The Pros and Cons of Private English Lessons
By Cynthia Popper
On January 21, 2014
Looking to pick up some extra yen? Teaching private English lessons is a good way to earn some extra money and meet new Japanese people. Extra cash, your own time, no work clothes: there are a lot of upsides to freelance teaching… and a few downsides too.
Here’s what I’ve found out so far:
It pays better.
Teaching at an Eikawa generally doesn’t pay well. Teaching privates, you can set your own rates and earn as much as you want.
It pays now.
Cash money yo. You get your yens immediately. Standard practice is the student gives you an envelope with your rate enclosed at either the start or end of the lesson.
You run the show.
Want to work near your house? Want to only teach adults? Business English? Cooking classes? You teach what you want, how you want.
Saving for Golden Week in Thailand? Need to cut back your hours because of band practice? It’s your business so you choose how much or little you want to work.
There’s lots of it.
With so many private dispatch companies, there’s no shortage of opportunity in most areas, but obviously the major cities are going to have larger student bases.
You gotta hustle.
Staying on top of locations, student levels, lesson plans, and scheduling all requires some organization and planning.
If you’re going to work with several students consistently, you need to have a system in place for keeping it all straight. Google calendar works for me.
I schedule the lesson immediately and add the station, location, and lesson details for each student. I review my schedule every Sunday night so I’m ready for the week.
There are no guarantees when you’re working for yourself. No set income, and your students can cancel anytime.
Maybe they want to try someone new, maybe they just get busy with other priorities, but you have to have a solid student base if you’re embarking on full-time freelance work.
There are loads of teachers who go for it and freelance full-time, but if you’re new in town, you might want to start freelance teaching as a sideline gig.
(Almost) zero support
One of the things I really like with the eikawa I teach for is the support. I’ve made some great friends and feel a little more settled knowing that if I get into a language jam with my mail or banking, I can always get help.
For privates, if you have a problem student—there’s no one to turn to. Being smart about how and where you teach privates is key.
No visa sponsorship
It IS possible to sponsor your own visa, but as a freelance teacher, the word on the street is that it’s a difficult process (if you know otherwise…by all means share your story!).
Eikawas make the sponsorship process a relatively smooth one, and with a humanities visa, you can do other types of work, including private teaching.
Tips and Resources.
Find Your Students
There are so many sites you can register at. I personally use Hello Sensei and Eigo Pass.
Eigo Pass sets the teaching rate and requires an (unpaid) pre-meeting and mini-trial lesson with the student and an Eigo Pass staff member to make the introduction smooth.
With Hello Sensei, you set everything: the trial lesson rate, the regular rate. In my experience, I get a LOT more lesson requests from Eigo Pass, and I think that’s due to the comfort level given by having a staff member present for the first lesson.
Most of my students want some kind of structure to the lesson—seldom do I personally get free talk lessons. Even students working on general conversation skills want weekly vocabulary lists in a particular area: travel, industry-related, even idiomatic expressions used in movies and TV.
Setting up a lesson structure is key to giving students what they want and making sure the lesson goes smoothly.
Some teachers have them, some don’t. Private teaching is a casual space, but because it’s Japan I have cards, and I always give one out when I’m introduced to a new potential student. I use moo.com’s mini-cards because they’re custom, inexpensive, and super cool. My students dig them.
Do’s and Don’ts
Meet in public places. Never meet in a student’s private home or any area that wasn’t a well-trafficked space open to the public. Your student will want this too, and if they don’t… maybe reconsider giving that lesson.
Be professional. And polite.
This is common sense but it bear repeating: respond to student email in a timely way, confirm locations, times, and lesson objectives.
In most cases you can wear what you want but it’s probably not a good call to roll into your private lesson a melted mess after a hot yoga class.
Being friendly and open is important, but I’m careful how much of my personal life I divulge. Getting overly familiar with your students can create miscommunication or awkward situations.
In Japan, business is really built on relationships and word-of-mouth. Your students aren’t going to refer you to their colleagues or friends if you’re not a pro.
Treat your students like your buddies.
Even though it feels like casual coffee with a new friend, remember your student is paying you to learn English. Often, students won’t interrupt you when you’re talking because they might think it’s rude, so it’s up to you to drive conversation toward the student, not toward yourself.
I’m SO guilty of nervous chatting or filling in awkward silence, because to a Westerner, silence often feels really strange. But if your student is trying to translate, you might just be screwing them up.
So be patient and make the lesson about the students and their objectives.
Be late, or flake
Early is on time, on time is late. Show up a few minutes early to get your coffee and get situated, especially if you’re new to the area. Rushing in at the last second all flustered and disheveled doesn’t exactly instill confidence in your new student.
This is obvious but if you pull a no show—it makes everyone look bad: you, the company that dispatched you, and English teachers in general.
Part of being a successful freelancer means being consistent and prepared. It doesn’t take much effort to make a great impression, so take the extra time and do it right!