I am a freelance teacher. I work for language schools (aka agencies), universities, companies and private clients. Over the years I have come to realize that a large part of my success as a teacher is down to being organized and I have developed several course administration strategies which I’d like to share with you.
Educational institutions use their own systems for keeping attendance and class registers which I stick to, so what I’m going to describe here will be mostly about my work with private clients who hire me directly.
First comes a face-to-face meeting with a potential client at which we talk about they would like to learn. I ask many questions and probe to see what range of grammatical and vocabulary structures my potential clients use. I don’t ask them to fill in entry tests as people tend to find them uninteresting. On the other hand, I really make sure I know what topics/tasks my students want to cover. So if their main aim is to “get better at speaking, you know, about everything” (99% of people), I get them to narrow it down to something we can work with. Hence not “Travelling” – too general, but hiring a car; getting emergency for my kid when travelling, etc.
If after this first meeting the client decides they want to study with me, I draft the following:
Email with terms – mostly cancellation policy, terms of payment etc. which I ask them to confirm by replying to it and then I archive it.
Google folder – Every client gets their own shared Google folder with me. In it, there is:
The Needs Analysis – basically a table with all the topics mentioned at the first meeting listed. Once we’ve later studied that topic, I mark it as green and done. I occasionally review the needs analysis to see where we are.
Attendance – a basic spreadsheet with dates and names of students. The squares are marked green or red depending on whether they came to class or not. I have an extra sheet for each month.
Course Plan – this is an outline of the coming lessons based on the needs analysis. I never used to write plans of my courses because I was lazy and also, a lot influenced by Dogme, I never really liked planning much. But being as busy as I am now, I realized I can save myself a ton of work if I find the time and plan a month or two ahead. I only started doing this recently, but clients seem to enjoy it because they know what is coming up and can prepare for the lesson. I tell them the plan can be changed any time if they need to. This is the reason why I keep the plans short, so that I don’t have to redraft the entire one-year plan all the time. In the plan, I put the main topics, links to materials, and in my personal copy links to where I can find the materials.
Lesson Overview – These are a pain to write. After each lesson I take the time and fill them in. These overviews are useful for the client as they know what the homework is and where we are. Also, if there are more students and one of them misses the lesson, they can check. The overview is indispensable for writing up mid-term reports for institutions and this is actually when I find them most helpful.
Quizlet – each of my classes has a Quizlet classroom. I teach my students to keep track of words and we go over them regularly. I occasionally make wordlists from lessons for my students, but I can’t do this for everybody, so I encourage my students to do it themselves – but the words still get checked.
The email again – after the lesson, I fill in the Lesson Overview and make a Quizlet wordlist if needed. The link to the Quizlet set goes to the overview as homework and I copy the link and send it in an email to my client with a personal note. I know I should make templates for these, as suggested in many great articles for small businesses, such as this one, but I can’t just bring myself to doing it. I’m usually on friendly terms with my clients and I think they appreciate a non-automatic message.
NEW!!! The weekly and monthly checklist:
Thanks to the Czech freelancing site Na volné noze and its founder Robert Vlach, I have been acquainted with process management. So now I’ve added to my routines a checklist of tasks for my classes to be done on a weekly and monthly basis. For the weekly checklist, I created a list of classes I teach every week and tasks to be done. These are mostly lesson planning and creating and sending updates to clients. I mark the to-do tasks as red, the done tasks in green, and the non-applicable (class got cancelled, etc.) in grey.
For the monthly tasks, there are attendance sheets to be handed in to institutions in due time and invoices, as well as monthly payments. I use the same colour code as for the weekly tasks. Moreover, I add the number of the invoice issued and change the colour to blue once the invoice gets paid.
Whenever I’m lesson planning, I have the form open and tick off boxes. This is a pretty new thing so I will see if I’m able to stick to it in the long-term. I’m hoping it will save me thinking “where to begin and what to do next” whenever I sit down on Sunday evening-ish to close the previous week and open the new one.
If you like the spreadsheet, please feel free to use it.
Note-taking and planning – something I find very hard to do but very useful. I keep a paper notebook that I carry around with me. It isn’t systematic at all.
For each lesson, I put a date and client’s name. During the lesson I take notes like crazy. I write down what is going on, mistakes, homework, what needs to be done in next lessons, etc. What I recently started doing, and this has been a life changer, is take five mins right after the lesson and plan the next one. It really only takes five minutes because at the end of the lesson I usually clearly see where we need to go next and what to do. I’ve been doing it for two weeks only and am not sure my enthusiasm will last, but there is nothing better on a Sunday evening than finding out all your lessons have already been planned. Believe me, planning a week after the lesson takes a lot longer than just five minutes.
And that’s about all I do before I send the invoice at the end of the month. Let me know about your admin strategies!