Daily Life: The Reality of Teaching English in Berlin

There are countries where the language schools provide native English speakers with an apartment as an added incentive to go and teach there. Germany is not one of those countries. Probably because so many people want to come and live here - they don't need an extra incentive.

No, in Germany, and probably particularly in Berlin, you'll be fending for yourself. Finding a teaching job here can take anything from a week or two to several months, depending on how lucky you are. Schools will not recruit remotely – you need to be living in Berlin before you will even get an interview so it's a bit of a leap of faith when you first move here. While I was still living in Riga, I found a list of every English school in Berlin and sent my CV to all of them. I received a trickle of replies, but all in the same vein - “Let us know when you arrive in Berlin and maybe we can organise an interview.” Not exactly confidence-inspiring!

Still, sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I knew that I wanted to live in Berlin and I was determined to make it work, somehow. I settled into my temporary accommodation and, over the next day or two, sent email updates to every school I had previously contacted, letting them know that I was now in Berlin and available for interview. The luck of the Irish (or something) prevailed and I had two interviews and two jobs within a week and a half.

Finding a full-time teaching job in Berlin is next to impossible so the vast majority of teachers here are freelance. Of course, it's nice travelling around to different locations and seeing a bit more of wonderful Berlin, but it can also be quite tiring, not to mention time-consuming. I teach everywhere from Stadtmitte to Neuenhagen (you might have to look that one up). For the first few months, I was up at 5.45am every day (but this was partly my fault as I can't leave the flat in the morning without a shower and breakfast) to get to 8am lessons. Most days, I had a massive gap in the middle of the day, and then maybe an afternoon or, more usually, an evening lesson. So your freelance timetable will leave you plenty of time for naps, but unfortunately, you don't get paid for those... (Can someone please invent a job where I do get paid for napping?)

At the moment, I'm at the opposite end of the scale. Most of the groups that started in September or October are now coming to an end, so my teaching hours have dropped dramatically. There doesn't seem to be much work coming into the schools either but I'm hoping it's just a dry spell and things pick up again. Otherwise, I'll be lubricating my vocal chords and hitting the U-Bahn – and I don't think anyone wants that.

So, to sum up, if you're looking for an easy ride with a fixed salary, teaching in Berlin might not be for you. Likewise, if you're a native English speaker who's thinking “Maybe I'll give teaching English a go...”, I wouldn't bother. Any school worth its salt won't hire teachers without a teaching qualification. And German students can be (and should be) pretty demanding. They'll want to know why native speakers say this and not that. Telling them “We just do” won't cut it.

But on the plus side, you get to meet lots of interesting people from all walks of life, you get to see the parts of Berlin – and its transport system – that a lot of people don't, and the pay is pretty decent though you'll have to sort out your own taxes and health insurance.

But that's a thought for another day. Right now, it feels like nap time...

By Linda O'Grady
Linda works as an English teacher, writer and editor, and has been living in Berlin since September 2014. She also shares some of her more irreverent thoughts on life as an Irishwoman living in Germany in her blog - Expat Eye on Germany.

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