When I flew from Canada to Germany on a one-way ticket in 2012, one of my goals was to forge a new career as an English teacher.
Since I didn’t have a qualification in education or any teaching experience, I was rather surprised when I was able to land my first gig - a two-week-long crash course with an individual pupil - two months after I arrived.
I remember the minimum prerequisite at most of the language schools I applied to was a Bachelor's degree, which I had. During my first year in Germany I also completed a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course online as I thought it’d improve my chances of finding more work.
It probably did, as I was able to find steady work in the industry over the next three years - but more on that a bit later.
At the time I lived in Braunschweig - a middle-sized city of about 250,000 inhabitants in Lower Saxony. And what I did is essentially what any job-seeker does: I sent out loads of applications and got in touch with all the language schools in town.
After doing some research, I knew my best bet would be private language schools as teaching at a state school wasn't an option without the proper qualifications. I also expected to be freelancing as I’d heard full-time jobs in the industry - for instance in a company as an in-house trainer - were few and far between.
I didn’t mind being a freelancer, though. I liked being able to design my own schedule, choose which companies I wanted to work for as well as how many private one-on-one lessons I wanted to take on.
On the question of whether you need to be a native English speaker to be successful, Billie Bruhn, who is a manager for the Language Training Center (LTC), tells The Local: “It depends. The majority of clients prefer native English speakers - but they appreciate non-natives too.”
Teaching English also seemed to me to be a relatively easy industry to get into in Germany because you don’t necessarily need to be fluent in German. I didn’t when I first started out, and neither did a few of my colleagues. But as I began to learn the language I definitely noticed the ways in which being able to speak German was helpful, such as understanding why my students made certain mistakes.
“Some clients prefer trainers with basic or intermediate skills in German but others are flexible; it can go both ways,” says Bruhn.
Germany has so many big companies like Siemens, Mercedes and BMW and they all take English training very seriously, says Dale Coulter, academic manager at TLC International House Zurich-Baden and former Berlin resident.
The country is also home to many international companies with staff in need of training, adds Coulter. "Many of their departments are willing to pay serious money for English training," he says.
Several months into my new career, as I got more and more work, it became apparent that I could earn a decent income in the field. I also got the impression that there was a healthy demand for English language learning in general.
About a year in, I found myself taking on fewer children’s lessons and focusing increasingly on training Business English. Over the following two years I had a full-time schedule of one-on-one and group lessons with executives and professionals in the offices of large international companies - I couldn’t have been happier.
I had heard from friends (many of them also English trainers) and colleagues that teaching English in big cities like Berlin was poorly paid in comparison.
As a Business English trainer in Berlin, one can expect to earn between €15 and €40 for teaching a 45-minute class, according to Coulter. But in Braunschweig one could earn this amount (or more) for a 30 minute class.
“There are fewer trainers in small cities and therefore less competition than in big cities like Berlin and Munich,” says Bruhn.
Despite the advantages of not working in a metropolis among a larger pool of English speakers, there were also challenges that came with the profession.
As with all new things, especially for someone who hadn’t formally studied teaching, it was a steep learning curve for me in the beginning (though in hindsight this was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed).
The job isn’t for everyone, either.
Although English trainers encompass a wide range of personalities, “you have to be a people person and a good listener,” says Bruhn, adding that it helps to be interested in languages, culture and in self-development.
I couldn’t agree more. What I’d add to that as well are leadership skills and being comfortable with performing to a crowd (especially on days when you're leading a lesson of 12 adults who don't feel like reviewing grammar as you have planned).
Looking back on my former career, I did more than just teach English. As language is always attached to culture, I shared my culture as a Canadian with my students. When I taught bankers and economists, I had to verse myself in their specialities too.
And I still haven't mentioned that it's a rewarding profession. When I started to see my students' English and their confidence speaking it improve over time, it was fulfilling in a way that I can't even describe.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a career change or simply want to experience life in Germany, teaching English may just put you on the path to personal and professional success. It sure did for me.
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