Perils of Freelancing/Serial Part-Timing as a Teacher


Freelancing is highly romanticised at the moment, or so I feel, on the ‘productivity’ websites. However, the fact is, I would love to be a full-time employee. What leads me to be a freelancer/serial part-timer (FSPTer) then?

  • I make much, much more money as a FSPTer than I would ‘full-time’ in a language school.
  • Pay rises in language schools in Japan are based on whether students like you. This can depend on whether your regular student on a Thursday is always tired and gives you a 4 on a questionnaire instead of a 5, or whether you are handsome. I look like Brad Pitt. In Fight Club. After getting the shit beat out of me. There are many young men in English Teaching in Tokyo who moonlight as models.

Now, before all you other long-in-the-toothed folks like me start thinking about going Omar, don’t think it’s all sweetness, think about this.


Most of your company classes will be agency work. Agencies will not pay you if the client cancels with over 24 hours notice. Will you fill that slot? Will there be a Bambi’s mother-zombie-crossover live-action film? In a language school, you get paid regardless, unless you work for a total piece of crap.

Sometimes an agency will make a verbal agreement with you, nothing solid, but you block your schedule, and the organisation then does further shopping around and drops your agency. They take no hit other than salesperson time. You lose ground on the slots you could have applied for.

Private students are the way to go,” you say. I will say that you may have a private that treats you well but most get flaky and cancel at the last minute. I charge the full whack if there’s less than 24-hours notice, or stop bookings any more than a week in advance. Hit any private with these and they will soon stop taking lessons if you charge a rate that is reasonable to you. This can be good though; you don’t want to be waiting around for people that don’t respect you but only say that they do.


God, I hate admin. You will have at least one agency time sheet to fill in, plus student attendance. Add to that any marking if you have writing classes that turn out substantial work, and there will always be the last-minute thing that you will not get office staff help with because you don’t have office staff – you’re freelance. Add tax returns in a foreign language and messing about with multiple document formats going between phone, Pages, MS Office, Libre Office and other permutations and you’re on a one-way ticket to Self Medication Station.

Basically, you learn to prioritise. My question is “If this isn’t done, will my family starve?” You’d be surprised at how much is let go. However, you still have to balance goodwill and lackadaisical wherewithal.

The Muscles and The Belly

You will be able to shoulder everything a black hole can absorb in an aeon and more. This is because, on a busy day, you might be carrying four textbooks, a notebook, a diary, maybe a portable speaker for listening tasks, food and whatever else you might carry to kill time (novels, game machine, scale model of the Bismarck, etc.) This exercise will not stave off The Belly.

You will get hungry and every subway or train station kiosk will beg you closer with its promise of Snickers, M&Ms, sweet breads, sandwiches, ambiguous baked goods with exotic seasonal flavours. You will not have willpower, especially at five o’clock on a Thursday after a class at a food company and just before teaching a lesson on dining out. You need exercise. You will crave exercise but you might not have time.

The Ludicrous Schedule

You will spread yourself stupidly thin when you can get work (which is basically all the seasons when weather is crap except Christmas and New Year) and have more free time than you can shake a stick at over summer, unless you teach at a summer camp, though many of those pay rubbish money for staying on-site in the sticks miles from home or miles from the pub if you go in for that.

I am getting better at managing this but the cancellations do mess this up a bit.

Do I like my job? Yes, I do. Do I like freelancing? That’s not really relevant; my family likes having a place to live and being able to eat. Some days I like freelancing more, other days less. It’s about how you get by, isn’t it?



19 thoughts on “Perils of Freelancing/Serial Part-Timing as a Teacher

  1. Spot on. After freelancing for 15 years I’m happy to have a FT job (18 hrs, 27 max when covering) in a Uni. It’s not the most adventurous of positions at the moment but it does pay the bills, put food on the table and allow me to take some time off in summer!


    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was pure luck Marc. More about working in the right environment and knowing the right people than having the right ‘bit of paper’.

        I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. There’s only so much you can plan, the rest just happens so… don’t worry and don’t be jealous. ^^


  2. Thanks Marc.

    I still remember the end of the first year on a FT contract. That September was the first one I actually had some money in the bank. I still remember the relief.

    In Italy, a work reform has limited choices for employers, so changes are happening to get more people on contracts, but they are PT (bank of hours x year) and many Ts are torn between giving up freedom of choice of when and how to work and getting a (much lower) fixed salary. I was initially sceptical about how many would accept earning far less to get that guarantee, but many did. Times are hard, people are tired and things like paid sick pay and paid training are considered as compensation for lower earnings.

    I am lucky. Being part of a global learning network reminds me of that every day. Sometimes I want to shake colleagues who have evidently forgotten how lucky they are, but maybe I’ll just show them your post instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely agree that you need to evaluate other benefits; they may be more valuable than a promise of a higher hourly rate. I’m lucky I don’t get sick often (touch wood) but my public medical insurance would be cheaper if I were full time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I agree there are many reasons for wanting to be FL – I’ve often thought about going back to it as I juggle work and family, but at the moment, the pros of a contract outweigh the cons for me. Have to say though, a couple of things you mentioned have always been a dominant feature of my FT job, like running between teaching sites & dragging around materials to state schools for mornings full of primary classes. It’s not all tea-swigging, strolling to class loveliness 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Marc, some very succinct observations! These are exactly the issues that made me apprehensive about going freelance in Germany (and I knew I had to, that’s how the market here works, apparently). I’d add one more: entrepreneurial spirit/proactive approach to getting students (clients). I find the business side of freelance teaching (marketing, establishing an online presence, etc.) to be an annoying distraction from what actually matters i.e. delivering effective classes. Do you have any experience with that?


    1. Thanks Gosia,

      I quit a ‘full time’ language school job to do a part-time job with the same annual pay. The move to FSPT was sort of gradual.

      I hate promotion here because freelancing is often equated with fly-by-night, take-the-money-and-run businesses here in Japan. I have done more than my share of handing out flyers at train stations first thing in the morning. Ineffective. Word of mouth tends to be better.


  4. Thanks, Marc,

    You should see what I carry in my bag. The weirdest item probably being lemony deodorant to inhale when homeless smell on Prague’s public transport gets too bad:-) My pet hate is class hopping. Why can’t teachers be like dentists or hairdressers? Would be nice to have a chair and desk somewhere and have Ss come over to me.
    Language schools here only employ foreigners FT. As far as I know, to be full time emplyoed as a Czech, you have to work for a school or university.
    Cheers for a great article


    1. Thanks Kamila.

      I have found reasonably priced rental classrooms here but I worry about taking a hit when students cancel. This is something I am working to resolve. There has to be a better solution than cafes.


  5. Hi Mark – freelancing too, in France. Yes, so much admin., which I also hate, not to mention the fact that every language school have their own idiosyncratic ways of doing things. Often the concern too when times are quiet and having to chase up new contracts. But definitely prefer being independent. Nice article. Phil


  6. A bit of “the grass is always greener” right? I’ve been a bit of a miserable git this year over my current arrangement focusing on all of its negative points rather than the advantages it has. In general I’ve stuck with the security of a full time post but had to take classes I didn’t particularly like, or at hours that weren’t ideal. The reverse when I was freelancing was having to take classes I didn’t particularly like (because I needed to sort out classes) and at times I didn’t really want (because the 1-2-1 could only do that tiime) so now I think I’ll just try and be grateful for the positives of my situation, whatever it is.


    1. Excellent point, Chris. The time and class selection can only really be done if you are always making tons of money (nobody) and you have to turn people away (ironically when you have already taken the classes you’d like to give a wide berth to).

      Cheers for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In terms of working for a school as a part-timer, I once had a horrific experience. The students asked for an extra half hour of class. I told them that I was fine, but they should clear it with the language school since they had initially signed up for hour-long classes. Well, at the end of the 3 month course, I go to pick up my paycheck and it’s quite low. I ask the administrator why I’m not being paid for the full 90 minutes. “Oh,” she says, “We had already signed a contract with them for hour-long lessons. I thought it was odd that you agreed to teach extra time for free.”

    Granted, I should have checked in with the administration. But, really, you couldn’t have mentioned to me 3 months ago that I was working for free?


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