After a successful career in the travel industry, Laurie was forced to change course because of the global pandemic. Teaching English online was a retirement plan but is now a reality. Laurie gives us a glimpse into her life in the travel industry as a TEFL teacher at 60, showing us you’re never too old to teach English.
Tell us about Laurie! What’s your background?
I was born in France but spent 40 years of my life in the UK. When I arrived in the UK in 1981 I had a degree in English but honestly, I didn’t understand much. I had the right base though so it took me 3 months to master the language. I worked for some 35 years in the tourism industry.
We would love to know more about your previous company based in the travel industry, can you tell us about it?
I worked for the same company for years and after my boss retired, I took over. At the time we used to bring groups of French people mainly to London and we dealt with the accommodation, meals, tours, etc…
I took over in 2009 and I completely changed what we were doing. Everybody was doing the same thing so it was time for a new direction. We specialized in providing in bulk quantities, travel tickets such as underground tickets, tickets to go from and to the airport by public transport, sightseeing tour tickets and we expanded this to around 160 cities in the world. By then we employed 10 people and I ran a multi-million pounds, very prosperous company.
Other than that I am an experienced motorcyclist and leaving my favorite toy in the garage during Covid was pure torture!
What is your favorite country and why? Can you share some travel tips?
I was lucky enough to visit 35 countries in my life but I was awed by South Africa. I just loved the diversity and the kindness of its people. This was my gift to my husband for his 60th birthday and it was a success from beginning to end. We flew to Cape Town and stayed there for four days then we toured the south of the country with our own car. We stayed in some fabulous places and did the obligatory but oh-so fantastic safari in a very exclusive resort. I would go back in a flash.
Are you hoping to start traveling again once COVID allows? Would you go back to the travel industry?
Yes, I will travel again as I am an avid traveler. When Covid hit, we had planned a six-week trip to the US and had already rented an RV to do a coast-to-coast trip. This was of course canceled. The US is my second favorite country and as I am an airplane fanatic, and the museums are out of this world and I’ve done them all.
I am 60 years old so I am not going to start in the travel industry from scratch again. I wanted to become an English teacher at some point at retirement time. It just came five years earlier than planned.
You wanted to teach English online when you retire in five years but Covid made you change your plans. Why did you choose to teach online in the first place?
I am a very academic person. I need to work and carry on learning and using my brain. I had always planned to become an English teacher or a motorcycle instructor. I love languages and I’m good at it so it was just logical. During the long months of inactivity, I discovered that I could learn to become an English teacher online so it was the obvious answer. I threw myself in online courses after online courses and I successfully obtained my TEFL certificate. I further carried on with business English but I had nothing to learn there. I have now also completed my IELTS certificate and I am just doing a TOEIC course that one of my students needs.
Our readers will be keen to hear firsthand about how you handled this change of plans. What are some challenges that you have faced in becoming an online English teacher and how have you overcome them? What have you learned?
Huge change of plans indeed as not only have we lost our company in which my husband worked too, we also decided to leave the UK. We will be moving to Italy permanently in the next six months. We already have our place there.
I am not one to dwell much on the past. I realized very quickly that this thing was going to cost us our company. I held on as long as possible because I didn’t want my great staff to be without a job in the middle of this. I was sad for two days then took the bull by the horn and threw myself into a new venture. I am now building my own website as I am not satisfied with just working for someone else.
I haven’t really faced any challenges. Once I had my certificates, I registered on Preply and had my first students within a couple of weeks. What I have learned is that the price you charge has to be sufficiently low to start with and then you gradually go up in price. Once you have your first students, it’s important to ask them to leave you a review. Potential students will be attracted by a teacher who has a 5-star rating.
We would love to know how you became a freelance English teacher? Could you tell us more about how you got established yourself and how you found your own students?
Preply finds my students for me and I have my own too. This is totally word of mouth. In Italy, I teach one of my friends and I have some students who come from my niece’s school. I am present every weekday on Instagram and Facebook. Once my website is finished, I will have to learn the world of SEO which I do not relish. I am absolutely sure I could easily find students where I live in Italy but I will do this when I am permanently here. My aim however is to teach adults, not children. Business preferably as I have huge knowledge on this. How to conduct meetings, negotiations, exhibitions, etc…
Can you tell us why you chose to teach online with Preply alongside being a freelance English teacher?
I teach on Preply because it’s the easiest platform to get onto or so I found. Unfortunately, their inbuilt teaching platform has its flaws and so I teach on zoom which works every time. The only problem is that they take a huge chunk of teachers’ earnings. 33% to start with, then 25 % after 100 lessons if I remember rightly, then 22% after 200 lessons and finally 18% after 400 lessons.
18 % is fair enough as they do the marketing and they have a platform to teach even If it doesn’t work very well. But 33% is just too much. Still, I repeat, it’s an easy platform to join.
What was the application process like? ( applications forms, video interviews, demo videos etc)
You have to fill an application online and you have to make a video of yourself explaining what you offer.
Can you give any tips for people applying to Preply? What are the requirements?
You don’t have to be a native to apply. The video is very important and it needs to be clear. If the teacher speaks any other languages, it’s a good idea to do the video in all languages. I have done mine in English, French and Italian. The more information you give the better.
What does a typical working day look like for you? Give us a day in the life of Laurie?
I have chosen not to kill myself in doing loads of lessons. I don’t need to. Right now I teach about 15 hours a week and that suits me fine. I teach on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I leave a 30-minute break between lessons to give me a chance to walk around and prepare properly for my next lesson. I work with two laptops. One with my student’s version of the lesson which I share with them and one with my teacher’s note. This way I don’t have to use any paper.
I don’t get up early anymore !! YAY! I’m up at about 8.30 am. If I have no immediate lesson I sit on my balcony (at least in Italy) with my laptop and I set about preparing my next lessons, working on social media, or finding new lessons according to my students’ needs.
The good thing about teaching English is that there is a myriad of online lessons already made for you. To share but a few – Linguahouse.com – Onestopenglish.com – British Council Learning English (British Council has some fabulous material for children and teenagers which you can share with your students online). And to find homework I use a lot ISL collective. But you need to make sure you read through it before you give the homework to the student. There are quite a few mistakes in them. This is put there by teachers who do not all have the right level so far as I am concerned. Still it’s a great help. You have to pay for those websites but it really is not a lot of money (around 50/80 euros per year) for what you get.
A common question we get asked is “am I too old to teach English’? Can you share some advice for those 50+ who are considering teaching English as a Foreign language online or abroad?
Nobody is too old to teach. If anything, older people have more experience. Just always be very prepared. Have some extra things up your sleeve if your student goes through the lesson in much less time than you thought. One thing you won’t find anywhere is what to teach in which order so I have built my own curriculum over the last year. I have some 15 and 30 minutes lessons in case a student goes too fast.
I’d say don’t have students back to back. It’s exhausting and you get more tired at 50+ than at 20 years old. Build-in some time for yourself and don’t be nervous. You know more than they do and they look up to you to help them.
Finally, what does the future hold for Laurie?
The future is moving to Italy and buying a camper to roam the European countries and beyond months at a time. I can teach from anywhere. That’s what’s great about teaching online.
I really like teaching and I want to deliver the very best to my students so I learn more all the time. New methods, new lessons, I listen to podcasts a lot to always improve. Learning keeps you young!