So you’re certified to teach English and you’ve moved to Italy. Finding a job should be easy right?
Not so fast.
You might be an absolute grammar genius and CELTA/TEFL certified, but qualifications don’t always make you money, particularly in Italy. where certified English teachers are quite common in major cities such as Rome and Florence. Not to mention the fact that many of the teaching jobs available are often low-paid and part-time, driving many English teachers to search for private tutoring opportunities to supplement their income. Nevertheless, as foreigners with little to no connections, English teachers may find it difficult to find these students and secure a job amongst all the competition.
So how can you distinguish yourself from the other English teachers and promote yourself as a tutor to English-needing students?
After teaching English in Italy for more than two years, I’ve learned a thing or two (or seven?!) about selling yourself as an English teacher. Don’t get me wrong – I’m far from being the best English teacher in Italy and I’m still very much developing my teaching skills. Nevertheless, I have been able to establish a network of students in Bologna and have even had to turn down some teaching offers once my schedule was too full. I attribute such successful outcomes not to my “amazing” teaching abilities (which are average at best!), but rather to the following seven best practices I try to adhere to.
7 Best Practices for Promoting Yourself as an English Teacher in Italy
1. Always carry business cards with you.
Yes, you need business cards. You may not be a businessman/woman, but if you have a TEFL or CELTA certification, you are a professional English teacher! It makes you seem organized and serious about your job, plus it’s super handy to just be able to whip one out at the end of a conversation. Vistaprint.com sells free customized business cards to first time customers.
2. Frequent local hangouts often.
Go to the same bars, restaurants or coffee shops often. This is a great way to get to know the locals and it gives you a chance to make conversations that you normally wouldn’t have. People will notice you and become interested in you. They’ll want to know who that strange person is who keeps ordering an American coffee or speaking Italian with a funny accent.
3. When speaking with potential clients, always focus the conversation on them.
There’s nothing worse than when someone tries to sell themselves too hard. You want the conversation to be as natural as possible. When speaking to a personal acquaintance for the first time, you wouldn’t open the conversation with, “Hello my name is Bob and I’m a hairdresser. I noticed your hair is looking a bit shaggy. Would you like a haircut for 30 dollars?” Uh, no. For one, most people are already insecure about their English language skills so you probably don’t want to comment on how terrible they’re speaking. What you want is for them to come to you. But how do you make this happen? Focus the conversation on them. Ask them where they are from and what their job is. They will probably return the questions at which point you can reveal to them that you’re a native English speaker that teaches English in Italy.
4. Be something other than an English teacher.
Although it may seem like a unique job, TEFL teachers are a dime a dozen here in Italy. This is because English is the most common language learned in Europe and there are English schools in almost every single city and town. So if you’re living in a big city like Rome, well you better believe that there are at least 1,000 TEFL certified “joes” just like you. So how can you differentiate yourself? Be something other than an English teacher. Be the Musician English teacher who also knows how to play the guitar and can offer guitar lessons in English. Be the Fashionista English teacher who took some fashion courses at college and can teach the store manager at Prada how to communicate with her buyers in English. Be the Film Lover English teacher who loves watching films and would be happy to give some lessons based on Tarantino’s latest masterpiece.
5. Set your hourly rate and respect it.
Even if you have 0 clients right now, you need to be prepared to manage future ones. It doesn’t look very professional when a client asks you how much you charge and you stumble over your words only to mutter insecurely “uh….10 euro/hour?”. Even if you have minimal teaching experience, going much lower than 15 euro an hour is undervaluing yourself. The fact that you’re a native English speaker, with a TEFL or CELTA certification is already sufficient enough to consider yourself a professional and worthy of a decent wage. On the other hand, teachers with 2+ years experience can charge anywhere from 20-40 euro/hour. It’s always better to start higher so that if a client wants to negotiate, you can go lower without losing out. This is particularly true in Italy, where negotiation is usually expected.
6. Know when to say “no”.
There are several occasions when clients may request something of you that is just not feasible. It might be that they try get you to lower your rate, or it may be that they ask you to teach them something you’re simply not qualified in. Learn to say no. If you don’t know anything about the IELTS exam and you aren’t prepared to learn up on it, its best practice to simply say “I would really like to help you, but to be honest, I don’t think I’m qualified for this kind of teaching.” Give them a recommendation on where they might be able to get help instead. They will be much happier that you were honest with them and may still ask you for your help in a different area.
7. Keep your eyes open for errors in English.
When reading something in English in Italy, always have your English error radar ready. For example, if you see a mistake on a restaurant menu (and especially if you see lots of mistakes), mention something to the manager or an employee that works there. To avoid being rude or overly snobbish, you can simply say something like “Can I give you some advice?” When they accept (and only when they accept!) you can say “Well, I was reading your menu and I couldn’t help but notice a few English errors. I’m an English teacher and I know that if I was in your position, I would want to know if something was wrong on my menu. By the way, the pasta carbonara was delicious.” They will not only be very thankful and love you for it, but they might even ask you for English help.
If you’re just starting out as an English teacher in Italy, know that gaining new students and opportunities will take time as you establish yourself in the area and build up a good reputation. Be patient and be willing to take on not-so-ideal opportunities initially so that you can gain more experience and put yourself out there.
Questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Good luck tutti!