IELTS is an extremely difficult test, so it’s common for students to get frustrated and to look for scapegoats (someone to blame) or for someone to solve all their problems magically.
When I started preparing students for IELTS many years ago, the first piece of advice I got was:
Teaching IELTS is managing failure.
Students who are desperate to get a better score but who do not have the skills yet will often assume that it’s the teacher’s fault and expect the teacher to give them the skills that they need (for free).
This is something you have to be prepared for as an IELTS teacher.
A bad workman always blames his tools.
Here’s what I’ve learnt after 20 years of preparing students for IELTS. I hope it will help IELTS teachers deal with some of the difficulties of being an (online) IELTS teacher.
*Disclaimer. I am blessed with students in the Members Academy who appreciate my work and understand how it helps them. I will always do everything I can to reciprocate their support and general loveliness. The opinions that I express below about certain student types do NOT apply to my Members because I attracted the right kind of member and went to some efforts to repel the rest.
The blog covers:
- Tips for tired female IELTS teachers
- The tired freelance IELTS teacher
- The cult of personality teachers
- The myth of the perfect IELTS preparation system
- The question of how much to charge
- The difference between cost and value
- Advice from non-experts
- How to deal with trolls
- How to deal with copycats
- Baby bird syndrome
1. Tips for tired female IELTS teachers
For some reason, IELTS advice is often considered ‘more correct’ if it comes from a man.
Students who are brought up in male-dominated societies might hear exactly the same learning point from a male teacher and a female teacher, but only listen when the male teacher says it.
I know this from many years saying “go and ask Max then” because my students didn’t believe my answer.
- Many students perceive men as better teachers, even if the results show the opposite.
- Male students are more likely to question female teachers about their prices, thinking that women should be ‘more helpful’ and accommodating, and ultimately work for free.
- Male students are more likely to ‘gaslight’ female teachers, accusing them of being selfish and mean for not providing their services for free.
Tips for tired female teachers
- Don’t be bullied by students who undervalue your time and skills.
- Point students to a clear pricing page with clear phrases like “Here are my prices”.
- If a student does not reply when they see your prices: GOOD – you don’t want this student.
- If the student asks you to teach them for free, send them to a “Here’s how I can help you” page so that the options are clear for them.
- If the student asks for a discount, send them to a discount policy.
- If you decide to give discounts, make sure you apply them to ALL students (not just the ones who ask)
- Consider setting up a ‘male’ email account. Refer difficult students to your ‘male colleague’. I’ve noticed that students adopt a completely different and more respectful tone with my male colleague. They are more likely to accept an explanation too.
2. The tired freelance IELTS tutor
If, like me, you run a teaching business by yourself, you probably just want to help students with your knowledge, while making enough money to feed your family.
Unfortunately, students often think that you’re doing this as a hobby, and that you have plenty of free time that you want to spend marking their essays for free.
They don’t realise that you’re doing absolutely everything by yourself, and they have no idea what goes on behind the scenes of running a business.
Influencers and big IELTS companies have teams of people to help produce materials, run websites, advertise, give customer support etc etc, but you have to juggle all of this alone.
Students don’t realise how much time this all takes. They just see the big companies offering cheap courses (because they sell a generic product in bulk and they pay non-experts a very low salary to keep it going).
Students see these cheap courses and expect the SAME price for a DIFFERENT service.
But as a freelance teacher, your service is UNIQUE – you are highly-qualified and experienced, and you give students 1:1 attention because you don’t have a team to help you.
It’s often difficult for students to adjust their expectations to a different kind of service.
Also, if students know that it’s just you, they will expect to be able to call you up at any hour of the day and get an instant solution to their IELTS problems.
They won’t go into battle with the big companies because they can’t reach them as easily.
They will battle with you because they think you’re easy to manipulate.
Tips for tired freelance IELTS teachers:
- have clear boundaries to protect yourself from being seen as constantly ‘available’ just because you answer emails personally.
- Set fixed office hours and let students know that you will reply within working hours.
- Set up an FAQ page on your website where you can direct students to look for answers.
- Have clear Terms and Conditions. Make sure that students have to agree to these before they sign up.
3. The ‘cult of personality’ teacher
Students often worship ‘influencer teachers’ because of their personalities.
Teachers with charisma and charm hold a strong influence over students, who then think that their methodogy is correct just because they like the teacher.
In a cult of personality, the leader solidifies and legitimizes his authority through media manipulation and propaganda that causes followers to believe the leader is the only one who can achieve the stated mission.
Have you ever attended an IELTS webinar where the teacher tells you that HIS method is the ONLY method that works, and that ALL OTHER TEACHERS are rubbish?
If you have, you’ll know who I’m talking about.
How can honest, hard-working teachers compete with this kind of worship?
Tips for tired teachers:
- Stick to what you do best. Don’t compare yourself with other teachers.
- The more intelligent students will be able to see through the cult of personality and will appreciate your worth.
- Remind your students that thousands (millions?) of IELTS candidates get the score they need. They don’t all use the same teacher.
4. The perfect IELTS preparation system
There is no perfect way to prepare for IELTS. You can only do what you think is best from your training and experience.
Very often, your ‘pedagogically sound’ and research-led techniques will not be appreciated by students who only know traditional teaching styles or who are looking for a ‘fun teacher’.
One student told me I should get students to read IELTS texts aloud to improve their reading strategy (the WORST way to improve your reading).
This student believed that this was the best way to improve their reading skills because it’s what they did at school.
This kind of student will never appreciate the way you teach because they do not understand modern teaching methodologies.
Tips for tired IELTS teachers
Remind your students that
- Learning a language is an art, not a science.
- Nothing guarantees language acquisition.
- There is no scientific evidence that one method is better than another.
- There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
5. The question of how much to charge
For such an important and life-changing test, students are strangely reluctant to spend money on it.
If you get students who try to pressurise or guilt-trip you into lowering your costs, remember that the student’s budget/income/salary is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
Your job as a teacher is to worry about your own budget and how to pay for all the tools you need to run a business and make a profit.
You do not have the time or energy to worry about other people’s budgets. You need to focus on what you’re good at. You’re not a financial adviser.
STUDENTS CANNOT CLAIM THAT YOUR COURSE/SERVICES ARE TOO EXPENSIVE IF THEY’VE NEVER USED THEM.
How do they know they’re too expensive?
‘Too expensive’ just means ‘more than I want to pay’.
It doesn’t matter how much a student WANTS to pay. You need to charge what you’re WORTH.
I stopped under-charging/over-delivering when I saw my students joining the Zoom calls from their holidays in The Maldives and New York.
Tips for tired IELTS teachers
Remind your students:
- “Education costs, but lack of education costs more“.
- “Education costs money, but so does ignorance“.
- “Not investing in your education is more expensive than investing in your education.”
- “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
- “Not risking is riskier than risking”.
- There is no critic-proof pricing.
It’s rude for a student to expect you to work for pennies in order to help them get a well-paid job.
6. The question of VALUE
It’s hard for some students to understand the concept of VALUE and how to measure it.
When a friend recommends a good book, you don’t ask “How many pages does it have?” You probably don’t recommend films based on the minutes of watch-time you had at the cinema.
But students often judge your courses/e-books etc based on quantity rather than quality.
They’ll ask irrelevant questions like “How many videos are there?” or “How long is each video?”. This kind of student only thinks in terms of “What will I get for my money?” rather than the learning outcome.
Remind your students:
- You can get water for free if you go to a river or stand out in the rain.
- If you want water in your house, you pay the water company for the filtration and supply.
- If you want chilled water in a bottle, you pay for the bottle, the extraction, the transport, the refrigeration, the shop-keeper’s cut etc.
- If you want a glass of fizzy water in an expensive restaurant, you pay a lot more for someone to bring it to your table.
It’s just water, but someone has had to pay to make it available to you in a convenient form.
Students need to realise that if they want free English, there is plenty available.
If you’ve paid for your qualifications and invested time and money into making your expertise available to students, this is what the students are paying for. This is the value.
Tips for tired IELTS teachers:
- Ask your students: “Are you looking for a good course, or a cheap one?”
- Encourage students to work on their mindset.
- Price your course to discourage the students that are going to take up all your time in order to get their money’s worth.
- Send students to my blog: “Why a free IELTS course won’t get you a Band 7”
7. Advice from students who aren't teachers and who don't run a business
“I get a ridiculous amount of business advice from people who’ve never run a business”
I am always ready to accept your advice if you:
- are a teacher with 30+ years of experience
- have been an IELTS examiner for 18+ years
- have a Diploma and MA (Distinction) in Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- have a First Class Joint Honours degree in English
- have learnt to speak 8 languages
- have taught students in several different countries
- won an award for your teaching and research
- created your own ebooks and learning materials
- have been running your own business for over 10 years
- worked out how to file your own tax returns
- know how to build, host and maintain a website and Learner Management System on WordPress
- taught yourself how to create, edit, upload and embed videos using educational software such as Camtasia
- created over 700 videos, and 1000 lessons with accompanying worksheets
- developed interactive activities that use H5p, Genially, Thinglink, Wordwall and Wizer to name but a few
- paid for and created free quizzes using software such as Quizlet
- invested half of the proceeds of your business into developing it
- learnt how to set yourself up on all the major social media platforms and kept up-to-date with the constant changes
- learnt how to create engaging and animated posts using software such as Canva
- shared free materials consistently for 7 years and built up a following of 100K+
- produced a weekly podcast
- set up, maintained and paid for an email provider and sent weekly newsletters for 7 years
- paid for and used webinar software such as Zoom, ecamm and Restream.io
- dealt with trolls, hackers and general idiots
8. How to deal with online trolls
There is pressure for online teachers to be on social media in some shape or form.
You will inevitably receive unpleasant comments and students who question your work.
Here’s the thing:
YOU WILL NEVER BE CRITICISED BY SOMEONE WHO IS DOING MORE THAN YOU. YOU WILL ONLY BE CRITICISED BY SOMEONE DOING LESS.
Successful people don’t troll people.
When you learn that a person’s behaviour is due to their internal struggle, you will realise that their comments are not personal.
Hurt people hurt people.
My policy is to completely ignore trolls.
You can’t help stupid. Silence is the best answer to a fool.
Sometimes, to annoy them, I just click ‘like’ on their comments.
Or delete and block. Don’t give it any further thought.
If you decide to engage, one strategy is to ask a few innocent questions to find out what’s behind their mentality.
For example, if you think they’re just immature, small-minded and mean with money:
- Are you old enough to take IELTS?
- Could you ask your sponsor for help? You know, the one who’s paying for all your IELTS tests, visas, flights, accomodation etc?
For students who ask you to mark their writing for free or give them a free course because they’re special, a polite response could be something like:
- I’ll put you on my waiting list.
- Thank you for your generous offer.
- This would be a great work experience opportunity for a new teacher.
- I’m not the “Make a Wish” foundation/Santa Claus
- Is this just a hobby for you?
If people make negative comments on your content, ask to see what they’re doing/creating:
- I’m looking forward to seeing your blogs/podcasts/posts
- I’m always glad to get advice from other successful entrepreneurs like yourself
If people make negative comments on your looks/your weight:
- Which bit of that is relevant?
- I’m happy to disappoint you.
8. How to deal with copycats
People who copy your work are pathetic, but there’s nothing you can do.
You can spend your time issuing ‘take down’ notices for their website, but if they’re pathetic and useless enough to copy your work, they’ll always find a way (I’m pretty sure you’re reading this, Jonathan).
Exhausted Teacher Tips:
If you have clear branding, it will be more difficult for other teachers to put their logo on your materials and get away with it.
Many kind students often report people to me because they recognise my materials.
Set up Google Alerts – I discovered a well-known Australian company using my materials with their logo on Scribd and was able to get them taken down.
You might decide to publicly ‘name and shame’ them, as TED-IELTS does here. I salute his bravery.
9. Baby bird syndrome
You’ll get many emails from people who claim they are too poor to learn English.
Teachers, remember this:
- You are NOT responsible for other people’s budgets.
You responsibilities are:
- your own budget (paying for websites, email providers, editing software, accountants and taxes)
- helping the students you agreed to help in exchange for payment
The baby birds expect you to ‘transfer’ your skills to them, so that they don’t have to do any work.
They can’t even be bothered to google the free stuff.
The “I’m just a poor student” excuse does not work any more (did it ever?).
If they can pay for IELTS, they can pay for an internet connection.
Ignore them – they will drain your soul.
I felt I had to write this blog to help other IELTS teachers who share the same frustrations, and also so that students can understand what IELTS teachers might be going through.
Students often think that because you sell things, you must have plenty of time/money and therefore they think it’s ok to hassle you for your time and your services.
Always remember that there are SO MANY LOVELY STUDENTS out there who love and appreciate what you do. I know that because I have the support of the members in my Academy. They are the ones that keep me going, and I’m very grateful to them.
Further reading about unconscious gender bias:
“Male students’ belief that they’re learning more from male teachers is a perception issue.”
“A new study shows that female professors have to put up with more requests from students asking for favors and reacting negatively if they don’t get what they want.”
“The findings suggest that because men are more respected and authoritative, students are unlikely to oppose their male professors’ decisions.”
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