If you're looking for a private teacher....

So here we are, in the middle of August. Within the next few days, as people start returning from holidays, many potential English students are going to start looking for English classes. A lot of people will choose to attend classes in an academy. Many will start looking for private English teachers, either for work or for fun. In most cases, the relationship between teachers and students will generally be pretty positive.

That said, every year, there are cases where one side, or the other, ends up disappointed. A lack of communication can prevent students from getting the help they need, and it can also prevent teachers from really understanding how they can work effectively with their students.

I'm not going to say that I'm an expert on student-teacher relationships. I have, however, taught for twelve years in different countries, and I hope that the information I can offer you will help you find and work with the teacher who's best for you.


Be honest with yourself before you're honest with your teacher. If you're going to hire a private teacher, be aware that you are helping provide someone with a salary. Who are the students who give up after three weeks? They're the students who do not have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish, or what they want to do, BEFORE the class.

Sit down with yourself for an hour and ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the things I currently do with my level of English?
-What are the things I cannot do, but either need or want to do?
- What are the things I need to do to bring my level up?
- How much time per week -- in AND out of class - am I willing to dedicate to working on my English? (Remember that, for every hour you spend in class, you need to spend an hour practising and working on your skills.)
- Do I really need English for my job, or do I say that because I think everyone else expects me to have English skills?
- What are the fun things that I can do that will keep me interested in English?

If you cannot answer those questions, please think twice before you contact a private teacher. Classes in a group situation in an academy may be a better option, because it's sometimes more fun to learn with other people than to learn alone.

Don't be cheap. If you want to have classes with a teacher but you think the teacher is too expensive, it's acceptable to negotiate. It is NOT acceptable to send the teacher insulting e-mails or to ask for the price of classes to be cut by half. You wouldn't ask your lawyer to lower his fees. You wouldn't ask your accountant to lower her fees. You wouldn't ask your dentist to lower his fees. It's not acceptable to do that with a teacher. I'm sorry if this sounds rude, but if you cannot afford a teacher's fees...look somewhere else for a different teacher.

One side note to that: If you're employed full-time want to take private English classes, and you're worried about the cost, ask your Human Resources department if the company has a student payment program. A surprising number of companies in Spain DO reimburse employees (=pay them back) for part of the cost of classes; they usually do this if the teacher is an autónomo and can issue invoices. It doesn't hurt to ask your company if they do this; and, if it's not company policy, ask your boss(es) to consider doing it. (Remind them that reimbursing is a LOT less expensive than hiring a company to give in-house classes.)

Remember that the teacher is trying to create lessons and tasks to help you improve. (What I basically mean is: Learn to follow instructions.) If I give you a writing task, I don't want you to spend half an hour telling me the answer. If I give you a grammar exercise that asks you to write the answer in complete sentences, don't give me two or three words. You may think that it's boring to do all that work, but that work is what makes you get better. Please do the work as it's presented to you, not as you think that you want to do it. I can't tell the difference between a student who doesn't understand a task and a student who simply doesn't feel like doing the work.

If you want to terminate your relationship with your teacher, be honest about it. Don't disappear. Attend your classes and let us know at the earliest moment if you can't attend. If you have a personal issue, like illness or family or money problems, be honest about it. Don't cancel eight classes in a row and then expect your teacher to help you four months later. Don't "forget" to pay your teacher for a month and expect the teacher not to notice.


Learning a language is scary. If you've never done it before, you should try it; it can be enriching and humbling at the same time. We have more credibility as teachers if we've been there before ourselves.

Don't sell yourself short. Don't work for less money than you think you rightly deserve. If the student doesn't want to pay what you're asking, let him or her find someone else. If you have a specialized skill that you think would be useful for students, for God's sake, make sure they know it. Market yourself well -- that includes presenting a professional images, preparing classes well, and knowing how to say you're sorry if something doesn't go right.

Each one teaches one. This is just a personal opinion, but I think the best classes I have are the ones where I learn just as much as the student does.

There is no finite pot of riches. And what I mean by that is that, professionally, you have little to lose and a lot more to gain if you help other teachers and work with them. Business guru Suze Orman likes to say that generosity pays off in ways you could never imagine; be kind and generous and you'll get back more than what you gave. If you have teacher friends who are on Twitter, follow them and retweet their posts. If you need that couple of days off, offer your classes to a buddy (trust me, I have never seen a case of one teacher stealing another's student - students are not credit cards or Bic pens.) Like the song says, you get what you give.

These are just my thoughts. Please feel free to share yours.

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