Teaching English in Prague
Advice on qualifications and certificates, visas and work permits, and finding and keeping the lessons that suit you best
"I've always wanted to spend a year in Prague teaching English. Slacking off a bit, but really getting to know myself."
--Stewie Griffin, Family Guy
English teachers in Prague, especially new ones, are hard to miss.
You can usually identify them by their enthusiastic, booming voices, irritating the rest of the moping, sad-faced citizenry.
When I meet a foreigner who isn't asking me for directions, it's a pretty safe bet that they're an English teacher. Often, when asked how it's working out for them, they'll answer, "OK, I guess."
Many people have a notion of Prague, and of working here, that's far more romantic than the reality. Life in Prague can be just as hard as life anywhere else. I see many teachers suffer from misery, depression, and a burgeoning alcoholism that could lead to bigger issues.
This article was written with the intention of dispelling any rumors or myths about Prague, living here, and teaching English.
Ten years ago, any foreigner with half a brain and a return ticket home (just in case) could land a job teaching English in Prague. Things are a bit different today.
The Czech Republic's rapid growth, economic stability, and low unemployment rate have attracted hordes of foreigners. This means that language schools have a greater employee base from which to choose teachers.
These days, a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate is the minimum requirement. If a school doesn't require these things, run! They're probably unofficial or illegal. I can't think of any legitimate schools that don't require this certification.
If you've been educated in teaching or in English -- an MA in English Literature or Education, for example -- then you may not require the certificates mentioned above. Schools may require an additional certificate, though, since an MA in English Lit doesn't exactly mean that you know how to teach a group of silent bank managers.
TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
VISAS & WORK PERMITS
When this country joined the European Union, it adopted many policies that have a detrimental effect on attempts to bring English proficiency up to the same level as Western European countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, or Belgium.
One of these policies affects work permits and visas. Visitors from the USA, Canada, Australia, and other non-EU countries can stay here for 90 days on a tourist visa, but this doesn't allow travelers to work at all. I've heard of people who've lived here for years without any kind of visa or work permit, essentially stuck in the same "teaching" job for fear of losing it and having to get official.
A work permit is a document usually issued by your employer or school that verifies that you have been officially hired. A visa comes next, which is only granted after you get a work permit. And, of course, having a place to live or a temporary address here is necessary before anything else.
You could get a Czech buddy to help you with these horribly annoying and difficult-to-get documents, but it would be a severe trial of your friendship.
A better option is to go to Robert Hanawalt, a nice guy who'll take care of everything for you, for much less than most agencies charge.
Apparently, some schools don't require any of this paperwork, because of some clandestine loophole that allows them to generate a monthly contract that doesn't violate any tourist-visa rules. But don't expect to find these places everywhere.
TYPES OF SCHOOL
Language Studios (Private Schools)
These are by far the most common. You'll be teaching employees at different companies, especially banks. The pay is typically the best here (approximately 250 CZK for 60 minutes and 400 CZK for 90 minutes). If a school pays less than this, don't bother unless you're offered some other benefits. At these schools, you'll teach both groups and individuals.
These lessons are far more difficult to get, but they frequently pay very well. Bureaucracy and inefficiency are the only downsides. Here you will teach only groups, typically characterized by good, hard-working students.
The pay is typically lower than lessons with private schools, but short days and vacations are a plus. Additionally, many state-run schools and universities pay full-time employees a monthly salary over the summer. This is usually between 16,000 and 19,000 CZK/month -- not really enough for most foreigners to live on in Prague.
The lowest paying but easiest jobs can be found at English-speaking preschools. Here you'll play games, sing songs, and finger-paint for up to five hours a day (full-time) for between 12,000 and 17,000 CZK/month. It's possible, however, to fill your time teaching private lessons in the evenings for extra cash.
These are great if you have stable and reliable customers. Typically, private students pay cash and usually want a more relaxed atmosphere. On the other hand, you get nothing if they cancel or decide to end their lessons after a month (which happens a lot). Charge your students accordingly, but make it worth your while.
HOW TO FIND SCHOOLS
After finishing your certification program, of which there are many in Prague, you'll typically be referred to some school by the course administrator. Most TEFL programs offer some sort of job support upon granting the certificate. (Not everyone is necessarily awarded a TEFL -- the program requires a little diligence.)
If your TEFL program can't help you find a job, don't fret -- Prague TV's Classifieds listings have thousands of job ads, many looking for English teachers. Just keep your eyes open. If you aren't working within two or three weeks of finishing your course, then you can't be looking too seriously.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
When you first start teaching, you'll be at the bottom of your school's priority list. Remember this when you accept lessons, because you don't want to travel 45 minutes each way for a 60 minutes of work -- suddenly, with travel time included, your 250 CZK/hour just became 100 CZK/hour.
Find out where the lessons are being held, how to get there, and how long it takes. Be patient -- you don't have to take every lesson they throw at you.
If it's too far, tell them you prefer to work closer to the center. If it's too early, tell them you aren't a morning person. At times like these, it's useful to work part-time for several schools, so, if necessary, you can play one off against another. ("Sorry, I have another lesson at that time, but I could do...")
Cancellations are another part of the job. If a student cancels their class less than 24 hours ahead of time, the teacher will normally still get paid for the lesson. This is a huge benefit over having private lessons.
Summer is the worst time to come to Prague expecting to teach, yet this is when most would-be teachers arrive. Summer vacations mean there's a severe shortage of lessons to teach -- although some can still be found. Schools reopen for the fall and winter terms anytime between September 1st and October 1st.
When teaching, you'll have two options -- groups or individuals. Individual lessons, with only one student, are a bit intimidating at first. After all, what the hell are you supposed to do for 90 minutes alone in a middle-aged woman's office? Don't worry, though -- it quickly becomes fun and rewarding.
These students are often higher-level managers -- private lessons cost companies a fortune -- and are usually at least at an intermediate level. The focus here is on conversation and speaking correction. This gives the student an opportunity to exercise their skills. Also, with an individual lesson you can manipulate the times and days of the lessons if necessary.
Group lessons, although less stressful, have to be more rigidly planned and are almost never cancelled.
Additionally, there are many Czech teachers who have provided English lessons for years. From these people, most native speakers could learn a lesson or two about teaching. Some native speakers have an attitude when it comes to non-native English teachers, as if they're substandard imposters.
This idea should be put to rest before landing at the airport. How would you like a bunch of fresh-faced foreigners in your country telling you that you suck?
You may decide after only one month of classes that teaching isn't for you. This happens regularly in Prague. After all, 80 percent of English teachers leave, never to return, every summer.
If you stick with teaching, though, you'll be in a great situation next September, when you'll be able to choose from the most central classes with the best students. You may also be eligible for bonus programs or special treatment.
Teaching English in Prague can be stressful, and is a considerable cultural change for most people. Many teachers take the first teaching job they are offered then don't have enough lessons or money to live comfortably.
The goal, as Stewie implies, is to have fun, live abroad, and enjoy life. If you want to stay here long-term, get serious about teaching. If you work hard, you'll soon get ahead.
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