School’s out … end of a chapter. Ramblings, Covid impact, choices, was it worth it …

One side-effect of Covid19 changing lives was that thousands of teachers internationally switched to online work, and another significant chunk of the English-speaking population started teaching English online to keep the pennies rolling in. Many schools sprang up, and as many websites where teachers could hang out their shingles. I’d been with the same school, based in Hong Kong, since 2017, as one of their thirty thousand teachers handling Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese students, was ranked as a senior tutor and earning good rates, especially seeing my commute was from the kitchen, bearing a cup of coffee, into my study. Lovely!

Covid19 was a personal nightmare. The vast tsunami of competition turned cut-throat, with multiple websites advertising lessons to pupils for as little as $5 an hour, which meant us senior tutors earning up to 10 quid per half-hour class, 2 classes an hour, became unsustainably expensive. The school gave a thin scream of horror and cut rates drastically. Every other decent school had firmly closed their recruiting for the interim. Even those cautiously interested in taking on more teachers for the flood of new pupils pointed out gently that a few years experience and a TEFL hardly stacked up against fully, conventionally, qualified teachers with >twenty years classroom experience competing for the same few jobs. In September last year China banned online private tutoring for schoolchildren, which cut as big a swathe through the pool of available pupils as you can imagine. At least half of my pupils had been Chinese. It made a bad situation significantly worse. The school laid off hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers and I was assigned to the Taiwanese branch, where there weren’t always enough pupils to fill the 3 hours a day I was committed to the school. No pupil, no pay.

Another Covid19 side-effect – no guests, no income. I have a small guesthouse (the Casa Excéntrico tab) which previously paid my overheads, not only letting me live free but even contributing to its own maintenance, and ongoing renovation, in a very understated way. Lockdowns kept abruptly putting that income out of reach. Spain offered some (not much) relief to the self-employed but I was registered as a self-employed teacher and was still teaching, so – nope.

Well, we all have our Covid stories and most of us are still here, even if our savings aren’t, but it got me wondering whether this whole move to Spain thing had been such a good idea. I’d never have done it without the assurance of being able to earn my daily bread, as my Spanish was close to non-existent then and still, to my shame, relies heavily on the medium of dance and the vocabulary of a slightly backward child. If I was meant to be here, if the winds which had blown me through the last few years were dropping, what next?

Lockdown lifted slowly, first within Spain, then within Europe, and house bookings started pouring in. I think the longest I’ve been without at least one guest in the last eight months has been ten days – fantastic, wonderful, luck for me, and every good review, (I have lovely guests, who review enthusiastically) especially in another language, brought in more bookings. The winds have started blowing again – I had to coach for an international English exam, enjoyed it, and was useful. It started a trickle of pupils who are already pretty fluent, appreciative, and scattered all over the world. Ideally I’d have built that up a bit more first but the most popular hours are already committed to the school. However, my contract at the school is up for renewal this month… I’ve swallowed hard, and once again taken a leap into the barely-known by telling the school I’m not renewing. That’s it, freelancing on a wing and a prayer, gambling there’ll be no more lockdowns and enough ambitious students, and that the winds keep blowing until I reach the wonderful plateau of becoming a jubilado and can count on at least one source of income no matter what horrors still lie in store for us all …

Oh, and as for wondering whether Spain was the right choice – yes, I think so. It was a bit of a mad thing to do but I am definitely a bit mad. That may not be comfortable, but it’s interesting. The winds haven’t let me down yet so I’m trusting them to whirl me on along the right paths a bit further yet.

I’d say ever researching on your behalf, as I have in the past, but how to research a wind? Shut your eyes and go where it takes you, but so far so good, no regrets.

Elegsabiff x

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