‘I can’t get my teaching business started – even by begging!’

Today I received this request for help on introducing English in schools, here’s the problem:

‘I live in an area which perhaps is the most difficult to work in, as far as ESL teaching is concerned.  Add to the “natural” refusal to attend English courses,

  • the almost total incompetence of the teachers who are in the state school system,
  • the hostility that is shown to private schools
  • the savage invasion of so-called “experts”
  • the awe in which “teaching methods” are held! (Like the franchise Helen Doron).
and you have just an inkling of what it means teaching here.  I have tried for three years to propose “projects” to nursery schools and pre-school classes, and each year it was like begging for alms…….not to speak of the ridiculous sum I asked as “payment”.

Do you have a magic formula which will make schools jump at the idea of including English in their curriculum?’
Read on for my answer on how to deal with these issues.

Here are my thoughts, but please bear in mind that I’m not the Oracle, this reply is partly a subjective point of view and partly factual things I did to start my own teaching business.

1. Firstly I can see your frustration.  I can undestand it!  However you can either try to change the entire mindset on teaching by bashing your head against it from the outside, or you can try to change it from the inside, seeking agreement and harmony.

So if people are in awe of ‘teaching methods’ then exploit that and propose a ‘teaching method’.  You want to use my resources, no problem, they are definitely a ‘teaching method’ – i.e. way of teaching.

You will wear yourself out trying to fight everybody so go along with the line of thought, get in the door and then change things gradually from the inside.

2. To get into schools propose to do a demonstration lesson with the kids at the school in lunchtime, or during assembly.  You are so confident in your method that it’s no trouble for you to take ten children you have never met before and give them an instant English lesson with fun games in front of the whole school, or some of the teachers or parents.

Walk your talk!  Don’t tell them how good you are, show them.

3. Once the school accept the idea prepare a letter for parents and give the school as many copies as it needs to send one home with each child.  The letter invites parents to enroll their child in English Club, an extra-curricula activitiy now being offered by the school.

Your letter should have pictures, be professional, welcoming and talk about how you teach the kids in a fun way.

The fact that parents receive the letter via the school gives you credibility and also reassures parents since they assume the school has vetted you and made sure you are safe.

4. You mentioned your price was ridiciulous, and even then the school didn’t want it. If the price is too cheap parents might perceive the offering to be rubbish.  On the other hand it has to be affordable.

You are better off doing a quality job with fewer pupils who pay a bit more than a mass of kids paying peanuts.  Therefore you can say to parents in the letter you write that places are limited to ten per group, absolute maximum to ensure quality work.

If you go to a school in a poor neighbourhood you MAY get no results, whatever the price, because parents may not value education more than a packet of cigarettes.  When I handed out something like 800 letters in two state schools I only had 2 replies.  On the other hand in state schools in better-off areas the clubs had plenty of subscibers.

Please don’t jump the gun, I KNOW that this is not always true and that many poor neighbourhoods have HIGHLY motivated families and great people.  I am just saying that was my experience in the UK.  Each country and city is unique.  Just don’t flog a dead horse.  If you try to grow vegetables on a sterile patch of ground it will be slow and difficult and you are better off trying the more fertile plains next door, at least while you get started.

5. Reassure the schools that you are reliable

Be positive, enthusiastic, professional and go with the system.  Offering extra-curricula activites makes the school look good, so normally they will be keen as long as they think you are reliable. You must reassure the school that you ARE reliable, and you are following a reliable teaching method because the school’s reputation is on the line. That’s why they are so keen on “teaching methods” since they feel they can trust them.

4. Re your comment about how people are hostile private schools:  If the state schools do not want to propose a paid service to parents then try a different school, or target the private schools.  But understand that if a school is against paying for education then making it cheap won’t change that.  In fact if the price is ridiculous it can undermine you.

5. Get the ‘savage invasive’ experts on your side – they could promote your services.

6. Finally if you can’t get into any school, anywhere, then set up on your own, from home, at weekends and after school, or in the day for mums and dads who don’t work and can bring their kids.  And offer summer clubs and holiday clubs from home.

7. By the way, I think Helen Doron is a franchise so you keep paying constantly, whereas my stuff you buy once and use it for the rest of your teaching career, and it’s amazing value. There are plenty of schools and nurseries using Teaching English Games as the teaching method and I could give you some references if that would help you.  For example if you are teaching a group of 3 year olds once a week my first ten stories and songs will give you a complete course for the entire year & every year after that for 46 euros one-off flat fee.

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon
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