For the past six months, I’ve been teaching in Prague as a qualified TEFL teacher. Before leaving the U.S., the bulk of my destination research revolved around identifying a city where my girlfriend and I both wanted to live, and would be able to find work. And while the last half year has been truly remarkable, there are a few key items I wish someone had told me before my departure. If you’re considering teaching abroad, don’t skip out on these important tidbits.
1. The Visa Process is a Nightmare
I’m not sure how things are for other Schengen Area Countries, but the visa process in the Czech Republic is a mess. You can’t actually apply for a work visa within the Czech Republic. In a labyrinth of red tape, you must exit the country to submit your application and pick up your work visa. We had to travel to the Brussels Embassy twice for these appointments. Additionally, you’re permitted 90 days in the Schengen Zone until you need a work visa. However, since the process in the CZ takes about 150 days due to backups and scheduling delays, we were technically illegal immigrants for almost three months before receiving our visa. During this time we weren’t able to freely travel around Europe AKA grounded in Prague. The icing on the cake is getting a visa is very expensive. Not only do all the forms and applications have a fee, you’ll also need to hire someone to help with the visa process, since all paperwork must be submitted in Czech.
2. The Pay is Horrible
Like the rest of the Western world, the Czech Republic has little respect for teachers. Native English speakers will start out around $10 USD per hour. Keep in mind this doesn’t include travel, lesson planning, or other required paperwork. For every hour you spend teaching, you burn another traveling and planning your lessons. Also, your schedule isn’t always convenient; you may have two 1-hour lessons on the opposite side of the city in an afternoon. These add up to an average workweek of about 20 to 25 paid hours of teaching, and at 10 bucks an hour, brace yourself for a meager paycheck. Hint: Private lessons can generate a higher hourly rate, but you’ll have to do a bit of marketing and searching to find private students.
3. The Teaching Market is Becoming More Saturated
While there’s still a high demand for native-speaking teachers in Prague — a main reason we chose Prague — the market is getting increasingly crowded. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a job. In fact, finding a job is rather easy. Just be aware your value as a native English speaker is slowly diminishing. As a result, it may be more difficult to find better pay, the hours you’re looking for, or other benefits such as visa assistance from your language school.
4. You Won’t be Teaching at a Traditional School
The school abroad won’t resemble your cushy high school in the burbs. After receiving your TEFL certificate, chances are you’ll work as a freelance teacher. What does a freelance teaching job entail? A language school will hire you and send you to various clients around the city. Your schedule will vary day by day and often include multiple locations each day. Get out a map, you’re going to spend a lot of time on public transportation between jobs. The variety of classes and clients provides some freedom, but it also requires a lot of planning. Different clients and students will have different specifications for what they expect out of you as a teacher. Lesson plans need to be tailored to each client. And although it’s possible for a new teacher without experience to receive a full-time job at a traditional school, don’t get your hopes up.
5. Your Students Will be a Great Resource
Moving to any new city can be overwhelming, especially when it’s a foreign destination. That said, don’t be afraid to tap your students as a resource for the local scene. My students loved discussing their favorite places in town. They were a wellspring of suggestions for go-to bars, parks, restaurants, etc. And the best part is these discussions are great English practice for them as well. Win-win.
At the end of the day, the perks of teaching abroad vastly outweigh the downsides. If given the opportunity, I would absolutely do it all over again. Teaching in Prague was an irreplaceable experience, one I will value for the rest of my life. But I strongly advise looking into these grayer, more nuanced categories for whatever city you’re thinking about moving to. Language schools tend to advertise their programs rather aggressively, so first try to reach out to fellow teachers to hear their hands-on experiences.