My Expat Job: English teacher
As part of our series My Expat Job, we look at what it's like to be an English language teacher in Germany - and find out some of the lesser-known pitfalls.
John Sydes is an English teacher in Munich
Well, I seem to have several jobs. I run a small team of English teachers in Munich and teach in-company courses. I am also involved in all the administrative work that running a small business in Germany involves. I have also written a couple of EFL books and am currently involved in two more EFL writing projects.
I am also actively involved in one of the English Language Teachers' Association here and help moderate a forum for English teachers living or thinking of living in Germany.
What sort of contracts are most expat English teachers on?
I would say that more than 90 percent of expat English teachers in Germany are employed on a freelance basis. Even a lot of state institutions, such as universities and colleges of higher education, work with freelancers or with teachers on temporary contracts which are generally restricted to one or two years.
What sort of hours do you work?
We seem to work some very odd hours. Most of the work is either first thing in the morning from 7.30-9.00 or 8.00-9.30 and from 4.00pm onwards. If you are lucky, you may find you can fill up that big hole in between, but it isn't easy and a lot of teachers may find they start work at 7.30 a.m. and finish at 9.00 p.m. - and only manage to teach three or four courses that day.
What are your working conditions like? Are there any perks?
Perks? There certainly aren't many perks in this job. Some language schools may offer their teachers free German lessons, but there again they may also expect their teachers to attend unpaid staff meetings - and as a freelance teacher you will probably be expected to pay to attend teaching conferences or teacher training courses out of your own pocket.
What are the biggest differences between working here and in your home country?
Being an English teacher in Germany can be fun - but it's not a way to get rich
In the UK, most English students are likely to be young adults who haven't started their careers. German students are generally working adults who have specific language needs related to their professions. So, if you are not prepared to teach English for Specific Purposes, you are narrowing down your chances or finding work considerably.
A lot of language schools in Germany expect their teachers to travel to their clients' premises. I have several colleagues who claim they spend more time travelling to and from their lessons than actually teaching them.
And, finally, it can take years to understand all the red tape in Germany.
Have you had any problems with German bureaucracy connected to your work?
Oh, yes! We certainly have. Expat English teachers face a great deal of red tape when they arrive here and without the help of more experienced English colleagues, or their German friends and colleagues, they can soon find themselves out of their depth.
A good example of this is the compulsory pension contributions that freelance teachers have to pay into the state scheme.
Freelance teachers here have to pay 19.5 percent of their income before tax into the German pension scheme regardless of whether they have made other provisions for their old age or not and the German pension authority (DVB) can and will demand back payments for up to four years if you didn't think or know you had to pay these contributions.
Claiming ignorance of the law is certainly not going to help in this part of the world, but very few freelance teachers coming here know that about 20 percent of their income before tax will end up going into the German pension scheme.
What kind of salary range could an expat working as an English teacher in Germany expect? Do rates of pay vary in different parts of Germany? How does the salary compare to other countries?
That is a very difficult question to answer. Rates vary up and down the country, but if you are starting out in this career, you can expect to earn around EUR 12-15 for a 45-minute lesson through a language school.
As a rule of thumb, I would check to see how much the local Volkshochschule in the area you are moving to pays. The Volkshochschulen (Local Adult Educational Centres) are run by the local authorities and they pay rates which are just enough to 'exist' on, rather than 'live' on in their communities.
Experienced EFL teachers working directly for companies can expect to earn two or three times as much, but they shouldn't forget all the travel time involved in getting to their courses.
People living off social insurance payments in Germany get EUR 345 a month (2006) to live on, but… the social security office pays the rent, health insurance and for the basics you need to live here (a bed, a table, etc.) An English teacher based in Munich would have to have a net income of at least EUR 1,200 a month.
Here is an example breakdown of typical living costs:
Rent: min. EUR 300-400 a month
Health insurance: approx. EUR 250* (see comment at the end of the article)
Pension: approx 20 percent of what you earn net, EUR 240
Food, drink and other basics: EUR 250
And then you still have to have enough money left over for 101 other things - clothes, hobbies, holidays, etc.
Let's just say you might be able to survive on EUR 1,200 a month, but you wouldn't be much/any better off than someone on social security payments.
What do employers in Germany look for in terms of qualifications and experience? Is it different from other countries?
There are no barriers to entry in our profession. Anyone who can speak English can teach it. Saying that though, employers normally expect a CELTA or equivalent qualification and some classroom experience.
How important is it to know German in your job?
German certainly helps when you're dealing with the administration and the staff at the school or company you're working for/with.
Day-to-day life also improves and becomes more enjoyable if you can talk to your neighbours and understand what's on the news or in the local newspaper! So I would certainly recommend putting some time and effort into learning German.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing about this job is that it can be really fun and once you know what you are doing, you can be creative. You also get to know a lot of very interesting folk.
The worst things about this job are the irregular hours, the low hourly rates, the lack of career opportunities and having to work for language schools who often treat their teachers as transient workers.
What advice would you give to an expat in Germany wanting to get into your line of work?
I'm afraid my advice would be to avoid it unless, of course, you are really dedicated and/or have a partner who is prepared to support you financially.
How easy or difficult would it be for an expat coming to Germany to get a job in your line of work?
One of the reasons for the low pay is that, as I've already said, anyone who can speak English, can also teach it.
It is easy enough to find teaching work in Germany, but much more difficult to live on what you're paid for that work.
Which professional organisations or networking groups would you recommend potential English teachers join?
English teachers should check out where their nearest English Language Teaching Association is. These organizations provide talks, workshops and other events to their members as well as networking, of course.
You'll find English Language teacher associations (ELTAs) in:
Cologne/Dusseldorf (ELTA Rhine)
Ulm (ELTA Ulm)
(See below for website URLs and contact details.)
What kind of career progression could an expat English teacher in Germany aim or look for?
Ha! Almost none… If you have a TEFL Diploma or MA/Ph.D Linguistics plus experience, you might be promoted to the post of Director of Studies at a language school, but a good teacher with those qualifications could almost certainly earn more by teaching English as a freelancer directly for companies.
* Health insurance - freelance teachers can only get health cover via private health insurance companies and they will not cover pre-conditions. Premiums vary with age and the type of cover provided - a 35 year-old female can expect to pay around EUR 250-300 a month and this could easily increase by more than 50 percent by the time they reach 60.
John Sydes (48) holds an LCCI Diploma for Teaching English for Business and teaches Business English and English for Specific Purposes. He started teaching in Germany in 1980 and worked as a freelance EFL teacher until 1997. He now runs Target GmbH (www.t-english.com), a small team of teachers teaching mainly in-company courses in the Munich area. John is currently trying to set up a group health insurance scheme for English teachers working in Germany.
Interview conducted via email by David Gordon Smith.
English Language Teachers Associations in Germany
Contact person: Paul East, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact person: Dennis Newson, email@example.com
Originally published 23 June 2006
Copyright Expatica 2006
Subject: My expat job, teaching English in Germany, English teaching in Germany, English language teacher, ELT, EFL, TESOL, John Sydes