Perils of Freelancing/Serial Part-Timing as a Teacher

Freelancing is highly romanticised at the moment, or so I feel, on the ‘productivity’ websites. However, the fact is, I would love to be a full-time employee. What leads me to be a freelancer/serial part-timer (FSPTer) then?

  • I make much, much more money as a FSPTer than I would ‘full-time’ in a language school.
  • Pay rises in language schools in Japan are based on whether students like you. This can depend on whether your regular student on a Thursday is always tired and gives you a 4 on a questionnaire instead of a 5, or whether you are handsome. I look like Brad Pitt. In Fight Club. After getting the shit beat out of me. There are many young men in English Teaching in Tokyo who moonlight as models.

Now, before all you other long-in-the-toothed folks like me start thinking about going Omar, don’t think it’s all sweetness, think about this.


Most of your company classes will be agency work. Agencies will not pay you if the client cancels with over 24 hours notice. Will you fill that slot? Will there be a Bambi’s mother-zombie-crossover live-action film? In a language school, you get paid regardless, unless you work for a total piece of crap.
Sometimes an agency will make a verbal agreement with you, nothing solid, but you block your schedule, and the organisation then does further shopping around and drops your agency. They take no hit other than salesperson time. You lose ground on the slots you could have applied for.
Private students are the way to go,” you say. I will say that you may have a private that treats you well but most get flaky and cancel at the last minute. I charge the full whack if there’s less than 24-hours notice, or stop bookings any more than a week in advance. Hit any private with these and they will soon stop taking lessons if you charge a rate that is reasonable to you. This can be good though; you don’t want to be waiting around for people that don’t respect you but only say that they do.


God, I hate admin. You will have at least one agency time sheet to fill in, plus student attendance. Add to that any marking if you have writing classes that turn out substantial work, and there will always be the last-minute thing that you will not get office staff help with because you don’t have office staff – you’re freelance. Add tax returns in a foreign language and messing about with multiple document formats going between phone, Pages, MS Office, Libre Office and other permutations and you’re on a one-way ticket to Self Medication Station.
Basically, you learn to prioritise. My question is “If this isn’t done, will my family starve?” You’d be surprised at how much is let go. However, you still have to balance goodwill and lackadaisical wherewithal.

The Muscles and The Belly

You will be able to shoulder everything a black hole can absorb in an aeon and more. This is because, on a busy day, you might be carrying four textbooks, a notebook, a diary, maybe a portable speaker for listening tasks, food and whatever else you might carry to kill time (novels, game machine, scale model of the Bismarck, etc.) This exercise will not stave off The Belly.
You will get hungry and every subway or train station kiosk will beg you closer with its promise of Snickers, M&Ms, sweet breads, sandwiches, ambiguous baked goods with exotic seasonal flavours. You will not have willpower, especially at five o’clock on a Thursday after a class at a food company and just before teaching a lesson on dining out. You need exercise. You will crave exercise but you might not have time.

The Ludicrous Schedule

You will spread yourself stupidly thin when you can get work (which is basically all the seasons when weather is crap except Christmas and New Year) and have more free time than you can shake a stick at over summer, unless you teach at a summer camp, though many of those pay rubbish money for staying on-site in the sticks miles from home or miles from the pub if you go in for that.
I am getting better at managing this but the cancellations do mess this up a bit.
Do I like my job? Yes, I do. Do I like freelancing? That’s not really relevant; my family likes having a place to live and being able to eat. Some days I like freelancing more, other days less. It’s about how you get by, isn’t it?