5 Reasons You're Not Making More Money Teaching English

Congratulations! After four intensive and challenging weeks, you’ve just graduated from TEFL. You’re totally prepared to hit the ground running and begin your new career as an English teacher, right?

Well, maybe.

What you DIDn’t learn in TEFL...

What you DIDN'T learn in TEFL might be costing you a lot of potential income!

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) programs prepare you to teach English to non-native speakers. You’ll learn methodology and complete the required practical hours to become certified. 

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Unfortunately, TEFL doesn’t teach you many of the tools necessary for creating a sustainable teaching career that allows you the financial freedom you to live and work abroad.

You don’t learn how to treat your collection of private students as a business, how to find new clients or how set yourself up for professional and financial success.

So to help you get your career off to a productive and profitable start, I’m sharing 5 of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started teaching English and 5 solid tips on how to avoid them. Do as I say, not as I did!

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The 5 biggest mistakes that take $$$ out of your pocket

1. Blurred Lines

After TEFL graduation, I found myself living in Prague, Czech Republic, immersed in an entirely new culture. It was a massive change and a bit overwhelming. It was also an exciting time filled with learning, exploring and meeting new people from around the world.

Some of the very first people I connected with were a handful of private students. Were they my clients? My drinking buddies? My new best friends? All 3 in 1? (Hmmm...do I accept half-liters of beer as payment?)

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing on a professional level. I didn’t see or fully understand the potential and possibilities of teaching English privately. I treated many of these first students like friends and my small earnings as pocket money. This was fine for a while, but eventually, I found myself in some very frustrating, very awkward teacher-student situations. More than once I refused the money because an hour lesson turned into two hours of “just hanging out”. It also made asking for money when it was overdue very uncomfortable.

While developing real friendships with students can be one of the many benefits of teaching English, it's important to create boundaries. One way to ensure this is to establish clear a teacher-student relationship from the start. You are no different than a language school or any other professional service when it comes to your time and worth, and it is important to see yourself as a business first.

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Learn how to establish yourself as a professional ESL teacher in the (FREE!) How to Make More Money Teaching English Online Course.

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2. Mo Money, Less Problems

Before I started working as an English teacher, I worked in sales. In sales training, we learned the importance of not always being the cheapest offer. The same applies to teaching rates!

When I first started teaching private lessons, I based my rate off of what I was being paid at my language school. But my language school was paying me less than half of what the student was paying for each lesson; which is not uncommon. Without a classroom or a school name behind me, could I charge what a school was charging? 75% of that? I was lost.

For a while, I was hesitant to charge more out of fear that my current or potential students would leave for another teacher who charged less—and a few did. But once I started to prove my lessons were twice as valuable as the typical freelance English teacher, the exact opposite happened.

I started offering lesson packages, creating contracts and establishing my terms of payment. The more I legitimized myself as a business and as a professional and the more value I offered, the more my career grew and the more long-term students I gained. It was also clear that my new clientele respected my time and their investment much more. 

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Learn how to create packages that add enormous value ($$$) to your

lessons in the How to Make More Money Teaching English Online Course

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3. Assess The Situation

Even after months of teaching, I had trouble properly assessing students’ levels of English and setting clear goals and expectations. This is something TEFL touches on briefly but is often overshadowed by the heavy focus on lesson planning. And it is much easier said than done.

What often happens with new students during an intro lesson is that you meet at a food court or cafe and have a general, “get-to-know-you” conversation. But beware: It’s extremely difficult (especially for new teachers) to simply listen to someone speak for 60 minutes, catch their grammar mistakes and assess their overall accuracy, fluency, and level of English.

A better solution is to start with an online placement test, like the one you’ll get access to in the How to Make More Money Teaching English Online Course.

Email it to your student before the first lesson, and you’ll immediately identify the areas where your student needs to improve.

The results of the placement test give you a reference point to start and allow you to build a syllabus specifically tailored to each student's needs. No more pulling random lessons out of a textbook on the way to the cafe. When you tailor your private lesson syllabus to your student’s individual needs, they value those lessons a LOT more. (Remember: more value = more moolah for you.)


4. Give your student what they want….(sort of)

More often than not, students aren’t really sure what they need to work on and will simply ask for ‘conversation’. This can lead you down a long, dark rabbit hole of scrambling for material, failing to adequately plan, and most likely winging it for a 60-minute lesson.

Week after week, conversation lessons can get really, and I mean REALLY repetitive:

“What did you do last weekend?”

“How’s your cat?”

“Yes, I’m well aware that you can’t stand your boss, but by all means, elaborate.”

Not only does this bore the pants off you, but it allows your student to stagnate. A stagnant student will seek a new teacher!

ESL students WANT conversation, but they NEED progress and they EXPECT you to supply them with the roadmap. You cannot give them that roadmap without knowing their destination.

Are they interviewing for jobs that require English? Are they spending next semester in London? Do they have an English-speaking lady friend they’re trying to impress? Determine those goals early to help build your roadmap. This gives you ideas for thematic lessons, and helps flesh out your lesson plans.

With the Student Intake form you’ll get access to in the How to Make more Money Teaching English Online Course, your students will give you plenty of ideas for thematic lessons that you can build into their syllabus, helping you to create a package that is specifically tailored to their goals and wants.

5. Lessons That Matter

And finally, the lesson itself.

The last thing you want to do is scramble for material at the last minute or fly by the seat of your pants. At first, it might seem fun that you don’t have to prepare much, but inevitably this will catch up. Soon the “fun” conversation lesson each Wednesday will quickly become the most stressful part of your week.  

When teaching outside a language school, you probably don’t have much in the way of learning material besides a computer, notebook, and pen—and that’s OK!

You don’t need flashy motivational posters taped to your forehead or a portable bookshelf; you just need to be prepared. This means deciding what grammar point or which language skill you want to focus on that day and supplementing it with some online practice, flashcards or worksheets.

Most importantly, those topics and grammar lessons must fit into a syllabus that builds upon itself WITHOUT creating more lesson planning work for you. The key here is to be organized.

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Learn how to create a syllabus with valuable,

interactive materials you can reuse time and time again in the

How to Make More Money Teaching English Online Course

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Once you develop a system for creating a syllabus, your monthly calendar is literally planned for you and your lessons become plug and play.

This goes back to properly assessing your students level and utilizing the placement test. It also means sticking to the goals and needs of your student.

TEFL is a great starting block, but like all things, there is no substitute for hard work and experience. You will discover over time that teaching English is a dynamic, creative and rewarding career. 

Ready To EARN More And Take Your Teaching Career To The Next Level?

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Jess Koontz is a writer, content manager and English teacher based in Prague, Czech Republic. The self-proclaimed "beer geek" spends her free time discovering new craft beer and is the beauty & brains behind The Pivo Project

Jess Koontz

Jess is an English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She also starts in The Pivo Project web series and writes The Pivo Project blog.