The following is a guest post by Ryan Viguerie. Take it away Ryan…
“So why did you choose me?”
Every student who walks through my door for the first time hears this question.
I’ve been a private teacher for about eight years so I’ve heard a lot of different reasons.
Usually – not always, but usually – it’s because of a problem with their previous teacher.
You see, I’m not the cheapest teacher in Prague.
Which also means I’m usually not their first choice.
But when cheaper doesn’t work out, they come to me, and then I hear their complaints.
And these are the biggest – the ones I hear over and over again.
Learn from other teachers’ mistakes, make your students happy, and keep the cash rolling in.
COMPLAINT #1 – “We just talked”
Students tell me all the time, “I just need to talk more.”
But then they complain about their former teacher and say, “All we did was talk.”
What’s going on?
I think the problem is what they want to do is talk, but what they want to pay for is lessons.
It probably feels weird to describe the highlights of last night’s hockey match, evaluate the physical merits of the new secretary, complain about your lazy kids…and then hand over some cash for what felt like an hour chatting with a friend.
SOLUTION: Show Them The Plan
Before the student has bought any lessons, and we’re talking and having coffee for the first time, I pull out a piece of paper that says “Lesson Structure.”
I explain that this is the structure I follow in my lessons.
It’s nothing fancy or groundbreaking, but it communicates right away “I have a plan. I know what I’m doing. You’re paying for more than just conversation.”
Here’s what it looks like. Feel free to rip it off or adapt it to your style.
1-5 warm up – easy conversation
1-5 review vocabulary from previous lessons
30-40 discuss article/video/topic of the day
5-10 record and discuss new vocab
1-3 plan for the next lesson
It’s a balance.
You’ve got to give them what they want, but wrap it in something they feel good paying for.
COMPLAINT #2 – DEAD GRANDMOTHERS
One of my students likes to tell the story of a former teacher who often cancelled lessons at the last minute.
After a while, the teacher began to run out of reasons, so he started to use the dead grandmother excuse.
Then he started to run out of grandmothers. But that didn’t stop him, he just kept going…and so did the dead grandmothers.
Other variations of this guy are the teacher who –
- Is chronically late
- Cancels often
- Shows up hung over
- Walks into a high-priced law firm wearing ripped jeans and dirty sneakers
- Sits down and asks, “So what do you want to do today?”
- Hits on his female students and makes them feel uncomfortable
SOLUTION 1 – Upgrade Your Wardrobe
If you look like a teacher…if you look successful…if you look like you’ve got your life together…it’ll carry a lot of weight.
Be a disheveled poet, rocker, cool guy in your free time. But when it comes time to pay the bills, leave the house in your ironed shirt and expensive shoes.
SOLUTION 2 – Teach From A Base
Being two minutes late is one of my bad habits.
But that suddenly came to a stop when I started teaching from my apartment.
I discovered it’s incredibly hard to be late when you’re already there.
But if you live in a haunted house or your pet iguana doesn’t like meeting new people, you could set up base in a coffee shop. Get an account at calendly.com and mark the same chunks of time every week as ‘available.’
COMPLAINT #3: “Neverending Story”
For some reason, my Czech students have taken the title from this 80s fantasy movie (and incredibly cheesy music video) to describe their main frustration with English: slow or no progress.
Here’s a better analogy from “How To Learn A Foreign Language” by Paul Pimsleur:
“Learning a foreign language is like filling a bucket from a slow-running tap. If you keep looking in to see if it is full, you grow more and more impatient. You may finally kick it over and walk away. But if the bucket has notches that show when it is one-quarter full, one-third full, and so on, then you can take pleasure in watching the water rise from notch to notch. The filling time is the same, but the psychological effect is different.”
So how do you put notches on the English bucket?
SOLUTION – A Vocab Notebook
As soon as a student agrees to buy one of my lesson packages, I tell him, “Your first homework assignment is to buy a notebook.”
Then every lesson I make him write down the new words.
Soon he’ll have pages and pages of visible proof of what he didn’t know before he met me.
Ryan is from the US but has lived in Prague since 2004.
In addition to teaching, he also runs the website Teacher-Creature.com
If you think there’s a need for a similar site in your city and if you’d like to be one of the first teachers on the site, you can write Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.