English Teaching Employment in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Under the Soviet-backed regime, Russian-language instruction was compulsory in all state-operated schools.
Forced language learning was resented by the majority of Czechoslovakians primarily because it evidenced subjugation. After the revolution, Russian dropped by the wayside as the second language only to be replaced by English, which garnered popularity because it represented the freedom of the West. English-speaking ability was, and still is, seen as the foundation for economic salvation on a personal level. That is, if you learn to speak English, you’re closer to understanding the mechanisms of a market economy.
In the years since the momentous toppling of the Berlin Wall, English has become the foreign language of choice for people all over the Czech and Slovak Republics. English teaching jobs are advertised regularly in the classified sections of both Czech/Slovak and English-language newspapers. In the larger cities, in places where young people congregate, help-wanted notices are posted on bulletin boards and the like. Visit the American Cultural Center in Prague, the Globe Bookstore and Cafe (Janovskeho 14, Prague 9), or the British Council library in Bratislava and you will find notices, and sometimes even lists, that prospective employers place to find native-speaking English teachers.
In the Czech and Slovak Republics most teaching jobs are found in the private sector. There are more small private language schools than there are larger public institutions. And private schools usually have more money available to pay native-speaking teachers. In terms of the demands made on teachers, however, public and private schools operate similarly. Broad curriculums are generally provided by the school. Individual teachers are responsible for making adaptations that fit the specific requirements of the class. Most school directors realize that a certain level of standardization is beneficial but that teachers have unique styles and skills that should be made available to students.
Teachers may be expected to abide by rough guidelines or even specific lesson plans provided by the school.
Regardless of a school’s particular requirements, preparation can eat up a good deal of a teacher’s time outside the classroom. Full-time teaching may require only twenty or so classroom hours per week, though most teachers will tell you that this is a deceptive number. No matter how experienced a teacher may be, improvising lessons on a daily basis when trying to juggle several different classes each day can sap the deepest stores of mental energy. Teaching English requires patience and adaptability. Preparation allows you to focus on the needs of your students without becoming preoccupied by the demands of extemporaneous language instruction.
Full-time teaching may require forty or more hours a week if you combine classroom and preparation time, but actual time spent in the classroom will rarely exceed eighteen to twenty hours per week, unless you make special arrangements to take on an abnormally large class load. Teaching jobs in the public sector usually demand a little less classroom instruction, while the number of hours of preparation time is left up to the individual teacher. In private schools, roughly twenty hours per week of classroom instruction are expected. Because private schools must meet the scheduling demands of a broader segment of the population in order to be viable, classes may be offered anytime throughout the day and early evening. You may even be asked to teach at a couple of different locations on any given day, though you will generally know in advance. Some schools even offer classes on Saturdays.
The important thing to remember here is that, as a general rule, the better-established programs generally provide more structure for teachers both inside and outside the classroom. If you want to take a position in a smaller private school or recently established public school program, the burden of setting up a viable curriculum may rest on your shoulders. For example, if you choose to find a job in a public school in a small, out-of-the-way town that has never had an English language program, a good portion of your interview may be spent trying to convince the local school administrator that you have the necessary experience and formal knowledge that it takes to design a language instruction program from scratch. So it’s obviously important to decide where you want to focus your energies so that you can determine what kinds of questions to ask during the interview, and for that matter, even before you formally apply for a job.
In the Czech Republic, the influx of expatriates has upped the ante in the field of English language instruction. Employers are expecting more from prospective teachers than they were just a few years ago. The ability just to speak English is no longer sufficient qualification for most teaching jobs, especially in Prague. Beyond RSA or TEFL certification, you may need to further convince your interviewer of your tenacity and dedication. Be prepared to answer questions regarding why you came to the Czech Republic, how long you plan to stay, and what you want to achieve while you’re there. Try to communicate that your are genuinely interested in teaching, that it’s not simply the means to fund whatever you choose to do in your spare time. It’s important to set yourself apart from the average expat who has come to teach simply because they’ve heard that teaching jobs are easy to find.
For the last several years there has been much discussion in both the Czech and expatriate communities about why people come to the Czech Republic and what they have to offer. Some people, especially on the Czech side, feel that they are being taken advantage of because their country is at once attractive and inexpensive. And even among expats, discussion often centers on what can be actively done on their part to benefit the Czech people. Because English teaching is perhaps the most common form of employment among younger expats, questions often arise about the level of professionalism and dedication that many teachers bring to their jobs.
Though there may be many of these kinds of questions posed outside the classroom, the situation inside the classroom in both the Czech and Slovak Republics is a different subject altogether. Don’t expect things to get too heated. Czech and Slovak students are generally a courteous bunch who understand and appreciate the rigors of learning. Whereas most Czechs and Slovaks despised being forced to speak German or to study Russian, many now welcome the opportunity to learn English. Needless to say, enthusiasm usually is not in short supply in the classroom, particularly with students who were subjected to compulsory Russian.
Outside of the fact that Czechs may strike you as slightly more urbane and Western in their orientation than Slovaks, in general, both Czech and Slovak students resemble something of a cross between Polish and Hungarian students. They are more likely to be vocal in class than Hungarians and a little less gregarious and open than Poles. In many respects, though, the Czech and Slovak sensibility bears greater resemblance to that of the Polish because they share a Slavic heritage. Hungarians are thought to be more hot-blooded and open, while the northern Slavic peoples may come across as a little more distant and reserved, especially in public. In this case, the public may include the classroom, particularly in the beginning of each term before you have ample time to impress your students with your teaching expertise and your sense of humor.