Friday, March 13, 2009

English teaching VI: The perfect way to find teaching work

I had some low points in the old days finding private one-to-one teaching work. I would turn up to meet a potential student, and, because I wasn’t so confident in my abilities, I would sit around with them for hours making conversation, hoping this was what would get me the student.

It often didn’t.

A friend Josh always had more work than he could do so I decided to ask his secret. I met him in a McDonalds about two streets away from the hostel.

As I entered Josh got up, came across the room and forcefully shook my hand. “What’s up, man?” he asked.

Josh wasn’t arrogant or pushy or highly strung but God he was INTENSE. I had known him for a while now, but I still had to keep reminding myself after his every sentence, that I wasn’t in full military combat gear, gun loaded ready, about to run out of the front of an amphibious landing craft onto the beaches of Normandy under heavy German artillery fire; I had to remind myself that I was dealing with casual questions about cold or hot coffee.

Suddenly Josh introduced a mother and her son who were sat at the table across from us: “This is Sara and her son, Tim.”

I said hello and started to sweat – Yes, I had asked Josh if he knew of any new students, but he didn’t want to teach the kid there and then in the McDonalds.

Tim was crayoning a picture. “What color for the pig?” asked Josh.

“Pink,” replied Tim.

“Good boy,” said Josh. “You finish and give it to your mother…Bye, Bye!!”

Josh then packed away the crayons and the rest of pictures into his bag. “It works,” he said.

“Thank fuck for that I thought I had to teach the kid here,” I said.

“No man. I got her number, but she wants an American accent. Anyway, I think there is a segment here for you. I called around a little and got you a client. Low down - guy has a son he wants to send to England to study in a couple of years, your job is to whip him into shape now, get him ready for his exams. I gave the guy a call and told him you are a university graduate with four years experience of teach English as a 2nd language. He lives about an hour outside the city so I insisted it must be three hours at a time, twice a week. Oh, yeah, and if he wants to secure your services the contract is 20 hours payable in advance - you’re a busy man.”

“Hey and there is a contract? You know I don’t have a work visa,” I asked.

“Figure of speech: clients and contracts - of course it is not written down. Final thing, it is 900 dollars an hour.”

“900 dollars an hour?” I said spitting out my coke. I was beginning to get worried. I knew some people did get paid that much, but not me - I took the 400 and 500 dollar an hour students because they wouldn’t fire me. Now I was under pressure to perform, knowing I should really give something for that amount of pay.

“Of course, man. You are a professional. Never let them know you are begging for work."

Josh went on to explain then the way he did things. He would meet a student and tell them in advance that the purpose of the meeting was to see if he wanted to teach them. He would meet them for twenty minutes in which he would show them a copy of his degree and his resume. He would always leave after the twenty minutes were up. It worked of course.

I never quite managed to be as confident as him, but I did get his point.

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