CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
Since I’m married to a German citizen and I’ve met the language requirements, I have a German work visa. This means I can work in Germany, but just how easy is it?
I was a language teacher in the U.S., so I thought it would be somewhat easy to get a language teaching job in Germany. I was wrong. It was a sharp learning curve, but now I’m pretty familiar with the application process and the life of a freelance teacher in Germany and ready to pass on some perspectives.
1) Timing is (almost) everything. Knowing when new classes and semesters are starting will help you use your application energy efficiently. If you apply to teach when a semester is just starting, it’s likely the roster is full and you may not even get a reply. German universities have fall/winter and spring/summer semesters, and applying about 6 weeks to 2 months after the semester starts will get your application in when the directors are thinking about hiring for the next semester. Volkshochschulen and private language institutes have a different rhythm from universities. Look on their websites to see when their classes start. Some institutions will let you ‘offer’ a class and then only have you teach it if enrollment is high enough.
2) Not all freelancing jobs are created equal. It’s easy to walk into a big-name language school (some of which are notorious revolving doors for employees) and get a job on short notice, but it may not be worth it. For language teaching (sometimes called training), you are usually paid for 45 minute segments, which are often two at a time, so 90 minute classes. What I quickly learned was that is the end of your pay. You are paid for classroom time, and no other preparation, grading, professional development, answering student questions, responding to e-mails, administrative duties, material development, paper corrections, travel time, or any of the other tasks a normal teacher has. If a language school wants to pay you very little per unit and have you drive all over town to different campuses, you may want to think twice.
3) Some schools limit the number of courses you can teach or the number of hours you can work in order to keep you from suing them later for a full-time job (yes, people successfully do that here sometimes).
4) You will have to do your own taxes and health insurance, and it gets very complicated very quickly. Germany sets a mini-job limit (in the neighborhood of 400Euros per month). If you earn under that amount, you may not need to pay much in taxes, but the second you cross the threshold, it’s a whole other ballgame. Make sure to ask the HR person at any school where you’re hired about how your taxes and benefits will work.
5) It doesn’t hurt to know some German. You may be applying to teach English, but the day-to-day business of language centers is done in German. Writing a basic cover letter (or email) in German and knowing how to answer some interview questions in German is essential.
6) Get a list of schools and apply absolutely everywhere, whether they’re advertising open positions or not. People are constantly entering and exiting language programs, so sometimes a spot pops open at exactly the right time…and sometimes, it doesn’t. Try not to be offended when no one replies; just make sure to apply again in a couple of months.
7) Be prepared to supply schools with copies of absolutely every degree and certificate listed on your CV, including your high school diploma. (If you can’t find it, usually a transcript will do.) Save yourself some time and start sending off for your copies now so you don’t have to scramble for them when you’re hired.
8) Don’t worry too much about all those English teaching certifications. CELTA, ESOL, ESL, Cambridge English…. there seem to be hundreds of different ways to train and be qualified to teach English. In reality, if you are a native speaker of English, have a college degree (BA, BS, etc.) or higher and some kind of professional or teaching experience, you’re likely to find something.
If you’re interested in figuring out where to put your kids while you’re out bringing home the bacon, be sure to check out my other article on GermanyJa about German childcare options.