How to Freelance Teach English in Tokyo

I’ve managed to cobble together a living wage teaching mostly private lessons for 6 months now. Some weeks have been good with my wallet bursting with cash, some weeks I’ve thought about selling blood to make rent. Ups and downs is what I’m trying to say. It’s certainly not as secure as having a steady paycheck, but back when I did that I had to wear a suit and put up with a lot of boring paperwork. I also had to teach completely outdated lessons about topics that made me want to burn those textbooks into cinders. Anyway here are some tips if you want to try this roller-coaster for yourself. Just be prepared to live constantly on the edge of poverty because it’s, more relaxing?

Know your English.

Seriously. If you’re going to try and make a living off of private one-on-one lessons then you’ll have to know just about everything there is to know. Can’t explain the difference between the Past Perfect Subjunctive and the Future Conditional? Tough shit because it’s bound to come up. You might be able to get away with the occasional spelling mistake but be sure to have a dictionary handy.

Know their English.

By that I mean, know how to teach English to Japanese speakers. There are a lot of little peculiarities of how Japanese speakers communicate in English that will speed up and help you understand the student. Since most of these types of lessons will take place in a noisy cafe (unless you’re willing to cut even more into your earnings to go somewhere small and expensive) understanding is key.

Don’t waste the student’s time.

You don’t have to quite be as much of a dancing monkey as you do in a large chain school environment but that doesn’t mean you can be as boring as a wet paper bag. The students I teach pay in cash, 3000 yen (~$39USD) a per hour. If they are not getting enough value for that money they will quit quite easily. I recently lost a twice a week student because I had a bad day, bad lesson, and then I charged her twice. (Cancelation fees which leads me to…)

Don’t let them waste your time either.

Unless you work mostly nights some students can be pretty flakey about making it to lessons. The problem is, unlike a regular eikaiwa, you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Simple as that. When a student commits to a certain time that space is theirs. If they weren’t there I would probably try to fit in another student so I can get paid. This is where a firm cancelation policy can be a good thing. It’s cost me a couple of students but I’m better off with students that are just as willing and able to show up as I am.

Pick an area and cram in as many students as you can.

I work along the Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Gotanda. (It’s mine! Stay out!) It’s still pretty huge and I’ll have some days where I’m bouncing around from station to station with only 30 minutes in between each lesson. That sounds like a lot but it really isn’t when you have to take the train. The best times are when I can see two students in a row at the same cafe. Since you have to buy something to sit down two students in the same place can be very good for your bottom line. I suspect that most of the staff at my frequent coffee shops know and hate me for such tactics. A co-worker once was told to GTFO by a manager when he taught three students off one coffee.

Have steady income.

Yeah you didn’t think I survived only on private students, did you? Good lord no that would be suicide. I work about 10 hours a week at steady, classroom style lessons that covers my rent and recently a little extra. That money goes direct to my bank account. My goal is to not touch my account until I need the rent and day to day expenses plus entertainment come out of my private lessons. Last month was the first time I managed it. Other months I went to the well once or twice, mostly due to poor decisions while intoxicated. “Entertainment”. The security of the basics makes it easier to suck up that bad week or month at the cafe.

Find students.

You’re on your own for this one! I don’t need the competition.

It’s not easy doing what I do now and have it be a primary source of income. I enjoy the free time, the fact that how well I’m doing is a direct reflection of how well I teach, no kids. I learned the hard way over the last year that I hate teaching children. That’s neither here nor there. I hope I’ll be able to pick up some more students soon but I work for a great company that really cares about their teachers and students so I’m sure I’ll do all right.

The main point is, this career style is not for the weak of heart or skill. If you’re not an old hand then chances are good you’ll crash and burn if you try to rely on it as your entire income. If you’ve got a steady job here, picking up one or two students on the side can be pretty good scratch.

Any tips or students you want to offer, leave them in the comments. V(^_^)

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