The unacceptable face of freelance teaching in Germany today

Teaching in Germany has changed dramatically over the years during which I have been working in the market. However, I feel this change is a reflection of more general trends in business and all over Germany. The idea that quality is the most important aspect of a transaction has changed, so that price is now the point that decides almost everything. Many companies or groups of companies are now buying goods and services from a centrally organised online catalogue, from which the employees can order ‘goods’ in a much less bureaucratic way than previously, when all purchases had to be agreed along the managerial chain.

It is the same process which leads to companies like a well known German white goods manufacturer having difficulties selling their products in German shops, because there are so many cheaper alternatives and the differences are difficult to see, unless you choose with the help of an expert.

Supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl are booming and expanding their ranges at an increasingly fast rate. People still like to pretend they go for quality, witness the middle age female BMW driver parked outside your local Aldi emptying her trolley into the Markauf bags in the boot of her car, but price is the benchmark. I am not saying Aldi goods are not good quality but they are clearly sold on price.

Ideally a freelance teacher should be able to control the price for the job, but this is just not the case for many of us today. We work for ‘schools’, which are acting as agencies for the ultimate employer- the company or individual. So we are very rarely in contact with the person who decides which ‘school’ to chose and so are at the end of the line in the commercial decision making process. The school talks to the company and agrees a price and then the school contacts us, to see if we are interested in the course at the rate they are prepared to pay. There are so many teachers available to schools that they have the choice generally and if you do not want the course there are others who are prepared to work at a lower rate. This is the normal rule of supply and demand, the course is offered to the cheapest suitable teacher first.
The schools do not pay all the teachers the same rate, even though they would like the teachers to think that they do, and are often not happy if they find out that teachers have compared rates. English native speakers are more likely to do this than German teachers; I think this is a behaviour foreign to most Germans.

During a recent meeting with the ladies of the personnel and training department of a large multi-national company, I was told that in the future, the training would become part of the ‘catalogue’ process and that the decision as to which companies to include in the catalogue would be made by the buying department, on a price for price basis. They were not happy with this change and when I played the quality card along with the idea that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, they agreed that our school certainly provided quality teaching, but that this was not to be a criterion for the future. Because it is so difficult to define quality differences and that if one school charges 20,00 Euros less than another, for what seems to be the same course, then this will be the preferred company notwithstanding any arrangements or experience from the past.

What can we do to fight this? I am not at all sure in the short term what we can do. We can offer our employing schools our best quality teaching to sell on to the companies, but if all they are interested in is price, then the chance to raise the quality argument is slight.

I accept that this is only one example and I do not have much chance to discuss this with ‘employers’, because I do not speak German and therefore always work through a school. However, I have contact, as I am sure we all do, with a lot of personnel and training departments and these people like to practise their English with me, so I manage to find out some pieces of information here and there by being willing to talk before and after classes.

Perhaps this is our way forward, finding out from the companies whose staff we teach what the company attitude is on quality versus price and how they judge the quality of teaching, so that we can learn which buttons to push to influence them.

Those of you who are able to cut out the middle man will always have an advantage I think, but it certainly will not hurt to play the quality card as often as possible. We need to find a way to show companies how to differentiate between cheap and good value for money.