So my previous posts on teaching in Brazil and private students have warranted a lot of success on the blog. They've also hopefully helped people in their teaching endeavors here.
When I moved here, I immediately started working in schools. but now, 2 years later, I only have private students. Here's what I did... hopefully some of my steps will work out for you, too. Some are kind of sneaky, but you can decide.
1. I started in schools immediately. I was unemployed in Brazil for about 2 weeks before I started going stir-crazy. So I started working a few hours a week at 2 different schools. Even if your eventual goal is to only teach private classes, schools are a great way to network and market yourself. I don't necessarily advocate stealing students (though it happens, not gonna lie), but a huge bank of students for me has been friends and family of school students who aren't interested in a group setting. It's also a great way to get experience, especially if you don't speak Portuguese and/or you've never taught before.
2. Make some kind of email address just for students and work-related things. I made up a separate email address (it's just Gmail, nothing fancy), but I gave it out to students at the schools. It was a pretty sneaky thing, actually. For example, if we had a test, I'd give them my work-related email on the board and I'd say, "oh, if any of you are at home studying this weekend and you have any questions, feel free to email me." Students rarely asked for help, but later, when they were talking to friends who wanted English classes, they'd remember, "OH! I have my teacher's email!". Then, because I didn't give out the email saying "Oh, if you have friends who want classes....", they felt like it was their idea, and not that I was force-feeding them my advertising.
But I say to give a separate email because then the students won't also try to find you on Facebook and Orkut.
3. Mention that you teach private classes while at the schools. This is also a kind of sneaky thing that I did. I usually mentioned private students to explain a similar problem that another student had or something like that, but in telling my stories, I'd say, "oh, in one of my private classes at home, a student told me that....xyz". The focus of the story is not my private students at home, but the students get the information nonetheless. Then they often come up after class and ask for my email or number because a friend/boyfriend/neighbor wants private classes and can't afford the school or something.
I never asked my school students directly if they wanted me to be their private teacher. I never offered my services to students that were already paying at the school. But a common occurrence is that students are unhappy with the school for some reason and/or finish the school's advanced program and want to continue, and then they approached me. In those cases, I told them to contact me once they were completely done with the school. I'd give them my email or my number but I didn't get theirs. Still a bit shady, but my logic was that the students would be quitting either way.
4. When students invite you out to social things, go. Sometimes students organize happy hours and things like that, either as a class or with their friends outside the school, and then they invite you. Go, and be nice. You'll have possible friends and also be meeting new potential students. (Everyone's going to introduce you as their English teacher!)
5. Make business cards if you want. I never did, because if I met someone somewhere that ended up wanting my contact information, I just gave them my number and they put it directly into their cell phones. But it can be helpful and more professional.
6. Decide if you want to go to students, if you want students to come to you, or both. When I moved here, Alexandre was renting a tiny 1-bedroom apartment. We decided to move into a 2-bedroom so that I could use the second room to teach. In our situation, it made more sense to have students come to our house for classes. This works because (a) we live in a small town so no one lives too far away (b) rent is relatively cheap so renting a 2-bedroom doesn't break the bank and (c) Alexandre often needs the car to work in other hospitals or clinics, so I can't rely on it.
The cons of having students come to the house is that it always has to be clean. Also, it's kind of tiring for Alexandre because he can't play loud music or walk around in his underwear if he feels like it. He also hates cleaning.
In bigger cities, having students come to you isn't always a viable option. Going to students, you spend more time getting from class to class (which cuts into your work day), and you spend money on transportation. But you may save money on rent and you may save time on cleaning.
Some teachers opt to do a bit of both, and to just charge more if they go to the students. I did this for a while when I had fewer students wanting classes, but it got a bit complicated with the car sharing situation.
For me, the best benefit of teaching from home is time. I can schedule students in back-to-back classes and just work in blocks. I can also cook lunch and then have class right after. The other benefit is that, because students can be flaky, if they're coming to you, you don't waste time going anywhere just to have them not show up.
7. Accept a crappy schedule for a while. If you're new in the city and the industry, you've gotta take what you can get. So that means you'll have to accept students early in the morning and late at night on the same day sometimes. Just know that it gets better, and it's worth being tired for a little while. Your schedule will never be perfect as a private teacher, but the more people that you have calling for classes, the pickier you can be. But... you won't have a lot of people calling unless you're already teaching people.
8. Once you have a few private students, plan a night out with them. I did this when I was teaching quite a few basic and intermediate students that were all in separate classes. I planned a night at a local restaurant, and told them to bring friends and family, and that they'd practice speaking English in a social setting with other students. They tried speaking English as much as they could, but of course there was also a lot of Portuguese. I didn't charge for it, obviously-- they just had to pay for whatever they ordered. They bring friends that also want classes, and if it's fun, they'll definitely tell people about it later.
9. Be prepared and have good material. If you're a native speaker, your English is what's going to attract new students, but your material and your experience are what's going to keep them around and make them recommend you. Take the time to research good books. (Amazon's a good place to start. Seriously. So is Cambridge Press.) I use Cambridge's Touchstone series. I really don't like their Passages book for "advanced" students, and their Interchange series is just okay. (Both are hugely popular here in Brazil because they're so grammar-based.)
It's good to find a book that comes in a series with different levels. Yes, you'll have to buy them. You'll have to buy a lot of things to teach private classes, especially if you teach from home, which is why some teachers don't do it. To teach from home, I had to buy things like a printer (which requires refills of ink and paper, duh), a CD player, a white board, an answering machine, a table and chairs, and then other disposable things, like white board markers and erasers.
No English book is perfect, so no matter what books you end up using, you'll need to prepare supplemental material if you want to have really quality classes. You may also mix and match material from books, printing out or copying particularly good activities from books that are not your main material. This takes time in the beginning but you can reuse things in the future, so it gets easier.
10. Have emergency material and activities for all levels with you at all times. This seems like it wouldn't happen, but it does: Students come to class without their books or homework or anything. (For example, they had to stay late at work and couldn't run home to get their stuff.) Or sometimes, students show up with a friend that they'd like to have in class who's interested in possibly having classes with you. Or you have a group class of 4, and only 1 person shows up, and the activity that you planned doesn't work with 1 person.
Good emergency material includes general, fun discussion questions (this site is the best source for them), song lyrics and a CD (if you like using music in class; I don't, but students love it), and also headlines and short newspaper articles that students can read and discuss with you. Oh and also a list of funny problems that people have that students can read. They then offer their advice. (Example: "My mother in law calls every day!" or "I have a nosy neighbor.")
11. Have set rules about your classes, methodology, scheduling, pay, etc. People will respect you more if it's obvious that you know what you're doing. With my first private students, I was too "oh, whatever you want!!" and I realize now that, while I thought I seemed friendly and generous, they interpreted it as inexperience. Now, I have a very set system for starting and meeting with new students. I schedule a time for them to come to my house (or in your case, for you to go to their house). It's free of charge-- don't be a cheapskate. The purpose of this first visit is to check their level of English and to decide what material I'm going to use in the class, and then usually to make the contract.
So here's my routine:
1. Schedule the meeting day and time.
2. At the meeting, let them talk for a bit in Portuguese about why they want English classes, how much they've studied in the past, their hopes and dreams, etc. (hint: they all say the same thing: "I studied a lot in schools, but we did so much grammar! I want more conversation. There are so many jobs that require good English conversation. Oh also, I want to go to the US to visit eventually, and I don't want to go hungry!" Seriously. They all say that. Act very surprised and understanding every time you hear it.
3. Repeat what you heard back to them, psychology style. I usually say things like "yeah, it's so frustrating here because a lot of schools have limited resources with big classes, so you don't get a lot of time to talk and practice the grammar that you're learning. Also, you have the extra challenge of not being able to use English outside on the street. So speaking English is like going to the gym. If you don't practice, you forget and get weak!" And they say, "wow, you're so right!" and then they like me more.
4. Tell them that you'd like to ask them a few questions in English to see what their level really is. And that's really what you're doing. Based on the books that I use, I wrote up a series of questions that get harder and harder. I start with super easy questions to help build their confidence a bit. I also avoid yes/no questions. The questions I wrote go in order of the chapters of the book. When they start getting lost or not understanding me, I know that's the chapter they should be at. The more teaching experience you have, and the more you use your material, the easier it is for you to get a feel for what level they should be in or what book they should be using. So after I decide (it's pretty instantaneous), I tell them about their strengths and weaknesses a bit. I usually have to say, "your basic vocabulary is strong, but you make some mistakes that I wouldn't understand if I didn't speak Portuguese. So we want to work on making your English more natural and also helping you speak a bit faster, without so much éeééé'.... and ummmm....." For some students, it's evident that they read a lot of English but don't know how to pronounce anything, so I tell them when it's relevant, too.
5. Based on the level that they're at, show them the material that you'd like to use. Explain how it would work, what kind of homework they'll have, how much it costs and where they can buy it, etc. Tell them how long it would take to finish the book, and what kinds of things they'll be able to accomplish by the end. You know this from experience and estimation. (For example, "it takes about 9 months to finish this book if you have 2 hours of class a week and if you do your homework. By the time you finish, you won't be FLUENT, but you'll be able to travel and communicate, rent a hotel room, etc". Whatever's relevant.) I also point out that I have a lot of supplemental material that I've made myself that we incorporate into the class. Because that's true.
6. Then we start talking about price and hours, if we haven't already. I've mentioned before that it's acceptable in Brazil to charge higher prices for richer people and lower prices for people with less money. I don't agree with it, so I don't do it. I have one price for 1-1 classes, and one cheaper price for small group classes.When it comes to scheduling, students are always surprisingly in doubt about how many hours of class they want per week. So I tell them that most students have class 2 hours a week, and very busy people have class only 1 hour a week, but that it's hard to really progress with only 1 hour a week. So a lot of people also do 1.5 hours (1 longer class) and have extra homework.
At some point before Step 6 or during Step 6, I make sure to give them some breathing room. I say something like, "So, if you want to take a few days to think about it, talk to your wife/boss/etc, you can call me." I never jump right in and say "So, you ready to sign a contract???". They almost always say "não não, vamos fechar hoje!" (let's seal the deal today!"). But I like to be fair.
When it comes to scheduling, I have all my classes written on this fabulous PDF weekly calendar that I show to the new students. You can download it and print it out by clicking here or here. I write the times that I already have students, and I block out the times that I don't want to accept students (like Saturdays). Then they have an easy visual of when I'm available. The blocked out times also prevent annoying back-and-forths like, "oh but are you SURE you can't teach me at 10pm? Really? But let me ask you a 4th time, because maybe you'll change your mind!". They decide when they want their classes, and then I pencil them in.
7. Make the contract. My other post about private classes has more details about this. Be prepared. If you go to their houses or their businesses, have a copy that you can hand-write on. Since they come to my house, I have the template on my laptop and we fill it out together, and then I print it out (with copies for them). But don't expect them to print it out for you or anything. If you're really desperate, you can offer to email it to them, but remember that (a) they're still gonna have to print it and (b) that'll delay you closing the contract, and they may back out.
While I'm waiting for the contract to print (my printer is sloowwww), I tell them a bit about myself (90% of the time, they ask). They're very curious as to why you're in Brazil, and giving them a bit of your story makes you seem more human, don't you think?
This entry has become pretty long, so I think that's enough for today. I hope it was helpful. In the end, the thing that will make you different from other teacher is not being afraid of a little hard work or extra effort. Not everyone can wake up early without a boss that can reprimand them. Not everyone has the discipline to not cancel their classes if they're tired or want to go out instead. Not everyone is willing to prepare extra material for specific students. Not everyone can handle the rejection of a student quitting a private class. I just read a really nice article about the ins-and-outs of being self-employed. I think the author's tips and techniques are very relevant for people wanting to teach private classes.
I also welcome any of your experiences, ideas, disagreements with these ideas, rants, raves, etc. Group effort!
Have a good day. :)