Photo: alexbrn

Matador U student Milana shares her tips for getting started as a private English teacher.

Whether you are interested in a part time job, a career in ESL (English as a Second Language) education, or need some experience before teaching English in a foreign country for a year, becoming a private English teacher can be financially rewarding and a great way to meet new friends and learn new cultures. Starting from scratch with few or no contacts can be daunting, but it is definitely possible. Here are six tips and strategies that I’ve learned to get you started.

1. Understand what you can offer your students.

You need to have a good grasp of English grammar to teach English, but you do not need to be a grammar expert. Students are usually looking for help with conversation, technical skills, or even a crash-course in slang and colloquial expressions, skill sets that are less commonly taught in a traditional classroom setting. They want to speak like a local, and you may be the local that can teach them.

If you learned English as a second language, or if you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you will be able to relate to your students and better understand what methods work and what methods don’t.

2. Publicize yourself.

Put up flyers in language schools, ethnic grocery stores, common areas of local universities and colleges, and any organizations that work with foreign or immigrant populations in your area. Some organizations to try are the Latina Women’s League, Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and Rotary Club.

If you know a foreign language, consider joining a conversation exchange to increase your contact list. You will meet with someone who knows the language you are learning, and the two of you will divide the time conversing in English and the foreign language. You can also volunteer to just meet with someone and talk in English with them. Usually these exchanges are free, but they can be a good way to acquire contacts.

One summer, I spent an hour on Monday mornings conversing with a Korean exchange professor to improve his English, and two months later, one of his Korean colleagues called me to request lessons for his whole family!

Photo: mrsraggle

3. Customize lesson plans for your student.

The advantage of a private lesson is that all your attention is focused on a single student. I recommend meeting with the student before officially starting lessons in order to learn his level and interests. Ask what specific goals he wants to achieve. Each student is unique, and it is your job to tailor the lessons to help the student achieve his goals.

When I was teaching the Korean family, the wife loved to cook while the husband was interested in American politics and social issues. For the wife, I brought in American recipes and taught her the vocabulary needed to read a recipe. With the husband, I based our lessons on current events and social debates.

The first meeting is also the time to set tuition rates, meeting times and the meeting place.

4. Create the lessons and don’t be afraid to get some help.

For a first timer, creating a lesson plan can be daunting.

For a lesson longer than a half hour, plan a set of mini lessons. For example, spend 10 minutes on new vocabulary, then move on the main lesson point, and spend the last 15 minutes on freestyle conversation.

You can base each lesson by skill or by theme. For example, you can have lessons that focuses on a specific verb tense, or you can create a lessons on topics such as health care, sports, cooking and so on.

If you feel lost and don’t know where to start, search online for ESL lesson plans and you will find plenty of ideas, exercises, and games for each level type. Do not be afraid to use the entire lesson plan, tailor it to suit your student’s interest, or take bits and pieces to form your own lesson. Eventually you will grow more confident and obtain an archive of lesson plans that can be revised and reused with other students. Some websites I find useful are Using English, English as Second Language, and Dave’s ESL Cafe .

I have used the internet, old foreign language books that I convert into lessons for ESL, old ESL workbooks, and I’ve even asked people who learned English as a second language for advice. All you need is some time and creativity, and voilá, you’ll have a lesson plan.

5. Pay attention to the student.

It is all about the student. Speak slowly. Slow down if he seems confused and speed up if he seems bored. Even if you are naturally shy, you are the teacher and you must be confident and extroverted. You should take the lead and engage the student. Make your students feel comfortable and let them know they are free to ask questions at any time.

As time goes on, ask the student’s opinion about the lessons. Since you are not part of a language school and do not have anyone to answer to, you have the freedom to continuously alter the lessons to meet your student’s ever-changing needs and concerns.

6. Have fun.

Teaching English is a great way to learn about other cultures and meet new people. The experience is as much as you make of it: you can be strictly professional with your students, or you can initiate excursions and field trips for them to experience your culture.

Eventually, word will travel and you’ll find yourself with plenty of students and hopefully some new international friends.

Community Connection

For more about teaching English abroad, check out Matador’s Teaching ESL Focus Page.