The countdown to our world trip is on. My passport is being held for ransom at the Russian embassy, we have rented our apartment as of the 25th, and we have no idea how we are going to be able to do everything we need to do before we hand over the keys, so all is going as expected if not planned!
I have given notice to my schools that I am leaving, and although they are not happy they can not exactly stop me. But this got me thinking about my experience teaching English in Germany, the good, the bad and the ugly of the past 4 years. If I ask myself if I would do it all again I would say yes, and I plan to return to Germany after the world trip and start teaching again. But it is only in the past 2 years I really fell into the rhythm of teaching here. There are a number of things I would do differently, and I wish someone else had passed on advice that I could have really used when I got here. (Searching the boards I was always told one of two things, it is impossible to find a job and when you do the pay is crap and the conditions suck, which can be true, but so is the opposite).
If you have taught in Asia, or even outside western Europe, and you want to move to Germany to teach English, remember that you are very very spoiled in many ways and this treatment of you is not going to extend to you here. (Stop laughing, its true!) If that statement has not scared you off teaching English here then let me explain why. No one is going to help you find an apartment let alone give you one. In fact, you are even on your own for the most part in obtaining a work visa, unless you manage to get a job at the one of five schools in the entire country that offers a full time contract. But for that contract you get very little money and the conditions suck. Think about that before you sign on the dotted line for “security.” (And for more on security check out the end of the post where Eve Ensler gives a fantastic talk on it).
The number one thing I wish I had been told, and that I had started to apply to my teaching from the very start, is that as a freelancer you are not a regular employee. Most schools want to treat you as one, and therefore they try to put pressure on you to act like one. They will overload you with courses when you let them, and act like the world has ended and you pushed the button when you call in sick (even though you are not paid for these missed classes) and if you want to take holidays longer than the standard 2 or 3 weeks they might threaten to take all your classes away because you are untrustworthy. (Again you are not paid for your holidays, so the only inconvenience is that they need to find a substitute, and if the class likes your substitute more than you than you just lost a class).
Which is why I wish I had approached it from the very beginning as a client client relationship rather than employer employee. They gave me the service of finding students, and I provided them the service of teaching the groups they found for me. To be fair, the best schools I have worked for have treated the working relationship exactly like this. The worse ones have canceled classes the day of a class and then refused to pay me saying that we should “be generous” to the group. Note that if they cancel a course on you, you do not get reimbursed, you have absolutely no rights for payment in any situation except if they cancel with less than 24 hour notice. Then the school has to pay. If your school does this to you then leave them.
Which is the second thing I wish I had been told. Do not put up with crap. The more crap trainers put up with for fear of losing a job, the worse they treat you. After working in Germany for 2 years I was at my wits end point. I was going to go insane. I was working for a dodgey school that heaped abuse on me and I just took it because I was “grateful” to have work. Then I realized that if I continued like this I was going to have a nervous breakdown and it was going to cost me my relationship. I dropped all the courses that were giving me trouble and stopped taking crap. If I had a problem I addressed it clearly and directly, with the intention that if it was not fixed I was quitting. And it turned out that the world did not end. The problems were fixed, and when not I had the time to find work with schools I wanted to work with.
This I think is a common pitfall that freelancers of all kinds fall into, we take work because we are so scared not to have it, this work drains us, but then we do not have the time or the energy to get out and do the work we really want to do. The whole reason most of us became freelancers in the first place.
Which brings me to the third thing I wish someone had told me, do not work so much that you do not have a life. Germans are always working, and all of a sudden teaching went from something that was fun and allowed me to travel and have my own life, and it became something all consuming and my days were spent chasing work. I may work 6 hours on any given day, but I am away from my house for 12 of those hours, as I work an hour and a half here, and three hours there. Better to start off right, fill up your days with courses that bunch together, or at the very least are close together geographically if not time wise. And if you have a day you do not want to work, do not! Since giving myself 3 day weekends I find I am a much happier person.
Teaching is a draining occupation. Problem groups suck your life, but even the ones you like can still leave you exhausted. As I told my partner, if he is having a bad day it does not matter, he just clicks away on a keyboard all day. If I am having a bad day the best I can do is tell my group “sorry I am having an off day, bear with me.” But that makes me feel guilty and often I swallow my sadness and use up my energy forcing myself to be “normal.”
I think I am going to end this here, and do a part two post on all the wonderful things about teaching English in Germany tomorrow. Since this mostly addressed the bad and the ugly, and there are a lot of really great things I am going to miss! (Which is why I plan to return to it when I come back, and take my own advice with my fresh start. Less burn out that way!)