This is article 3 of 6 in the series: How (& Why) to Teach Exams.
If you’re an ESL teacher, I bet you could do with some extra money each month. Let me walk you through the same simple process that my business mentor took me through back in 2010. Making these shifts doesn’t happen immediately or get results tomorrow — but since then, I’ve doubled my income three times. I promise you — in a year, you’ll be really glad that you took this seriously now.
Step 1: Find Out How Much You’re Actually Earning
It can be really painful to dig into this and acknowledge what is actually happening. When I first did this, I was shocked to discover how little I was bringing home.
The good news is that the formula is super simple. You start by calculating the following four figures.
Figure A: The Money You Paid in Expenses
Write down the numbers for the amount you spent last month on…
- transportation (bus passes, taxis or whatever else you needed to get to classes)
- food eating out (calculate in all morning coffees, snacks and meals that you only buy out of convenience)
- books, materials, photocopies, etc.
Figure B: The Money You Earned
For this, write down the total amount of money that you earned for your all of your lessons and teaching assignments last month.
Figure C: Paid Hours That You Worked
Don’t guess here. Be as exact as possible when you calculate how many hours you taught lessons that you got paid for.
Figure D: Unpaid Hours That You Worked
This is a big area that lurks under the surface, taking up more time than you realize. It will probably take you the longest to figure out how many unpaid hours you’re actually working, but the more precise your number is, the better off you are. Estimate how many hours you spent last month on:
- planning lessons, checking or assigning homework;
- commuting (include details about how long it takes you to get to each location where you freelance teach your ESL lesson);
- taking care of admin work (which involves communicating with students or lesson coordinators, negotiating and making sure you get paid)
Now for the enlightening math
With those four figures, you just subtract, add and divide accordingly…
1. Figure B – Figure A = _______ Figure E or, the amount of money you actually earned after you paid your expenses.
2. Figure C + Figure D = _______ Figure F or, the actual number of hours you actually worked, which includes teaching, planning and commuting
3. Figure E ÷ Figure F = ______ Figure G or, your actual hourly wage
My actual hourly wage was less than $3 USD per hour. Pre-taxes. You may find as well that the glaring light of reality seems unkind.
Whatever Figure G you have, it is ok. Remember I said that since then, I’ve doubled my income three times? Like an ESL student taking a level test and getting low marks, we can only go up from here.
Step 2: Minimize Your Overhead
First, stop negotiating with students. Hagglers are expensive. They may mean well, but by negotiating, they further drive down your hourly wage. You should only offer discounts in rare situations where you are 100% confident that is actually worth giving a discount.
Next, teach online and digitize your resources. After the tech upgrades, this slashes your monthly expenses.
I used to spend a small fortune on bus passes and grabbing snacks between lessons. You can coordinate your food schedule in a totally different way when you eat at home, further reducing your costs.
Your commute to an online lesson in Skype drops to about 5 seconds. What you do with those extra hours you pick up is your choice, but one option is to teach an extra lesson and bring in more money.
Your materials costs for photocopying and printing materials also drops to free. Programs like DropBox and Google Drive make digital file sharing far easier, faster and cheaper than real-life file sharing.
When all of your ESL materials are just a mouse click away, you can also pivot much quicker in a lesson and react to the real-time needs of your student. This way, you’re delivering material in a lesson that actually gets them results and makes the student happier — rather than being forced to use whatever is on hand.
From seven years of living in Turkey, I cannot tell you how many English teachers use cafes as classrooms. No matter how you try to spin it, teaching over a sticky table in a bustling environment is always going to limit your students’ perception of your professionalism. No wonder they try to haggle!
By setting up a quiet, professional, well-lit and cheerful home office, you are fully in control of your professional image and make sure that students perceive you with the respect you deserve — and because students are also in a focused home-study environment, they can achieve greater levels of improvement from your lessons. And this is critical if you decide to forge ahead with Step 3…
Step 3: Charge More By Tutoring for High-Stakes Exams
Nearly all ESL students take exams. Seriously, which ESL students have the luxury of poo-pooing exams the way that most ESL teachers do? Virtually zero.
Despite the overwhelming need and demand for private lessons (especially for speaking and writing, which are most effective when done in one-to-one lessons), ESL teachers as a whole are extremely reticent to take on exams students.
In Economics terms: there’s extremely high demand and very, very low supply. With no competition, you get to set your price where you want it to be.
Just because you’re an exams teacher doesn’t mean you love exams. (I certainly don’t!) It just means that you love your students and that you want them to succeed and have as many opportunities open to them as possible.
With the right mentors, materials and teacher community that you can count on, teaching exams is incredibly rewarding.
Once you develop expertise and confidence guiding students through tricky speaking exams like TOEFL iBT or IELTS, you can give yourself a promotion.
Want to earn even more? Then teach exams more effectively than your peers…
This is article 3 of 6 in the series, How (& Why) to Teach Exams. To continue with the fourth article, How to Find ESL Exam Students to Practice On, click here.