An Ode to the Private Lesson

Oh, private lessons

How you fill my heart with joy.

Ever changing, topics ranging,

Though on occasion you annoy. 

Well that’s about all the poetry I’ve got in me – sorry for the deceiving title. If you’re here for poetry, I can’t really help you there, but if instead you’d like to hear some suggestions regarding how to teach private classes, you’re in the right place.
Private lessons are an excellent way to supplement a full or part-time teaching job with an academy. In some cities, spanish studentsyou might actually only teach private classes, and some people, after dipping their toes in the water at a large academy, decide they prefer the flexibility and autonomy that come with the private class lifestyle.I’ve been teaching for 6 months here in Barcelona, and so far have only taught one group class; all the rest are private classes. My colleagues and I have been through the ups and downs of finding, teaching, and retaining students. While a lot of this process is best learned through experience, I have put together a list of tips on how to get started teaching private lessons.
Finding private classes
I’ve heard of people putting up flyers around town, handing out leaflets outside of elementary schools or teaching practice feb:marchuniversities, or even using social media platforms to connect with potential students, but in my experience, the best place to start is with online postings. Do some research and figure out some popular job boards in your country, and post an ad there. In Spain, there’s a great website called Tus Clases Particulares, which is a place where all sorts of private teachers post their availability. You can find something like that in almost every country in the world, and it’s an excellent place to start.
Posting your ad
If possible, write your post in both English and the native tongue (or tongues) of the city you are in. Your posting should include the following:
  • A catchy title
  • Your name & where you’re from (mention you’re a native speaker if you are)
  • How much you charge per hour (looking at other postings can help here)
  • Teaching experience and certification (leave this out if you have neither – don’t lie)
  • Availability
  • Contact info
  • Where you can teach (your home, their home, at a café, etc.)
  • Mention that the first class is free!
Wait – first class free?
Yes. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others) your first meeting should be completely free. This is an opportunity for you, as a teacher, to gauge their speaking level, learn what they are looking for, and get to know them a bit.
After that, you can start at whatever rate you think is best. It’s good to do some research here and ask around. Most people I know started offering classes at €15/hr to gain traction and then worked their way up to €20 or so. Many say it’s not worth it to charge anything less than €20/hr. More experienced teachers often charge €30/hr. It’s completely up to you, but do some research before you post so that you make sure you aren’t over or under-charging.
Scheduling
A teacher of mine once said, “Never leave the house for less than €30.” While this amount may be variable depending on the country you are in, the big takeaway here is that you should be scheduling your day with back-to-back classes that are close to each other. Otherwise, you’ll be spending so much time and money on travel, you may as well have stayed at home.
Allow your students some flexibility in scheduling and the location of classes, but be smart about it. Don’t schedule classes 30 minutes apart if they are on opposite sides of town. Teaching is your job, your livelihood. Don’t burn yourself out or breeze through metro passes just because your student wants to meet at their favorite café that happens to be deep in the suburbs. It’s not worth it.
Location
Along with scheduling comes location. I recommend always meeting at a café or a park for your first class. Don’t IMG_2136invite strangers into your home and don’t go to a stranger’s home. Just don’t. After the first lesson, it’s a judgment call for you, but it’s totally fine to stick with a public place. If possible, have them come to you, that way you can have multiple classes in the same location back-to-back. If they can’t come to you, meet somewhere in the middle. If you’re teaching children – that’s a different story. You’ll probably be having class in their home, generally with a parent and/or housekeeper present, and that’s just something you need to decide if you’re willing to do. Obviously, be on your guard walking into someone’s home, and walk out if you don’t feel safe.
Billing
The best way to do this is to ask each student to pay for a month of classes in advance, and give them some sort of invoice, if possible. This saves you if the student decides to cancel at the very last second, however when you first meet a student, they may be worried that you will take their money and run. There are 3 things you can do to reassure them:
  • 1 – Offer a discount if they pay for the classes in advance. If you charge €15/hr and they want 1x class a week (€60 total/month), tell them that they can pay €50 for the whole month if they pay up front.
  • 2 – Make up a simple contract and give them a copy. I’ve never had to do this, but many people say that it makes the student feel much more secure, which in turn makes them more willing to trust that you will not run off with their money.
  • 3 – Test the waters for a bit. If they come to class on time each week, don’t routinely cancel, and always pay you, then it may not be necessary to have them pay up front.
Conversation-based classes
Many students seeking private classes are just looking for someone to practice their English with. They don’t want books, they don’t want homework, they just want to chat. You should still always prepare for these classes. Show up to each lesson with a topic prepared, generally with an article or video to accompany it. Have points prepared to discuss, and questions ready to ask.
You may show up some weeks to find that the “how was your day?” question leads to a completely different conversation, but you should by no means count on that.
Grammar-based classes
These can be tricky in a private setting. Students who are looking to learn grammar also generally want some privatelessonphoto1textbook style exercises, readings, etc. If you don’t have those resources from an academy, it’s hard to know where to start. The good news is that there are tons of resources online, or you can find copies of books online or in a library. You can also make your own materials (flashcards, worksheets, etc.), which can be tedious at first, but once they are made, you can recycle them for other students and cut down on prep time.
Bad students
It can be hard to admit, but some students are just not a good fit. Maybe they are rude, maybe they always cancel at the last minute, or perhaps their comments are often inappropriate. Sometimes you can fix this with a simple conversation explaining that they need to give you 24-hours notice if they can’t make it, or that they can’t make certain types of comments in polite conversation. That being said, don’t be afraid to get rid of really difficult students. Don’t waste anyone’s time, energy, or money trying to make something work if it’s not productive for either party.
Intercambio
In Spanish, this means, “exchange.” The idea behind an intercambio is that you trade your English skills for the Spanish/Catalan/French/Russian skills of someone in the country in which you are living. If you have a student who is maybe a bit flaky with time or with payment, but you enjoy the classes when they happen, it could be a good idea to suggest a language exchange. Basically, instead of paying you in cash, they pay you in language skills. If you have the time and the financial freedom to do this, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to get to know someone and practice your own language skills at the same time.
The best piece of advice I can give? Just get out there and jump in! You will quickly learn the tactics that work best for you and your students, the tactics that don’t work, and you’ll experience how fun and rewarding teaching abroad can be.

By Sarah Melville

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1 thought on “An Ode to the Private Lesson”

  1. Hey, thanks. Just stumbled across this. I’ve just moved to Granada anad I’ve just started teaching private classes. Any tips for what to do on the first lesson? Needs analysis? I’m always slightly concerned about coming across as unprofessional.

    Like

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