[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. ;)