Some more thoughts on ESL

I’ve realized that I have not written about ESL in some time. Well, I should change that.

For anyone who may need to get caught up, in October of 2017 I left the most lucrative job I ever had because I was frankly, sick of being an ESL teacher, and wanted to do something more with my life. I didn’t hate everything about ESL, but I was seriously under challenged by it. I stopped preparing for classes because, frankly, I didn’t need to. I knew the material that well. My brain was turning off in class, and I kind of hated that feeling.

So I came back to the US to career transition. It failed miserably. I stayed at my transition job (an ESL teaching job) for more than a year. I then quit suddenly and went to try other things. Nothing serious ever came of it. By October 2019 I realized that I wasn’t going to achieve this goal, and it was time I stopped trying. I may as well go back to teaching ESL, and somewhere lucrative  at that.

Ok, that’s not exactly what I ended up doing.

But I want to talk for a moment about ESL, and write up as advice of sorts. See, I am very good at some aspects of ESL – namely the actual teaching aspects of it. But people who do well in ESL have other skills that I absolutely do not have, and amount to my misery in the field.

I suck at being a business person. You don’t have to do this in ESL, but many people do. Most teaching contracts are only 25 teaching hours, and no one is monitoring you for those 15 prep hours you are given. So most people go out and get private students to fill out the 40 hour work week.

This is what I have always sucked at doing. And I have sucked at it in a a pretty standard way. Much of it resurfaced in the late months of 2019, where I was tutoring a private student. He may get his own blog post in the future.

The pit falls of the private student are numerous. A rather stupid point is that I suck at asking people for my money. Working for a school makes that part easy. Asking people for money feels like a weird confrontation to me, even though I know its not. I feel like I am bothering them inappropriately. I’ll just kind of forget to do it. With this last one in 2019 it took my former boss reminding me to do it for me to actually get it done.

Pitfall number two is infinitely worse. It comes from that strange pseudo friendship you end up developing with the people you tutor. And here is the actual advice I have to give people:


Maybe they are friendly, maybe you are friendly. Nothing is wrong with either of those things. But respect the damn boundaries. It happened pretty frequently when I first started teaching, where first you would meet at a bar (cafe), and the person would say something to you like ‘hey, let’s get a pizza after this.’ Problem number one is that you are going to do this for free. If you taught for two hours, then continued to teach while you ate the pizza, you bill two hours. If you don’t, your an asshole. This will escalate. The horrific extreme of the escalation is when your student asks you out1. Other varieties of this include the invitation to dinner at their house, where you can ‘meet the spouse’. That isn’t a filthy euphemism, they actually want you in their life in some way. Soon, to appropriate a word, you will be friendzoned. You are their friend now, and you aren’t the kind of asshole friend who charges their own friends money for English lessons.

Yes. Yes I fucking am. Also, we are not friends.

Again, boundaries are important. Otherwise you have to have some variety of this conversation

No, we aren’t friends. I am friendly to you because I am being paid 25$  an hour to be here. Frankly, I think you’re a dim-witted slob and my life would improve immensely where you not in it.

You don’t always think that, but you think it frequently enough.

These experience were also happening with the student I had in 2019. I would leave to go to his house around 6pm. I would get there around 7pm, and I would teach him for two hours. After, he would offer me dinner. I would have to help him make it of course. And the English lesson never really shut off after that (it did, to some extent, lessen). We would then sit there till about 11:30, and then I would go home.

I was out of my house for 6 damn hours. Slice that as you like, that brought my hourly down to 8 an hour. And that is fucking miserable.  It was mostly, my own damn fault, as I was very bad at saying no to people. But the truth of the matter is that if you aren’t doing exactly what you want to be doing, then someone needs to be paying you for it. I could have just as easily eaten at my house. if this still isn’t making sense, think of it this way: if this were my only income stream, I would need to be doing something else with this time. I would have to look at this person in the face and say ‘sorry, I can’t actually afford to stay here an extra two hours, as I have other things to do’. There is actually no way you could justify this. Even if you wonder ‘what if you had this student at the end of the day?’, that wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t want to do this after 6 other hours of students.

There just isn’t any slicing it.

So if ever you think I should go in business, know that I would suck at it.


1 I suppose it isn’t impossible that this happens to a man. I have, however, never heard of it happening to one. But all the ladies I know who it did happen to found it horrific. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you ever want to cut ties with someone in your life, ask them out on an awkward date.

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