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Lessons From a Teacher in Prague

Before I left to teach English in Prague, I didn’t know what to expect. A friend of mine was teaching there, and I thought this would be a great way to see if I liked teaching—and, besides, I always wanted to live in Europe.

Prague was new to me, so I did what everyone else did: headed to my local library and read as many books as I could, soaking up the basic facts on the country and culture. I endlessly paged through online articles and expat-generated chat forums, such as www.expats.cz, to somehow “prepare.” Some people painted idyllic pictures of happy students and satisfied teachers, teachers who could flit to the park in between classes while they worked 25 hours a week. But I would say most articles made teaching look like the most physically wearying job in existence: traveling to the far ends of Prague every day, lesson planning for hours, and making little to no pay. The following is what I found after a year and a half of teaching:

Finding a School

There are more than 200 language schools that compete for your attention. One way to tell a good TEFL program from the rest is by finding out what assistance it provides you. Some will say they allow teachers more “independence” (read: you’re on your own), but you can find ones that are willing to be supportive.

Prepare a list of questions about the school. Do they allow you to check out the books or do you have to make copies? Do you get free copies, or do you have to pay for them yourself? When you visit the teacher’s library, keep in mind you’ll be there fairly often in the beginning. I worked at one school whose “library” held four books.

The Interview

Be prepared to either give a sample lesson at the interview (usually lasts 20 minutes) or take a grammar test (these can range from a simple 1-page run-down to five pages long). You may even give a real lesson to a class (90 minutes long) as part of the interview, while someone observes you and gives an assessment to determine if you’re fit for the job.

Pay and Other Realities

All beginning teachers get paid the same, which is about 200-250 kc per 45 minutes. The amount of available teachers in Prague exceeds the demand, so schools will not typically offer a noticeably higher amount than others. But there are some exceptions: Tutor s.r.o., which is one of the largest language schools in the Czech Republic, has a point-based reward system. The more workshops and good teaching scores a teacher stacks up, the more points and higher pay.

Make sure you’re guaranteed full time work. You’ll scan the employment pages and see countless requests for teachers, but it’s usually for just a few hours a week. Most teachers work at two schools to get by, and you will spend at least half of what you earn on rent. A common monthly rental rate is 7-8,000 kc, and on a good month, teachers make around 18,000 kc. Every month is different, because students can cancel early, in which case you’re left to either substitute a class or go without. Private students are fast cash, but they’re not a reliable form of pay, especially during the summer.

Teachers fresh out of TEFL will be offered early morning classes. If you’re careful and patient, it is possible to get a perfect schedule (my friend had Fridays off for the entire year). In other words, you don’t have to take every class you’re offered in the beginning. But if you do choose early morning courses, check the location before you agree to it, as a class that starts at 7:20 a.m. may mean you have to get up at 5:30 a.m. A wonderful website to use is www.mapy.cz; you can look up any address and find the nearest form of transport, and jizdenky.studentagency.cz will help you estimate how long it takes to get to class from any location.

Getting legal

TEFL teachers are a non-committal bunch. Some plan on staying a year and find themselves there for five, while others jet immediately. Typically, though, teachers stay at least a year.

Getting a zivnostensky list (business license) or work visa isn’t an issue for the short-term, but if you want to get a work visa, don’t expect your TEFL program or your school to help you. It’s expensive, processing time takes anywhere from three months to half a year, and it’s a lot of paperwork. No one wants to invest in that without guarantees. A zivnostensky list is only good if you know from the start you’ll be there at least a year. Twenty percent of my paycheck was taxed because I wasn’t legal, and this is common practice across the board. It’s a tradeoff: you get immediate employment and schools satisfy their clients by immediately finding a teacher.

The moral of my story is that teaching English in Prague was great, but not for the reasons I initially thought. While teaching became just a job, my students made Prague the experience I wanted it to be.