Life as a freelance English teacher in Hungary (by Lilla Udvarhelyi)
I feel a bit strange if I count the number of years I have been working as an English teacher. Seventeen years, that is, a bit less than half my life. During this time I have been able to experience changes in my country, in my profession, but and this is the most important for me, I haven’t got bored with it at all. Life-long passion I would say. Let’s see how it started.
To be honest, my choice of career was not a conscious decision at all. I was determined not to become a teacher as a matter of fact. I just liked languages and English was my favourite. I was quite a shy girl and did not expect to enjoy public speaking. During my university years I started teaching, however. I had some private students as the little money I made this way was very useful. The turn in my life came when in 1999 I was offered a course at a language school. Love at first lesson I can say. I found my place and my way.
At that time in the first years of the millenium everybody wanted to learn English. Companies had a good period and organized on-site courses for their staff. No language school was willing to employ its teachers, however, so setting up a company and managing all accounting and taxation became the everyday reality for teachers like me. I did not mind or even think about it too much. I was young and enjoyed the work.
Many years have passed since then but I am still a freelance English teacher. I have experienced both the good and bad points of this lifestyle. I would be curious to know about other countries but here Budapest you need to have minimum 40 lessons to make a living and if you want a bit better life, you need at least 50 or more lessons per week. Nowadays I have around 55 to 60. And of course I do not mean any luxury. This is not easy. Stamina and strong determination are a must. And probably passion, which is in my understanding the better term for work addiction. If you do not love it, you will just give it up. I have early lessons starting at 7 am and often finish late at 9 pm or even later. I have lessons at different parts of the city, which means travelling for about 3 hours per day on average.
Another weird thing is my bag. A small cabin size suitcase, my travelling companion. The books, computer and my ’survivor kit’ for the day, that is, drink, food and personal stuff are so heavy that some years ago I bought my first trolley bag. A friend of mine was joking that I should work as a tester for suitcase companies as I manage to destroy even the best 99-year guarantee high quality bags in half a year. Good idea! Well, pulling it for several kilometres a day keeps me fit although sometimes I am not so positive.
Something new in my profession is the chance to work online. This way both the student and teacher save time and money. I have more chance to work at home although in some cases I have to set up my online equipment (netbook, headset) on the way between two company lessons. So I need to be creative concerning place and time.
As people have 24-hour online access nowadays, they expect you to do the same. Sometimes I feel I manage a non-stop call center with people calling for new appointments, books, homework or whatever.
Another tendency is that lesson time has become shorter due to the financial crisis, which is quite hard for people in Hungary. Fewer companies are sending their staff for lessons and as more people finance their studies from their after-tax income they often decide not to have 2 lessons (90 min) but only a 60-min lesson instead. This means more administration but at the same time more new students and more new contacts. I can say I am really happy about that. Due to my website and online marketing I have a bigger variety of students than before. People of all ages, interests and professions call me or e-mail. And this is the other great advantage of my work. Through my students I can learn about a large number of professions and at the same time I learn about their lives and personalities. As a result I see every day as a new adventure. I talk to them and they share their lives with me. I think this is the best thing about being a teacher. It is my life ambition to write down my experience in a book. At the moment I am in chapter one. The introduction is already completed. So it may take a long time to publish it but no hurry really. From time to time I also write blogs nowadays. The inspiration came from Anastasia Koltai, a great colleague from MyEnglishTeacher.eu. I take it as preparation and practice for my book.
If you work freelance in another country, I hope you’ll share your story, too. I am really curious about my colleagues far away.