Freebies in ELT

The other day someone on Facebook asked me if I would be wiling to help her improve her English because that’s what an ideal teacher does. An ideal teacher teaches for free(um, I guess I ain’t ideal then. Man the bubble just burst!).Is teaching a calling? I seriously don’t know where I stand on this one. Should I teach people for free? I don’t. There have been instances where I ran out of time or where I wanted to help someone who was struggling, and then I did offer a free lesson/lessons but never to a stranger, online.

A wise phrase: My learner, who is a publisher, told me once that when you start giving people things for free, when you decide to charge them, then they are not willing to pay cause they can get it for free.

This event  also made me start wondering whether it is a good idea to offer free getting to know you lessons, but then I thought, why should it be free? Will I not put all my energy in a class? Won’t I plan it? Will the word ‘free’ take away from the perceived quality of my session? How many of us make the assumption that if something is for free, then it is not that grand?

Anyhow,  this is not a blog post where I ramble about this and that. This is me asking you guys a question. How much tolerance to freebies?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one 🙂 piece of art

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29 thoughts on “Freebies in ELT

  1. My website I pay to host is free to access and there is useful stuff but I had intended it as a way to get online students.

    I don’t even offer free demo lessons. It costs me time if someone flakes out and decides they don’t want to take the demo after all. A paid demo is also more likely to get someone who isn’t going to try to get me to lower my rate.

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  2. I don’t teach for free but I do share my teaching materials free of charge. I know they can be used by learners as well, but I always have my colleagues in mind when I do it. Teaching doesn’t pay off anywhere in the world and I think it’s OK to help each other with ideas and resources.

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  3. You never really teach for free, do you? What I mean is, even if you spend a period of time teaching and receive no cash in return, you’re probably doing it because you expect to get something out if it eventually. A new client, something to add to your CV, maybe someone did you a favor like helped you set up your website. Teaching for purely altruistic reasons, like you don’t need/won’t accept money or anything tangible or intangible in return, could, I suppose, be done if you don’t normally teach for a living. How can you tell I’ve been in the private sector for years? 🙂 I’m sure there will be less cynical souls appalled at this view, but while there are always exceptions, generally I’m not a fan of freebies.
    Of course, as a language learner I’m always on the lookout for anything I can get for free.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Vedrana, you have a point there. Sometimes we do stuff cause it is good for the CV or there are other circumstances, but offering freebies as part of a ‘policy’ is what I disagree with, especially when I am told that I should be teaching for free cause that makes me ‘ideal’. Man that’s cheeky as Emma says (and Mike further down in the comments).

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  4. There are three categories for me: 1, teaching for schools where I get most of my clients but lower rates. Schools here pay only for the lesson you teach but you’re expected to do a tonne of other things (prepare, travel, fill in the online registers, prepare/mark tests, write reports, and some more). I sometimes wonder how the school would react if I decided to do these extras in class time – but I wouldn’t do that to my students who are usually really nice. 2, private clients who pay fair rates and so I have like a lesson package: lesson+ they can send me one email per week which I correct; if they send me a message “What is this in English, please” I answer that, too. 3, friends – I really hate trading with friends so if they need anything minor (such as translate an abstract for their theses) I barter it for another service or a bottle of wine.
    An online person asking questions seems to me falls under the second category;-)
    I share anything I have. I think copyright’s dead although I try hard not to breech it myself (making copies of books etc.)

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    • Hi Kamila! Sharing is fine. Helping out friends or students who may have a random question out of hours is fine as well (if you ask me). I think the thing that got to me the most is the assumption that a good teach is someone who is willing to work for free 🙂

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  5. I think that’s a really cheeky thing to say – that an ideal teacher should teach for free. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to work to live, but we do, so we choose a way to make a living that fits with our principles. Does this person think that ideal teachers should live on the street?

    Also what is this “ideal”? It does not follow that if you are a good teacher you are also wildly generous to spite yourself . Strange logic!

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    • Hey Emma! Cheeky!! Very Cheeky!! And yeah, what is ideal anyway?Is teaching supposed to be good will or something? And if it is my choice, that’s fine, but to be asked to teach for free for no apparent reason except that of idealism, really sucks! (mind me French).

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  6. There are three categories for me: 1, teaching for schools where I get most of my clients but lower rates. Schools here pay only for the lesson you teach but you’re expected to do a tonne of other things (prepare, travel, fill in the online registers, prepare/mark tests, write reports, and some more). 2, private clients who pay fair rates and so I have like a lesson package: lesson+ they can send me one email per week which I correct; if they send me a message “What is this in English, please” I answer that, too. 3, friends – I really hate trading with friends so if they need anything minor (such as translate an abstract for their theses) I barter it for another service or a bottle of wine.
    An online person asking questions seems to me falls under the second category 😉
    I share anything I have. I think copyright’s dead although I try hard not to breech it myself (making copies of books etc.)

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  7. Does an ideal dentist give checkups for free?
    Does an idea. architect design houses for free?

    I know lots of people donate their time but that often seem to be a more official thing rather than just one on one with the person who was most pushy or insulting.

    There are some great points above and Emma’s questions about ideal resonate with me.

    You asked about teaching as a calling which brought to mind this article by Tom Farrell.
    http://www.reflectiveinquiry.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Teaching-is-a-Calling1.pdf

    Thanks for the interesting post/question!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting article Mike! Thanks for sharing. I like how ‘calling’ is associated to institutions/administration! By the way, if a dentist offerened free fillings I would be very weary of his/her services!!

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  8. I only teach face to face & wouldn’t do it for free as it’s my profession, not a hobby!!! If I were retired or in a position whereby I didn’t need to earn a living perhaps I would be willing to teach on a voluntary basis (perhaps to refugees) but at the moment that’s definitely not the case. I always give my students free material & access to other resources plus, as I mainly teach exam classes my prep time & marking time is never paid for so students get a good deal.
    Why should anyone think that teaching is an altruistic profession whilst others are not…???

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! There are some circumstances wher eI might teach for free, like volunteering to help groups of people who, for whatever reason, really needed to learn English weren’t in a position to pay for it – though this would have to be alongside my ‘normal’ (paid) work, since I also have bills to pay, etc. But I don’t think that we should teach for free for one individual student just because they are cheeky or pushy, as Mike said above. And I would be very wary of online lessons that I always got for free…

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  9. I would argue it comes down to circumstance and effort involved. There’s no hard and fast rule I make about offering support pro bono, but in general, if it involves preparation on my part, it’s a job and deserves payment. If it’s someone that asks a few questions here and there, but doesn’t abuse the gesture, then I’ll help freely. Education and teaching may be a calling, but then so is singing, mechanics, law enforcement–all of which wouldn’t include the same ‘debate’.

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    • Hey Tyson, I think most teachers do ‘extras’ that are not part of their paid job. We have all been there and I think that’s a choice. We do it cause we want to. In my mind, the problem is when the word ‘ideal/calling’ etc become associated with teaching with a ‘shady’ intention.

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  10. I personally believe that doing something for free is a kind of charity. I like the idea of charity which to me means 1) helping those in need 2) when I feel I can help 3) when there is no outside pressure 4) and I personally want to help 5) without expecting anything in return 6) and still feeling happy about it. When at least one of these components is not there, it can’t be considered a free will act. Most people who want to get an hour-long lesson for free are often honest enough to say that they have just bought a new car or a house and are short of money at the moment and it drives me up the wall. I always suggest trying to get their hair cut or a tooth filled for free for the same reason, just because it’s what ideal hairdressers and dentists are supposed to do, and see what’s going to happen.

    Another thing: if I’m not getting money for what I can do well, I won’t have any time to do it, because I will have to find a job which brings me money to survive. Doesn’t it sound ridiculous to push me, a devoted teacher, to do so?

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  11. Great conversation starter! I agree with Helen; no, but I also agree with Kamila – barter or exchange on certain circumstances works for me. For example, I traded a colleague a brush up on his English for his brushing up my French, and I am always more than happy to help out a friend in need of some interview or test practice, or an overview of a paper. However, as a learner I know there are free resources out there which can help me so far on my journey. If I need higher quality of teaching, or individual attention on a specific point I know I have to choose who and how much I want to pay for that.

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  12. Lots of interesting comments here.
    I have run some free classes as a ‘one-off’ to attract new students; if you do get one or two joining your paid-for classes it can seem worth the investment. Also, I wouldn’t have a problem setting up an occasional free ‘English club’ (or something similar) to enable learners to meet, interact and speak English with others. Once you’ve made the initial effort, the club can become part of a routine for those who attend, and they can begin to run themselves.
    However, from speaking to teachers at other schools in the city where I live, I know there are some students who exploit free classes and trial periods, skipping from school to school and effectively learning for free.
    Staff at some schools also use this as a means of ‘spying’ on their rivals, which adds another question to the debate – what would you do if you planned and taught a great lesson and then found it had been copied, stage-by-stage, by another school and was being used without your permission?

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  13. Another good point. I think the limitation for students who skip from class to class for free is that a freebie is often the very beginning part of a course. They’ll probably overdose on reviews of ‘be’ or question forms, for example, and never receive the development offered by a cohesive course. Their loss!

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  14. I think there is a place for freebies – I produce a podcast, which gives free information, and I sometimes produce free factsheets, which people can sign up for. At the same time, they also have the option of signing up for my free newsletter, in which I write articles, share links for language learners, talk about new products and promote special offers from time to time.
    Before I start working with someone, we have an introductory meeting, which is also free. I make a point of not calling it a free lesson and I use it to talk to the potential customer, identify what they want, and consider which course would be appropriate for them.
    I have had people asking me for free tuition but I point them to the resources that are available for everyone on my site. One-to-one time is different and I have to show that I value my time if I want other people to do the same.
    Language exchanges are different and they can work well as long as both people are giving and receiving something.
    If I choose to do a favour for a friend or someone that I know, I can do that at my discretion. However I decline random requests for free lessons.
    There was a video doing the rounds on Facebook about a guy asking for products for free such as a breakfast or a cup of coffee and the kind of responses that he got!

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