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Why I decided to teach English for $7 per hour

Clue: it wasn’t for the money.

I have always wanted to get an English teaching certificate and dip my toe further into the field of ESL. As a regular if infrequent German language tutor since the mid- 90’s and an occasional English language instructor during a spell of time when we lived in Padova in Italy I always wondered if I was missing out by not having taken my TEFL certificate. I always question if completing a Celta course wouldn’t improve my opportunities somehow.

Well, a certificate, no certificate, can make anyone a perfect person. No matter what theories and practices you learn a good portion of success will be based on personality. But as I mentioned a while ago: I eventually signed up to a TEFL course when I realised that I had spending more hours looking at courses, over a period of 15 years, than it would have taken to complete one. I may be exaggerating but you get the idea: Don’t think about it for too long because you might as well do it and find out what you need to know along the way, there are no perfect decisions.

But none of this explains what possessed me to sell my services online for $7. In my physical (and pre-pandemic) life I was paid a minimum of $35 and as much as $60 per German language lessons. Why would I back pedal to get paid less than at my first ever job when I was 15 years old?

Now that I am typing it out this really is crazy.

But it had to do with a) confidence building and b) I wanted to test out an idea for an ESL lesson that is a business and career development lesson. To form my idea and my target audience more clearly I could either sit at my desk alone and think about it and write up a business plan OR I could try it out on people in real life, who at the low fee of the $10 that they paid to the platform had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And so I started.

I also was hoping to fight a pandemic induced bout of depression that was hard to shift and laid itself like a solid roadblock between myself and everything else, ever other possible action. I wasn’t as successful with this plan as I had hoped but it was good enough. It got me through the past 4 months, while I learned to deliver value to my students. Sometimes I failed and many of my students were not the type of future client that I am looking for. Over time I gently removed them from my weekly schedule and of 38 students in the first month I have reduced my numbers to about 10, more or less active ones. 6 of whom are inspiring me to now finally write my course curriculum so that soon I can serve people back in my real, physical, hopefully post-pandemic life.

Sometimes it’s worth testing an idea, even if on the face of it you are risking the labour and time that you put in. I thought of the past months as a kind of internship. The pay was so low that in San Francisco it isn’t any money at all. What I made over almost 200 lessons pays for one week of a reasonable job in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But sometimes making no steps forward and even sliding back is better than not paddling at all.

This wasn’t the ideal approach and I know I am wasting my life and potential somewhat, but if you ask my students they don’t think so: They are grateful and appreciative and many have reported how helpful the hours with me have been to them.

Think of it as a paid coffee meeting with a stranger who will appreciate your time.

This post really needs to be edited !

Please subscribe to my blog and let me know if you would like me to tell you about my English language teaching project. And why I would work for less than 1/2 the minimum hourly wage for unskilled labour in San Francisco.

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