English school or Private English Teacher, which one is better?
(Para português, clique aqui)
I am going to break down the issue of choosing between a school and a private teacher in Brazil into three main topics: price, time, and short-term goals.
Definitely the first thing student take into consideration is the cost. In fact, the vast majority of people interested in my service want to know prices before other details. In 2018, for example, almost every person I spoke to about my classes asked me ‘How much do you charge?’ before anything else. To us, teachers and schools, this question can be a little frustrating. After all, a lot of the time the prices we charge reflect what we offer and the more we are willing to invest in our business, the more costly it gets. But there is no point in complaining: students will ask how much and we shouldn’t feel shy about saying it. It’s transparent and saves our precious time and theirs.
However, if you are a potential student of English, there is a very important thing to bear in mind: hourly rates and total cost of a course won’t necessarily make you go for a school or a private teacher. We have a huge market with service providers ready to cater for all tastes and willingness to spent. There are schools who charge less than private teachers, and teachers who charge the same or more than a school. The differences in the cost has to do with how business savvy we are, the contacts we have and, of course, how much we are can afford to invest in the business of teaching and who they want to cater for.
Therefore, the monthly cost can be discrepant for both schools and private teachers and that’s why it’s always important to, once you have outlined your budget, ask teachers or schools what they offer for the price they charge. After all, basic infrastructure should cost less than running eboards in rooms with air-conditioning. A teacher holding a master’s or an international certificate dedicated more time and money to learning how to teach than someone who simply speaks the language very well. A teacher who uses photocopies of books should be charging less than one developing authentic materials. One thing students need to remember is that many good things cost money, and since most of teachers and school owners (myself included) actually rely on income from our business to make improvements in what we offer. That means if we charge very little it’s going to be difficult to buy things for our classes. And that, again, goes for both schools and private teachers.
An interesting solution to the price concerns is looking for group classes. Private teachers will often offer better rates if you are willing to share their attention with a classmate and some schools even offer partnership agreements with companies and organizations for lower rates. However, I must say: overall cost teachers and schools in Brazil is comparable, and in major cities it is on average R$100 and R$600 per month for group lessons and R$50 to R$200 per hour for private lessons.
The second criterium to guide the decision between a school or a private teacher is the most important of all, and funnily enough, the most frequently overlooked: time. In many situations people decide to start a course thinking of how many classes a week they want to have, before they have really organize their schedule, or without considering the fact that they will have other appointments to attend. As a consequence, many students expect to be accommodated by the professionals they’ve hired, which isn’t always feasible neither for schools nor for private teachers. The problem with that is we, teachers and schools, don’t sell classes; we sell our availability. That means every hour we book, rebook and cancel has a business cost on us as businesses, and a lot of the time we simply can’t afford to pay for our students’ lack of time. In fact, the vast majority of students quit when they start missing a lot of classes, or when they realize the other party can’t or won’t change their routine and rules altogether to accommodate them. The most important thing to consider when doing a course is how you - the student - is planning to manage your time, and whether your needs can be met (or not). If you are not like 90% of adults and actually can reserve specific days and times for your lessons, you can actually skip this section and have the luxury of being the easiest client for any school or private teacher to work for.
Below are a few scenarios that create schedule nightmares and the solutions I propose:
a. A Student whowants to unschedule a lesson at the last minute and find another day/time later
Your best bet is getting one-on-one lessons with a private teacher and pay for extra slots
Unfortunately, if you are this student, let me tell you: you have a very high change of dropping out of many courses you will start both with a private teacher and at a school. Let’s see why?
For a private teacher our main challenge is the fact our time is really limited (the day only has 24 hours) and we have other students and personal appointments too. I, for instance, have an average of 7 lessons students can’t come to every week, most of which I am only notified at the last minute. That, when you are already teaching 30+ per week is a disaster if you reschedule each one of them later or choose to not get paid. Most teachers I know, including myself, constantly suffer with this issue.
As for schools, the main issue is the teachers working for them need to get paid for being available. It is not feasible for them to not charge a student since, by law, the teacher is entitled to getting paid for that hour. Also, teachers who choose working for a school rather than for themselves seek for the comfort of having a job, which means they expect steady income. Therefore, any school that allows students to unschedule and not pay for a class is not a serious business and won’t keep its teacher motivated for very long. I’d steer clear of them.
The best way out to this is hiring a private teacher and paying for the extra time you want to take up (if they are free to do so). Some students find it reasonable to want to have more availability from their service providers, and think they are thinking they are entitled to an hour of class, but in fact what we sell is an hour of our availability.We want to help and we want students to learn, but we are so busy that if we offer flexibility to even one of them we wind up doing nothing but wait around for students. The solution I have found is creating e-classes (here’s how they work), a recorded lesson busy students can do when they have time.
Bearing that in mind, I believe a novice private teacher or someone who is not very good at marketing (which can well be a great teacher) will have more chances of offering more flexibility. However, I must warn you: if you find a good teacher it’s very likely more students will like them too. Therefore, you will soon be one of the impossible students to keep.
b. A student who unscheduled classes in advance, but can only reschedule at specific days and times.
Group classes won’t work for you. If you travel for work or has appointments that keep you from having the same free days, but want to reschedule your lessons at specific days and times, you should be willing to pay for that then. No private teacher will be happy to always commit to rescheduling your lessons to the days and times you want if they have new students interested in that slot. es
However, if you don’t want to pay for more slots, what you can do is find a big school. Many of them have tutors and substitutive teachers, which means it’s easier for them to find someone to squeeze you in than with a private teacher. Just remember: if you study in a group these tutoring sessions generally are aimed at helping you with questions, which means they are not the same as a free private class.
A couple of solutions to your problem
Choose private lessons at a school and explain to them your time constriction issues. Ask them about the possibility of getting make up sessions with a different teacher from your usual one, and if they offer tutoring sessions ate the specific times you want.
If you choose a private teacher one thing you can do is pay for the extra slot you want booked for you. I have a student, for instance, who pays me for 3 lessons a week, but most of the time only has 2. He has decided to do this because he often travels on business during the week, but still would like me to be available for at least 2 classes. I find it reasonable and always convert his third lesson into an eclass, which means when he is traveling he has an extra video lesson.
c. A student who can’t or doesn’t want to have a fixed schedule
Offering students 100% flexibility is something really hard for all of us. I particularly believe students who want that system often pay for months and months of lessons and never turn up. However, there are schools who offer that type of service. As for private teachers, I have to confess I don’t know any who does.
Solution: If you can’t keep a fixed schedule, the best is to find a school that works with a rotation of teachers. A few schools allow you to book lessons weekly at given days and times, both in a group of individually. I think that makes the experience less personalized, but it’s better than nothing. When you get in touch with a potential school, ask them if you can book lessons weekly and how long in advance.
Last but not least you need to ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the short term. I like to say “all roads lead to Rome, which means both schools and private teachers will help you learn English in the long run. The difference is how. The question you should be asking yourself here is what do you expect to be doing immediately and what would make you comfortable?
The advantage schools offer is everything is standardized and your teachers will have a support system to offer exactly what the business wants. Things are generally thoroughly tested beforehand. For a student who doesn’t have a very specific goal or for people who want to socialize a school can be a good option. I myself, for example, have chosen to do group classes for my Italian studies because I don’t really have anything too specific I want to do and because it allows me to leave the house and meet people once a week. If I had a more specific goal, however, I might not be as happy with the course, since, like I’d expect from a school, the lessons are planned thinking of the average student, which means some things are not dealt with in depth as in a private lesson. Also, there is a deadline and a syllabus, so we can’t spend longer on a topic just because I like it more.
With private classes the teacher is free to do whatever they want. Therefore, having a private teacher when you want to learn more about an exam, or to prepare to live in a specific country, or when you need to get up to speed for that business conference is a great idea. It also helps if you are shy or self-conscious, or if you want to cover very specific topics or try different approaches, which a lot of the time a teacher at a school can’t do.
If you are learning English (or anything, really) it is normal to feel like you are not progressing because of your teacher or your school for whatever reason you may have, and a change sometimes seems to be all you need. In fact, when I started learning how to drive I experienced that a few times, but then I realized my lack of success behind the wheel had more to do with my own insecurities and lack of time then with what my instructor and school were offering me. When I identified that that was the root cause of my problems it became easier to not be so hard on myself and others. I finally figured out paying for a service isn’t the only thing you need to do to learn and after lots of persistence and thoroughly listening to what people suggested, I have been able to make lots of progress, so I believe you will too. The secret here is knowing yourself, and placing the responsibility of your learning primarily on you and how you manage your goals and time.
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Best of Luck,