The Freelance Teacher: Life is Working as a Freelancer


The Highlights of Working as a Freelancer

Are you a freelance teacher? Do you remember how you started being a freelancer? For me it began in the days before PCs and Internet. (And that doesn’t make me an old fogey, by the way! )

I had this romantic vision when I first moved to Germany more than 30 years ago. I would be teaching happy students over a traditional English cup of tea and biscuits. There should be no shortage of students — after all I’m a NUTS (a Native User Teacher Speaker). You can read about NUTS and SLUTS (Second Language User Trainers) in Maurice Claypole‘s controversial essay: Why Most Teachers are SLUTS in his book ‘Controversies in ELT‘.

I had no experience as a freelance English teacher, but that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

Being a freelance teacher is easy, isn’t it?

You don’t need much experience to become a freelance teacher. It’s easy after all, isn’t it? Most of us start our teaching based on an idea that life is going to be better on the other side. It’s going to be easier, more fulfilling, and we will make more money as a freelancer. Right?


Think again…

But right too! Now I’ve got you confused, haven’t I?

For some of us, freelancing is like wearing your birthday suit. It’s natural. Everything works smoothly like Adam and Eve’s paradise of a garden. For others (and I was one of them), there was unfortunately this apple that turned a beautiful dream of paradise into a garden of ‘hell’.

For some teachers, freelancing isn’t much short of disaster. And back then I was struggling, too.

Students simply didn’t fall over themselves to come knocking on my door as I expected. How in the world did I find students? Internet didn’t exist in those days. I didn’t speak German, and like the next teacher, I didn’t like pushing myself forward, singing out loud my own praises as a language teacher. In short, I was no different from many teachers starting out today.

I was going under, but then I’m not the sort of person that gives up easily when the going gets tough. I knew my idea to teach English was good, but when the students didn’t come, I realised they didn’t know how to find me. I had to find out how to get rid of the apple poisoning my Adam and Eve’s garden.

I spent a few days working out what problems had to be tackled and this is what I came up with:

  • Marketing and Sales: I need to know how to find students and how to set and collect my hourly fees. I had to plan an on-going (but unobtrusive) marketing schedule to ensure a permanent cycle of new and reoccurring strategies to win and keep students.
  • Students: How do I manage, care and guide my students in their learning experience? I needed to know how to create a suitable ‘classroom’ environment in my living room. I wanted my students to be motivated learners and enjoy coming to my lessons.
  • Teaching and teaching materials: How could I gain creditability in the eyes of my students to see me as ‘their’ teacher solution. I needed to define what students I wanted to teach and what these students needed to learn. Further, I needed good teaching methods and realia for my chosen students.
  • Back office work: Life-work cycles are important. Separating and dividing free time from working hours required a strong sense of discipline to keep my schedule current. Now that doesn’t sound hard, but there’s bookwork and accounting duties (which means controlling spending and costs) plus all other necessary legal paperwork. Let’s not forget teachers do need to keep tabs on their students, their lesson plans and their lessons, etc.
  • Technology: In the days before Internet, it was all about tape recorders, flip charts and not getting slightly ‘high’ from the alcohol fumes in the ink of board markers, blackboards and chalk on your jacket. Today, it’s the Internet, social media and website communications, iPods, DVDs and Interactive Whiteboards — a double-sided knife that can be a blessing in disguise for a few of us.

Finding students is easy, isn’t it? 

How do you find your students? Every teacher agrees the best method is the personal recommendation from one student to another. Easy enough. Except you need to have a first student!

Getting referrals is also cheaper than paying for an advertisement that becomes obsolete with the next issue. What about direct (advertising) mail? Nope, no go. Nearly all of it lands in the waste-paper basket — along with your printing and postage fees.

Aha! Email must be the solution! Well…

In a world of remorseless SPAMs, advertising e-mails are automatically ousted into a ‘SPAM’ folder and deleted. Why bother?

But yes, there is a solution available. 🙂

Thank goodness for computers and the Internet — when both are working and not driving you round the bend. Here is a tool you can unobtrusively proclaim your services without falling prey to ‘advertising SPAM.’ Worded rightly, you can even reach the students you want to teach.

Knowing what to charge is easy, isn’t it?

And talking about your teaching services, have you ever had a plumber or electrician work for you and not give you an invoice? They seem to feel entitled to be paid for their knowledge, expertise and work. And not only that, they also know what to charge! Why was it that I didn’t feel the same sense of entitlement to be paid well for my work? What were the reasons causing me to undersell myself? Why was I underselling myself in the first place?

Should I charge time for curriculum questions? How about charging for marking time correcting mock exams? There are business parallels between contracted tutoring for educational institutes and language schools and your own private students. However, the parallel road merges when it comes to deciding who benefits and who receives when the sums are added.

A typical example of how teachers are easily victims of low teacher rates can be seen on the screenshot in my article on ‘Why You Should Charge Reasonable Prices For Your Private Teaching Lessons‘. At that time, there were already three teachers fighting to get the work quoted at five dollars an hour! 

What influence does the Internet have on freelance teachers earning powers? There are no longer any bargains because the Internet is responsible for standardising all prices simply by making them visible for all to see. As a result, companies offering airline tickets, holidays, or the vendors and buyers on eBay all check the Internet to see what prices the competitor is charging. The war of prices has long since begun. However, if the international commercial market has discovered the long reach of Internet to sell their products or to recruit new personnel, the Internet can also help us find a few willing (and paying) students… 🙂

Having the ability to choose how many hours or days to work is easy, isn’t it? 

The distraction of Internet is not to be ignored. It can devour a lot of your time. Yet time is already a problem when you’re teaching as a freelancer. It’s great to be able to choose when you work, but the discipline you need to keep to your working schedule is hard. Lessons, lesson plans and realia have to be prepared. E-mails have to be written and answered. Trial lessons have to be carried out; the provas and Needs Analysis completed and analysed. Let’s not forget the shopping, the washing (we’ll forget the ironing ), gardening and housework. The children have to be picked up, or taken to the library, tennis training, football game, riding, or somebody’s birthday party, or the doctor’s or dentist. Then the friends call in on the off chance… Oh! We almost forgot the teacher’s husband (or wife)…

Teaching students is easy, isn’t it? 

If you think your family, friends or colleagues cause a few time problems, teaching your students will never cause you problems, will they? They never bring their problems from the home or the office to the lesson, do they? And of course, despite their problems, they are still motivated to learn; they still remain open to your teaching, your teaching style. And they never ever allow old school-grudges from 30 years ago influence them or their learning habits…

Yes, teaching students is easy, isn’t it? 🙂

Of Mice and Men… Technology is easy, isn’t it? 

And talking of learning, modern technology is a blessing in disguise. In ELT circles, it’s commonly talked about as ‘Blended Learning’ after Pete Sharma‘s book.

What exactly is this ‘Blended Learning’ angle in language lessons? Blended Learning is a combination of face-to-face English lessons with interactive e-learning (electronic = internet).

Publishers and language course books have adopted the technology trend. Renowned publishers are making the addition of technology to English lessons easier for non-techy teachers like me. They have (inter)active learning platforms, with and without Internet and example video lessons to help teachers teach business students or ESP students. How can you teach 12 students in your living room when its only 15 sq.m large? The answer is using a publisher’s teacher platform with online students. The disadvantage is that the time spent on chasing up and motivating lagging online students is time consuming.

Modern language lessons expect modern technology. The advantages are many — if there was not the problem of first learning how to use it.

We can tweet or register feeds, and share favourite bookmarks in Pinterest and De.licious & Co with other colleagues or people we know and admire. Suddenly the horizons of brick and mortar English lessons go beyond its physical boundaries. Skype is available and with it all it application tools: Video calls, MP3 Recorder, Sharescreen, IDroo, etc. You can live in any country in the world (with Internet connection) and give language lessons to students on the other side of the globe! Wouhuu!

photo Reach for your dreams by Lindsey Mae

Reach for your dreams (photo by courtesy of Lindsey Mae)


Freelance Teachers unite! We’ve come a long way — we’ve become international in our own homes. Those far-off-places teaching jobs can be safely left to singles with itchy feet and the urge to travel and explore new countries.


Yes, there are struggles a freelance teacher has to face and pitfalls to avoid. But when going alone these are more likely to be confusing, or overload in nature, rather than insurmountable. Often enough, the focus of start up and running problems are self-inflicted. In a world of trying to please everybody, it is difficult to say ‘no.’ It’s even more difficult to ask for the value of your work and keep your motivation going when the going gets tough.

That was the down-side of freelancing I experienced many years ago.

The upside is when you do persist and you get to the other side, the grass really is greener!

Here are two quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt to keep in mind as you work as a Freelance Teacher:

  1. ‘No one can make you feel inferior except yourself.’
  2. ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’

Have Your Say Here!

What is your opinion about life as a working freelance teacher? What has been your experience? Can you add anything more?

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