At the beginning of my solo journey, I was quite excited. I realized that for once in my ESL teaching career, I can decide the type of students I teach. I always preferred a company of teenagers and adult students. My wish came true! Unfortunately, I forgot about one tiny thing – adult students are flaky.
Adult learners are my favourite type of student. I enter the classroom with a lot of energy, I talk about anything and everything, and most importantly, I relate to them the most. In fact, my very first three private students were all adults. They all messaged me and with two of them, I managed to have the first lesson. The last one disappeared before I even met her.
Why does it happen?
Why are adult students unreliable?
How can we, ESL teachers, protect ourselves from being dropped?
I remember blaming myself for every single student who stopped coming to lessons. I remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough, my classes weren’t too engaging or that they probably just got bored. It’s probably true for some of them. I think we can’t click with all of our students and some of them may not enjoy our company. However, most of the time it’s not the case.
Two years ago, I was in charge of an intensive B1 course exam preparation for adult students. I had a small group of four students. In the beginning, it was going well. The problems started two weeks in. Some of them would come in an hour (or more!) late because of their work commitments. Others were constantly distracted by endless phone calls and often needed to leave well before the end of the class. There were times when I received e-mails right before the class explaining that they weren’t able to come in, asking if I could send them the answers and any extra materials to everything we did that day. Now that I think of it – it was a complete mess. I didn’t blame myself too much, and I wasn’t worried about it either. I was employed at an academy, and losing one out of four students would mean that the group continues – so even if no one showed up, I would still get paid.
This attitude has changed recently. Having 1:1 students doesn’t give me the same level of comfort as groups. Losing a student means no income, which was incredibly stressful for me to process. All of my students came from last year, through connections or from websites that don’t include any prepaid options. At first, I was charging for all completed classes, but this has quickly changed.
After discussing this issue with one of my other fellow teachers, she told me about her way of securing income – prepaid classes. I know that I’m not reinventing the wheel and for most, it’s so obvious that it’s unnecessary to mention. Now, any time I meet a new student, I tell them my no commitment fee, which is slightly higher than a set of 5 or 10 prepaid lessons. The more lessons you pay for, the lower the price, which gives me about 1.5 months of stability. I wish I had done that with my first student who paid after each class and left after two weeks to pursue her new job.
Again, many websites offer a 50% of cancellation policy. This percentage normally can be changed depending on our preferences. I haven’t introduced this policy yet, but I think that it’s a matter of time. The other one of my first students cancelled the very first class 30 minutes before. She explained the reason for it in great detail, and obviously, I don’t hold it against her, but having the lessons cancelled is, unfortunately, a waste of time. This turned out to be true in the case of my other student who cancelled the class because of her new job commitments. She told me about it a day in advance after I’d already prepared materials, I’d written a lesson plan and had sent her anything she may need for the next day. That was the exact moment when I started considering having my own cancellation fee.
Organizing a course
Some of the teaching websites also encourage us to create our own courses. I don’t feel ready to do it myself just yet, but it does sound like a good plan. Adult students can’t usually commit long-term. However, offering a course with a clear starting and ending point may be tempting. I can think of more advantages than disadvantages of this plan. You can prepare all lessons in advance and decide on the number of hours. It’s a short-term solution and a one-time large cash injection. But as it normally goes, with short-term courses, the expectations are quite high, and something that sounded like a good idea at first may become your biggest nightmare. Nevertheless, I may try doing that in the future, just to see how it goes and how I feel about it.
As you can see, I’m still at the beginning of a learning curve. I’m yet to find a perfect solution, but I can tell that I already know more than I did a month ago. I follow so many excellent and experienced ESL teachers, and it’s always so incredible to learn from professionals. So, tell me, how do you protect yourselves from flaky students?