since 1997, the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English

Separating teaching from your private life

Andrew Forrester explores the perils of mixing business with pleasure

So there I was in the south of France during a typically hot summer, enjoying life as a newly qualified TEFL teacher. Well except for one thing. I was single.

Not one to feel sorry for myself, I signed up with an online dating site, paid the fee and went about filling in all my personal details. In the field for job, I proudly typed in “Professeur d’anglais” (English teacher) and proceeded with writing a short bio and uploaded my photo.

Within 10 minutes of creating my profile, I had received 4 private messages and 2 requests for a live chat. “Wow, I thought!”

Since I am fluent in French, I started chatting in French, but no, the girls insisted that we communicate in English. They all seemed very interested in my job and asked me lots of questions about my TEFL training and experience. They also seemed very keen for me to correct their written mistakes. 3 hours later, I had 4 dates lined up for drinks over the next week.

This was great, I thought. Oh how wrong I was.

I can still remember the moment I realised what was going on. It was halfway through the first “date” with Veronique when she casually mentioned her upcoming job interview in English. Notice how I put the word “date” in quotes – That’s because it wasn’t a date at all. This was a private English lesson that I was being expected to give for free! Well actually no, it was an English lesson that I was paying to give because I paid for her drink! For the whole time, she was only interested in practising for her interview. Not once did she ask me anything about me or my life. In fact, we didn’t talk about anything except her job interview. She wanted me to correct all her pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar mistakes. She even brought along her English CV (2 pages) and asked me to take it away to correct “for next time”.

“Next time?” I thought as I looked at my watch.

So what is the moral of this story?

It is that being a native English-speaking TEFL teacher living abroad will bring you lots of attention, some good and some not so good. If you do private one-on-one tutoring as a main source of your income, it’s essential that you separate business from pleasure. Don’t become too friendly with your students. In my early days of tutoring, I made the mistake of accepting invitations from students to social events. During the evening, the student and I talked and they insisted we did it in English. Then a week later, it was very awkward when the student had to pay me. 2 weeks later, they cancelled all lessons but still wanted to see me as a friend. So I gained a friend but lost a client and he gained free English speaking practice.

I haven’t made the same mistake since. With students, I’m friendly and professional and they learn a lot from me but I politely decline social invitations. Don’t think this is being mean or cold. Teaching English is a profession. I am sure your students wouldn’t work for free in their jobs. Would an accountant give you free tax advice for an hour? You will work hard for your TEFL qualification. Don’t undervalue yourselves.

With friends, I don’t discuss business or try to become their teacher. We are friends because we get on well with each other, not because of my job. If they ask me for lessons (even paid), I refer them to someone else.

Good luck and be wary of anyone called Veronique asking you out for a drink!

Written by Andrew Forrester for EnglishClub | December 2016
Andrew obtained the TESOL qualification in 2003 and has many years' teaching experience. He is the owner of CrownAcademyEnglish.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below