It’s getting close to two years in Prague. Two years in this job. I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I have. It’s two years in and I still like my job. I’ll likely stop in the fall when I return to school, but since I have been doing it a couple of years now, I figure I’d offer some advice to anyone considering a start as an English teacher, especially anyone considering a stint in Prague, and highlight some of the advantages of moving abroad to teach English.
It’s fucking easy sometimes
Let’s be honest here, you’re getting paid to do something that you’ve been doing everyday for your entire life. Nothing will ever come as naturally as this (unless you’re one of those Chinese gymnastics babies). Even without training, you should still be able to identify when something doesn’t sound right or explain everyday vocabulary. If you go ahead and get some training and certification, you can actually learn to sound convincing when explaining these things!
One of the most common things you’ll encounter is students who simply want to speak with you, because you’re a native English speaker and you’ll use words, phrases, colloquialisms, and cadences that they’ll never find in a textbook. I’ve gotten hired out a lot and made a comfortable amount of money simply because I can hold a conversation in my native tongue. Think about that for a minute. It’s like getting paid to breathe.
Every now and then I still feel like I’m stealing because it’s such an easy way to get paid. Sit down, have a coffee, and chat. Write down some new words once in a while, explain what that phrase means, collect your cash and head home.
It’s a great way to see the city
Like any job, there are things people in my line of work complain about a lot. One such thing is the sheer amount of travel that we all must endure on a daily basis. Classes are scattered throughout the city and the teacher must travel to and from their homes, their head office, and each class on a regular basis. Not only that, but most classes are once a week, ensuring a teacher’s trip is different each day.
While I too can get annoyed by all the travel and bicker about how much easier it would be to teach in one static location, I can still see the silver lining in all of it. Simply put, it’s a great way to learn the geography of a new city incredibly quickly.
The teacher relies on public transit to get around. Thankfully, Prague has a great transit system and, with classes in a different corners of the city, I got really good at getting around. This helps when you’re off the clock and looking for a good place to eat (“Oh I go by there on Tuesdays, it looks interesting”) or a way to get home after a night out with friends (“I know this tram line, it’ll take us back”).
Save delivery man, I can’t think of a job that allows you to get familiar with nearly every neighbourhood in town so regularly. This is insanely helpful when moving to a new place.
People / Inquiries
As I’ve mentioned, a lot of the job just involves talking to people and asking questions about their lives. Different classes yield different people of all ages, backgrounds, and occupations. One relatively consistent factor is that nearly everyone is Czech. Or Spanish, or Italian, or Chinese, depending on where you’re teaching obviously.
This means that there is a whole range of perspective to pick and choose from when it comes to Czech habits, culture, what’s on in town, and what they think about certain issues at home and abroad. After all, “What’re you doing this weekend?”, “What’s your favourite film?”, “What’s your favourite place to eat out?” and “What do you think about x?” are all questions well-worn into any teacher’s warm-up routine. They yield some fantastic ideas and suggestions for films, pubs, events, recipes, and routines that you may have never known about otherwise.
Re-learn your mother tongue and develop skills for every other thing you’ll ever do
There’s an old adage that states the only people who actually know the rules of the English language are people who study English and their teachers. I’ve found that there’s some truth to this. Properly learning the ins and outs of a language you’ve always used will certainly improve your writing. It’ll also set you up to learn other languages a lot easier, especially if the grammar is anything similar to English, since you already know the formulas and patterns.
The thing I like about this job is that it allows you to develop skills you never knew you had. For example, public speaking is no longer a bother, certainly not after getting up in front of a class on a regular basis, oftentimes with a crowd much older than yourself. The confidence is nearly automatic at this point. As well, the fact that part of the job is to maintain the flow of a conversation certainly shores up your social speaking skills and ability to effortlessly come up with new questions to ask – and that’s crucial anywhere and everywhere. Especially if you’re on a date.
These may not occur in all situations, or with all schools for that matter, but it applies to most teachers that I’ve spoken to in Prague. In fact, it’s one thing I tell any aspiring teachers right off the bat: when you’re interviewing with a school, ask about their policy on late cancellations.
Late cancellations work like this: our school has a contract with a Prague-based company, either Czech or international, and the terms of this agreement state that if a student bails on a class with less than 24 hours notice, the school (and therefore the teacher) is compensated the regular wage for the session. In short, if my student cancels a class less than a day before, I still get paid as if I were sitting there teaching.
This happens more than one would think and it’s fantastic for two reasons. First, I don’t have to spend any time making a lesson plan for the following week. And I’ll get paid to do whatever I want. Sleep in, go out for a coffee, watch the Daily Show, or – if it’s the final class of the day that is cancelled late – head down to the pub.
There is no greater pleasure than hearing your phone ring on a Sunday night and seeing your Monday morning student cancel class. If getting paid to sleep through your Monday morning alarm isn’t heaven, then I don’t know what is. Truly, no job I ever have will be the same.
It’ll always be there
This last one may be outdated in no time, but the general rule of thumb for walking into a good teaching job is two years of previous experience. You get your two years and you can always come back to it. The turnover rate is high, so there will always be spots, and it is rare for an institution to expect a commitment any longer than a single school year.
What a good thing to have in your back pocket, should you ever need to need it. Just think, if you get burnt out, laid off, divorced, put into witness protection, or just need a change of pace or location, it’s always going to be an option for some pocket change. It is quite nice to have the freedom to walk into employment in nearly every city on the planet.
I’ve only really scratched the surface and given you the best things that I can think of from this job. It’s two years in and I still like it – which has to be a good sign. Without hesitation I would recommend this walk of life to anyone and everyone. If you’re thinking about it, do it.