One year as English with Claire

I’m a little late in writing this post, but April started the one year anniversary of English with Claire! When the pandemic hit the UK last year I was extremely concerned about my job as I was the newest member of the team, and the company had admitted they weren’t sure what our futures would be. I had been contemplating setting up ‘English with Claire’ for a few months at this point, but my health hadn’t been great and I was, in all honesty, terrified.

As soon as the schools began to close I knew it was going to be ‘now or never’ for me and I started finalising my Facebook page, welcome letters and web content. At that point, I didn’t have any private students and I had no idea if it was going to work out for me, but I knew I didn’t have much of a choice if I didn’t want to end up out of work entirely.

So, although I didn’t officially register as a business until the end of April, things were in motion back in March and I was beginning to promote myself as a private teacher. I had limited resources, no money at all and a shocking internet connection. I had such low expectations for this new venture and it took me a long time to get a hold on it. However, 12 months later I am here. I’m working, I have had over 20 students sign up for lessons since then and my collection of materials (purchased and self-created) has grown considerably.

So to celebrate and summarise my year as a private, freelance English teacher I want to share some of my highlights and discoveries with you all. Are you ready? Read on!

1. Well – firstly, I made it! I powered through an extremely difficult year with determination, laughter and tears, and a lot of help from family and friends. The year tested me in terms of patience, understanding, strength and finances, but I have definitely become a stronger person for it.

2. People rock. I have met some amaaaaazing people in the last year. Truly inspiring, kind, thoughtful and interesting people I definitely would not have had the chance to meet if I hadn’t been working the way I had. I was able to join courses, online forums, virtual staffrooms and more. It was fantastic and the support from my colleagues really helped me stay motivated and focused. I have missed the staffroom a lot of the last year but as these online opportunities developed they really helped to bring back the community spirit.

3. A little luck goes a long way. In 2020 I seemed to have jobs coming out of my ears. I had to reject a lot of students and opportunities because I simply didn’t have the time. Many of the jobs that I did pick up came from recommendations and random LinkedIn searches that threw up my name. Yes, I worked hard. But I also had a lot of luck in 2020 that really kept me afloat.

4. Enjoy the ride. I knew this luck and wave of students wouldn’t last forever, especially as the lockdown became more exhausting for people, and as the lockdowns lifted around the world – people didn’t want to be stuck on the computers anymore, either way. I tried to make the most of every lesson, every opportunity and each moment that came along. In 2020, this was fairly easy to do and I had so much fun every single day. In 2021, it has been far more challenging.

5. Time for me. In the last 4 months, things have been incredibly quiet and this has had a negative impact on my mental health. I worked hard to promote myself, make my lessons as useful as possible but also I decided to step back a little as well. I decided to make more time for myself and enjoy every moment I could. I had hours every single day to improve my Chinese, watch movies and try out new things and it has been absolutely amazing.

6. The rewards. Over the last 12 months I have had students pass exams, jump up one or even two levels and improve in so many ways. This has been incredible to see and be a part of, and something I will really miss seeing. You know, those ‘lightbulb’ moments. I have also been credited / gifted with courses, materials and other teaching opportunities which helped me develop as a teacher.

7. Nothing lasts forever. I knew that January and February would be a little difficult, but I didn’t quite expect it to flow into March and April and things became extremely hard to manage. After all, who can survive on just 5 hours of work per week? Certainly not me. I was somewhat prepared for this, but it also really hurt to have to face facts. So…

8. Self-talk. After months of plugging away, trying every opportunity and last resource I could find, I had to sit down and have a little chat with myself. I decided that I needed to move on. Schools weren’t hiring, or offering interviews, I didn’t have enough experience, I couldn’t afford to take the DELTA, and plenty of other things… and so I started applying for other jobs. I tried to be picky about jobs I really wanted to do, not just anything, but even that was difficult. My mental health deteriorated drastically and I hadn’t felt so low in years, but I knew I had to do something. Thankfully, my angel of a friend had an opening in her team and referred me for the job. I didn’t get that one, but I was offered a position on another team within the company and I’ll be starting my third week tomorrow.

I’m enjoying it so far and it feels really good to have a team, a virtual staffroom and to know that I will be getting paid for every minute of work I do.

9. I am a teacher at heart. I will never not love teaching and the absolute joy it has brought to my life. I have made friends for life, taught some incredible students and really developed as a person through my role as a teacher. I will never not silently correct other people and their grammar mistakes, I will never not want to help someone write an essay or find a better way of saying something, but for now, I’m hanging my teaching shoes up.

10. Goodbyes. One of the most disappointing things about COVID and teaching is that companies have launched online and offer lessons for £3-8 an hour with just about anyone, meaning that experienced teachers with qualifications, dedication and experience are losing out on these students based on money. Yes, I think that everyone should have access to language teachers but I also feel as though we’re slowly being replaced by online ‘native’ speakers who don’t have any experience. An unpopular opinion? It may well be. But knowing my prices were incredibly cheap anyway and still being turned down or bargained with has made me realise that people want as much as they can for as little as possible.

To wrap this long overdue post up, I want to thank each and everyone of you who has been on this journey with me in the last 12 months (and my 4 years as a teacher). Whether you’ve been a silent reader, shared materials or leant an ear in times of need, I truly appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. Leaving English with Claire on the side-line was a very difficult decision to make, but for now it is the right decision for me and my family’s future. What next, Miss Hillsmith? Let’s see…

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