I’m writing this guest post to complement Mark’s advice on how to make more money as a teacher. As he says, one way is to get a better job in a hardcore Buxiban; another is to teach private lessons. I earn 1,000 NT an hour from many of my lessons, and it’s often, I feel, much more interesting work than teaching kids. This post describes how I run my private tutoring “business”.

(NB I live in Taipei, so I can’t say what the market is like in other parts of the country.)

Getting Started

You need a marketing effort, to find students. I advertise, through a friend, on a Chinese language message board. That was how I started, with my friend even discussing terms and conditions with students, while I simply smiled encouragingly. Eventually, a lot of the marketing becomes self-sustaining – students recommend me to their friends, or friends refer me to people. Often, you will have too many students, and sometimes, too few, so a good plan would be to start reciprocal relationships with other teachers. I don’t go looking for students, and especially not on Tealit, as the prices and conditions aren’t that good. Work out ways to get away from other Westerners, and differentiate yourself from people’s idea of the “typical foreigner”.

What qualities are Taiwanese people looking for in a tutor? My impression is:

1. Being professional
2. Having a vast knowledge of the West.

Being professional means dressing smartly (at least at first), showing up on time, not being a “traveller” (stress that you plan to be in Taiwan for a while, and are not merely taking a fund raising break from backpacking), and giving the impression that you can control your sexual urges.

Many people seem to feel they can spot a good teacher, and so teaching certification, or even immense keenness about methodology, may not get you far. What a lot of advanced students want is someone who can explain the West to them – someone who reads the Economist magazine, who knows how to give a good presentation, who has had interesting job experiences, who can show them how to debate in an academic seminar, who can tell them about Western cultural norms. And in rarer cases, someone who can discuss BritPop with them, or can explain Derrida and Neo Conservatism. One very successful Taiwanese business man took private lessons with me just to get over his fear of talking to Caucasians.

Knowledge of the East, or an ability to speak Chinese, does not seem to be required. You are being hired for your Western-ness. Your concern is to show that you are a shining, high quality Westerner, rather than a corrupted Asia bum.

In the lesson

I teach in cafes usually, and sometimes my home. The largest class I teach is one on two – I feel like more students per class than that entails more serious illegality. I would love to start an unofficial school in my house, with small group classes, but I worry that would be taking things too far.

I don’t use a textbook. I have my own material for grammar, pronunciation and reading (I use short story anthologies and business magazines), but I’m sure it would be easy to use a book like Interchange to guide the lesson. I’m inventive in the classes, making up exercises with different tenses, discussions about travelling or Taiwanese customs, games taken from text books or asking them to do presentations. I use set material when teaching IELTS speaking and writing, as you need to have a big supply of sample questions.

(Actually, I have started using one textbook recently, a book of pictures and stories told by three or six frames of pictures. A fellow teacher recommended it to me, and it’s great for getting students imagining things).

If you have academic or workplace skills, it’s possible to get non-English teaching gigs. I’ve so far taught Economics, History (in fact one student was preparing to start a Masters in the US, so asked for a course of academic History lessons), and a few classes of Philosophy.

Difficulties

A crucial issue to deal with is cancellation. Private students cancel classes, often at short notice, and if you don’t have a plan for this, you won’t make much money. Some folk say they would be tough, and would demand pay for a lesson cancelled within 24 hours, but I suspect that’s hard to actually pull off. One solution is just to take on more lessons than you need, and know that a one or two each week won’t happen. Another that works well, is to ask students to promise you one lesson a week – if they don’t give you notice, they have to reschedule the class. But the easiest way is just to ask students not to cancel. This seems fairly effective, just stressing to them that this is a serious job for you, and you need to put food on the table each week.

One last thing, which can be a little sad: students will stop studying with you. I’ve taught some people for up to eight months, but all the first people I began teaching last September have stopped. Sometimes you get a pleasant, face-saving story about how they need to take a break for a few months, but occasionally they just disappear. A dangerous catalyst, actually, is when they refer a friend to you. More than once, I suspect I’ve lost a great student because the friend that she referred to me didn’t like me, and then advised the original student to find someone else. Now I tell starting students, in my list of rules for the class – if you want to stop studying with me, just tell me.

Conclusion

To finish on two very positive additional benefits of private teaching: you get to meet well educated, very interesting people who may become your friends, or something close to it. At the very least, you can ask them endless questions about Taiwan, and so get a more complex understanding of the country. And private teaching also gives you a level of financial independence, if things go wrong between you and your main employer. I hope this piece has been interesting, and I’d love to hear how opinions from other people.