The point of this post is to highlight some of the advantages and pitfalls of going to Germany via the British Council, to be placed in a school as a foreign language assistant. It has advantages, but I have also run into a couple of difficulties. On the whole, it is one of the easier ways to get a TEFL job in Germany if you do not already have a lot of contacts in Germany. Here are my thoughts.
- The application process
The application process for this programme is very simple. It is a matter of filling in an application form online. There is no interview. You will need a university reference, which means it is only really suitable for third year university students doing a year abroad, and recent graduates.
It takes a long time to find out the outcome (I applied in December, found out I was successful in April, and got a location/school in June). You have very little choice over where you are placed, beyond selecting a preference for N/S/E/W and Town/City/Village.
2. The move
My experience with moving to Germany involved, if I’m being honest, not a lot of support from either the British Council nor my school. I was left to find accommodation and deal with my paperwork completely by myself. I managed, but had a number of delays due to issues getting certain forms from my landlord, and also because, in general, it can be difficult to find a room to rent in Germany, so ended up spending my first week in Trier in a hostel. Due to the strong laws for tenants, landlords can be very selective about who they take and may want a lot of evidence that can be difficult to provide (3 months’ payslips, for example). In the end, it got sorted. Most apartments in Germany are also unfurnished. I am still sleeping on a mattress on the floor, with no bed.
On the other hand, I know some ELAs who had accommodation arranged for them, sometimes at very reasonable rents, or even rent free. This accommodation situation, then, it seems, will vary heavily on where you are placed in Germany.
3. The job
The job itself is something I very much enjoy. However, the role of a “Foreign language assistant” is ill-defined, and many teachers at my school seemed to be unsure of what I was actually doing there. Resolving this for me involved actively seeking out more responsibility and teaching duties. I now feel I have a bit more to do, but some other ELAs I know have had trouble with this and ended up spending most days at work at a loose end; it seems to depend heavily on what kind of school you are at (Gymnasium or Realschule), and the working environment.
4. The pay
As a foreign language assistant, you are paid 850 euro per month. This will cover your living expenses (as the cost of living in Germany is relatively low compared with the UK), if you rent a room in a WG, shop at Aldi etc. It will not allow you to save or to travel frequently, unless you have access to other sources of money (e.g. an erasmus grant or student loan, as in the case of 3rd year language students). However, there are some benefits: you will receive a very good private insurance policy (as you are classed as a civil servant), which will cover basically anything.
Topping up this income is not straightforward. The market for English tuition in Germany is over-saturated with many people competing for the same positions at language schools, and demand also varies heavily by location. Nearly all positions are “freelance”, requiring you to file taxes as self-employed. The other assistants and I in Trier have all sought out extra work, with some degree of success, but the rates of pay are not great, in some cases barely more than minimum wage. Private tuition (Nachhilfe) commands about half what you would expect to be paid in the UK. Moreover, you will inevitably end up working split shifts, into the evenings etc.
I am enjoying my time in Germany a lot, after some initial hiccups. The contract you get through the British Council is only for 9 months, and is not intended to be a permanent job. If you go down this route, it is important to be realistic about what your lifestyle will be like and what you will be able to do with the money. Staying in Germany more long term is possible, but there can be difficulties: you will be legally required to get a new private insurance policy (expect to pay around 50-100 euro a month), and any TEFL work you will be able to do is highly seasonal. In the long run, I do not see myself being able to stay in Germany beyond July or August 2018.