Interview with Voices

Interview with Sheila Vine the Secretary of EFLTU.


Sheila tell me what is EFLTU?

EFLTU is the English-speaking section of FLTU - Foreign Language Teachers

Our aims are to...

  • network foreign language teachers by providing them with a platform where they can voice their ideas, opinions and concerns
  • improve the pay and conditions of foreign language teachers
  • provide language teachers with information about matters such as pensions, health insurance, etc.
  • work together with the national teachers’ unions in the countries we work in
  • support our colleagues teaching other languages whenever possible.

It was set up because of a perceived need by some freelance teachers mostly based in Germany where there are particular problems for the freelance teacher community.

What sort of problems?

The problems in Germany can be split into 2 types.

  • Those specific to Germany
  • Those found in many parts of the world.

First tell us something about the German specific problems.

The most important problem concerning many teachers in Germany at the moment is the pension situation. To explain in a simple way freelance teachers are faced with the revitalization of an old pension law which means that they but not many other freelancers have to pay into a government sponsored pension scheme. This scheme had not been used for years and so is now catching out many people who had never heard of it and they are getting huge bills for back payments which they cannot pay.

The second problem concerns the German economy; many companies who have prided themselves on using only the highest quality teachers in the past are now looking more and more for cheaper ways to teach their employees English. This has led to cut throat competition between the so called language schools and teachers having large reductions in their incomes. We have schools advertising jobs which pay teachers 11, 00 Euros per teaching hour and yet the rate they charge to the company ranges from 35, 00 to 60, 00 Euros per hour depending of course and on the area. If teachers are new to the business they will accept these rates which of course undercuts other teachers and ‘schools’ who are paying a more reasonable rate. Many of the teachers who accept these low rates only stay in the country for a couple of years and so they never get a realistic idea of the situation here.

Very regular questions involve various items of German bureaucracy from example work permits and driving licenses to how to go about getting married. We are frequently asked to offer advice on these topics, which are often differently complicated depending on your home country. For example, non-EU citizens have more work permit type problems and questions, I which American state you come from can affect your driving license.


What about other types of problem ?

Unfortunately, one of the more common problems all over the freelance teaching world is that teachers are not paid. For example, we had a teacher who wrote telling us about a school , which had employed him for two months on an exclusive contract that meant that he could not work, anywhere else in that time. This school then simply did not pay him and there was very little he could do about it. He did not speak the language well and had no idea about his legal situation and of course, he had no money for the next month’s rent. It seems that ‘schools’ bank on the fact that a teacher in this situation, will have to leave the country because he cannot pay his way and so they can keep the money. He was given advice on how to write to the company and on the various other remedies available. However, this is not just a European problem and we have heard of cases of people being left stranded in much more exotic locations and of teachers being thrown out of countries on very flimsy pretexts.

Is a freelance teacher’s life very different to that of an employed teacher?

Yes, it is, with regard to most legal and social matters you are on your own, of course, you have a greater degree of freedom about when you work and for whom but for many teachers this freedom is bought at a high price in stress and problems.


What advice would you give a young person entering the EFL teaching profession and thinking of working abroad?

I would say get your qualifications, do your research carefully ask teachers who have worked in the country and try to contact teachers who are still working there. Look for reputable employers and make sure your contract is legal. Most importantly do not go to teach in any country unless you have an open return ticket in your back pocket.




Sheila Vine Freelance EFL teacher in Germany since 1998.

Married with grown-up children,lives in Paderborn region.

The proud presenter at the IATEFL- Harrogate conference in April, of ‘ChatBoX-dynamically creating a resource for E-moderator.s’