to do a course they will become fluent in another language. Well that only happens by putting in a lot of work also and many of them aren’t quite prepared for that. A lot of them will be there because their family wants them to learn, others may have been sent by their company. So don’t be too disappointed if everyone isn’t jumping up and down with enthusiasm.