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Teaching English in Germany

Despite Slow Economy, Freelancers Are in Demand

English teachers in a foreign country are like accountants, IT professionals, and plumbers: since they are in demand, they can charge a healthy hourly rate. If you are a native speaker then with the right amount of luck, charm, and ability, you can be your own boss and earn a nice salary. You can also supplement your income with services such as editing, proofreading, and translation. In Germany, one particularly lucrative side job at the moment is helping school students with their English Abitur exams, the exams that students have to pass at school to get their leaving certificate, which takes them on to university or a job. Just put on some smart clothes (preferably a suit and tie), print off some cheap business cards, pick up a briefcase, and you’re in business. I also recommend setting up a small website to promote yourself.

If you’re a citizen of the EU, there are very few bureaucratic difficulties. Just make sure you have your Aufenthaltserlaubnis (EU Residence Permit). If you don’t have this permit, schools will think your stay in Germany will be short and they can’t rely on you long-term. Also, make sure you know your tax number. Most schools employ teachers on a freelance private basis, which means you are not an official employee of the school. The school subcontracts students to you and at the end of the month you bill the school for your work. You are therefore responsible for your own taxes and insurance payments. If you don’t know your tax number, a visit to the Finanzamt (tax office) will clear that up in a minute. You will also need a Lohnsteurkarte (tax card) and a Sozialversicherungausweis (social security card). Both are available from the local town hall. You can get a tax card immediately, but it takes around two weeks for the social security card to be processed and sent to you.

Non-EU citizens have to face the full force of the German bureaucracy. You will need a visa to live and work in Germany, plus the tax card and health insurance and social security cards. There’s a form for everything and it’s all in triplicate. You may need to apply for some of the necessary documents from the German embassy in your country of residence before you leave for Germany, so if you are not an EU citizen call the local German embassy or consulate for the correct information.

Since Germany is in the grip of an economic downturn, teachers, like so many other professionals, have had to take a slight pay cut. Even private freelance teachers are not immune. For the moment, lower hourly rates just have to be tolerated. You can expect between 17 and 20 euros per hour for teaching individual students or small groups. For teaching company employees, you can ask for between 30 and 35 euros per hour. If you live in the bigger cities, the rates can be slightly higher. But it is best to find out the rates of your competitors and undercut them.

Employers realize that teaching certificates do not guarantee good teachers; they also take into account factors such as the applicant’s work experience, personality, and general attitude. In my view, practical experience is more valuable than an expensive piece of paper. Instead of boasting about your teaching certificate on your resume, boast instead about your work experience.

To start, I did what every other teacher does and got out the phone directory (www.gelbeseiten.de) and went around to the schools. What struck me right away was that the schools didn’t seem to care that my spoken German was mediocre. As one school said to me, “We would pay you to speak English, not German. If you were to speak German, we would fire you!”

I also teach private students at my home, and it is this I enjoy the most—wearing casual clothes, working in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

A good teaching aid is Spotlight (www.spotlight-verlag.de), a monthly English-language magazine for Germans who want to learn English. It is excellent for reading materials and for highlighting new vocabulary.