Focus on things that will make students come back over and over and over, not something that’s a one-off. Not something that you can take one or two times and then it’s over. Focus on finding what your strengths are. Are you good at teaching kids? Are you good at teaching grammar? Are you good at correcting CVs and literary papers? What’s your strength?
- Teaching online since: 2014
- Category taught: English and Chess
- Rhys speaks: English, Japanese, Chinese and French
- Total number of lessons taught on Cafetalk: 3988
Hi Rhys, thank you so much for agreeing to do this testimonial with us!
So let’s get started by talking about how you got started on Cafetalk! Can you tell us how you found out about Cafetalk and why you decided to apply with us?
I actually found out about it through an ad on Craigslist, which is advertising for many things: jobs, cars, and you can buy goods there.
The thing that appealed to me... I worked for a lot of Japanese companies, usually small ones, but the fact that Cafetalk is a Japanese company was appealing. Because I can use my language skill to help the students and communicate with the staff.
And then, most importantly I’m able to use my native language and teach students, which is something I’ve been doing for a while and something that I like a lot.
Before applying at Cafetalk, did you have any experience teaching?
Yes, I had some volunteer experience in Japan. I worked as an assistant teaching kids two, three times a month. And then I was also an assistant in Vancouver for high school students visiting for an ESL summer camp. Then I did some one-on-one classes and I also taught Eikaiwa (editor’s note: Japanese for English Conversation Class) in Vancouver for Japanese working holiday visa and other students.
And did you also have any experience with tutoring online?
It was my first time!
How did you experience tutoring online? Was it different from teaching offline classes? How did you experience doing this for the first time?
Some things are obviously different. You have access to everything on your computer when you’re teaching through Skype doing online lessons. So if I need to look up something really quickly, if I need to double-check the meaning of a word, I can do that really quickly. Whereas face-to-face, you might have a smartphone with you, but it might take a little bit longer or if you’re teaching in a classroom you might not have access to looking up something in a dictionary quickly. Or you can google things. So usually I can find the answer to something I don’t know, so that’s good.
A challenge would be that sometimes there are technical problems, which is unfortunate, but it happens from time to time when Skype is acting strange. We’ve all experienced it! For some reason you can’t connect… so that’s one unfortunate thing that happens from time to time. But usually it’s fine.
It’s been awhile since you started out on Cafetalk. But after your profile was released, can you talk a bit about your experience in those first few weeks teaching on Cafetalk?
Everything was good. The staff was really helpful and giving me suggestions on how to start. To be 100% honest, it did take a little while for my name to get out there. So, the first few weeks I was teaching a few classes, but I was mainly prepping stuff. I was looking for materials, buying books, browsing teaching websites, getting ideas for for how to teach… so the first few weeks was mainly preps, and sprinkled in there were same classes. That’s how I started.
And did you do anything specific to attract those first few students?
I did write a few columns, I did give out a few coupons and I tried to promote the fact that – I’m not fluent – but I can communicate in Japanese. So I tried to promote that, because some students really want a teacher who can help out in Japanese, if they are a Japanese speaker.
How did you decide on which lessons to create, and what kinds of materials did you use?
I remember at first when I was talking with Mat-san about the lessons, he told me: You can make any lesson that you want! And I thought that was such an amazing idea! Because I thought for any idea that pops into my head, I can make a lesson! But actually, that turned out to be not the smartest idea, because that can overwhelm the students. I’m very active as a student learning French and when I see there are too many lessons it can be confusing. I would say the mistake I made was making way too many lessons. What I would focus on and this is something Dani, my colleague, talked to me about, is: Focus on things that will make students come back over and over and over, not something that’s a one-off. Not something that you can take one or two times and then it’s over. Focus on finding what your strengths are. Are you good at teaching kids? Are you good at teaching grammar? Are you good at correcting CVs and literary papers? What’s your strength? And then really try to filter down to a good, reasonable number of lessons that can be taken over and over and over. That would be my suggestion. Don’t go crazy with 30, 40, 50 lessons (laughs).
How did you decide on setting your lesson prices?
At the beginning, I was all over the place. It took a little while to find what worked. Originally I made the free talks super cheap and everything else super expensive… it was kind of imbalanced. When I called the staff they said: Try to have really logically priced lessons. After that I decided to make all the 25-minute the same and all of the 50-minute lessons the same price. And I think that was a lot easier to understand. It did take a while and I notice a lot of new tutors have fluctuating prices, changing week to week, so I would recommend being consistent and having a logical reason. From time to time I see prices that don’t make sense. I don’t mean to be too critical of my colleagues, but sometimes it’s not logical. So be consistent and have a good reason. That’s what I would say.
Did you ever ask the Cafetalk staff for help? If yes, how was your experience with our support?
It was really good! I talked with Mat for about an hour and he told me a few things. One, he told me the prices didn’t make sense and to make them more logical. And two, he told me to filter the classes from 30 to something like 18 to make it less confusing.｜ In addition to that, I also did a live seminar a few days after that. So making the classes more understandable, the prices more regular and then the live seminar. ｜So those three were the perfect storm to make everything work. So from then, that’s when things took off. I would recommend if new tutors are struggling to take a counselling session. That was one of the things that got me started.
With a lot of English students on Cafetalk being from Japan, there was also the time difference to take into consideration. How did you work out during which times to teach, and how do you handle working the somewhat unusual times?
Yes, that was tough. I moved about two months ago all the way from the West coast to the East coast of Canada. It’s a four hour difference.｜ Back home in Vancouver, to hit the peak times I had to wake up at four in the morning. It was tough. If you’re on the West coast, Canada or America, it’s gonna be a little difficult. If you’re a morning person you’ll be fine. I would usually wake up at four and start at five. And then I would work until ten in the morning, and then I would take a nap for an hour or two hours. And then I would go back to work after dinner, which was seven to eleven. That was a little tough. So that was one of the reasons why I moved, because I like this job and I don’t wanna stop doing it. So I moved out to the East Coast and the four hours allow me to start at seven in the morning, which is reasonable, and then I take the afternoon off, and then I work again in the evening. So I work kind of split.
It’s definitely gonna be a little tough with the time zones, there’s not a whole lot you can do, but try to plan your schedule. You might have a little bit of a weird schedule like me, working Friday nights and Saturday nights, but I always take Sunday off so I have that one day where I just decompress. Because I have seen some teachers who do seven days a week and with that you’re gonna burn yourself out. With the weird schedule make sure you plan ample time to rest.
It’s been two years now since you started out on Cafetalk. Did you plan on teaching with us for that long? Looking back, which experiences made you decide to stay and stick to tutoring online?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I was thinking I’ll probably have a few classes on the side and then I’ll find something else. For me, it took about two or three months before it took off. Then it started to take off and I thought, okay, yeah, this is doable. So then I decided to put more time and effort into creating a lesson or getting lesson materials, making a variety of classes and have a variety of students. So yes, from the two or three months mark is when I started to realise that this is probably what I’ll be doing for a while, that I can do this full-time.
Also, I was learning languages from when I was really young. I loved looking at the map asking my parents different countries, like, what’s the capital of this and this and this… I don’t remember any now, but I was learning German, so there you go, but I forgot all of it (laughs). And then I did well in French in school, took some more German and Japanese and Chinese and French again… so I always loved languages. I love learning it and I want to transfer that passion to the students. I really love helping people explore English, learning English. And not only the language and the grammar, but also explore the culture, the pop culture, the entertainment, and I love encouraging people to learn the language and explore the English speaking world.
How does your knowledge of the Japanese culture help you when planning and conducting lessons for Japanese students? Especially since “getting a feel” may be something really important in Japanese culture.
It helps a lot. Because like you said, “getting a feel” is very Japanese. We are more direct in the West, so sometimes parents have kids or there are students won’t tell you something explicitly. So you do have to cue into a few things. That can be a bit tricky. I’m no master by any means, but living in Japan has helped. So be aware. It’s tough for people who haven’t studied Japanese or lived in Japan. But everything may not be a 100% explicit, so you have got to be aware of cues that might show a student is a little dissatisfied with something or wants you to change something. Or even ask directly. Because they might not ask you. Ask directly: Is it okay if I do this, is it okay if I do that? They might be a little bit unhappy, but they won’t say anything.
And for the last question: On Cafetalk, we try to give our tutors a lot of freedom. We do not enforce any curriculum, we let tutors choose their own available times and let them decide what kinds of lessons they would like to offer. How do you feel this freedom has worked out for you?
I really like it, and like I said, when I first heard about that I just thought that was so awesome! I thought that was really cool. Because I know there are some other sites where they give you the curriculum and you have to sign a contract, and that’s fine, but that’s not for me. So yeah, the freedom is awesome! The freedom to make your own schedule… the flexibility is simply awesome. If I want to take a day off, I can take a day off. If I want to work extra, I can work extra, that’s really good. And to be able to make your own classes is also really nice because you can be like Jenny and you can specialise in teaching kids, or you can be like others who specialise in correcting papers – which is something that I wouldn’t go near, because I’m too scared (laughs). You can find your speciality. Or you can be like me and do a little bit of everything, rather than follow the set curriculum.
And there’s a certain uniqueness to making your own class. I’ve seen some really, really cool classes, like doing Origami or doing crafts, or learning Igo, or learning chess… there’s a lot of creativity. A lot of tutors make really unique classes, and I think I’d like to try that: I'd like to try singing in French, I’d like to learn about Kimono wearing, or learning an instrument… it doesn’t just restrict to language only. There’s hobbies, too. Which I think is awesome.
Thank you for the interview! And if anyone reads this, which I hope, thank you for reading! I hope to see more students and thank you very much!
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