What I Learnt from a Year of Being a Freelancer

I never wanted to be a freelance teacher, but COVID-19 did not ask me what I wanted. I was given lemons, so I had to make the best lemonade I could 🙂 This week, I am celebrating my first anniversary of being self-employed, and I figured that the best way to do this is to write a post with some useful advice for those teachers who are thinking of going freelance or have done it recently.

1. Setting Up

The first question every teacher asks when weighing their options is “How can I make sure I have enough students?” What I recommend is find some online schools to work for at the beginning. You will not be able to set your own hourly rate, but it will give you certain stability, and you can then give the remaining hours to your private students. Gradually, as you are getting more private students, you can decrease the number of hours you work for those schools.

Personally, I do not recommend teaching on platforms because the competition is really high there, so you really need to market yourself, and this is not something everyone enjoys doing. I tried several platforms and did not like any of them, but of course, it is up to you, and I do know teachers who are thriving on Preply or italki. Just not my cup of tea.

Next thing you must do is officially register as self-employed. This usually means that you have to set up your own private company. The procedure is different in different countries, so this is something you will have to figure out by yourself. Once you have set your own company (i.e. registered as a sole trader), you can start providing teaching services to both businesses and individuals. Keep in mind that as a sole trader, you will have to issue invoices to your clients, keep sales records, do accounting, submit your tax statements, etc. Make sure you understand your rights and obligations and consult with an accountant or a lawyer (or both) if there is a need for this. Know the law! For example, in Norway, you cannot issue invoices created in Excel because it is a legal requirement that they are numbered automatically, so I use PayPal Invoicing Tool.

On a positive note, as a company, you can have business expenses. This mean that if you happen to buy some textbooks or attend a conference, their cost will be deducted from your tax.

2. Finding Students

I would say go with the local websites. Post free ads and rely on the universe to help you out 🙂 You can also post in groups for English learners on Facebook, but make sure this is not against their rules. However, the best way is still the good old word of mouth.

Do not expect quick results. Typically, it takes at least a year or even a year and a half to build a solid client base.

You can invest in paid advertising if you wish so, but I would first do some quick research on its effectiveness and consult with a marketing specialist to make sure that your money is not wasted.

Finally, try to schedule a free ice-breaker call with each new student. This way, you will be able to see if you kind of click with this person, how serious they are about learning English, what their learning needs and goals are. As for terms and conditions, I am quite strict about it. No money – no lesson, so all payments have to be transferred one day before the lesson. Any cancellations or changes should also be made not later than one day prior to the lesson, otherwise, the money will not be returned. I explain these rules during the initial call and if the new student agrees to them, we sign a written agreement and schedule the lessons. I personally do not like the idea of teaching a free trial lesson because I prepare thoroughly for every lesson I teach and deserve to be paid. Students have the right to terminate our agreement at any time if they do not like the way I teach, and I make sure to tell them that it is totally okay to do so.

3. Timetable and Payments

When you are a freelancer, it is really easy to stop keeping track of your actual working hours and end up working pretty much all the time. I teach from Monday to Thursday and then I have Friday to plan lessons and do the admin stuff (mostly sending out invoices). Saturdays and Sundays (especially Sundays!) are untouchable. The only exception is the ELT Lesson Jam 😉

Do not hesitate to use paid websites that offer ready-made lesson plans. I personally love Linguahouse and ESL Brains: their lesson plans are superb, you will need just a few tweaks here and there, and you are all set. Onestopenglish and Fluentize are also great.

Another nagging problem is which payment system to use to get payments from foreign students. According to the majority of freelancers I have talked to, the best one is Wise (former TransferWise). I found it a bit confusing, to be honest, so I use PayPal. The fees are higher on PayPal, but those can also be written down as business expenses, so no problem here. Plus, their Invoicing Tool is awesome.

4. Social Media and Marketing

I have briefly touched on this in 2. Basically, in many cases, free ads and word of mouth are enough to get the ball rolling. To build a strong public profile, be active on social media. Write about your work, how your lessons go, questions your students frequently ask, etc.

If you wish to build your personal brand, you might need to hire a marketing specialist to write a content plan for you and manage the advertising. Alternatively, you can take some introductory courses to be able to do it yourself in the future, but in any case, this is something that does not come naturally and has to be learnt. Be ready to invest time and money.

It is a good idea to create your own website. You can use free website builders, such as Tilda and WordPress. I am currently working updating my website; I am using Tilda, and it is awesome although not always intuitive.

5. Community

As a freelancer, you might feel disconnected from the ELT community, but it does not have to be this way. There is an amazing group on Facebook run by Cecilia Nobre, where you can always ask a question and get plenty of support.

There are also ELT Lesson Jams organised by Freed with me, Liza Fedotova and Blanka Pawlak as hosts, where teachers from all over the world gather to share their lesson ideas (by the way, the next session is this Saturday, 14:00 CEST, hurry up and register, we are awesome!).

You will also find the recording of this Fireside Chat interesting; there were four of us and we covered pretty much all the basics of being a freelance English teacher.

So this is it. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via Twitter or FB. And good luck!

So You Wanna Do DELTA Module 3?

I started Module 3 nine months after I sat Module 1 exam. Same as before, I took a course with the Distance Delta. Academic writing is not among my strengths so I needed a lot of guidance and feedback.

The course was organised in chunks, and there was a deadline for submitting each part (approximately 2 weeks for each part, apart from Part 2 because it requires some extra time to collect the data you will need for Parts 3 and 4). We also had a couple of weeks to work on the final draft after receiving the tutor’s feedback.

Some things I realised while working on my EA and which might be useful for those who are going to start Module 3:

  • Before running thorough needs analysis for Part 2, do a short preliminary one. This will give you some ideas about what your future focus might be and what sources you need to look for before you actually start working on your EA. As a result, you will save some time.
  • When working on appendices, create a separate file with the list of appendices you are going to have. Group appendices according to the parts they belong to, e.g. 1a-…, 2a-…, 3a-… Apart from the title, add a short description in brackets (in case you forget what the appendix includes). Keep editing the list on the way. This will help you organise your Document 2 and not lose any appendices on the way (which is likely to happen if you have over 30 of them, and it’s a pretty common number for Document 2; I had 39).
  • Appendices to include in Document 1: 1) course syllabus and lesson plans; 2) collated needs analysis (NA) and diagnostic tests (DT) results
    Appendices to include in Document 2: 1) samples of NA questionnaires; 2) sample of completed NA questionnaires from one of the students; 3) DT tasks; 4) samples of completed DT tasks from one of the students (transcripts for speaking DT); 5) all materials used in each lesson; 6) all assessment forms; 7) all course evaluation questionnaires; 8) anything else you wish to include, e.g. charts and diagrams you refer to in the main body of your EA.
  • Learn how Word works. In particular, how to create heading styles and auto-generated contents. This will save A LOT OF time. To display the styles, press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S. Apply them to the headings – without this, you will not be able to create auto-generated contents. To create them, go to References -> Table of contents -> choose your preferred style.
  • Do all the necessary formatting BEFORE you start typing into the document. The standard is 2.5 cm margins (all sides), font size 12. Everything else is up to you, but I’d suggest having line spacing slightly bigger than 1 (it makes it easier for the reader, i.e. the assessor).
  • If you have problems with placing both footers and page numbers at the bottom (I did), place page numbers at the top – it’s much easier to do and not against the rules.
  • Have multiple copies of your EA in case something happens to your PC or if you decide to work on it using a different PC. I know it’s pretty basic advice, but you’ll be surprised to know how many people fail to arrange extra copies and end up regretting not having done this.

Don’t be afraid to get a deferral if you feel you don’t have enough time to refine your EA. You don’t have to submit it in December even if you started your course in September. I was working full-time while writing my EA and literally had no time to finish it before the deadline. I still did all the writing but did not prepare lesson plans, just the course proposal. I then took a break from writing and came back to it in spring. This gave me an opportunity to introduce all the necessary changes (according to my tutor’s feedback), attach all the lesson plans, and submit the EA in June. As a result, I got Pass with Merit, which is more than enough for me considering how many difficulties I always have when it comes to academic writing.

And as always, a link to the treasure box where you will find:

  • Module 3 Handbook;
  • Examiner reports;
  • Some sample assignments (free public access, no laws violated);
  • And a little extra.

If you wish to have a look at my assignment, feel free to contact me (but remember Cambridge does not tolerate plagiarism).

Book Review

When I first read a post made by Elizabeth Bekes calling to join a competition for the best book reviewer organised by the EFL Magazine, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to try something new. Well, not entirely new; I had some experience of writing movie reviews in Russian, English, and even Swedish. However, it was my first time to write a book review.
After reading a dozen of different reviews published in the magazine and trying to figure out how to approach mine I realised that the best way was just to be myself. Just write what you feel like writing. Do not be afraid of getting emotional or personal – if it is your nature, of course.
Being myself worked (once again), and I won the first prize. The prize was the publication of the review in the magazine so you can read it here in case you are interested.
I must say I enjoyed writing this book review, so in the future, I hope to write more of them. I just need to find books that will make me inspired, like Teaching in Low Resource Classrooms did.

The Last Lesson

The semester is almost over. There is just a repeating course left for those who failed last year and earlier, and that’ll be it.

I taught 12 groups this semester. Some of them were better than the others in terms of performance, but still, every single one of them will forever stay in my heart. They all made me feel happy – in different ways, but always happy.

Some groups were terrific, and every lesson with them changed into an exciting journey.
Some were challenging, and they helped me grow as a teacher.

Some students were brilliant, and it was a pure delight to work with them.
Some were difficult, but, nevertheless, they made me smile.

Last lessons are especially challenging for me. I am not good at goodbye speeches. I always feel awkward and a bit uncomfortable to say goodbye to anyone. Doing so brings emptiness, and it takes time to fill it.
I had to say goodbye to twelve groups, and some goodbyes left stronger impressions than the others.

It’s my Monday first-period class. One of the most challenging I have ever had. It’s our last lesson, and they are nailing it. I have never heard them speaking that much. And even the ‘difficult’ student is working hard and speaking English. He spent the whole semester trying to prove me that he was not able to use it (I did not believe him though, and I was right). It has never felt so good to teach them.

It’s still Monday, but now it’s the third period. This class has only 5 students, all boys. Their level is low, and they often struggle. They have always been positive about our classes though and managed to enjoy despite all the difficulties. They are discussing their first year at the university and sharing their memories. They are talking about sports clubs, part-time jobs and classes. On their mind maps sheets, I can see my name written – I did not see it on any other students’ sheets. One of them, who failed last semester, says he enjoyed English classes much more this time. He says ‘I wish Lina were my teacher last semester as well’.

It’s Friday, first period. Only one student came – the one I did not expect to show up at all. He was not very excited about our classes from the beginning. He clearly thought learning English was boring. I tried hard to motivate him as well as other students in this group. I did a good job judging from the fact that he became the best student in the class and got the highest score in the last test.
He is surprised to be the only student and laughs a bit nervously. We play the Memory game, and I can see that he gets relaxed. Two other students come later. At the end of the lesson, he says ‘It was fun! I’m glad I came’.

I store these memories in my head and leaf through them gently and carefully as if I was afraid to spill them.
After some time there are going to be new memories to add, but I know these three will not disappear no matter how old they become.

The Things Nobody Teaches You

This post is inspired by Sandy Millin’s and Mark’s posts here and here on the same topic.

Here it is, my own list of things I wish I were taught before starting my job.

Manual double-sided printing
In some cases, like when your office printer is not smart and modern enough, you might need to do double-sided printing manually. It’s not as difficult as it seems. I just had to mess up once or twice before I figured out how to put the sheet back into the paper tray so that the other side print was situated the way I wanted. Easy-peasy!
I wish I did not have to waste the paper though.

Feel free to break the rules
The one rule you remember best after doing your CELTA is not to do things any other way apart from that way you’ve been taught. A year and a half after finishing my CELTA I was still using those massive and detailed lesson plans for every single lesson I taught. It only happened by accident that two weeks ago I realised I didn’t need them anymore. I forgot to print out my lesson plan and had to teach without it. It was much easier than I expected (I should thank the unified curriculum with prescribed lesson structure for this). Now my lesson plans are as minimalistic as possible:

LP_after_edI still have no idea why I haven’t tried it earlier. Habit is second nature indeed…

Frist aid kit
Always bring a bottle of water and painkillers with you into the classroom. Ladies will understand.

In the office
Make sure to get tissues. You might also want to have an infinite stock of plastic folders, sticky notes and paper clips. Oh, and rubber bands!

4-colour pen
IT’S A MUST! If it also has a pencil and eraser in it, it becomes invaluable. Luckily, Japan has them everywhere 🙂

Teaching university students
University students are unique learners that have both teenager and young adults characteristics combined, which means that while you can expect a generally more mature attitude, it’s still worth adding some funny pictures and game elements (like o-hajiki, for example).

2018 Resolutions

I keep being traditional and dedicate my first post in 2018 to the magical power of goal-setting.

So here are my teaching goals for 2018:

  1. Semester Project

First of all, I have to continue and finish writing my Semester Project which focuses on motivation, group dynamics, and gender-unbalanced groups and is based on a dialogical teaching journal I have been keeping this semester (thanks Ann Loseva for being my TJ pal!).

  1. Review the lessons for Spring semester and think them over

I have many ideas on how to make them much better so technically I’m going to re-write every single lesson – there’s never too much work, huh? 😀 I’ve already finished composing a preliminary alternative lesson plan for Lesson 1 ‘Introduction’, and it was inspired by this post written by amazing Sventala Kandybovich. I’ve also heard about active listening from Ann during one of our RP meetings. Together, these two events ignited an idea of a lesson plan. I want students to think about communication and the roles of listener and speaker. Then we’ll look at the communication skills they have to learn as a part of the course curriculum. I hope that this time, I can introduce them to these skills in a more meaningful way which will result in a more active and thoughtful use.
I’m also thinking about different activities I could use for other lessons. I’m especially interested in brainstorming, critical thinking, learner autonomy, and guided discovery.

  1. New Level

I signed up for teaching Level I students whose English is Upper-Intermediate (or even higher sometimes as I heard). I know it might be difficult, but I’m eager to unlock this new level and get more experience. It seems like I’m a workaholic and an extreme ELT enthusiast…

  1. Conferences

One more achievement I’m aiming for is to become a conference presenter. For now, I’m mostly concentrated on poster presentations as probably the most accessible form to start from, but I’m thinking about workshops as well… and I have some ideas… I hope I can write more about it when they come true!

As for personal goals, I hope to travel to some new countries and explore some new places.

Let’s do it! Yosh ^_^

2017

It’s the end of 2017, and my Reader is getting filled with various end-of-year reflective posts. I am no different from all other bloggers who feel it’s an excellent opportunity to look back and think a bit deeper of what has happened so far.

I met 2017 in my hometown being a newly hired employee of a chain eikaiwa.
I’m meeting 2018 in my husband’s family house in Japan being a relatively newly hired university EAP instructor.

It’s been a long journey full of amazing moments. I’d like to have a quick look at those which seem the most important to me (ranked in order of importance):

  1. Getting a university job (February): This is definitely the best thing that has happened this year. It’s my dream job, and I can’t express how happy and grateful I am. It made all other things that happened afterwards possible. It also boosted my professional development by giving me an opportunity for various experiments and improvisation within my classroom (for example, I’ve been investigating the influence of self-reflective feedback on students’ performance and trying to implement tiny bits of learner autonomy). It filled me with inspiration and strengthened my passion for teaching. I’m full of ideas about things I want to try next semester, and I can’t wait to do it!!
  2. Writing a post for the TEFL Equity Advocates (August): I first heard of Marek when Matthew Schaeffer and I were looking at a job ad poster hanging in the corridor in front of our office. It was an examiner job for some Japan-based English exam (I don’t remember which one). To apply for it, one had to be either a JET or a NEST aged above 30 y.o. I said it was ridiculous, and Matthew said that I could file a complaint with the TEFL Equity Advocates. I googled it as soon as I had free time and was lost for this world for the next several hours until I read every single entry that seemed interesting 😀 Several months later, I contacted Marek via e-mail and asked if he would be interested in featuring my story in the Teacher Success Story blog. He gave me the green light, and here it is, my first (but not the last I hope!) contribution to this amazing project. The response to this post was incredibly heartwarming.
  3. Blogging (from July): I’ve been blogging about my daily life and job on a Russian website called diary.ru for 7 years, but blogging about your job thoughtfully is quite different I must say. When I just started this blog I wasn’t sure if anyone would even find my posts interesting or if I will have anything to write about. And then it appeared that I have a lot to say and that there actually are some people who are interested in what I’m saying. It was quite a relief 🙂 And last Thursday, my blog was featured in the Top-50 TEFL Blogs post on Feedspot. My head is full of ideas, there’s still so much left to write about, and I didn’t even notice how blogging on ELT became a significant part of my professional life. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. Giving demo lessons for the CELTA course in St Petersburg (August): Going back to where I did my CELTA was so nostalgic and revived so many sweet memories. It gave me a chance to compare my CELTA-time self with the current self and see how much has changed since then and how far I’ve moved. If you’re interested in seeing what kind of lessons I taught, you can find the lesson plans here (vocabulary) and here (reading+speaking).
  5. Attending the JALT conference (November)Another inspiring experience I’ve had this year. I met some fantastic ELT professionals there and attended several highly interesting workshops. You can read more about it in this post. BTW, I filed a proposal for a poster presentation for the PanSIG conference in May, so fingers crossed!!
  6. Participating in the review contest organised by EFL Magazine (December ~): First of all, thanks to this competition I had a chance to chat to Erzsébet Békés, one of the most inspiring nNESTs in the ELT field. Secondly, if I win, I’ll have a chance for my review to be published in the EFL Magazine (not an opportunity to miss, right?). I’m still in the process of writing it (it’s a review of this remarkable book called Teaching in Low Resource Classrooms), and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you updated, guys!

This is it. This what my 2017 has been like. It’s just one day left now, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 is going to give me!

I wish a happy New Year to everyone, and may your dreams come true!

Week 1 Update

Somehow I totally forgot to mention these two activities I tried out in week 1.

The first one was inspired by the Tumblr blog called 2 Kinds of People. My mom and I were having fun looking at them and comparing our preferences when it strucked me that this could be a perfect multipurpose activity. Like literally, you can use it for almost anything you can possibly imagine! And especially for functional language like reasons or connecting ideas. So I decided to spend time cutting 65 big cards since I was sure I’d use them a lot. The activity was simple: students look at the cards and say which way they choose justifying their choice by reasons and examples. They can also use some other functions, agree/disagree and ask follow-up questions to each other. And it worked perfectly with every level, both higher and lower ones! I told them not to worry about vocabulary and try to use the words they already know since the main focus was on fluency rather than accuracy. Students seemed to enjoy. I’ll definitely use this activity again for introducing Balancng Opinions function.

The second activity was the review of previously learnt functions with the use of… a bomb. A black plastic bomb from ‘Pass the Bomb’ game. Students would pass the Bomb’ saying one function or communication skill phrase. Again, this activity had a huge success, especially among kinaesthetic students. Some of them even got a bit overexcited 😀 I’ll use it again at the very end of semester to revise the new function and skill phrases.

Go go go & the Power of Feedback

It happened. Procrastination I mean. It was supposed to be a weekly-updated blog but today is Saturday, and I’m far behind the schedule. Oh well.

Anyway, my second semester at the uni is almost here, and I’m extremely excited! I spent last semester mainly adjusting to the environment that was completely new for me, but now I’m ready for experimenting. This time, I’m intended to change couple of things:

1. Quieting noisy classes down: last time I almost ended up losing my voice. Na-uh, not gonna happen again. I found this amazing picture I wanna print out in colour and transform into a poster I’d show whenever my students make me feel irritated. It’s fun, and I don’t have to say a single word, just walk around and show it to the students LoL

2. Always ask at the end of the lesson if there’re any questions (somehow I always forget to do it). Be more accessible and approachable.

3. Explain clearly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why these function phrases amd communication skills are important and how they can help outside the classroom. I did it last time but I can do better.

4. More personal feedback so that students would always know why they get the grade they get.

***

Couple of days ago, I got anonymous comments from my spring semester students. It was heartwarming and empowering!! I’d never expect anything like that. My ultimate favourites are (translated from Japanese):

“I never liked English. Actually, I hated it. I even wasn’t sure if I should apply for this university since there’re so many compulsory English courses.

Your classes opened my eyes. I realised that learning English can be fun. The classes were so different from what I had at high school. I enjoyed them a lot! Now, I want to continue learning English and become better at it.

Thank you so much.”

and

“Lina is so cute!!!”

I can’t express how thrilled I am that there’s a person now whose hatred for learning English changed into enjoying it (with my help)! And yes, I really tried to be cute, and I’m happy I succeeded at it 😀

What are your goals for this academic year / semester? What do you want to change compare to the previous one? If you read this, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment 🙂