The Czech Republic is a small country in central Europe (and the Czechs prefer “central” as a description to “eastern”) sharing borders with Germany to the west, Poland to the north and Slovakia and Austria to the south. It is famous for its beer and the fascinating capital city Prague, a major centre of culture, business and tourism. However, there is plenty more to discover: mountains and rivers, beautiful countryside, medieval castles and spa towns, vineyards, weird rock formations …
The Czechs are sometimes perceived by foreigners as a little reserved at first, and service with a smile is not always guaranteed. However, beyond that initial reserve they are friendly and hospitable, and keen to interact with foreigners. As well as beer and sausages, sports and outdoor activities are very popular, especially volley ball, hockey, skiing, hiking, cycling, swimming and canoeing.
There is a well-established TEFL market. Most foreigners choose to work in Prague for a wide range of employers from large private schools who will help with visa applications and accommodation to one-person agencies who pay cash, and everything in between. There is a lot of work for those wishing to teach young learners, students and others requiring general English, but the majority of work is in-company and, as with most other places, this means your timetable is likely to include early morning and evening classes, often with little in between, and require you to travel around a bit.
There is a general preference for native speaker teachers, so non-native speakers have to be a bit more determined to find work. Teaching a language other than English can be a way in, then making sure everyone knows you are willing to teach English as well – be prepared to do last minute substitutions and wow the students until your employer finally realises that you are much better than most so-called ‘native speakers’!
Another option is to teach in a state school. These jobs are a little harder to come by. They require a BA in English or Applied Linguistics and applications need to be received before the end of April. It is not unusual to be working in tandem with a Czech teacher e.g. he or she may teach grammar while you focus on speaking and other skills.
In smaller towns and cities free or subsidised accommodation, travel, Czech lessons and other assistance is often provided. The smaller the town, the less likely you are to able to get by on English alone (and the more likely you are to learn Czech!).
Czech students tend to be motivated, like a bit of a challenge and have a good (occasionally somewhat dark) sense of humour and fun. Many teachers socialise with and become friends with their students and other locals.
HOURS AND PAY
New teachers can get a full timetable, especially if they work for one of the larger schools, but it is also common to have a few hours at one school, a few at another and so on. Try to keep the number of employers low, so you don’t drown in paperwork. Pay in Prague is around 200 – 250 Czech koruna (see www.xe.com for current exchange rates) per hour. By ‘hour’, I mean 60 minutes; often the unit quoted is 45 minutes or 90 minutes, so when you have a job interview, make sure it’s spelled out exactly what rate you’re getting. Typically you’ll earn around 15-20,000 CZK a month which, after rent (probably around 7000 for a shared flat at the time of writing) and tax (around 25%), does not leave you a whole lot of disposable income – enough to live reasonably comfortably, especially if you like beer which is high quality and very cheap, and to go on an occasional trip. If you are entrepreneurially minded and prepared to put yourself about a bit, you can pick up private classes and other work to supplement your income. Work like writing and proof-reading can be quite lucrative.
Outside Prague pay is lower, but so is the cost of living. Also, you are more likely to be housed, fed, driven around, clasped to the bosom of the family and so on. It is not unusual for teachers to be relatively better off on a lower salary outside Prague.
Accommodation is not usually difficult to find, but the initial outlay can be substantial, especially if you find it through an agency who will require a fee in addition to the usual one month’s security deposit and one month’s rent in advance. Places outside the main tourist centres will typically provide accommodation, and some schools in the major cities (Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, Liberec, Olomouc and Hradec Kralove) will also go to some lengths to help you.
BEST TIMES TO LOOK FOR WORK
September and January are the main hiring times. Large schools start recruiting as early as April for September. There is something of a hiatus in August, but less so than in many other European countries, and there are jobs in summer camps. There is a fairly high turnover of teachers and, in Prague at least, it is usually possible to find a job at almost any time of year.
Established schools help with work and residence permits. There are a lot of teachers in Prague so to some extent this affects how far the employer is willing to go to help you out, but there is also competition for the best new prospects, so it’s worth shopping around a bit if you’re lucky enough to be coveted by several schools. Similarly, schools outside the capital may be willing to work harder on your behalf simply because their need is greater.
Getting legal is easiest for EU citizens, and next easiest, in approximate order, for US, Canadian and Australian nationals. The process is bureaucratic and usually requires you to supply your birth certificate, an original copy of your qualifications, criminal registry extract and other documentation. It is relatively straightforward for EU citizens. For non-EU citizens the most reliable route is to secure employment with a school which will guide you through the process. Established schools will have staff and procedures in place for this. In the first week of the course, we include a presentation on how to obtain a visa and the possibility of professional consultation.
At present, due to the economic climate, applying for a business license is not recommended as the Czech government is reluctant to grant them.