How many of you have ever been introduced as an English teacher at a party and the first response is “Can you help me?” This is nothing new. Doctors are always asked to look at a strange lump. Lawyers are always asked for free advice. Nothing new here. But now, you have moved to or are planning to move online. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
As soon as you start advertising, if you are lucky enough to get visible amongst the myriad of online English teachers, you will open the floodgates to every Tom, Dick and Harry that has an internet connection looking for something for free. My advice, get ready for it.
Everybody wants something for free. You would not believe the numbers of people out there that think we are saints and are just here on this Earth to provide free services to them because they have taken the time to contact you. I am messaged on Facebook, contacted through SKYPE, asked through LinkedIn, get emails through my website and at least once per month, I get a phone call through WhatsApp, Facebook or SKYPE. Here are some of the questions I get:
“How is my English?”
“Can you tell me what my level is?”
“Is this right?”
“What does this word mean?”
“How do you translate this word to English?”
“Can you translate this paragraph for me?”
“Will you write my CV for me?”
“Which one of these five sentences is the best and why?”
“Can you write my essay so I can win this contest?”
“Can you tell me how to do well on the TOEFL/IELTS exam?”
“Can you rewrite my Master’s thesis for me?”
“I know you will help me improve by talking with me all the time.”
“Will you just practice with me a little every day?”
“It will only take you a minute.”
“Can you explain the difference between the present perfect and the past perfect?”
“Can you give me hints to get more fluent?”
“Can you give me materials to get better?”
“Can you send me all the grammar differences between British and American English for my Master’s thesis?”
“But you’re a teacher!”
The last is my favorite. I don’t remember taking some type of “Hippocratic oath” stating that it is my duty as a teacher to let no student go untaught… for free. But they think we have. I don’t know of any other profession where people are so adamant about their right to call us at 3:00 am to ask for help. Well, one other. I was married to a doctor. But at least those calls came from paying patients.
How will you respond to this without making an enemy? Remember, what social networking has given you, social networking can easily take away. These people are your market. They are your “likes”, your “sharers” and your “commenters”. The best marketing is word of mouth, or in this case, word of Facebook. You need them. Maybe more than they need you.
There are so many to choose from and so many you want to say. Here is where your inner conscience needs to kick in. Of course, there is “no.” Plain, simple, to the point. Good luck making friends with that one. There is “I’m too busy.” They keep coming back. You can try “I don’t work for free.” They will whine about how they are from the third world and support a family and can’t afford to pay. Then I whine and say so am I (I’m currently in Brazil) and tell them that I work to support my family too so I can’t work for free. This starts a debate that almost never ends, or ends well.
My favorite, which I used at 3:00 am after being awoken by a sweet girl from the Far East, “Ok, while I’m doing that, you can come over and clean my house for free as I can’t afford a maid.” She unfriended me. I still feel badly about that, but it worked and yes, it felt good at the time.
The best solution of all? I started a Facebook group, “ENGLISH STUDENTS.” It’s a place for students to post questions and for teachers to post their blogs and tips and sometimes, answers. When people ask for help, I refer them there. They join, they like, they share, they comment, they help each other and best of all, they don’t ask again. Some have since sent me paying customers. Many have helped spread the word. An ex-student of mine in the group started a WhatsApp group on the side so they could talk and practice with each other. Problem solved. This is by far the most logical, sane and productive solution. Feel free to send needy students to the group.
Now I’m not completely heartless. I try to always have one or two students that I teach for free. The two students I am currently working with don’t have the means and are really working hard to improve their lives. I am proud to be a small part of that. Some of my past free students have gone on to get jobs as a result of their English. One was hired at an international oil company as a receptionist, another at the second largest TV network in Brazil as a producer. Others have received promotions due to their ability to interact with foreign clients. This is how I give back and I wholeheartedly recommend that every teacher in the world take on at least one student for free. I do feel that it is our duty as humans to give back to society, even in some small way, and it warms the heart to be a part of someone else’s success.
It makes saying “No” that much sweeter too.
ob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center, a live online course for C1/C2 level students. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and writer for ESL/EFL. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. He is also the founder of EFLtalks utilizing social media to build a worldwide PLN for new and future teachers.
Reposted from EFL Magazine, December 4, 2015 and as How to Deal with Learners who Want Everything for Free from Teaching ESL Online,