Dear reader, welcome aboard! My name is Roosa and I am a Finnish teacher exploring opportunities to work abroad as an educator. While studying different education systems and their ideas of learning and teaching, I provide personalised private language lessons in Finnish and Swedish, and design teacher training courses.
Please welcome my favourite time of the year once again: the clock changing circus. The last time we went through this in March-April was a total disaster. Therefore, I’m now prepared with double and triple checks on all of my students’ time zones to make sure that I know what’s going on. Also, I’ve got some exciting news about the new work I accepted last week.
First let us review the facts. At the end of March, Europe changed its time from winter time (standard time) to summer time (Daylight Saving Time, DST) by setting the clocks one hour forward. On October the 25th they will change it back to the standard time. As we are located in the Southern Hemisphere and the seasons are all upside-down here in Australia, we set our clocks one hour backwards earlier this year. Now, we set the clocks forward to have the standard time again. This means that during the European spring and summer, Australian Autumn and Winter, the time difference between Finland and Eastern Australia is 7 hours and the rest of the year it’s 9h. Pretty simple, eh?
What I didn’t realise, however, was the fact that countries all around the world have different dates for changing the time. Not to mention that more than half of the countries do not observe DST, including some countries’ independent states like Queensland here in Australia. And this means that between those clock-setting dates the time difference between Finland and Victoria goes first to 8 hours for a couple of weeks and then to 7 or 9 hours depending on the time of the year.
Last March-April I wasn’t aware of the different dates when the time difference to Melbourne changed so I managed to mess up my whole schedule for a couple of weeks. The weekly lessons booked from different time zones which either changed or didn’t change the time, overlapped and I had to reschedule almost everything.
This time I prepared myself both manually and digitally by listing all my students, their time zones, and the time changing policies of their countries and making sure Google Calendar gives me the right times based on the DST changes. After all this maths my brain hurts, however I am happy because once again it is a new task that I can do as a private online teacher.
Oh yes, the new job! I signed my very first employment contract with an Australian employer and I’ll start working next week. So excited! More on this coming up so stay tuned.
Thanks to all the amazing students who booked Finnish lessons with me, my new career as a private teacher and sole trader experienced a good kickstart during its first two months. I found many new, eager, highly motivated, and hard-working students who gave me fresh inspiration for teaching the Finnish language. Simultaneously, I have enjoyed learning more about my old students and exploring their ways of learning. Knowing my students better gives me confidence and energy to keep on working and creating new ways to teach Finnish.
The newest idea that I launched recently, was small group learning. I created a small group learning model with some of my old students by bringing them together into a video call meeting to practise Finnish through dialogue and social activities. It was important to me to make sure that all the participants would feel comfortable in the group. Therefore, I recommended the first entry-level group to students who are more or less on the same level in Finnish, have similar connections to Finland, and similar reasons to learn the language. The dynamics in that group have been better than even I could have imagined! It’s always a good sign when the students who have never met before find something in common, feel comfortable sharing things about themselves to others, and can laugh together.
On the entry-level, we practise common everyday phrases, grammar, and vocabulary to use in simple conversations with other Finnish-speakers. Through various learner-centered methods, the students will improve their responding, speaking, and listening skills in Finnish. As a teacher, I enjoy having the role of a mentor who manages the learning session in the background while the students learn by interacting with each other. At the beginning of the course, however, I guide the group by using rather structured lesson plans in order to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at participating. A structured lessons plan also helps the group to stay on the topic and focus on the purpose of the lesson.
We begin the lesson with a casual chat including greeting and asking questions. After that, we have a vocabulary and grammar session, which is usually the only teacher-centered element of the lesson. To have the opportunity to apply the theory, the students will play an activating game, drama, or do another creative activity at the end of the lesson before it is time for feedback. Additionally, we have our own Google Classroom group where I share optional extra tasks and material to support self-studying. As the students get to know each other better, the structure of the meetings will naturally become more flexible; enabling free discussion and sharing experiences. I was pleasantly surprised when the students were inspired to share their own flashcards with the other group members.
I am happy to notice that this kind of small group learning works even with total beginners, and thus, I am looking forward to establishing more small groups for Finnish learners of all levels. I think it’s important that all language students start practising communication skills right at the very beginning of their learning journey because it gives them more confidence when having a conversation with native-speakers. If you wait for too long without practising any speaking, listening, or reacting, you might subconsciously raise the bar for opening your mouth. Social learning in a small group gives students peer support and motivation when they can see that there are others on the same boat. Furthermore, I have noticed that it is also an easier way to start for many students to communicate with other non-natives instead of native-speakers because are able to explain things to each other in a different way than natives. However, in order to prevent misconceptions and provide professional feedback, my role as a teacher is still essential. I like to think of language teaching as a bridge-building dialogue between the learners and native speakers. Students can always come to me and ask about something they do not understand when communicating in Finnish, receive guidance and encouragement, and continue their journey again.
In addition to courses for foreigners, I launched two group learning options for Finnish children and youths living abroad. In these new clubs – Media Club for youths aged between 10 and 15, and Story Club for children aged from 7 to 9 – the goal is to improve the native and second language learners’ conversation skills in Finnish. Through authentic age-appropriate material, dialogue, and real-life connections, I want to encourage Finnish children living abroad to share and discuss their rich and valuable understanding of different cultures. I have always admired their way of discussing different perspectives, and therefore, I would like to create an international platform for them to expand this communication. Starting with cosy small groups, we practise literacy and communication skills, asking questions from a text, and sharing thoughts. The idea is to upgrade the discussion clubs later into workshops, where the same participants who already know each other, would create their own media content or stories.
I am keen to see where the new online group learning takes me. Also, I am excited to meet new Finnish learners. Read more about the group learning options on https://www.teacherroosa.com/grouplearning, sign up for a small group course, or recommend it to a friend! 🙂
After two months in isolation, the coronavirus restrictions will finally be gradually eased in Australia. Compared to many European countries, like Spain for instance, we have had it pretty easy in Victoria. However, compared to Finland, where people have been allowed to go hiking, the greatest challenge for me in Australia has been the closing of the state borders and national parks. Outdoor activities, traveling as well as visiting schools for this blog, had started to become solid parts of my routine during my year off. Since EduExploring is now happening inside four walls, I would like to share the new daily routine I created for this time as a private online teacher and a sole trader.
Depending on the bookings, I teach around 10-15 hours a week. I meet most of my students once or twice a week, but there are also students who I meet occasionally. In addition to the lessons, I spend about the same amount of time, or even more, on preparation and material development even though moneywise, it’s supposed to be a part-time job. I’m still in the beginning of my new journey as a private teacher, and thus, learning about different materials and platforms simply takes more time. And to be honest, when it comes to planning lessons and creating new activities, I’m often caught up in the flow experience, not even realising how time passes. Ideally, I would have 20 hours of lesson time per week in order to be a full-time teacher again with a full-time salary but baby steps, baby steps…
Like in any other job, there are pros and cons in private online teaching and sole trading. I will now elaborate on the routine.
Sometimes the long days of staring at a screen make me miss school life with its various activities and structure. As a teacher who never used to sit behind a desk all day, it has been a challenge for me to create a healthy routine for online work at home. Working makes me feel tired and less productive if I don’t change the venue. I guess I’ve still got the drive of a classroom teacher going on – used to work at a rapid pace and react to quick changes. I’ve even noticed some of my students having the same challenge. Especially with younger students, it is clear that studying online requires more focus and discipline than going to school.
To cope with the new lifestyle, I have come up with some small tasks to do during the day so that I wouldn’t sit all the time at any device (including phone which often gets an excuse). Since most of my students request afternoon or evening lessons, I start my day by planning upcoming classes and checking the news. I may have one lesson after breakfast and the next ones in the afternoon or evening so, between them, I often go for a run or do some yoga. Luckily, at least running has been allowed during the coronavirus restrictions in Victoria. Even marketing and accounting tasks work like breaks for me. Switching between the sides of the brain helps me to refocus, for example, when I have been working on a creative task (lesson planning) and need something rather logical (accounting), I switch from right to left. Last week’s new option for a little brain break was to grab a ukulele after several years and refresh my long-forgotten music skills.
I must say, though, that to my surprise, I have very much enjoyed working part-time. At least for now in isolation, it has been a great way to combine earning money and self-developing. Developing my professional identity and myself as a person was, after all, the main purpose of taking the year off. I have enjoyed focusing on the quality of teaching (aka practising my pedagogical nerdism) and taking the time to prepare myself for a new full-time position. Additionally, I have had more time for hobbies and practical skills. Finally, I don’t have to choose which one of my favourite hobbies to focus on when I can practise them all. While grabbing the ukulele and playing J. Karjala’s Kolme cowboyta (Three Cowboys) once more, I gather a playlist of easy songs in Finnish for my students to practise in their isolation.
The biggest dilemma I’ve faced so far with starting a business, is without a doubt, to evaluate the price of my time and service. In fact, I spent hours researching other Finnish private teachers and discussing reasonable pricing with friends. Why is it so hard to value your own expertise? Is it just because I’m too much of a humble Finn or is the general value of teaching changing as it’s easier these days to learn whatever skill with free tutorials or almost free tutors?
When I started tutoring in the Finnish language in September 2019, I started it as a hobby with no intention to make it as the main source of income. My rate on the language learning platform called JustLearn was as modest as 15€ per hour. Compared to my regular teacher salary, which normally would include all the benefits such as pension contributions and health insurance, this hourly rate was more or less a half of what I received in Sweden or Finland. At that time, I thought it was reasonable because I was still practising my online teaching skills and I wanted to explore tutoring without worrying about taxes. Also, I didn’t feel right to charge for the time spent on preparation since the role of a tutor didn’t require the same amount of planning prior to lessons as the role of a teacher. After all, the point of tutoring wasn’t to create a comprehensive course plan but to support learners’ self-studying as a native-speaker guide.
Searching for other Finnish teachers and their services online, gave me another perspective to private teaching. Despite the fact that Finnish is a small language with a very marginal target group among all language learners, it seems to have a pretty vast selection of native-speaking tutors, qualified language teachers, self-study courses, and tutoring material online. The prices for learning Finnish vary from free self-study material to private lessons for 100€ per hour. Lessons with a native-speaking tutor without a degree in Finnish language or education, are usually in the range of 10€ to 30€ an hour. In comparison, the hourly rate for an English tutor can be as low as 7€ per hour. Thus, considering my degree – Education as a major and Finnish language and Literature as minors – I should aim for a rate that is closer to the maximum rather than the minimum.
On one hand, I understand why the prices for private lessons with qualified teachers are so high. As an entrepreneur, you need to arrange everything that is usually done “automatically” by the employer for yourself and by yourself because you are your own employer. You are responsible for your own benefits, such as retirement plan and unemployment fund, that are normally included in a fully loaded salary. And not forgetting the taxes! The value-added tax (VAT) in Finland is as high as 24% for sole traders. To explain the private teachers’ high prices in Finland, you could say that the student is an employer, and as the employer, they pay the fully-loaded salary to the teacher.
On the other hand, I thought about how much I myself would pay for private lessons in a new skill. 100€ is a lot of money and I don’t think that many language learners would be ready to pay such a price for one Finnish lesson. At least not if they are paying by themselves. This brings up another question: do I want my courses to be available for only those who have the privilege to pay the highest prices? After receiving valuable comments on the pricing from friends around the world, I decided to stick to my principles and offer affordable access to learning Finnish with professional guidance.
As transforming from casual tutoring to professional teaching, I needed to take preparation time into consideration before establishing the final prices. The better income would allow me to spend more time planning the new courses and preparing better material, which would obviously improve the quality of the instruction. Eventually, I created a pricing system that represents the average price for Finnish tutoring and teaching as well as the average hourly rate for private lessons in other languages. To kick off the business and explore the market for my expertise, I wanted to enter the market with reasonable prices, however, without compromising the quality. The pricing system also favours package deals making it cheaper to book for example 10 lessons instead of just one. Having more lessons with the same student improves the lesson continuum and creates a stronger customer relationship which makes it easier for me, as the teacher, to truly individualise the learning experience.