Nathan is an American teacher from Michigan. He’s been living in Prague for 3.5 years and he has written a book Czenglish to English about the most common mistakes Czech students make. We interviewed him, so you can find out about his journey. We asked him the questions we often get from TEFL trainees or candidates, but you might find the interview useful even if you are an experienced ESL teacher. This is a shortened version, if you’d rather listen to the full interview, you can watch it on our Instagram (HERE). Don’t forget to follow us there!
Do you teach for language schools or do you have your own students?
I have my own students. I started with a language school, but I was able to get enough private students eventually, so I left the language school. I can teach privately and have my own schedule.
Was it difficult for you to find a job after you’d finished the course?
It was quite easy to find a job. Language schools were looking for teachers at that time. Finding private students of course is a little harder, but if you work on it and promote yourself a bit, it’s not so bad.
You started your IG account and you wrote a book. But how did you start offering your services and looking for jobs?
I started with Teacher Creature, I find it to be the best way to help teachers. It connects teachers and students and it helped me find private students, so I recommend doing that. You have to pay for an account, but it pays for itself. Then I got some other referrals from students. If you are a teacher people like, your students will recommend you to their friends or family.
How did you get the idea to write a book?
I wanted to create some materials for my students because I noticed people were making the same mistakes over and over again. I started with a PowerPoint presentation with typical Czech mistakes and I wanted to give it to my students as a gift, but the presentation was getting really long, so I thought why not making it into a book.
How long did it take? Writing a book is a quite long process.
Yes, it takes a really long time. I had a great designer, so it was a pretty smooth process. I thought I was done with it, the content was finished, but then it was a couple of months just editing and putting everything in the right place. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.
Where can people get your book?
You can buy it from me. I’m trying to get it to stores, but now you can send me a message and we can meet in Prague or I can send it to you (contact Nathan on Instagram).
You are actively teaching at the moment, so how many hours per week do you teach? How many hours per week are doable?
That’s a good question, I’ve done a lot of different things. Some time of the year is busier like October and November, early winter or spring months. I try it to be 20 to 25. I’ve done a bit more, but it’s tiring. When you have private students, it fluctuates a little more, because some people leave or you get new students. It changes and you have to be flexible, you have to adapt to time changes, people’s schedules, people deciding they don’t want lessons, and so on. Having 20 to 25 lessons is ideal. For people who are starting – I’d start with a bit less. I started with 10 or 15, just to get used to it and see what I was getting into. Once you know what you can manage, preparing lessons also gets more normal and then you can take on more lessons.
How long did it take you to prepare one lesson when you started teaching?
I think it might have taken me one to two hours just to do one lesson. I was trying to make it perfect and do everything correctly. I wanted to plan everything out. What do I do if I have ten more minutes?! I was trying to overprepare. This changed as time went on, I got used to it and got more familiar with my materials. I learned to manage time better. It was stressful at first, but I realized I didn’t need to plan so much and a lot of my lessons don’t exactly go deep into grammar. I’ve learned that most people don’t want to do that.
How long does it take you now?
5 to 15 minutes typically. It depends on the students if they need something in particular or if I need to find some extra exercises. Now it’s much better. I know where all my materials are and I know where I can find all things that I need.
What materials do you use in your lessons?
I use a lot of different materials. I use a few paid websites where they have pre-made lessons or I use articles from websites like The Guardian. Sometimes I take a Ted video. They are great for lessons, they are 4–5 minutes and there are some interesting topics. You can take a few vocabulary words, ask a few comprehension questions. I don’t really use textbooks. I take some exercises from them, especially for lower levels, but I find a good variety of resources online. When I was at TEFL Worldwide, they also shared some of those resources with us. Textbooks are good for context and grammar, but most people don’t like to open textbooks. I’m trying to make my lessons look like they’re not from a textbook.
When you think about your beginnings, would you say that the TEFL course was useful? Are you using some things that you learned during the course?
Yes, absolutely. It was very useful. The TEFL course prepared me very well for teaching a variety of things. It was really good for learning how to teach grammar. It prepared me more than I even needed, so I definitely recommend the course. The teaching practice in the first weeks, when you teach the students that come to the course, was very useful. I’m really grateful for this experience.
Did you have any struggles you had to overcome? Maybe something didn’t work out as you planned.
People might ask you about something that you don’t know. Just take a deep breath and acknowledge that you don’t know the answer. This used to happen a lot when I was starting. The TEFL course prepares you well, but you need practice. I don’t recommend making something up. You can always tell your students that you will get back to them and find the right answer to their questions.
Another thing is that sometimes people say they want a lesson, then they have one lesson and say they don’t want to have lessons with you. It’s just how it is, you can’t take it personally. I know it’s hard, but maybe it’s not because of you. Maybe people don’t have enough money or time to dedicate to studying. People don’t always tell you what’s going on in their lives. Just move on and don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Have you experienced any culture shock in Prague?
Not exactly a culture shock, but there are some differences. For example, when you go to the supermarket or the post office, people are typically not as friendly as they might be in the US. In the US, they ask you how you’re doing or if you found everything. It took me a while to realize that it is not just one person having a bad day. People are not so warm and friendly to strangers. Once you meet somebody and get to know them, they are very warm and welcoming to you. The way Czech people treat a complete stranger is just different, but I’m pretty used to it by now and it feels normal for me.
This is my last question. You’ve been doing this for a while, so what advice would you give to new teachers? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started?
Be patient. Accept that there are a lot of things you don’t know. There are jobs in Prague, keep your eyes open and the opportunities will come. I remember how excited I was when I was a new teacher. Start slow, take a number of courses you can manage. The money will come. Once you start having private students, the money gets better. Don’t worry, it’s livable even if you work for language schools, you just have to teach more lessons.
If there are more things you’d like to know, you can contact Nathan on his IG and you can also get his book there!