Just Start

"To conclude this first section, it is my position that the PFT learning system is necessary in order to bring back into equilibrium the quality of experience that you as a teacher convey on your own students, whom you have in no uncertain terms attracted and acquired through your own hard work and business savvy, at the expense of neither the quality of teaching that you provide nor of your own financial objectives with the quality of experience that you as a teacher receive from the proprietors of the cafes that you are conducting your classes in. It requires a collaboration, and the initiative is on your part at every stage of development. It also requires one crucial intangible force in your character. Effort."

I believe it is not customary to precede the introduction of a problem identification essay with a quotation spanning from the beginning to the end of one's own conclusion. But me being an in your face sort of teacher trainer, I find it perfectly appropriate, not at all unpalatable and exceedingly gratifying given the circumstances under which I embarked on this project.

In this rapidly developing technological landscape, the professional ESL language instructor faces an unremitting onslaught of challenges to overcome just to keep head above water. Some of these obstacles have been set in place by the enormous influence of technology companies which have forged in the crucibles of this early era of online education the genre of educational marketplace with their fixed ideas about teaching and learning. Other snags are lodged into the sheer workload that a private ESL teacher must assume in order to acquire and retain students (without whom their livelihood and/or supplement to their income would not exist). And still other hindrances pop up in the physical and virtual locations in which we hold our classes. I make the unverified but confident assumption that you as a language tutor require the following in order to make maximum use of your experience and skill at what you really want to do during an actual live class, which is to teach.

1. Serious students who have expectations that you are aware of and who possess not only an understanding of how and what you will teach them but also the confidence, patience and trust in you as a teacher.
2. A comfortable teaching environment in which the level of anxiety for your student is reduced so that you can focus on your class and on your teaching practice.
3. Adequate and fair compensation for your services which is not dictated by anyone else other than you.

The internet and all of the wonderful and useful fluff it brings with it, your extra hours and money from your budget in placing ads, your effort to find suitable material to use in the class, your search for an appropriate location to hold the class, your level of comfort with your student in that venue and your student's fair expectation of your value as a teacher and your time are all real issues that you face if you want to move forward on this path. To address these, I have knitted, sewn and stuck together from existing ideas a learning system abbreviated PFT, which stands for Prepare Feedback Train. It is my position that such a learning system is not merely optional but necessary to even the score and help the ESL teacher break free from the plight in which they may find themselves trapped in this fiercely competitive educational bazaar.

Let's say just for a moment that you have placed a teaching post on some website advertising your availability to accept new students. The advertisement contains your teaching rate per hour, location, times and dates that you are available to teach, a summary of what subjects you can teach and your profile picture. The profiles above and below you are ridiculously priced, with the average tutoring rate on your search page a full 10 CAD lower than what you charge. Consequently, you begrudgingly reduce your advertised rate in order to stay competitive and avoid the "I want a discount because the other teachers (who are probably not as experienced and knowledgeable as you) are charging less.

Based on this information a student contacts you and arranges classes with you in a coffee shop. In the email prior to meeting, your student expresses their desire to have a speaking class. You don't know their needs or anything about their background, but you accept and arrange to meet. Assuming that you already have a speaking course and or speaking materials all set to go, you tell your student to show up on time for class with your tuition fee (X) prepared in advance.

Your student arrives for class right on time and sits down in the empty seat across from you in the cafe that you have chosen. You have arrived 10 minutes early to procure the table and you have purchased the inexpensive house coffee, which you plan to nurse for the entire hour. You greet your student and watch them wearily open their bags and take out their notebook and writing utensil. You have your tablet, laptop, mobile phone and/or photocopied worksheets on the table in front of you. Your student does not know what you are going to teach nor do they know the format of the class you are about to run them through. You are ready to start your class as you have another student booked immediately after and you have other personal engagements following that class. Your student has not purchased anything from the coffee shop and you catch the dubious eye of the barista or, even worse, a stifled scowl from the proprietor. The people at the next table look over in great and eager anticipation of another ESL teacher doing pronunciation drills over and over because it's really exciting to listen to (I am being sarcastic here if you don't know me very well). Your student straightens up and says "What are we going to study today?"

There is no way for me to know about your tutoring situation in detail, but this scenario used to be all too familiar to me. I have also queried a number of colleagues and they concur with parts if not all. In addition, I have interviewed cafe owners who regularly host tutors staking claim to tables for hours on end with one cold cup of coffee deteriorating in taste and effect, and they have confessed to feelings of unappreciation, cause for accusation to entitlement and in many cases irritation that leads to anger.

I am a teacher, and here is one problem that I have identified. It's not about money but rather about respect.

First, the teacher needs to arrive early to stake out a table. Ten minutes of time means that the class is actually 1 hour (t) and 10 minutes for the teacher.

Advertised Rate
X per 1 hour (t)
Actual Compensation
X per 1 hour (t) and 10 minutes (Hold a table)

I would imagine that if the teacher has a coffee in front of them by the time the student arrives, they must have waited in line to order and pay for the coffee. In this case, let's add on an arbitrary amount of 5 minutes (W).
Advertised Rate
X per 1 hour (t)
Actual Compensation
X per 1 hour (t)
and 10 minutes (Hold a table)
and 5 minutes (Wait in line for coffee)

Therefore, the first class the teacher has is actually 1 hour and 15 minutes instead of the advertised 1 hour if my knowledge of Math serves me faithfully. This means that the teacher must add 25% to their advertised tutoring fee (X) on their chosen online website in order to be fairly compensated according to their own time.
In addition, the teacher should really purchase a coffee if they are going to conduct their business in a coffee shop to avoid the scorn of the proprietor or an overzealous part-time staffer or barista. The last thing a teacher wants is a coffee shop staff member or owner interrupting the the class requesting either the teacher or student purchase something while taking up the real estate in the cafe. Let's call this cost Y. Thus, the teacher must also account for the cost (Y) when comparing their advertised rate to their actual compensation.

Advertised Rate
X per 1 hour (t)
Actual Compensation
X per 1 hour (t)
and 10 minutes (Hold a table)
and 5 minutes (Wait in line for coffee)
and subtract the cost of coffee (Y)

Upon return to the situation with the teacher above, we see that the teacher has also prepared materials for the class. For the sake of argument, let's make the high-ball educated guess assumption that the teacher has spent a total of 15 minutes looking for and collecting those materials. We will call this M. So in fact the situation actually looks something like this now.

Advertised Rate
X per 1 hour (t)
Actual Compensation
X per 1 hour (t)
and 10 minutes (Hold a table)
and 5 minutes (Wait in line for coffee)
and subtract the cost of coffee (Y)
and 10 minutes (Materials for class)

There is one last detail that may or may not have escaped your notice. The student did what they were asked to do and arrived on time. However, it took them two minutes to get settled in and actually start class. If we are to be rigorous, we must account for this in the actual compensation awarded to the teacher. Let us name the amount of time that the student takes to sit down and actually get ready to start the class with L (we haven't considered the situation where the student arrives on time and decides to spend time in the line up to buy coffee). .
Advertised Rate
X per 1 hour (t)
Actual Compensation
X per 1 hour (t)
and 10 minutes (Hold a table)
and 5 minutes (Wait in line for coffee)
and subtract the cost of coffee (Y)
and 10 minutes (Materials for class)
and 5 minutes (Late start)

Consequently the teacher is advertising X per 1 hour (t), but is actually earning X-(Y per 1 hour + H + W + M + L). Now that is an equation.

This problem has been alleviated by the A Mark Training Speaking Course through the PFT website by removing from the equation M (Materials for class), establishing the rules for the student to develop an expectation about how the class will start and end to eliminate L (Late time start), reducing Y (cost of coffee per class) by reducing t (length of class) by 50%.

Most importantly, your student arrives prepared for class with an expectation of what will occur during the session, reduced anxiety and a sense of assurance that they will be able to succeed and meet their objectives. The concomitant reaction of students arriving prepared for class is the outright quashing of the "What are we going to do in class today?" question at the beginning of your session.

Your student arrives for class right on time and sits down in the empty seat across from you in the cafe that you have chosen. The proprietor of the shop has saved a table for you so you arrive only 5 minutes before the class. You did not have to wait in line for your coffee as per the arrangement that you have with the proprietor. The proprietor is also in good spirits as the links from your personal website and from the Watch Me Teach videos you have made for the cafe are yielding increased business for them.

As you greet your student and watch them open their bags and take out their filled out PFT Assessment Sheet and writing utensil, the proprietor walks by, smiles and says hello. You introduce the student and your student straightens up and shows maturity and seriousness because they feel good that you have introduced them to someone of significance in their eyes. Along with your coffee, you have your mobile phone and one copy of the PFT Assessment Sheet, which you have taken 5 minutes to pre-fill out, on the table.

You are ready to start your class as you have another 2 students booked immediately after with a personal engagement 30 minutes after your final class. Your student has not purchased anything from the coffee shop but does not feel pressured because of the greeting from the owner. You have also taken the profit from purchasing a PFCredit pack and reinvested it into your business by presenting your student with a coffee card or coupon as per your deal with the proprietor.

Your student feels comfortable and looks serious as they have spent 2 to 3 hours prior to class working through in their minds and on their own computers how they would like to train in this session. You are also aware of the students strengths and weaknesses because you have glanced at their notebook page and examined their feedback page, and your student knows that you have monitored and provided feedback to the preparation that they have completed prior to attending. Both you and your student agree on the format of the class. Moreover, your student understands what is and what is not expected at the various stages of the class.

Since the class is 30 minutes, you don't feel pressure to prepare extra activities to make sure the time that you are being paid for is wasted. The coffee in front of you will last for at least 2 classes, so you don't feel pressure to buy more products from the cafe at the beginning of your second class.

You glance over to the other side of the coffee shop and you see another teacher, who is on your teacher roster, running through a different course which you have created and uploaded to the PFT website. You are happy because not only is another teacher using your material to teach, but you are also being compensated for it as per your agreement with that teacher and as per the revenue sharing agreement with the PFT website. The people at the next table are actually looking forward to listening in on your class because the class is well organized, professional, based on sound theoretical foundations and feedback driven. Your student straightens up and says "I am ready to start and I have some questions before we begin the training session."


As you move along the PFSchool path, you will discover different ways to grow your teaching business into what you really want it to be. However, there is only one way to make sure it has a chance to progress to the point at which you are content -- and that is to start. The combination of the A Mark IELTS Speaking course and the PFT website has set up a system for you to help. However, at the end of the day, you are the one who has to teach your classes.

Aly Bardai
English Teacher
.

Back to Top