Teaching English in Germany is no piece of light and fluffy German cake, but it has delicious moments that make it worthwhile. It has been one of the most challenging, exhausting, and demanding careers I have ever had, and yet, it has brought some of the best laughs, deepest connections, and true understandings of culture that I have ever experienced before. I'm constantly tested in new and interesting ways and making new relationships with fascinating and wonderful people. I wouldn't change a single thing about this experience. But, if you are jumping into this world of teaching English as a foreign language for the first time (particularly here in Germany), here are some things that might help you along the way.
Step One: Paperwork
Ideally, you should have some kind of teaching certification. A CELTA certificate, TESOL or TEFL are the kind of certificates that interest language schools. Other qualifications include a university degree (bonus points if it is in linguistics, education, or English, but this is not necessary) and experience. There are schools that may take you without a certificate, but don't count on it, and don't forget that you learn a lot of useful things in those courses too. Certification courses vary wildly; there are online courses you can take at your own pace, intensive weekend courses, and intensive five week courses (or longer). Decide what you have the time and money for, and go for it.
You will need a work visa if you are a non-EU citizen. Visa requirements vary depending on your country of citizenship. US Americans, for example, receive a three-month tourist visa upon entering Germany and can take care of their paperwork after arriving. Others will need to procure a visa beforehand. Check with your local German consulate to be sure.
I am Canadian, and I came to Germany on a Youth Mobility Agreement Visa, which allows Canadians between 18 and 35 to work for a year in almost any kind of job in Germany. After one year, Germany had won me over (probably with its beer and pastries), and I decided to stay longer. I then applied for a freelance teaching visa through Hamburg's foreigners' office. This visa limits you to freelance English teaching and usually lasts for another year.
Remember, German bureaucracy is often complicated, and it can be helpful to bring a friend who is fluent in German and/or German bureaucratic language. Get to know this word: Ausländerbehörde, which means “foreigner's office” in German. You are going to be spending a lot of time in their waiting rooms. Google the Ausländerbehörde for your city and neighborhood for information on visas and related issues. Just one small note: they often don't or won't speak English there, and all the forms are in German. They are notorious. Be brave. You can do it!
Hamburg Welcome Centre (for foreigners)
Step Two: Finding a School
The first thing you need to know is that every language school in Germany is different, and if you want to work in a big city like Hamburg, as I did, there are hundreds to choose from. It is hard to know where to start, but the best place is word of mouth. Find fellow English teachers and blogs written by those teaching English in Germany and scour the internet. Search the yellow pages for English schools. In many cities there are several mainstream schools like Berlitz, who offer a two week training course and all the materials you need for teaching before letting you loose on students, and inlingua, but they also have a very corporate mentality. Each school has its pluses and minuses. I can't possibly give you a full review of all of them (I worked for three different language schools), but I will tell you some things to watch out for and things to think about.
Every language school offers different types of classes to their clients and have different demands and pay, but the usual case is that they will hire you as a freelancer to start and give you work here and there. This often starts with covering classes. It may take you a few months or more to find enough work to support yourself, so it is wise to build up your savings before you start.
Two of the language schools that I teach for allow me total freedom in class material preparation. This total freedom means just that-–freedom to create lesson plans as I wish, but also an enormous amount of work in lesson prep, particularly in the first year of teaching. My other language school provides me with business English books, so the lessons take less prep time but are often bland.
The pay varies for every language school and can range from €12 per 45 minutes (called a "teaching hour") to €30 per 45 minutes or more. When taking a job, remember to factor in travel time and costs, prep time, your living costs, what you have to offer, and the materials you will need. You will know after a while what you are or aren't willing to work for in terms of pay.
Also know that some language schools will offer full-time contracts with fancy things like sick days, holiday time, and benefits (I say fancy because I currently have none of these things), but then this requires a different kind of visa, really being part of the German system, and a much bigger commitment to the school. This is usually something that comes after you have spent some time working at the school or have decided you will commit to a longer time in the country.
Step Three: Applying for a Teaching Job
If you are coming from a non-EU country, you’ll need to format your resume the German way. Since you are applying to teach English, your resume can be in that language, but you will want to evaluate all your language skills (if you are able to speak multiple languages) in the CEF level format for your potential employers. After teaching English in Germany for a while you will be able to start talking in terms of yourself (in German) and your friends and students (in English) of being a “lower B2” or an “A2 plus.” It's best to learn this as early on as you can. Once you have updated your CV to the European format (don’t forget the photo!), you can start emailing your applications to schools, even if you have not yet arrived in the country.
Don't worry about looking for job postings. Just find a contact e-mail and preferably the language school director's name, and send your CV and cover letter directly to the school with a little introduction in the e-mail. As soon as you arrive in Germany buy a cell/mobile phone so that potential employers can contact you or offer you work. I was hired by one school almost immediately and the following week had a cover class at a business.
Step Four: Don’t Forget About Taxes
As a freelancer teacher you have to take care of taxes yourself. Be aware of the 19 percent VAT (value added tax), and figure out if you or your language school will be taking care of it. German taxes can be complicated, and I would recommend finding an English-speaking tax consultant (that is, if English is your native language) to help you sort it out. It'll be worth whatever you pay them, but be wary of their fees as well.
Step Five: In the Classroom
Typical? Well, for a freelance ESL teacher, there is no such thing as a typical work week. This, combined with the enormous amount of travel often required (going to businesses, people’s homes, or the school, often all in one day), is one of the most challenging parts of being a freelance English teacher in Germany. You may have to get up at 5am one morning to teach an 8 am class in a far off neighborhood or another city, later that day teach three classes until 9 pm, and then the following morning get up at 6am to teach all day. And somehow find the time to prep for all these classes.
When you are starting off and trying to work as much as possible, you may want to say yes to every offer, but be careful of burnout. Though 15 to 20 hours of teaching time may not sound like a lot, you have to take into account the travel time, prep time, and any other little things that can come up during the typical teaching day. I often travel to three parts of the city to teach three classes in just one day. And remember....trains and buses are never totally reliable...even in Germany! The plus side is that you do have more freedom to take days off here and there, and as a freelancer you are much more free to take holidays when you want to.
But what about the teaching itself? The thing you have to remember is that every student is different, and every student likes to learn in different ways, but you can't please everyone all the time. No problem, right? The solution? Change things up, try new things, and when something works, keep using it, but don’t be afraid to toss it out when it falls flat. Some teachers will click with certain classes and students and other will not. Try not to take it personally when your personality doesn't jive with one of your students'. In general if you are an open minded, patient people person who is willing to be flexible and who can adapt quickly to any situation then you will do just fine in the classroom. The relationships you build with your students will be the most rewarding and lasting part of your job, and the moments of laughter, conversation and connection will keep you going. There's nothing like a good language misunderstanding to get both students and teachers crying tears of laughter. http://blog.young-germany.de/2013/08/teaching-english-in-germany-funny-mistakes/
Your own language skills
Do you need to be fluent in German to teach English in Germany? Nope. Does some German help? Oh yes. If you don't know any German you won't be able to handle a beginner class at first. It is possible to teach beginners without knowing their native language, but it can be a frustrating process for both you and the students. Most language schools want you to stick to English as much as possible, but if you have ever been in a beginner language class you know how much you need your teacher to understand your native language sometimes. Learning German while teaching can also be helpful, as it gives you insight into the things that a language student might struggle with and why they make certain mistakes. Just be careful, because after a while you start making some of these mistakes in English too. It's one of the frustrating and hilarious parts of being an English teacher and expat.
Remember that language learning can be a humbling processes for an adult, so give your students constant positive feedback. Correct them, but encourage them and really....don't forget to laugh and have fun.
Author: Kristi Fuoco
Social media buff, English Teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music aficionado. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city - Hamburg. Twitter @kristifuoco Email: [email protected]