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.
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.
The past three weeks were insanely busy. And yet, that was mainly because of staring at the wall and thinking in isolation. My job seeking in Melbourne had come to a deadlock and I soon started to lose my motivation for the whole thing. In addition to the fact that there were only a few teaching jobs open, it seemed to take forever for me to get the teaching license in Victoria. The paperwork started to feel like, as we say in Finnish, wading through a swamp when it turned out that the Swedish and Finnish authorities were unable to send the criminal checks straight to the Victorian authorities. I would still need to copy those papers, certify them by a chemist (isn’t that weird, eh?), scan them again and sent them to the Victorian Institute of Teaching. Like the paper circus wasn’t enough, my English would need to be improved in order to pass the ridiculously tricky language test which even some natives had reputedly failed. All in all, I needed a break from that project and instead, focus on something that would give me new motivation.
As for a good old motivator, teaching my native language Finnish and studying its unique logic has been my passionate hobby for years. I continued giving casual Finnish lessons during my travels, although, this time I did it online through a learning platform called JustLearn. With flexible working hours and usually quite little preparation required, tutoring worked perfectly during my travels. It had also been a great way to keep exploring other cultures the students represented, improve my online teaching skills as well as to stay connected to Finland.
But once I couldn’t continue traveling anymore (we all know why) and I decided to stay in Melbourne, I was becoming more interested in developing my Finnish lessons and explore the potential of online teaching during the global lockdown. So why not go full power and make it my living? That became a new motivator.
I researched possibilities to work as an online teacher for schools and companies or even together with other private online teachers but couldn’t find anything considerable. Such a shame! I think there should be more Finnish providers that would gather teachers to online teaching platforms. In fact, aren’t all the schools in Finland basically doing something like that now as the teachers work remotely? Maybe it could be something to develop and expand in the future. Meanwhile, I am jumping into something I thought I would never do: becoming a sole trader.
For me, going full power and jumping into the business world meant heaps of new skills to learn. I would highly recommend adding some of these basic skills of digital marketing and web designing to the national compulsory curriculum as it comprehensively improves not just IT skills and logical thinking but also communication and marketing skills, valuing and critical thinking as well as designing and esthetical thinking.
Step 1: Products
Although the word ‘product’ sounds too capitalistic to me when talking about teaching Finnish, that’s what I basically have to create in order to call it a business. After all, I am selling service here! I chose two main products to focus on: Finnish for foreigners and Finnish for Finns abroad, both of which I have been working with before as a teacher and tutor. The third product, extra support in primary school subjects, I created for two potential student profiles: the first one is a Finnish speaking student who does their primary school curriculum in another language than Finnish and the second one is a second language learner who goes to a Finnish primary school. Therefore, the third itinerary, as I call these three learning plans, also supports language learning.
Step 2: Website design
The next step was to learn how to make a website. By the way, a great skill to learn and lots of fun once you get into it! I wanted to build the site on the story of EduExploring and by doing so, invite the students to join the amazing learning journey I’ve been on so far. All the pictures on the new site, for instance, have been taken during my EduExploring travels. As currently a “mamu” (nickname for an immigrant in Finnish) myself, I want to inspire my students to share their inspiring stories on Finland and other cultures.
Step 3: Marketing
Buying my own domain and opening a professional email address was a moment to celebrate! Once having the link to my brand new website, it was time to get viral. I shared the link in different Facebook groups that I thought would find it interesting. Thanks to my previous jobs and the EduExploring visits to Finnish schools abroad, I already had the network of the potential students. The next level on this skill will be Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Excited!
And many steps still to go… But for now, welcome to visit my new website on www.teacherroosa.com. And come on, don’t be shy! I highly appreciate your insights, helpful comments, and suggestion on the website and services provided. You can drop me a message on the comment box down below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org! Cheers! 🙂
P.S. This post was dedicated to fellow mamus all around the world. Especially the expats in Finland who struggle to find a job or to pass the YKI test, you have all my sympathy, it’s not easy to be a mamu!
CORRECTION: The Finnish authorities did send the criminal check straight to Victorian Institute of Teaching but due to the coronavirus, it hasn’t arrived yet and it’s not guaranteed that it even will.