What is Freelance Teaching?
If you spend any time on mainstream TEFL blogs or job boards, you’ve probably seen plenty of posts that look something like this:
” Teach in ____ City at ____ Language School, and earn $____ per month plus
other benefits including housing, airfare, medical insurance, and more !! ”
Some posts read more like a holiday package than a job offer.
In reality, these all-inclusive packages still exist for average teachers in certain rich Asian countries like China, South Korea, and the UAE. But in the remainder of the world, this is what companies offer to foreign corporate executives and engineers with a PhD, not your average native English teacher.
In many competitive European markets, such as Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, and increasingly Poland, it is becoming more and more common for teachers to work as freelancers instead of fully-employed teachers.
So, what exactly does it mean to be a freelance teacher?
Put simply, a freelance teacher is a teacher who teaches for one or multiple schools on a per-class or per-hour basis, rather than a standard employee of the school who is paid through a direct employment contract.
Although hourly rates for freelance teachers are usually higher than for fully employed teachers, freelancers don’t receive other benefits, and are often offered less hours and a less consistent schedule. Freelancers have the advantage of being able to supplement this by working at more than one school and teaching private students as well.
Why do schools hire freelance teachers?
There are a number of reasons why a school may choose to hire teachers as freelancers rather than as full employees.
First of all, it’s cheaper. Freelancers are taxed at a lower rate, and schools are not required to pay for expensive employee benefits such as social security, healthcare, and liability insurance when hiring a freelancer. If a school is only looking for a teacher for part time hours, or a temporary assignment, the cost of hiring a full time teacher is usually not worth it financially.
Freelance language teaching is becoming especially popular in Poland, where it has a unique status as one of the country’s few VAT-free industries, meaning that schools pay zero Value Added Tax when paying teachers as freelance contractors. Comparing this to the astronomically high taxes and social security costs of hiring employees in Poland, this is a no-brainer for many schools.
Teaching as a freelancer means less taxes. So more money saved by the school, and more money in your pockets.
It is far less risky from the school’s point of view. Having a full-time teacher is a huge commitment, which can be a daunting thought for a small language center. Employment contracts come with a gazillion clauses and protections that could put the school at risk if something were to happen.
Having freelance teachers allow a school to adopt a “pay-as-you-go” mindset. Since freelancers are paid on a per-class basis, this makes it far easier for the school to offer students the perks of a flexible class schedule. As there is far less bureaucracy involved in hiring a freelance teacher, it makes it much easier for the school to hire a new teacher last-minute to cover the influx of students trying to sign up a week before the deadline.
Why should a teacher teach freelance?
Just as there are a number of reasons for schools to hire freelance teachers, there are a number of advantages to freelance teaching from the teacher’s perspective:
Freedom of choice
By the nature of the job, freelance teaching means a lot more flexibility. Unlike an employee of a school, a freelancer isn’t bound to a certain minimum or maximum number of hours per month, and isn’t bound to whatever schedule the school throws at him. Hate teaching six-year-olds? Don’t want to work past 6pm? Teachers who are employees of the school don’t get to make these choices.
Having a work visa as a freelancer means that the visa isn’t tied to the job. If a school sponsors your visa, it means the teacher is employed by the school and can only work for the school. This means no extra money tutoring private students on the side, no second jobs, nor side-gigs.
Even worse, having a visa tied to a job means that quitting the job (or getting fired) also means having to leave the country; a scary thought for teachers in a foreign land. Freelance teachers are thus able to avoid the trap of being stuck in a bad contract, with the freedom to leave and find another job if things go the wrong way.
Just like how paying a freelancer means the school avoids costly taxes, it usually also means that the teacher earns a higher net “take-home” salary per hour. That’s not saying some employed teachers don’t earn high rates, but a freelancer with good negotiating skills and a sharp knowledge of local tax rates can almost always convince a school to offer him a higher hourly rate than an employed teacher.
Finally, teaching as a freelancer means that you’ll have more jobs to choose from. For all the reasons mentioned above, many schools in competitive job markets simply aren’t willing to hire teachers as employees. While a school that normally employs teachers will almost always be happy to sign a freelance contract with a teacher, the reverse is almost never true.
As such, being freelance means that every job is open to you, something that can be extremely important in competitive TEFL destinations like Prague or Krakow.
Why SHOULDN’T a teacher teach freelance?
Not everything is perfect about teaching as a freelancer. The job certainly has its downsides.
First and foremost, being paid by the hour means no paid holidays or sick days. If you don’t show up to teach, or if the school is closed for a holiday, well then no pay. It also means no healthcare or social security benefits.
Being paid by the hour also means that freelancers are only paid for teaching hours. Every teacher knows that a lot of work that goes on outside of the classroom in order to be a successful teacher. As such, freelance teachers are usually very careful to verify how much unpaid prep and administrative work is required before accepting a job. Most will make up for unpaid prep time by requesting a higher hourly rate for the more demanding jobs.
Finally, being a freelancer means being responsible for your own taxes and accounting, just like if you were a business. Not only does this mean saying goodbye to a chunk of income at the end of each month, but it also usually requires paying an accountant to help with the paperwork. These are all additional costs which freelancers must factor in.
So what’s the best option?
For many teachers it’s a no brainer: Do you really need social security and healthcare benefits if it means you’ll be getting paid less? Unless you plan to retire in the country you’re teaching in, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever use your social security. And healthcare? Most civilized European countries have free or extremely inexpensive public healthcare anyway!
Overall, it’s a choice between stability and freedom. Finding a school to employ you as a teacher means having a guaranteed monthly income and often times a support network to help with your visa and relocation. Whilst being a freelancer means the freedom to change jobs, search for higher wages, and be flexible on your schedule.
So, it all boils down to what type of person you are. Are you the type of person that wants the freedom and flexibility to manage your own life? Are you not afraid of doing a bit of hustling and extra paperwork in return for potentially higher pay? If you answered yes to these questions, you should probably look into becoming a freelance teacher.
If you answered no, you may be the type of person who prefers stability and security. If the thought of moving somewhere without the guarantee of a steady job makes you shiver in fear, freelance teaching is probably not for you. Instead, you should look into finding a school that will employ you. Or you can look into our Language Assistant Program and Internship Programs, which both provide teachers with a steady guaranteed salary.
Want to learn more about your options for teaching English in Poland? Write to us at to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to send you more information.
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