Being a private teacher of English as a foreign language raises some unique problems. I’m not the most experienced teacher in the world, but already I have had to deal with no-shows, late-attendees, and cancellations. When students start being problematic, you have a potentially difficult situation on your hands.
How you view and treat the student
First of all, as a private teacher, you have to ask yourself about the relationship between you and the student. The time-honoured concept of respect for the instructor is called into question somewhat when your student also acts as your employer of sorts. They, in a very real and direct way, are paying your salary. Therefore, you have to treat students with the same level of professionality that any other industry does with a paying customer. This means you should set the example for good service. If your students are being problematic, ask yourself whether you too have started to slack somewhat. Do you turn up late for lessons? Do you cancel lessons at the last minute? Has your attire or your lesson planning become a bit shoddy? Hopefully none of these things are true. In this case, you have to deal with your student directly. It helps to have clear terms in the contract that specify what happens if a student turns up late, cancels a lesson or doesn’t turn up at all. If the student is aware of these stipulations and still does these things you are quite within your rights to demand whatever the contract specifies; i.e, half-pay/full-pay etc.
Friend, or student?
Of course, you want to keep the relationship with your student friendly – in fact, this is often part of the problem. As a private teacher, you may well enjoy the company of your students. The line between friend and student can become blurred. If this is the case, it is wise to speak to your student in a friendly way about these problems. Perhaps the real issue is that the timing of the lesson is unsuitable (in which case a new time can be arranged), the student’s motivation is low (which can be dealt with by discussing the reasons why they want to learn English and perhaps offering some incentives, such as aiming to take the TOEFL/TOEIC exam), or maybe the student just doesn’t realise they are being problematic.
Have you had to deal with these issues as a teacher, or as a student? How did it work out for you? Share your comments with the TEFL community here!