Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teaching English in Switzerland

 [A less comprehensive but somewhat more straightforward update can be found here.]

I'm sure there are many foreigners teaching English (or other languages for that matter) in Switzerland. And many more looking for a way to earn a living teaching here. My experience is restricted to the Geneva area and, though I've heard quite a lot of the situation in other cantons, this is mainly what this post is going to be about. Some of the information here is general, but most of it is specific to the area and is a result of my own "research".
In addition, my experience might also be considered restricted to the private sector as I've been looking for teaching positions at private language schools most of the time. Throughout my career I've mainly taught adults and this is what I actually prefer doing.
So are you thinking about joining the club and becoming a language teacher? Or are you already teaching and planning a move to Switzerland? Maybe this can help you.
Alright. So my first impressions were very similar to those of others. I came to Geneva with a heart full of hope -- not because my life back in Hungary was bad, and not even because finding work there was difficult. I loved my job (where I worked as a language school teacher, at one of the biggest and most up-to-date institutions of the capital) and I was just going to earn more than most (any?) people I knew.

And yet I was looking forward to the change, first off because I like change, and second because I fell in love with the city the first time I'd visited years before. I had no fears about finding a job, although the forums are full of skeptics and the unemployed. But I thought who else would have the time to be moaning online. Besides, I was just finishing my MA and I knew for a fact that while in my home country it's a key to the doors of any language school, it would be a rare gem in Switzerland, as the number of degree holders is considerably lower here.

So I set off for the exciting adventure, never looking back. And then I bumped into a wall pretty soon. (Ha-haa! would the skeptics now point at my downfall, smugly adding a couple of told-you-sos. But they're wrong.) Finding a job in Switzerland is not extremely difficult and any who say they were surprised by the lack of empty positions didn't do their homework before hopping over. I can't say I was surprised. I was shocked, yes, but I immediately understood my problem. It's not like jobs are buried in some secret basement. They're there, everywhere, you can even find yourself a niche and persuade your future employer that in fact they're your future employer. The game is open to anyone. Only the rules are a bit different. And this is what you should research before picking up the dice.

I've seen enough English teaching positions to keep me busy till I burn out (yeah, like that could ever happen! ^^), but somehow what they want is not what I have to offer. You might say that they're right and I'm wrong, but I honestly don't think so. I've been teaching adults (and even kids at the beginning) for more than five years and spent six years studying the psychology and methodology of learning and teaching. I know what's good for learners and it's definitely more than my hurt pride that makes me say that the requirements of language schools in Switzerland are not justified. However, I do see their point. If I owned a language school (which my husband is convinced would happen one day ^^), I would probably do the same. No. I'd personally interview all would-be employees till they feel brainwashed. But that's another story.

What most language schools go for are professionals who have qualifications the Swiss ELT community recognizes and possess undeniable skills to deal with all possible teaching situations. Here in Geneva this means a CELTA certificate + English mother tongue + 3-5 years experience. This most of the time equates a nice position.

My having an MA instead of a CELTA complicates things because if their hiring department doesn't understand what that means I'm not shortlisted at all. Not being a native speaker per se also makes my CV more difficult to read. I could claim an English mother tongue and they'd never notice (I've never been asked for any of my school certificates), but I'm not one to start lying to get a job. I guess I'd say that my problem is I can't get past security. Once I get to talk to them I'm fine, as my current position as well as a couple of previous offers have shown. But your CV is key to most positions, especially if you're dealing with such small firms, where there are just not enough resources to look into each applicant's heart.

The other problem has been the nature of the language teaching culture in Switzerland. I'd love to say that teaching positions and courses in general are sparse because people have such high proficiency in foreign languages. I haven't really deciphered the reasons, but it is true, there are but a handful of institutions in Geneva, and most (I haven't found the exception but I'll keep looking!) can't offer their teachers full employment.

While in Hungary I was a highly qualified professional with all the skills and certificates the market needed, here -- I feel seriously misunderstood: -- I'm an also ran. If I can get my foot in the doorway, though, this can easily be solved. Unlike the other issue.

Filling up one's schedule solely with language classes seems impossible. Most successful teachers I've talked to could only do so by either working for years and years and building up a client base from scratch; or by teaching at one of the international schools. Though for that you'll need a PGCE (a college degree in Swiss primary and secondary education) and, more importantly, a passion to teach children. I've seriously considered teaching at highschools, but going back to that level of studies have kept me reconsidering.

So now I'm trying to ambush language schools, from a path rarely taken. I'm trying to do a PhD. I don't know how difficult it will be (for the moment the administrative and preparatory stages seem more complicated than the actual research), but I'm determined. I want to teach, and I want to train teachers more and more. I feel my skills are wasted away teaching groups 8 hours a week. I have so much more to offer. So I'm taking the long way round -- and some say it's the shortest way home. ;)

Thank you for reading!
Have a nice weekend. ;)

fleur

31 comments:

  1. Lady you are one crazy mother-fucker,you are in love with yourself!Your ego and nose is up in the sky.You should not teach anyone!You are a perfect example for an old style teacher.You think you are better than anyone.You are the reason people would not learn languages.

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  2. And now we have our troll! ^^

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  3. Hi Fleur,
    I love your blog and this was a great post about teaching English. As a rough guide, how much do English teachers get paid in Geneva?
    Thanks,
    Sean

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  4. Hi, Sean

    It depends on many many things. For instance, where you teach. I know nothing about salaries at state or private schools, as I teach at a language school for adults. However, as a rough guide, a private tutor employed by the state to help kids with their homework gets around CHF 30/60 mins, while at a language school pay can easily be double that if you have a CELTA or similar qualifications and some experience -- but then that's not a full time job. I've heard that private schools offer even more per month and might even employ some full time. But it totally depends, these are just estimates. Hope this helps.
    Cheers
    F

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  5. Hello Fleur,
    My name is Marissa and I'm really interested in talking to you more about how you got a position teaching English in Geneva. I would like to move there as soon as possible. I am currently in Paris teaching English, but I have found it difficult to get a job there because I am not an EU citizen. If you have any advice or suggestions for me I would greatly appreciate it! Hope the New Year is treating you well! Take Care, Marissa

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Marissa
      I hope you're getting closer to your goal. Your teaching in Paris at the moment should definitely make it easier for you to land a job here. I think your biggest issue might be getting a permit, something language schools cannot really help you with. I got mine through marriage (a fortunate side efect), so I cannot really advise you there. I wonder whether your solution would be to organize a couple of interviews for say a week and visit Geneva as a tourist. Or you could just file a couple of applications and convince employers to get you a permit -- though in that case the lack of one might just scare them away altogether. You might want to check out Englishforum Switzerland, with a pinch of salt though. I'm unfortunately not ver well versed in permit matters. (Check my other posts on the earlier situation, however the rules have become more lax for many nationalities!) Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Cheers
      fleur

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    2. Hi Marissa,

      Why not contact: http://www.bell-school.ch/jobs.php

      Maybe someone there can advise you regarding your situation? Worth a try.

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    3. Hi Marissa,

      For official info on work permits for Switzerland try the following link:
      http://www.ge.ch/ocp/
      It is for Geneva area (you can change cantons/regions) and in French.
      Good luck.

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  6. As another future English teacher I found this information very useful, thanks!

    Ross

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Ross, thanks for tuning in. I hope you'll find the follow-up post equally helpful. Good luck in all your future ventures!

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  7. Hi Fleur!
    I too love your post(s)! I was curious how the market is in Switzerland in some of the smaller cities? Would there be more of a need? Might you have any suggestions on this or know anyone who pursued that angle? I am a native, with a TEFL, a young learners cert, a year of TEFL experience, and 4 years Financial/Business background... Would this perhaps be enough of a background to land a position?

    -Jackson

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    Replies
    1. Hi
      Absolutely. But it all depends on your determination and perseverance. Many language schools offer courses to corporate clients, which means teachers often have to travel to out-of-town HQs. Or they should, at least, though I've never managed to do that. On the state/public side, I suppose there's a need for language teachers there as well, though i have to admit my knowledge there is very limited. Why not sniff around? I don't think these jobs are listed, but you could still talk to a couple of HR people, just to get an idea. Best of luck!
      f

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  8. Hi Fleur,

    I like your blog. Very useful insight into teaching English in Geneva. You have given me food for thought.

    Why not start your own language school then? Is it not possible?

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  9. Fleur, it would be nice to discuss your experience further in person with you if possible? T

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  10. Wow how overly-complicated is the CELTA UK website. Just wanted to find out how much it costs to do the CELTA online...then contacted my local centre (Geneva), I contacted them asking for the costs of the 2 courses I was interested in and they told me they DONT do them & to contact bell-school.ch???

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    1. Hi there

      Thanks for your comments. Well, I'm not advertising them or anything, but you can check their CELTA prices here: http://www.flyingteachers.com/Teachertraining.html Plus, at the time I also contacted the British Council. They're 'The Source' after all, and they DO do it online. I do have my reservations as to Bell, they turned my (teaching) application down in a rather weird way (i.e. lied). But if they do the CELTA and their prices are OK, why not? Lemme know how you get on. ;)
      Cheers
      F

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    2. Hi Fleur,

      Thanks for coming back to me.
      I checked bell...I couldn't believe the prices!

      Thanks for the flyingteachers which might be an option. I shall follow it up. And also with the British Council suggestion. Great thank you!

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    3. Glad to have been of help. :) Please let me know how you get on.
      Have a great summer. ;)

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  11. Hi Fleur,

    Seems like the situation in Geneva is not different than the one in Zurich:)I am an English language teacher with 14 years of teaching experience 4 of which has been in Switzerland. Before I used to work at universities in Istanbul, Turkey and I was also in a very good position in terms of salary and job security and consistency. Luckily, I have had quite good jobs here too but some things you explain are sooo familiar!Hope you are happy with your PhD because I am also thinking about it.

    Wish you good luck!

    Zeynep

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  12. Hi Fleur,

    Thanks for the post - this is really useful. My partner has taken a job teaching in an International School near Geneva and I am going to be looking for teaching work myself. I am a language teacher and have a PGCE in English and Drama, a Bachelor Degree and have been teaching in schools for over 11 years. I am flexible with what age group I teach and we have a young son so part time work would be viable. I have written to a few schools and sent my CV but I guess once you are there on the ground, you find more places to apply to?
    Thanks
    Yvonne

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  13. Hi Fleur,

    I happen to chance by your blog while googling "teaching English in Switzerland".

    I hail from Singapore (where English is the language of administration). English is also my mother tongue. I have a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) where I specialise in teaching English in secondary schools. I have about eight years of experience giving private tuition and teaching in schools.

    I live in Zurich now with my two little girls and am starting to look for part-time work as an English teacher. I would like to teach adults for a change, though I am open to other positions as well. I do not have CELTA/TESOL and all those teaching English as a foreign language certifications.

    I am not sure if I am about to ask the obvious (but it is obviously not obvious to me). Would you happen to know where my PGDE stands in relation to CELTA/TESOL? I am not too sure if I should be feeling confident with my PGDE or lucky if I am even considered. (=


    Weiling

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  14. Hey there.

    I would give the same response to anyone with any sort of non-CELTA qualificantions and your amount of experience. So this will answer both your questions, Yvonne and Weiling.

    Papers really don't count here as long as you're good at what your doing and you can prove it. That means tons of practical experience can easily outweigh any papers you might have.

    Certainly, there are places (e.g. state schools) that require certain certificates, but in the majority of cases those come second.

    Another issue you might have to face is the fact that the market is not that lively in Switzerland. I've found it impossible to live off teaching adults in Geneva. I've been told that this changes with time and you can build a good base, which you can live off after 5-10 years.

    Since I'm a teacher/trainer/researcher and nor really into business, I didn't really consider that option.

    Hope this helps.

    Good luck with both your ventures! ;)

    f

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    1. Thanks for the reply! Saw it a little late.. You are right about the market not being too lively here. I haven't even been able to find a vacancy at a language school to begin with. I have since also decided not to get into teaching with the little time I have left here. Thank you for validating my decision!

      Regards,
      Weiling

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    2. Hope you are enjoying (or enjoyed) your stay. :) It's a nice place, indeed, just to hang out.
      All the best,

      f

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  15. Hi Fleur,

    Your post and replies are all very interesting and I have yet one more situation to ask you about: I am a native English speaker (N. America) and I'm a language trainer. I have a CELTA and an MA. I have been teaching ESL for 11 years: children, adults, housewives, business English, TOEIC, IELTS, etc. I have taught in language schools, onsite at major companies, private lessons, and in the cloud. My French boyfriend has just accpeted a permanent job in Geneva and I intend to live there with him. I do not hold any special residency permit to live in Switzerland or in France.

    Do you ever see, or have you ever heard of any American language trainers getting hired legally in Geneva? I was thinking all of my experience combined with my CELTA and MA would work in my favor, but now I am unsure.

    Any thoughts you can share with me would be much appreciated.

    Thank you!


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    1. Hi there

      Well. There are 2 sides to this. First of all, you're basically their dream come true, so any language school (given they can afford it in the current post-crisis situation) would jump at having you on board. That said, the glitch here is that hm-forsaken permit issue. Language schools only employ you here once you have some sort of a work permit, since they cannot get you any, as they're not really 'employing' you. I know it sounds complicated, but in the eyes of the authorities, this sort of job is not even part-time, so they don't issue permits based on such.

      You might get a residence permit, that is to see with your embassy. They're tricky beasts and not easy to get once over here. But you might. Work permits come in two flavors, the first obviously with a job (which language schools can't get you), the second without any questions asked. I got the second by marrying my then boyfriend, not being able to get at the first. But if that's not an option (though we've been ever so happy about having done it), I'd try to get a job at an international school for kids, or, something that can even get you a stipend, get into some sort of higher education.

      Meh, I know this is not much of a help. I've been mad at their system for years and getting paid by the state is only starting to appease me slightly.

      Wish you the best of luck and let me know if you have any more questions. I'll try my best. :)

      Cheers

      F

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    2. Hi Fleur, I'm a Swiss national of dual nationality and have TEFL certificate which stands for each thing English as a foreign language. Am I able to use this in Switzerland as I also speak French and German. Yours sincerely Diana. You can email me at d.redgwell70@gmail.com

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    3. Hi Diana
      I think you can, but it all depends on where/what you wish to teach. Normally language schools state their requirements relatively clearly, but in my opinion it's always worth contacting them. Don't hesitate to ask if you have more questions, or to give me some details about your plans.

      All the best
      f

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  16. Hi Fleur

    My name is Lia,I grew up in the USA, I've lived there for 12 years so I speak english fluently. I'm from Brazil I'm a bilingual teacher and EFL teacher in English schools in Brazil. I have the FCE (first certificate of English ) Cambridge and I'm in my second year of pedagogy and I have one more year to go I will be finished in 2017. I plan to get my masters and doctrate in education but I don't have the CELIA certificate should I get it if I want to work in Geneva?

    You're blog is really helpful! I have a dream to teach in Switzerland especially in Geneva and I want to know if my university diploma is valid right along with the CELIA certificate? Because my university diploma is from Brazil, only my high school diploma is from the USA so is it valid if I try to teach there? if you can help me with this doubt I will thank you in advance


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  17. Hi Lia

    Welcome to the blog. Well, first of all, what you have to decide is whether you would like to work at private language schools for adults or for kids or in the public sector as a primary/highscool teacher. The requirements are different for the three. Private schools for adults tend to ask for a CELTA, but if you can advocate your university certificate appropriately, they might accept it. It doesn't really matter where it is from, the problem is its not their gateway certificate (CELTA), so the decision making process has one more step for them. Of course, as far as I could see, if you have an MA from the UK or the States, you're immediately grouped with the native speakers... So you do have a chance there but you have to market your papers very efficiently. That said, teaching adults doesn't seem to earn you a proper salary here. If you'd like to go the public route, you need some sort of equivalence, either by proving you've followed all the courses in education and teaching your Swiss colleagues have. Or, most likely, you'd have to take a few courses at the local university/haute école pédagogique. Private primary and highschools fall somewhere in between and their policy varies. You'd have to check with them specifically. Hope this helps! Good luck!

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    ReplyDelete