When you first start teaching, saying ‘NO’ will be one of the most challenging things you will have to do. There are so many situations that come to mind when I should have said no, but didn’t and regretted it instantly. I also remember the very first time I stood up for myself and then needed to take a minute to relax as it took a whole lot from me. Here are a few times when you should stand your ground and say, loudly and proudly – Thanks, but no thanks!
I remember teaching for the first time, and the thought of disagreeing with my boss made me shake like a leaf. One of my colleagues always firmly stood his ground. He never did overtime and even dared to ask for days off to enjoy long weekends! I thought that he was crazy. Now I start to understand him a bit more. I think he was just very confident and knew his worth. Something that I learnt with time and started implementing a few years later. Here are some things that I can say a hard ‘no’ to, some things that I started being a bit more vocal about, and some others that are still growing on me (it takes time!)
Knowing your worth
I feel like teaching is often seen as doing someone a favour. Many employers in Spain will give you the minimum teaching wage, act as if you’re incredibly overpaid, and you should thank them for hiring you on every single occasion. First of all, you got hired because of your skills. Whether they are your teaching skills, your impressive resume, or you know how to convince someone at an interview – you still got the job.
There was one time when I didn’t agree to an hourly rate. One language academy offered me 6 hours a week teaching English at a company for 9 euros an hour. It was six months after I’d started teaching, and I already had a better-paid job, working every evening. This job didn’t clash with my previous one, but it started at 8 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t imagine waking up early and working until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. So I said no. The bags under my eyes have a higher price.
Now that I work on my own and am responsible for finding students, I stay away from anyone who wants economic classes for 8 euros an hour! (I’ve seen PLENTY of students asking for this price, or even less) I have my price, and I am quite happy with it. I always tell myself that it includes more than just the teaching time. It’s also preparation, my materials, my knowledge and of course, the class itself.
Doing things you aren’t uncomfortable with
When you first start, you’ll most likely take any lessons given to you. You’ll realize that being an ESL teacher in Spain means being an expert at teaching all levels and ages, and knowing about all types of English exams. I’m not the biggest fan of teaching VYLs. I think that hiring an inexperienced person to teach a group of 3-year-olds is unethical and unfair for the kids and the parents who pay for these lessons! Unfortunately, most likely you won’t have a choice.
Last year I signed a contract to be one of the main teachers at a private academy. I was told that I was going to have my classroom, teach all ages, including 5 year-olds, but in small groups. On my first day, I realized that it wasn’t entirely true. On my schedule, I saw a mysterious place that I was asked to go to every day before my contract hours. As it turned out it was a private school where I was teaching a middle-sized group of VYLs. This was a temporary situation that lasted three weeks, and I hated every single second of it. After the agony period, my boss offered three hours a week over there – I’ve never said no faster in my life. I needed to explain my decision, but I didn’t care because my misery was finally over.
Choosing your students
The first thing I did when I decided to go solo, I texted my previous students if they wanted to continue working with me. Even though I was in a difficult position and beggars can’t be choosers, I was a chooser. I didn’t message every single one of them. I thought about everyone I’d taught before and made a list (sorry, not sorry!). I crafted a message and sent it their way. I knew that some of them weren’t going to be interested, so I only asked them to write short reviews on my superprof profile. This mission wasn’t either a success or a failure. It was just right.
Another story is regarding choosing brand new students. I always offer the very first class for free. Maybe it’s my fault, but I want everyone to be happy about the situation. I want my students to know what they are paying for, so they get to decide at the end of the trial lesson to either commit or keep on searching. However, it got me thinking – what if I don’t like them after the trial lesson. Could I be the one saying goodbye? I know that I have more to lose in that situation, but at the same time, there is no point forcing a relationship that makes us physically and mentally exhausted. It hasn’t happened to me YET, but I’ll report on it when it does.
Using your personal things in class
At my first job, I was asked to use my own laptop in class. I agreed because I didn’t know any better. In hindsight, this experience shortened the life of my computer, and I was the one paying the price. Now, I don’t agree to bring my personal belongings anywhere, unless it’s for my private classes or it’s my idea to do so. If an academy doesn’t offer the basic devices, that’s a hard pass.
I would often spend my money to buy classroom materials and get no refund in the end! Now that I think about those days, it makes my skin crawl. I just wanted to have cool lessons with interesting things. I tried. I still believe that teaching English to children requires more than just a book and a pencil. In retrospect, my heart was in the right place, but I don’t think I was paid enough to do that.
Covering a class without any preparation
one too many times. At first, when someone wanted me to cover a class, I’d agree without thinking. However, I reached the limit pretty quickly when I was asked to substitute without any prior knowledge of the group (i.e. the size and what they’d done). I entered the room and had to improvise. You can improvise for a little bit, but if you have to do it for a few hours without stopping, you get exhausted quickly. That was the moment when I set clear boundaries – if the cover isn’t an emergency, you need to tell me in advance. I ask for a plan or the most basic outline of the class. I need some time to read it, think about the way I can approach it, and have something that I can report on afterwards.
Working outside your hours
Some jobs ask you to participate in unpaid meetings! I did that and here’s the kicker – the majority of the meetings weren’t even about teaching or my students. They were general meetings about the academy and its future. I was under the impression that I was getting paid for my time there. However, once the teachers started a little revolution and all the meetings got cancelled (sadly), I realized that my salary stayed the same! This means that I did HOURS of extra work for free (I guess I can put it as volunteering on my resume). Once every three months, we were also expected to come on Saturday and work for free. I didn’t do it, but I know that others did.
However, working outside your teaching hours also affects you when you work on your own. I think that it’s important to set some time for being with your family, relaxing and doing absolutely nothing. Just because you are freelancing, doesn’t mean that you can’t have some free time. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of it, too. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t teach at the weekends. Well…the truth is – I do. It’s not a regular thing, but there are times that I have an hour or two, on Saturday or Sunday mornings! I still need to work on it, but it’s difficult to be judgemental of your boss when the boss is you!
Doing inconvenient things
Last year, I spent 10 hours a week commuting. 10 hours! It didn’t bother me back then, but it does now. I didn’t mind driving and I entertained myself with true crime and mystery podcasts, but it’s 10 hours a week that I could have spent in so many other ways. It makes me even angrier when I think about this time as a whole – 350 hours in the academic year! 350 hours = 14.5 days. The truth be told, this was one of the major factors that swayed me into teaching online.
Another thing I was asked to do, was to stay 2 hours after the meeting to teach children in a private school. Double no. This arrangement ended after a short period. I was also offered classes in the morning and the afternoon. Since I didn’t live next to the academy, and it took me an hour one way to commute, I immediately declined. There is no price that you can put on that wasted time I would have in between.
Going outside your comfort zone
I don’t fully agree with this statement, but there are times when we need to know when to say no. I think that it’s good to come out of your comfort zone from time to time. When one of my students asked me to help him study for his fishing industry exam, I agreed. I had time and more than anything, I wanted him to succeed. It expanded my current vocabulary and knowledge and gave me a break from Cambridge exam preparation.
On the other hand, recently I was put in a similar position but with a different student. I met a girl who wanted me to help her prepare for her university exam on the history and types of insurance. Looking at her notes didn’t motivate me. Quite the opposite actually. I got an immediate headache thinking about the time I need to put into helping her. I felt that it was going to take more time than necessary for the price that wasn’t appropriate for this type of commitment. Maybe next time!
I think that we all need to know our worth and limits. There are still so many things that I need to learn, but I think I’m slowly getting there! When do you say ‘no’ to a student or an employer?