Teaching Freelance in Germany: the Benefits and Challenges

Several freelance teachers have told me how difficult it can be getting enough hours here, so I’m happy to still be going so strong.  Like most freelancing roles – teaching English in Germany takes a lot of organisation and planning (fortunately skills that come quite naturally to me), and some forward thinking to ensure the work keeps coming in.

Initially I found it difficult to know how to strike a balance between accepting work from one school and still having time available to work at another.  Now it’s become clear that the rule is simple – take the work as soon as you’re offered it.  The directors at both my schools encourage this and are wholly supportive and understanding of the necessity of doing this as a freelancer.

I’ve written a little list of the benefits and challenges I’ve experienced to working as a freelance EFL teacher in Germany.

Benefits

  • By far the biggest and most important benefit is the range and variety of experience I’m getting here.  I’m teaching both at schools and at companies in-house, both 1-to-1 and group courses, a variety of levels and sometimes mixed levels, different nationalities, some students studying for exams, some for work, some for pleasure, some studying general English, exam classes, or focussing on specific areas (pronunciation).  Every day is different.
  • It’s not just the range of experience I’m getting that’s a benefit – there’s the quality of experience too.  I have to think on my feet a lot more and find imaginative ways to teach – often without or with fewer materials – and I’m rising to the challenges I talk about below.  All of these points are developing and honing my skills as a language teacher.  I’m getting SO much more 1-to-1 experience and I have one student who I see on a weekly basis solely for pronunciation support – this is my favourite class at the moment – it’s an area I enjoy and my student is really improving and feeling the benefits of the sessions.  It’s incredibly rewarding. 🙂
  • By its freelance nature I can choose the hours to suit me.  As things are, I’m accepting as much work as possible but if I wanted to decline courses and classes to plan around other things in my life, I could.  I’m by no means committed to 9 to 5 hours.
  • Whilst I don’t always have ready access to materials, because I’m teaching a number of different courses, where two or more happen to be at the same level I can sometimes repeat and re-use materials with different groups, which of course reduces my planning time.

Challenges

  • Since being here I’ve realised how much I took for granted at my last school in the UK.  By the nature of working in different environments all the time, I don’t always have access to things that I’d like.  If I’m teaching in-house at a company, I don’t have a whiteboard to write on, or a CD player / computer / internet or ready access to print and photocopying facilities.  This makes it necessary to do a lot of forward planning and prepare materials in advance when I’m at one of the schools.  At LSI, my school in the UK, I was spoilt by having such a wide range of materials always at my fingertips, and although I have a lot of materials stored here in digital format, they still need printing.  The schools have some materials of course, but by no means a large library.  How much I took for granted at LSI – different colour white board pens for one thing (we even had orange and purple!)
  • Teaching mixed level groups can be a real challenge, especially when the levels range from A2 to B2 or C1, but this only really happens on the company courses.  At one company I’ve been teaching at, the boss began by joining every session – despite being almost a complete beginner when some of his other students are upper-intermediate.  The dynamic in the classroom is of course directly related to the dynamic in the office or within the company and it can take some effort on our part as teachers to renegotiate that in the lessons.
  • Similarly, fitting into the working environment can take some getting used to.  At the same company I began by teaching in an open plan office with people coming in and out, telephones ringing, etc, all of which can be very disruptive to your lesson.  After a couple of lessons like this I’ve managed to move the group into the kitchen, where we can close the door, but it’s also the smoking area so it’s far from ideal and some of the students still get called out to deal with important calls.  One of the bosses, too, likes to wander in and greet everybody halfway through the lesson and start up the coffee machine!  As a teacher in this in environment you learn to adapt pretty quickly and although it’s a fine balance between making the lesson work and keeping the client happy, you learn when to make requests of the company for certain ‘rules’.
  • I like public transport so I’m quite fortunate, and when I’m not enjoying the view (I am in Berlin, after all!) I like to read, so all the travelling to and from classes can be useful preparation time.  But it does add up to quite a lot of time at the end of the week.  Travelling across the city several times a day can mean I end up eating ‘on the go’ a lot too – not very good for my pocket or my figure! :/
  • Teaching in-house on company courses reduces the amount of contact I have with other teachersAlthough I see teachers a couple of times a week at the schools, it’s often in passing and I really miss lunchtimes at LSI, chatting about so many different things and regularly sharing thoughts and ideas about teaching and the English language.  I often have thoughts or ideas or questions that aren’t really big enough to warrant going specifically to chat to someone about, and reading a book or online forums just isn’t the same as sounding out ideas in a staffroom.  There are many other things, but this teacher-contact is probably the the thing I miss the most about teaching at LSI.
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