By: Rebecca Sirull
My favorite thing about teaching English in Colombia is that no two days are alike, and I have tons of flexibility to make my own schedule. That’s also one big reason why I wanted to work part-time at a private institute, rather than taking a full-time job at a colegio (children’s school). With this schedule, I have plenty of time to teach English online and with private students in addition to my regular classes.
The traditional work week in Colombia is 48 hours, Monday - Saturday, with Sunday as the only day off. However, there are 18 (yes, that’s right, 18) public holidays in the year, usually falling on a Monday, so more often than not, Colombianos still get their two-day weekends. Most English schools have classes from 6am until 9pm, with a lunch break around 12-2pm. The majority of teachers at private institutes work a part-time schedule, around 20 hours per week.
My school has one week off for Semana Santa in April and a month off in December through January for Christmas. Beyond that, time off is on an as-requested basis.
When I first started working at my school, I was on a Contrato de Nomina, which essentially means I was guaranteed a fixed monthly salary for working up to 24 hours/week. Even if I didn’t end up working all those hours (due to lack of students/available classes), I would still be paid the same amount. In exchange, I was obligated to accept any classes my school offered to me, no matter the day or time, even sometimes on very short notice. It was good to have a guaranteed monthly income, but it came at the expense of control over my schedule and free time.
After a couple months of the Contrato de Nomina, I switched to Prestacion de Servicios, which is a bit more like a freelance contractor rather than a salaried employee. With this contract, I’m paid hourly, so my total income is dependent on student availability and how many classes I teach. Some months I make more than the Contrato de Nomina salary, and some months I make less. After about six months of this contract, I’ve come out with roughly the same average monthly income. Check out next week’s blog post, The Finances of Living and Teaching English in Colombia, for a more thorough financial breakdown of the two contracts.
For me, the greatest benefit of the Prestacion de Servicios contract is the control it gives me over my schedule. I’m no longer obligated to accept every class offered (for example Saturdays or very early mornings), and I’m not called in to teach at the last minute. Now, I usually teach one or two classes per day between the hours of 4-8pm. It also gives me the availability to teach online, which has become a major source of income.
I work for a Korean-based company called Tutoring, which does 20-minute audio-only lessons. The platform is entirely flexible, so I can log in at any time of day and wait for a student to call me for conversation practice or a vocabulary/grammar lesson using the platform’s provided materials.
They also have a schedule feature, so I can add available hours for students to book in advance. I almost always try to schedule my classes in advance so my days are a bit more structured. Plus, the company gives some bonus cash for every completed pre-scheduled lesson. Due to the time difference, I usually start my classes early in the morning, around 6-7am. But at least I don’t need to leave my house or worry about looking pretty for the camera! Most days I teach online until about 10am and some days in the afternoon from about 4-6pm if I don’t have an in-person class.
Working with private students is a lot of fun, and I’ve met tons of people in Colombia who are interested in learning English. Many of my students have also turned into friends who’ve taught me as much about their country as I’ve taught them about English.
While teaching private students can be a very enjoyable experience, it’s not the most reliable source of income. Scheduling conflicts, lost motivation, and travel plans can all get in the way of consistent lessons, so I don’t really have a typical schedule for these classes. I’ve had some students (particularly those who are preparing for IELTS or another exam) that I taught every day for a month, and others that I only teach once every week or so. In general, my private lessons are usually one or two hours and I’ll meet with most students once or twice a week.
A Typical Day
Although my schedule is constantly changing, here’s an example of what a typical day might look like for me.
6am: Wake up to the sound of a street vendor shouting “Aguacate!” into a megaphone.
6:30am: Start teaching online classes. Grab a quick breakfast between lessons.
9:30am: Walk ten minutes to my school for a private student lesson.
10am: IELTS prep lesson for a student who’s planning to apply for a Canadian visa.
12pm: Go home and make lunch. Maybe grab one of those well-advertised aguacates on the way.
1pm: Lesson prep, running errands, gym time, etc.
4pm: Back to school for afternoon classes. These can be either two or three hours long.
8pm: Finish classes and head back home.
Never one for 5-year plans, Rebecca graduated with a communications degree and no idea what to do with it (or rather, too many ideas what to do with it). A month after throwing her cap in the air, she boarded a plane to begin teaching in Peru, and later Colombia. Read more about Rebecca.