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How to approach private lessons for a newbie
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Binary_Star



Joined: 13 Jun 2011
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:15 pm    Post subject: How to approach private lessons for a newbie Reply with quote

Hi,

i got my CELTA recently but have no previous teaching experience before that. I've started looking for work at schools and also private lessons. I have a couple of people interested in private lessons but I'm at a bit of a loss at how to apporach it professionally. What questions should i ask them before i meet them? I have some questions but i want to make sure that I cover everything. Also, what should I do in my first lesson? I need some kind of structure to help me begin, if that makes any sense. Can anyone help?


T
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Approach them, or they approach you, it makes no difference. The very first thing I think you should do is consider your fees and scheduling, including how to deal with absences/cancellations and refunds, and texts.

Second, know what exactly you will and won't teach, and whom (and in what number per class).

Third, when you first meet with a prospective client, have some casual questions at the ready, but don't make it seem rigged. Be sure to get a good grasp of the student's use of verb tenses at the very least. Also, give them time to ask you questions, so you know whether they can actually form them correctly. Don't let them prepare or deliver a memorized introduction.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9450
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I'm correct, Binary Star is in Hungary - right?

The private market in Europe is probably quite a bit different than that in Japan, where Glenski's experience lies - the students are likely to have different kinds of expectations than Japanese students would.


Quote:
Second, know what exactly you will and won't teach, and whom (and in what number per class).


In the European market, the first lesson is usually a needs analysis; I don't normally make any plans regarding what I will or won't teach until I've spent some time with the client. Privates here are mostly with individual adults - if you're going to work with a small group of course you'll want to meet them all to get some idea of what language goals they share. It's also less common that students will be at beginner level - they're more likely to be in the intermediate to upper ranges.

Quote:
Third, when you first meet with a prospective client, have some casual questions at the ready, but don't make it seem rigged. Be sure to get a good grasp of the student's use of verb tenses at the very least. Also, give them time to ask you questions, so you know whether they can actually form them correctly. Don't let them prepare or deliver a memorized introduction.


It's very rare for European students to prepare and deliver memorised anything. They're not normally afraid of losing face - they are typically quite realistic about what their levels are and where their needs lie.

I normally ask just a few questions regarding what kinds of work/study the students are involved in, and then ask them to tell me what they need and want to work on. They may well also want some say in whether a book is used or whether they prefer authentic texts from general or business/study-specific sources. Or no texts - it's also quite common that students primarily want to work on speaking and listening only.

I would invite some questions from the students regarding my background and experience as a teacher, if they don't already know this.

Negotiating prices, meeting times and places, and materials gives you a further chance to naturally gauge where students are in the learning process and to make some decisions about where to start. So far as choosing grammar points and vocabulary sets to work on, again I'd ask the students what they feel they need and would be interested in - they're usually self-aware enough to be able to give you a good idea.

Keep in mind that this whole process of getting started is a lesson in itself - it's a great opportunity for both teacher and student(s) to practice quite a few different functions. Don't feel as though you are wasting their time with this!!
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Binary_Star



Joined: 13 Jun 2011
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the advice. My first lesson (which, as you say, iosn't really a lesson) I was going to charge half price. Also, I plan to give them a test to see what level they are at. But would it be better to send them the test before hand and have them do it home before they come to the first lesson?
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9450
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You can charge half price if you want, of course; but I think you don't need to sell the first lesson short. As mentioned, it is in fact a valuable experience for them and good practice.

As for a level test, I think it's best to ask your prospective students whether they want to take one (they may know their levels already) and if so, when. I wouldn't waste their time in a face-to-face lesson with them filling out a paper test, personally.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9357
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ditto what Spiral said. A Needs Analysis will be a solid start for both parties. I'd even have it typed up, or printed off the 'net. Perhaps you could even present it to the student to read before they answer it. Or just use it as the basis for a question and answer style interview, with you noting down relevant remarks. Usually impresses clients with one's professionalism then. Absolutely nothing wrong with 'set questions'.

Areas to cover in a Needs Analysis usually comprise:
1. past learning experience
2. exams taken and results achieved
3. course books used previously
4. aims and goals, expectations from course
5. proposed length of course
6. areas that the learner feels need to be focused on
7. occupation, if relevant
8. background info, if relevant again

Bear in mind that lots of learners will expect you to know what they need, so while it is important to include their input in planning a course, don't say something very open like "What should I do in the course with you?" - this is usually interpreted as 'the teacher doesn't know what he is doing'. Far better is, 'You work in an office. Do you need to speak in English with clients on the phone? Whom? How often? About what? How easy is that? Do you want to focus on that in the course?"

With regard to organising the business side of the lessons, I usually do this by email, in advance of the first lesson. Depending on the level of the learner, this might be easier for both parties. Also, there is some sort of written record about what you have agreed to. I most often than not have a little pro forma text with all details tabled out clearly. Sounds mechanical, but it is best to get these things cleared up as smoothly as possible to avoid any misunderstanding.

I wouldn't worry too much about what to do for private lessons at this initial stage. Most learners will opt to work from a book, making your life a little easier at the start. And very often, they are just as nervous as you are, especially for the first lesson, so try to be relaxed, though in control and teacherly : )

Best of luck!
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EFLeducator



Joined: 16 Dec 2011
Posts: 595
Location: NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 5:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glenski wrote:
deal with absences/cancellations.


This will happen a LOT depending on the country you are going to. Crying or Very sad
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9450
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 5:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
EFLEducator wrote:

Glenski wrote:
deal with absences/cancellations.


This will happen a LOT depending on the country you are going to.


The OP is in Hungary, and cancellations and no-shows are by no means necessarily problems that 'will' come up 'a lot' anywhere!! If one has had such problems 'a lot,' it's likely time to take a hard look at one's policies and practices teaching privates. It may well indicate that the students are dissatisfied with what they are getting.


Last edited by spiral78 on Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:53 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Binary_Star



Joined: 13 Jun 2011
Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Obviously cancellations is a contentious topic! What kind of poilicy should I have? And if I ever charge someone a lump sum in advance for, say, 10 lessons (and they save money that way) should they be able to cancel and get some of their money back? Or no money back?
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9450
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've always done it basically the same way private schools do: with at least 24 hours' notice, no penalties. Less than that, they pay just as though the lesson happened (though I've been known to waive that for genuine - rare- emergencies, of course).

I have had a very few students who made cancellations on an habitual basis - I usually tolerate this on two or three occasions and then it's time to ask the student if he/she is definitely interested in continuing, because I can fill his/her slot with someone else, if not (politely, of course). But again, I've had to do this like two or three times over my 14+ years as a teacher.

If someone pays you for 10 lessons and then decides not to finish for some reason, then probably I'd refund whatever balance was left, but again, this should be rare. If it happened often, I think the teacher needs to rethink his/her work a bit.

As Sasha points out, it's important that students know the basic 24-hour policy up front (though no need to go into the rest of it - you should assume that they will show up regularly unless/until they prove differently). Obviously, they also need to be able to contact you easily.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9357
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Students usually don't have a problem with having to pay for missed lessons: they would have to pay for them if they were at a school in any case, so the idea shouldn't be so strange for them. However, you do have to make this clear to them. They are booking your professional time: they have to pay for that, even if they don't avail of it. Otherwise you could be doing something else productive.

Few students have problems grasping this, but sometimes teachers do not press this point firmly enough, or even have a clear policy at all. In Russia, where students are genuinely pressed for time, I have rarely had a student who baulked at paying for lessons that they didn't attend - but then they understood from the beginning because I email this in my terms and conditions. No surprises for anyone. The logic is clear. Problem minimised. But as Spiral says, it is best to be human about it too. Trips to the kiddies hospital etc. are really unavoidable, so a little kindness and understanding goes a long way.

You may want to make it clear that lesson times are fixed. Just because a student arrives late in no way obliges you to make up the time. You may have a lesson elsewhere, or something else urgent. Again, make this clear form the start, and few European students I have worked with will have a problem with it. Most agree how sensible it all is.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9450
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the issue of giving a level test, may I expand a little bit on my earlier suggestion to make it very much optional for the students?

The thing is that with private European students, you are very often going into ESP (English for Specific Purposes) rather than working on general English. A typical businessperson or university student, for example, may have a real need to expand his/her active vocabulary in his/her field. In such a case, the level of his/her general English does play a role, obviously, in terms of what vocabulary can be introduced and practiced and how this will be done, but it's not really overall level that is the focus. He/she may 'test' as advanced, but still not have the specific active language he/she needs, for example.

It's also in many cases an issue of the student wishing to strengthen his/her combined listening and speaking skills to enhance communication either in field or generally. A written test may give a teacher (and a student) some rough idea of how well the student can be expected communicate face-to-face. However, written tests don't always correlate very accurately to real-time skills. There are many students who can fill in all the blanks and tick all the boxes correctly, but who still can't really speak/listen effectively.

Overall, you could offer this as an option, but I wouldn't place too much emphasis or faith in a written 'level' test in many cases. It may very well tell you something about only one bit of the overall picture of any given student.
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BadBeagleBad



Joined: 23 Aug 2010
Posts: 835

PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Binary_Star wrote:
Obviously cancellations is a contentious topic! What kind of poilicy should I have? And if I ever charge someone a lump sum in advance for, say, 10 lessons (and they save money that way) should they be able to cancel and get some of their money back? Or no money back?


What I have done in the past is allow one last minute cancellation per month, and one rescheduling per month. That always worked well for me. I think if you talk to the student ahead of time and make them understand that this time is set aside for them, and that if they cancel it's not like you have another student that you can grab at the last minute. On the other hand, allowing a few cancellations is necessary, life happens. But it has to be discussed ahead of time, and agreed on.
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What I described earlier with questions to students was in fact a form of needs analysis. So, I agree with the others that it should be done.

I don't think letting a prospective student take home a written test is wise. Cheating occurs.

spiral78 wrote:
So far as choosing grammar points and vocabulary sets to work on, again I'd ask the students what they feel they need and would be interested in - they're usually self-aware enough to be able to give you a good idea.
If that is true in Hungary, then go with that advice. For readers in other countries, especially Japan, heed the following warning. Most students will tell you they need "everything" and are not self-aware.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9357
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting. Even so, I'd refrain from passing judgment about 'other countries' and the typical learner profile and their self-awareness or lack thereof. May very well be true that Japanese learners typically fit this description. However, a sizable segment of learners I have dealt with had very clear ideas about their needs and abilities, and could express this very clearly to their teacher. And not just European students either.
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