As an aspiring writer is drawn to Paris, or a young starlet to Hollywood, so comes the English teacher to Prague. Over the past twenty years the city has been a Mecca for travelers in search of a place in Europe to settle down for a while, find an ample supply of work, and live a good standard of living in exchange for giving a few lessons in their native language.
It has been this way since the iron curtain fell and Czechoslovakia became a gracious host of visitors from the West. Young British, Americans, and Canadians were drawn to Prague and settled down here by the thousands during the 1990´s. They were lured by the low cost of living, the beauty of the city, and nice little perks such as the incredibly cheap price of beer. The natural way for these people to stick around and make ends meet was to teach English to the locals who knew that an education in English was the way to more opportunities. As a result, a multi-million dollar industry was born.
Aside from the cost of beer going up, not much has changed since the dawn of the English teaching boom of the early 1990´s. Young people from Anglophone countries still come to Prague to teach and enjoy an affordable standard of living and Czechs still line up to take lessons.
The industry has matured, with dozens upon dozens of schools, institutes, academies, learning centers, private teachers, summer language camps, and tutors filling up the market with their own specializations in teaching the world´s most popular second language. Some of the better established language centers here include British Council, Kelly and Associates, James Cook, and Akcent International House.
Joanna Pushee, a 26-year-old teacher from Boston, has been working in Prague for over a year and followed a common route towards getting started in the language business.
“After graduating university I really wanted to live in Europe, so I took a TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) certificate program here in Prague. The program gave me the training I needed to get ready for teaching English. It also lined me up with some companies offering jobs at the end of the course, which was really helpful,” she said.
As with many teachers, it was difficult for Joanna to get a full schedule of courses when she first started, as she went between several different schools trying to assemble enough lessons.
“I really recommend having a month´s worth of expenses saved up when a teacher first starts,” Joanna said. “But once you get started and prove you can do a good job, more courses will come your way.”
One issue that Joanna had to overcome as an American working in an EU country was attaining a work permit and residence visa. She says that the ratio of schools who offer this to American teachers is about 50-50.
This process can be a big challenge for many American, Canadian, and Australian teachers in Prague. It is expensive, time consuming, and can be very frustrating dealing with the many forms and regulations involved. Without assistance and a good knowledge of Czech the task is daunting.
It´s highly advised that starting teachers find a school or training center that will assist and advise them with this. A few that offer this service include The Language House, Intesol, and TEFL Worldwide Prague. Although a teacher should always make sure that they know the difference between a school directly arranging a visa (offering 100% support with the paperwork, including a job offer and financial assistance of the process) and assisting with a visa (merely giving advice), as it makes quite a big difference.
Once the paperwork is in order there are numerous types of courses that a teacher can choose from. There are courses in the traditional large classroom setting which can be taught at local high schools or with the larger language academies. There are private lessons which can be found through websites like www.expats.cz or through word of mouth from other teachers. And there are even classes that can be taught while wearing your pajamas.
Daniel Olmos, a 34-year-old from the UK, is a full-time teacher of over the phone courses. He took the job “out of sheer laziness,” meaning he found working from home to be attractive.
“I was trawling around the schools in Prague doing interviews and I realized that the phone teaching job I had was not only better paid than in the schools, it was something I could do from home, missing the horrible commute all over Prague that most teachers have to deal with. So I decided to keep what I had and stopped going to interviews at brick and mortar schools,” he said.
Through his phone teaching job Daniel interacts with students from all over the world and on every skill level, but also keeps a few private lessons in Prague to avoid becoming, as he says, “a complete recluse.” For those who might favor working a few paces from their bed then a good website to check out is www.phoneboxlanguage.com.
The most commonly found jobs are corporate lessons which are taught to small groups or individuals. The best way to get these courses is to go through an agency which has contracts set up with companies that offer lessons to their employees. On average these courses pay 225-250kc per 45 minute lesson. A few websites to find work include www.tefl.com or again through www.expats.cz.
Petra Vogelová, owner and executive officer of Parlato Language Agency, runs one company that arranges these types of courses for her teachers. While business is going well for her agency, not all are doing so well in the economic crisis. She was kind enough to offer her insight on the current state of the teaching industry in Prague.
“Frankly speaking, this is not the best time for all services including language agencies. Many corporate clients are trying to save money and don´t consider language learning necessary,” she said.
This has resulted in cutbacks amongst several agencies offering lessons to their teachers. Despite the gloomy economic climate, Vogelová believes that things will improve and there could perhaps be a silver lining to the dark clouds lingering overhead.
“In my opinion, the situation could get better at the end of the year. It is obvious that communication between Czech companies and their foreign partners asks for perfect knowledge of English and companies will understand that it is necessary to educate their employees,” she said. “I hope the result of all these seemingly negative changes will create a more systematic and more efficient system of language learning. I believe everybody will profit from these changes in the end.”
Vogelová offers some advice to teachers getting started so that they can stay safe and secure during the tough times:
- Get some certification first, such as a TEFL certificate
- Contact and work for more than one agency. If something negative happens, not all of your lessons will be cancelled
- Ask other teachers about their experience with particular employers
- Get somebody speaking Czech to help you with flat payment conditions - otherwise risk receiving unfair payments
Some more advice for teachers is to be aware of the seasons when students tend to take time off from their courses. In July and August, as well as around Christmas, many students will go on holiday, leaving a teacher without any income for several months of the year. Seeing that most teachers do not receive salaries but get paid per lesson, it is wise to plan for these low times in advance.
Teaching English can be not only a great way to earn a living in Prague, but also a fantastic way to get in contact with a lot of interesting people you wouldn´t have met through a more typical job. If you want to get started all you need are your language skills, a few contacts, and a brave and adventurous spirit. If you are still in doubt, just remember that the thousands of expat teachers that have taught English in Prague over the past two decades couldn´t have all been wrong in choosing such an interesting profession.
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