Posted: Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:19 pm Post subject: TEFL in Prague – Pros and Cons
Making the decision to teach abroad is an important one. Wherever you end up, there are going to be positives and negatives to look out for. Each country is different, but a lot of the experience of teaching abroad can be applied to different locations. My speciality is obviously TEFL in Prague, Czech Republic, so let’s start there and let’s start with the positives
1. You’ll Most Likely Have a lot of Fun.
Sure life is about work, but it’s also about having a good time. My first year in Prague in 2002 was probably one of the most fun years of my life. The city has a great nightlife and if you are into staying up late and having Hangoveresque experiences, then Prague is a great stomping ground for you. Life can’t and isn’t always about partying and having a good time, but to say this isn’t a plus to the city would be dishonest.
2. The Teaching is Very Flexible.
In a lot of other areas of the world you are given a strict schedule and contract that you can’t really break. You are usually only able to work for one school and things like conduct and dress code are strictly enforced. Prague is different. It’s way more flexible. Many people work for a variety of schools and you are given a lot of educational freedom on what and how to teach.
3. Great Balance between Strange and Familiar with the City/Culture.
Prague is a modern city, but it’s still very different. It’s easy to relate to Czechs and become friends with them, but the culture is very unique. I mean where else do young women get hit with sticks by the males on Easter to make them more fertile? Where else do people keep live GIANT carp in their bathtubs to fatten them up so they can have their Christmas dinner? I found that every year I was in Prague I was always learning more and more about the culture an there was always something new to discover.
4. Easy to Find a Place to Live and Get Around the City.
With websites like expats.cz and prague.tv, it’s super easy to find a nice apartment in the city center or surrounding areas. Most teachers live relatively central. I don’t know anyone that lives out in the sticks and has to commute more than 20-25 minutes to their job unless they have intentionally chosen to. In many other countries a long commute is the norm. Also, no one is going to force you to live in a certain place. In most other countries, you are at the mercy of where the school you work for houses you. In Prague, you decide all of it. The public transport in Prague is ridiculously easy and inexpensive. It costs about 30 USD or so for a month long pass that can be used for all buses, metros and trams in the city.
5. The Level of Teaching in Prague is Great.
Pretty much everyone now knows what they are doing in terms of methodology, practice and technique. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but you’ll come out of your first year actually being a good teacher (usually) In a lot of parts of the world, training is not important at all. Most people who are teaching in Asia probably have no idea what they are doing and most schools have zero understanding of what works and what is important in the classroom.
6. Simply a Gorgeous City.
Prague is beautiful. What more could you ask for? Seriously, go on Google and look at the place. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
7. Friendly and Curious Population.
Czechs get a really bad rap for being cold. They might appear this way when you first meet them, but they really are sweet, interesting, honest and surprisingly outgoing people. Over the years I’ve met some amazing Czechs that were my students. I think this is possible in other parts of the world, but maybe not as easy due to formality issues. It’s not uncommon for students to remain friends with you after their course and invite you to social gatherings. This usually entails ‘going on the cottage to pick mushrooms in the nature’.
8. Jobs Are Still Available.
To say it’s same as it was in 2002 would be dishonest, but jobs are out there and the majority of people find work as teachers. The pay rate isn’t as high as in some other places, and nothing of course is a guarantee, but work is available if you have the skills and ethic to make it
9. Living Full Time is Possible.
You can stay for a year or stay for your life if you’re smart. Most likely it means getting a zivnostensky list and branching out from just working at a school, but it is possible. I know a lot of people who have lived in Prague for over a decade and are doing well. Due to the transitory nature of the city, you can also move up in the teaching world fast. This means becoming a Director of Studies or a Senior Teacher without many times needing higher qualifications.
10.Teaching Contracts are Flexible and Not Written in Stone.
If for some reason you have to leave the city and go back home, you are not usually legally bound to a school. You are not going to be fined or really penalized if you have to break your contract. Give them notice of course and that should be enough.
11. TEFL Courses in Prague do a Good Job.
In general they all do what they are supposed to do and offer a lot of graduate assistance. This is not true in other places where I believe the training can be subpar. I think since the market is so competitive with TEFL schools here, we are all trying to offer whatever we can and do whatever we can to make people happy. Also there is the understanding that our graduates are going to be teaching here and we want them and the schools where they work to be happy and satisfied. There are some bad apples out there of course, but it’s pretty easy to find out which ones to avoid with a simple search.
12. There are a lot of Other Outlets Besides Teaching.
There’s a lot of things you can do besides teaching. If you like acting, join a theater company or do stand up or form a band and play at different venues. I know people who within a week or two of being in the city were already writing articles for the Prague Post. Yes it’s not the New York Times, but it’s still impressive. Get involved in other things. It’s not too hard to do here if you make the effort.
13. Expat Community.
There is an enormous Expat community in Prague of native English teachers. If you are worried about being alone in a foreign city – don’t. You’ll meet a lot of other fellow English teachers and they are usually great and interesting people. When you are abroad, you bond faster with people and develop stronger friendships. It’s one of the things I really miss when I’m not in the city. It’s simply a unique thing when you live abroad. *That being said, please meet Czech people. Don’t be the typical expat that just hangs out with other Expats, you’ll be selling your experience short.
Negatives – Yeah because life in Prague isn’t always peachy
1. Visas and Getting Legal.
The days of working under the table and just border hopping are gone. You are going to have to get legal now if you are not an EU citizen. This means you’ll have to have money in the bank or a bank note to show proof of funds along with other documentation, stamps and forms. It means waiting on lines and running around getting stuff done. You are also going to be on a time limit and if you don’t get it done in time, you’ll have problems most likely. You get 90 days to get stuff sorted and that’s it. This means you need to work and work fast during your first and second month to know what you need and start getting it. If you need help with Visas or want to get a Zivnostensky List I highly recommend a guy named John Mohr who operates a company called CFO 2 GO. Here is his contact information firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Less Guaranteed Hours.
I used to tell all of my TEFL trainees back in the day that if they couldn’t find work in the city with a TEFL certificate and a recommendation that there was something seriously wrong with them. We could literally guarantee work to graduates and most had multiple job offers before the course ended. No one and no course can do that now. The work is out there, but you have to run around to get it. This means working for a number of different schools in the beginning and trying to rack up a schedule. Generally though if you hustle a bit in the beginning you can get a good schedule in about a month or so after graduating your TEFL course. Take this as a warning though. If you believe that you can just show up in Prague, not work hard, not take things seriously and believe that magically a job will be placed on your lap – you’re wrong.
3 Cold Winters.
Never really bothered me much, but I’m from Minnesota. For some people who are not used to winters, it can be rough at times. Remember, you are going to Europe where people walk a lot. You won’t have a car. This means that when you buy groceries, guess who’s lugging them back to your apartment? Also, there’s the sun, or lack of it. Days and weeks without any sun. Winters can be a bit depressing if you don’t like cold weather. My advice, get outside, go skiing, take a trip to the mountains, go ice-skating..etc If that doesn’t work, just wait until Spring when things go back to being totally awesome again.
4. Depression and Anxiety Episodes.
It, they happen. It’s normal. You’re abroad, away from your family and friends and living in a culture that is foreign to you and a language you don’t understand. You are going to be spending a lot more time in your head than you’re used to and it’s not uncommon for the ‘Carnival’ to come out. The Carnival being all of your thoughts about what you are doing and what you should be doing and where you are in your life. It’s normal and it happens, but for some people it can be a bit overwhelming if they are not used to it
5. Prague is not Dirt Cheap Anymore.
Some things are still cheap, but the days of 37CZK per dollar are long long long gone. The city is probably still cheaper than most cities in the US or UK, but you’re going to need more startup money. Don’t come abroad or take a TEFL course if you’re broke. I don’t care what the TEFL provider you are in contact with says about you being fine or that things will work out for you. They won’t. You’ll be broke without a place to live and no money to help you get set up. I recommend having at least 3,000 USD or equivalent to help you get started If you can’t get that, it’s probably better to wait until you have the funds.
6. Pay and Salary.
Teachers make enough to get buy and live a comfortable lifestyle if they work full time. However, you’re most likely not going to be able to save a lot or anything really unless you budget or really crank up the hours. You cannot compare the money made in Prague to say that of South Korea. There are ways to make more money but it requires getting a Zivno usually and that’s another investment.
7. Vegetarians Might Still Have it Rough.
Things have improved for sure on the Veggie front, but the city still has a long way to go. I remember many times a student ordering some vegetables only to find out later that there was bacon in them. Of course when confronting the waiter about it, his reply was ‘Well it’s only a little bit. There’s nothing really there.’ Which brings me to the next point –
8. Customer Service is Still Lacking.
Prague has seen massive, massive improvements, but it’s not the same as in the UK, US or Canada (can’t really speak for other English speaking areas) You will have moments where you will be a bit shocked at the rudeness sometimes of people in customer service. It’s not intentional, but tipping is not really a big deal in the city so most servers don’t have any real incentive to always be nice. Again, it’s not horrible, but you will have, at some point, a ‘OMG, Oh no she didn’t!’ moment.
My overall thoughts are that Prague isn’t for everyone, but it is for most people. Don’t go into this venture as a life changing career move. You’ll freak out and lose your mind after 6 months. It’s better to take a year and see how things go. You’ll know very quickly if this is place you want to be. If you realize that Prague is where you want to be long term, then you can start working on how to make a career and enough money to make the idea a reality. I fell in love with the city from day one. Many of the people who I know feel about Prague the same way I do. There’s an energy to this place and to the people and it’s a city where I always had an undeniable feeling that anything was possible.