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Crafting an ESL Schedule, or the Art of Saying No

The morning after sending my resume to four prospective Czech language schools, I awoke to an equal number of enthusiastic interview requests. If anyone has experienced the far harsher task of job searching in our current economy, let this be the first indication that teaching ESL places you in a very faux reality.

Still, ego boosted with three on the spot job offers, I began the teacher's life by quickly learning my first lesson. See, language schools are typically comprised of two varieties of staff, and sadly, we foreigners belong to the lesser group: the starry-eyed, inexperienced, uncommitted. The schools are fully aware that our dedication to our jobs (and quite often, their cities) will be transient.

The other group gets a bit more clout; they are the administration, the natives that corral new students, legalize we foreign workers, and most significantly, assign students to teachers. These all”“powerful course managers are perhaps the first hoop through which a newly minted ESL teacher must dive.

ESL materials

Here's where that middle school peer pressure education comes into practice. Many of us were recent college graduates who spent four years failing to remember the meaning of ” no.”? But in that first meeting with a course manager, I learned that ” no”? was an ESL life skill I had better recollect.

Armed with pages of names, locations, and if you're lucky, a course level, course managers hunger to scrawl over every white space on a teacher's schedule. That may seem a humble task, but sadly, you, and your sanity, are not the priority at hand.

In my first meeting, charmed by the manager who complimented my most un-Czech curls and professional smile, I was easily wooed, and I left with a piece of paper that made my kindergarten scribbles looks like pristine spreadsheets from Microsoft Excel.

7 AM across the river on a Friday morning? Well, the students are so, so kind. 8:30 PM the night before? Well, they've been searching for a teacher for so, so long. Four ninety minute lessons, back-to-back, straight through lunch? Well, students always offer coffee and water, food is for the weak.

Czech Republic

I worked at two schools in Prague, and when my meeting at the second arrived, I had one mantra in my brain: just say no.

Yes, you obviously need to accept some courses – but you don't need them all.  I can promise that schools will always have more lessons to offer.  Time and sanity, on the other hand?  Those may run out, and when you're living abroad, both are far too precious to waste.


ESL photo courtesy of

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