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The Freelance Teacher: The Unprofessional Stigma in the ‘Likeabilty Factor’

The Freelance Teacher: The Unprofessional Stigma in the’ Likeabilty Factor’

Hello again to all freelance teachers and EFL Magazine readers!  

A new book is being written especially for freelance teachers. It’s written by a freelance language teacher colleague, namely me!

The first section of this, my new ebook Spotlight on You! (Branding and USPs for Freelance Teachers)’ is complete.  Anyone involved in writing, will know what that means: progress is being made.

In this respect, do you have a marketing question you would like me to cover?

For this month’s EFL Magazine article, I decided to put up the small introduction chapter from the book about a question that is generally frowned upon in teaching circles — the likeability factor. This is a factor that I believe is supportive to a freelance teacher’s brand image.

When you have finished reading the article and excerpt from the book, let me know what you think — have your say in the matter and write your opinion about this topic in the comment box below.

What is the ‘Likeability Factor’?

The ‘likeability factor’ is quite simple. It says how well your students or your customers like you, not just as their teacher, but as a person.

As I studied to become a certified specialist English language teacher, the ‘likeability factor’ was briefly touched upon. It’s not professional, they said. You have to keep a professional distance. As a long-term freelance professional I disagree completely and entirely! I would even go so far as to say the likeability factor must be encouraged!

Why the ‘Likeability Factor’ is important for freelance teachers

How do you expect to keep students if they are treated as names and numbers in a filing system?

Students and customers are normal people, who like everyone else have their up-and-down days. If you treat their difficulties with ‘clinical professional distance’ you will not be able to build up the personal relationship which I believe is crucial for any freelance teaching service.

People react to people. They keep in contact with the people they like. They avoid those they don’t. Customers may stress they want to keep contact on a professional basis. Respect that. But whoever said you cannot say: ‘Good morning! How are you today?’ Be observant and get involved in ‘small talk’ because a friendly person, one who is prepared to listen, is always welcome.

Business is made not with another business but between one person and another. Business is conducted on a personal level and the ‘likeability factor’ ensures whether your phone call or email is going to be ‘received’ — or not.

Remember how you felt in a shop where the service person made you feel like just another customer in their long working day. People either like a person or they don’t. If your students or customers don’t like you or the way you work, your service hours are numbered!

Going against the Likeability Factor is not a good idea for freelance teachers in my opinion. After all, why should a student or customer hire you if they don’t like you?

Is teacher popularity a good thing?

Are you a popular teacher? If you are a full-time freelance teacher, this is good. However, if you work for a school expect difficult times ahead.

A language school is more concerned with keeping its image. It doesn’t pay them to have a teacher stand out and be more popular than others in the school. If the popular teacher’s courses are fully booked, the school is going to lose disappointed students. Either they come back when they can attend a course with the said popular teacher or they disappear to attend a course at another school.

  • A school or institute is not too happy when they discover a teacher has become too popular!
  • A freelance teacher, on the other hand, has to become popular with students and customers to survive in the market.

What should a freelance teacher do if he or she is working for a school?

The answer is probably not palatable. In the long run, the teacher is going to have to choose between working anonymously for a school or becoming a full-time freelancer and with it, the freedom to be and develop your own personality in your class and teaching materials. Without having the likeability factor as part of your make-up (your image),  you won’t be able to attract or keep your students and customers as a freelancer.

Have Your Say Here!

What is your opinion about the Likeability Factor? What has been your experience (either as a teacher working for a language school or as a freelance teacher)?

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4 Responses

  • Alejandra

    I completely agree. At one point I became a popular teacher at a language institute some years ago and they made my life a living hell. I had to quit. But the students followed me, and thus I started as a freelance teacher. Right now I have a full schedule, and a growing waiting list... Out of all my students only one has not contacted me through a recommendation of a former or current student. Without the likeability factor I don't think my schedule would be as full as it is right now.


  • Erica

    I also agree. I work as an adjunct, and my students always want to take other classes I am teaching. They also tell their friends to take my classes as well. I recently started teaching at an English language school, so I'll see how that goes. The likability factor is extremely important to me for two reasons. 1. It's just my personality. I'm a naturally jovial person. 2. I've always felt that you should be a person first then a teacher. We have websites such as Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor. Those sites can either be valuable or detrimental to your career.


  • Alicia Kern

    Wow! What truthful words from personal experience. I agree, business relationships are just that, relationships and a sustainable relationship is built on mutual "like": also mutual respect. In my experience, I've had to make myself unlikeable to avoid being used as a free lesson; talking English is my job, if you want to talk English to me, pay me! Freelancers have to set very clear boundaries to avoid being abUSED. There has to be a clear distinction between what is work and what is freetime. For the non-native speaker any interaction in the target language is learning even if it doesn't conform to the prescribed lesson format. That means the "teacher" is teaching for free! The first thing to teach your students is when is you work time and when is not, an easy way to do this is using the lingua franca of your environment as opposed to English in free-time interactions. So I work in Germany, in my freetime I talk to my (adult voluntary students) in German or their native language if I can communicate in it. This can actually encourage likeability because I make mistakes when I speak other languages, so my students feel less self-confident about making mistakes in English :-D


  • Janine

    Thanks for writing in with your comments Alejandra, Erica and Alicia! It's your comments that help other teachers realise my viewpoint (my articles) are not just empty words but drawn from real teaching and working experience. :) I am not alone :) Other teachers (like you) will have shared the same experience. It would be great if more readers have the time to write in and share their experience. There can never be enough comments or reviews about my articles or books, in my opinion. Take for example, how you do your own researches on the Internet and how you check the feedback of any product or service before you buy. You always choose a similar product with the most (positive) rating reviews because that product has been tested and tried x-times. In this way, all your comments help serve other language teachers but most especially, they help all beginning language teachers with important information for their new teaching business endeavours. :) Thank you!