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My experiences teaching English in Poland has taught me a lot. Yep, being a teacher taught me things.
Firstly, what skills does it take to be a teacher? I’d spent the last 10 years as a welder. Do I have the skills to teach English abroad, let alone in Poland?
Click here to take the same online TEFL course I took. It’s all I needed to get qualified to teach!
Teaching English in Poland Checklist
This is what I did as a non-EU citizen to get a job teaching English with no prior experience or qualifications
- Get an online TEFL certificate (nice to have previous experience, too).
- Find a physical school on an online school that’s willing to employ you on an Umowa o pracę and apply for a work permit.
- Apply for the work permit and wait (you cannot start work until you get this work permit)
- Once you have the permit, sign the work contract and start working.
- Use the work permit and employment contract to apply for a temporary residence permit
Will this process work for you? Maybe, maybe not. You need to go job hunting and find work and schools that are willing to help you go through the process of working here. I did it the very hard way, as a non-EU citizen without prior experience or qualifications. But the fact that I did do it means that it can be done!
Becoming a teacher
Looking back at it, I don’t feel that I’ve ever actually learned English. I can’t really remember ever sitting down, even in primary school, and learning the rules of the English language. Past present, present continuous, these had no association to English to me.
Prior to teaching, I never knew the rules. I just…knew.
For example, why do we get on the train but get in the car? Many of my students have made that mistake – I correct them, but I have no honest answer why it’s like that.
How can I teach English if I’ve never learnt English?
I had very little teaching experience prior to moving here. I did though, have a passion for words, reading and using the language in general.
As a kid, most of my friends would wake up and eat their breakfast while watching morning cartoons. I, on the other hand, ate while reading the encyclopedia. I remember asking my mum how a suspension bridge works while she was frantically packing my lunch for school that day.
Throughout high school, I had always excelled in English, too. I was one of the few kids who read the books we had to read and understood what questions were being asked.
‘Write a 300-word essay explaining why the author decided to use era-specific language and a regional dialect’.
‘Explain why American English is different from Traditional British English‘.
I’ve always felt like one of my natural skills was my ability to analyze and use English, as well as the stories it tells. I have always admired my teachers, too. Even the ones that kept me after class for whatever reason, I admired the fact that they wanted to help little humans improve themselves.
I do believe that, despite my formal training prior to moving to Poland, it was my attitude toward English at a young age that benefitted me when I was to become a teacher.
To help myself out, I sat and studied a few online courses about teaching English – even one specifically designed to Teach in Poland.
I figured this would at least expose me to the idea of teaching English and teaching English abroad, and give me some kind of formal background.
One of my many illustrious qualifications.
That wasn’t too challenging. It exposed me to some fundamental principles, the idea of planning lessons and what parts of the English language more non-native speakers struggle with.
I then took to helping my 11-year-old step sister with her English homework, every chance I got.
So when I decided to move here and realized that I was to become a teacher, (a career I’d probably just fall into through convenience) I was in 2 minds about it.
Did I have the knowledge of the English language enough to teach it?
Did I have the life skills to help someone improve (what is for Europeans) an essential life skill?
Another question I asked myself – if I wanted to teach, what role would Poland play? How do Poles take to English?
I’ve met more English teachers in Poland that I have in my entire life. Being an English teacher is quite a common job in Poland. Perhaps it’s because it’s a skill that’s naturally acquired by the younger generation?
Perhaps it’s because there’s so much demand for high-level English amongst Poles.
Curious what the salary is for teaching English abroad? Or what the average salary is in Poland? Well knowing how Victorian teachers are paid, I’m probably earning the same amount as them!
As a native English speaker, teaching English is just something I naturally fell in to.
How I came to teach English in Poland
I’ve met more teachers here in Warsaw than I have in my entire life. Being an English teacher is quite a common job in Poland. Perhaps it’s because it’s a skill that’s naturally acquired by the younger generation? Perhaps it’s because there’s so much demand. As a native English speaker, teaching English is just something I naturally fell into.
First things first – It was important to know what I was teaching. I’m teaching English, obviously. But American, or British English?
I’ll be deep in the cold cold ground before I call it a flashlight.
If I was to teach Poles, what do Poles want to learn? Colour Color? Theatre or theater? ‘Do you have a problem’ or ‘have you got a problem?’ Knowledge of these things and their differences would make take from ‘a guy that spoke English’ to ‘somewhat of an English teacher’. This was to be my job and I wouldn’t do it half-assed.
While still in Australia, I was lucky enough to come across the Polonization blog, run by the lovely Leah. I read her blog about getting a karta pobytu (that’s a story for another day) and emailed her, telling her it really taught me a lot. She asked me when I was moving here and if I had work lined up. Sure enough, I didn’t and she offered me a job teaching for her English school, Talkback.
When I got here, I had my first class on Skype.
Nearly every person I’ve taught English to since that first lesson has been incredibly nervous. But on that first lesson, I was the nervous one. I sat in the same position I am now with a notebook and introduced myself. I took notes about the person I was talking to in the hope that I’d use it to stir up the conversation in the future. I wrote down e.v.e.r.y. l.i.t.t.l.e t.h.i.n.g they said wrong and then corrected them on it.
My usual lesson notes. Remember, nothing will ever go as planned.
It didn’t take me long to see a few things amongst Poles and their English.
- They’re all shy and nervous.
- They all make similar mistakes (eg, ‘I made a photo’ because ‘zrobiłem zdęcja’ instead of ‘I took a photo’)
- They lose all motivation when you correct every little thing they say.
I soon understood that all those things applied to me and my Polish, too – especially the 3rd point.
English teaching tools
When I was struggling to keep a student entertained, or for some reason, my planned lesson couldn’t go ahead, there were two tools that I relied on heavily.
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I really suggest that you go and buy yourself a deck of these things. On one side of the card is an English phrase, and on the other is the same phrase in Polish.
Grab the cards and mix them up and throw them on a table. Have the Polish side facing up. Your student picks up a random card, reads the Polish phrase, and then has to tell you the English version of that phrase and then explain it in English.
Make it even harder by mixing it up – give your student the Polish version for them to translate and explain, but then the English version.
And Story cubes:
Story cubes saved many a lesson for me.
Story cubes are simply cubes that have a picture of something on each side. A turtle, a question mark, a pyramid – usually random physical things.
These work best in a group setting. Each player creates a character by rolling 3 or 4 dice. Each thing represents a characteristic or defining feature of that student’s character. You can then create a role playing game using your character, or simply ask your students to describe their character, and then a day in the life of that character.
The bad things about teaching English in Poland
Since I’m not a ‘career’ teacher, I struggled in a few areas with my role as a teacher. I had some students who had very little understanding of the English language. I couldn’t make small talk with them, and most of my classes were exactly that – conversation classes based on small talk. It’s hard to make small talk if your student says things like ‘We yesterday go to shopping and food buy’. I struggled with that kind of student. I really truly wanted to help them, but my skills and knowledge as a teacher just couldn’t. It didn’t take long for both student and teacher to realize that a better teacher was needed.
The other problem came at the other end of the scale. I was teaching a group of 3 people in their early 20’s in their work office. Their English was fantastic. They spoke with a slight accent but had no problem communicating and articulating their ideas in a variety of ways. We played a huge range of games to boost their confidence and increase their vocabulary. But I didn’t feel like I was teaching them. I felt like I was merely entertaining them.
This DIY RPG was by far the most complex and fun game I’ve ever played – and I was the teacher.
This was frustrating in a way. Their English skills were fantastic, but not perfect. I wanted to help perfect it, but with only 2x 90-minute classes per week, how to help individuals reduce their accent? Sure, my girlfriend – who I’ve lived with for the last years – is developing a bit of an Australian accent, but with students for who you only have limited time, that’s tough.
So you can see, I struggled at both ends of the spectrum.
One struggle that I’ve faced is that being an Australian that’s teaching English, a lot of my students want me to talk. They want to hear my accent and hear how we ride kangaroos to work and how drop bears will tear your face off.
Like I explain in my previous post, Poles love Australia.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve had some students end regular lessons with me because they just don’t understand my accent – for example, the way I say ‘era’ and ‘error’ is exactly the same. 2 different words, 2 different meaning, pronounced 2 different ways by both British and Americans. But for me, nope – same sound.
To combat this, I’ve gotten into the habit of mentioning a reassuring disclaimer the first time I have a lesson with someone.
Little tricks like this help build confidence and trust between you and your scared English student.
The good things about teaching in Poland
One incredibly huge upside of teaching is the bonds you build. I feel like most of my students have turned into genuine friends. When you go out of your way to spend time with each other, you cannot help but build a rapport and some kind of emotional investment in the other person.
Most of my classes with my students now are no longer built around a framework. Instead, we discuss what’s happening in their lives – and, to a less extent, my own. They talk to me about what’s happening in their lives and I intentionally encourage that.
Why? Because people learn when they don’t feel like they’re learning. If it’s fun and enjoyable, the skills are retained easier. I feel that my role is to provide a comfortable and encouraging environment, and the rest takes care of itself.
Teaching is great fun and very rewarding. You do, however, have to be upbeat, proactive and think on your toes. As a native speaker, your role is not so much to ‘teach’, but to communicate.
You need to be able to explain why ‘making a call’ means you calling someone, and ‘taking a call’ means you answering the phone. Little gems like this are things I never understood until teaching the language.
Just remember, if you’re teaching English while also learning Polish – well, you have it a lot harder than those who are learning English.
For those of you that are really wanting to teach English, I encourage you to get a qualification, and this is the qualification I now have.
It’s this that allowed me to get a job, a work permit, a residence permit and ultimately, my karta pobytu.
Wow! This Blog was incredibly helpful. I have recently moved to Warsaw and found work teaching English in the New Year. Having no prior experience in teaching I have been stressing about lesson plans but I guess that’s normal judging by your post. Thanks for this Blog, it has given me a few ideas and calmed my nerves a bit.
Hey Adam, glad you liked it! If I were to tell you not to stress, that wouldn’t change anything :p There is a plethora of things to do in an English class, especially if playing games is part of the experience. Stuff like flash cards, hangman, taboo words, and charades can make a lesson so much fun!
Hi than you so much for this blog. I am wanting to do teaching in Poland, but I am unsure between Poland and China. I love both countries, their culture, their society, but Poland would obviously be easier in many ways (I live in the UK.) However China seems to offer jobs right away.
How long did it take you to get a job in Poland? I don’t want to go through a long period of unemployment, for obvious reasons. Any tips on the quickest way for employment in Poland, IE what are the best TEFL courses for this. Been searching for ages, but not had much luck.
Hi Adam, i am currently live in Warsaw now, and I am looking to teach english here. any ideas or help you could give please ? Thanks in advance lee
Haha, ah love it man. Similar, if less formal experience when I was living in Indonesia. Desperately trying to learn Indonesian which is a new language and is very sensibly designed, while helping my mates with the english was harrowing. Very much what you were saying here – I know how it works but buggered if I know why it works like that, and absolutely no rule to it that I can see. The ‘ough’ words in particular. WTF is that about. Never pronounced the same way twice, and THIS is the international standard language? Christ.
If it helps with the teaching approaches I personally find it handy to praise what’s there regardless of how good it is; ‘We yesterday go to shopping and food buy’ is garbage english for a native speaker, but for someone learning that’s pretty fuckin’ awsome. My approach is to praise the functional bit and then maybe focus on one thing to improve, helps avoid that loss of motivation. But if you’ve been doing it for 2 years then you’re obviously doing pretty great overall man!
Great post. I currently teach English in Central Asia, and it’s been such a rewarding experience. Thanks for sharing.
Hi, this is a very interesting article for me as an Australian also intending to move to Poland to hopefully teach English and be with my girlfriend. I actually have a couple of questions regarding the qualifications needed to teach English and the logistics of making such a move – I’m currently studying education at university but I’ve been wondering if a TEFL/TESOL certification would be faster to obtain and better for my circumstances. Is there any way that I could contact you and ask a few more questions?
Hey Alex. Yeah sure, shoot me an email. Phil@expatspoland.com
Hi, Phil. I’m interested in teaching English in Poland. I’m an English teacher in Ukraine and I’d like to compare Polish and Ukrainian exams, lessons, methods, mistakes etc. Could you help me giving some infomation?
I wish I could help you, but I’m not too experienced with exams and such myself. All the teaching that I’ve done has been game and activity focussed, not so much exams and study based. Basically, my teaching experiences have been somewhat informal. There are a few Facebook groups dedicated to Teaching English in Poland. If you can find some of them, I’m sure you’d be able find a bit of gold!
I’ve been teaching university esl in China and have to give exams so maybe I can help.
1. Have students keep a daily journal in English. Try to write at least 3 sentences per week of class.
2. Cover at least one English language idiom per class.
3. Pull an article from the news and have them read it and answer a few simple questions about it in their journal book.
4. Listen to a song and have them write down the words.
5. Watch a short film with English subtitles and have them write about it in their journals
6. Provide a simple gap fill self introduction template.
On your exam have 5 questions. They can pick a card to get their question.
Use the film, the song, an idiom and the news readings to base the exam questions on. Look at their joureal to make sure they have one entry per week.
Hope this helped!
Awesome tips Mark. A few things there I’d never thought of myself!
This blog has been helpful, thank you for the tips.
I’m also from Australia and seriously thinking of travelling to Poland next year and wanting to teach English. I already have basic polish and family in Wrocław so I would base myself there. I have a degree but was wondering if the Tefl/Tesol course is worth doing and if you need this to teach English over there.
Thanks for the kind words! What is your degree in? If it’s in teaching, you won’t need any other form of qualifications to get a job here. If you don’t have any qualifications or experience teaching, you’ll need to get something. Keep an eye on Groupon for a few certificates, that’s where I found mine 😉
Helpful and well written blog Phil, I’ve got an interview for an esl position at a training center in Krakow. I’ve looked on your blog and else where on the web but can’t seem to find what kind of wages I’d need to live comfortably in Krakow. Seems like maybe around 3000 zlotny per month? Is that about right? Any help you could provide with info would be greatly appreciated.
Hey Mark. Congrats on the job interview! I’m based in Warsaw and it’s well known for being a little bit more expensive than other areas of Poland. I was earning 4000PLN a month and that was comfortable. I’m not sure if Krakow is 25% cheaper than Warsaw, but with 3000PLN a month, that’s certainly the minimum, I’d say!
Hi, my name is Bruce, from South Africa, I am a 39 year old black African , and i have a very keen interest in teaching English in Poland. I do not have an ESL teaching certificate yet, but i have worked as an assistant class teacher and i normally work as a Christian youth worker.
Can you please assist me with any direction.
Hey Bruce, sorry for the slow reply! Shoot me an email – email@example.com 🙂
Love your blog! Came across it by chance when researching CELTA/TEFL/TESOL certification and, quite separately, “things to do in Poland”! I’m from Melbourne originally, currently in Spain and heading to Gdansk in a few weeks. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks for sharing your advice – it’s very much appreciated.
Superb blog post. I’m a French expat in Warsaw, and I’d be interested in giving some lesson/discussion. But as you mentioned, discussing and teaching is two very different task.
Let me know if you’re up for a beer or something in Warsaw anytime!
Thanks Florian! Sounds good, I’ve just replied to your message 🙂
Thanks for such a useful blog. I’ve been teaching English in Warsaw for a while and find it really interesting and rewarding. I’ve just been offered to teach in-company classes but I am not sure what is considered a normal hourly pay rate for teaching English at a company. Is it different from what you get while teaching at the school? Could you also please give me any other tips regarding in-company teaching? Thanks!
Hey Jess! Nice to kinda meet you.
To me, there wasn’t a lot of difference. Both involved teaching a group. I guess one thing you need to remember is that you’re ien their environment. Don’t be easily shaken or put off by being in a new environment. Just be sure to stick to what they want to learn – if they want business English, stick to that.
A normal hourly pay rate – well, that’s a good question! I guess that depends on the time of day, how far you’re travelling, the level of the students – only you can be the judge of that 🙂
Teaching could be very hard, I know something about it – I’m teaching foreigners polish language 🙂
Hey there Phil
I had a read of your blog and it was really helpful. I’m going to be in Warsaw next year to attend a conference and I’ll be based in Warsaw for 6 months. I have a BA from an Aussie University (straya represent) and also have completed an Adv. Diploma in TESOL. I’m now trying to navigate the employment process and find suitable work. Is there any way in which I can contact you ? Because I am trying to reach out to people who’ve done the same thing and get as much information as I can.
Thanks for any help mate!
Thanks for posting this. My girlfriend keeps telling me to do the TEFL course so that i can teach in Poland. I’m very tempted but i see some information that suggests that you need a degree. I don’t have a degree, not much call for one as an electrician. What’s been your experience. Do you have a degree. Do you you know of people without degrees having fewer opportunities?
Lots of questions there man!
Check your email 😉
Awesome blog post! I’m an Australian working in China as a high school English teacher (without a masters in education) but my contract finishes in February so my girlfriend and I will spend next year in her hometown Gdansk. I’m very excited and I hope to continue teaching English.
There’s the full range of TEFL/TESOL certificates out there ranging from cheap online ones from groupon.com to fully immersive courses for thousands of dollars. Will many employers be concerned with how I’ve obtained my certificate or will any kind of certificate combined with my experience be enough to score a gig?
Thanks in advance!
Hey Chris! Nice to kinda meet you. Straight up, Gdansk is a stunning city. Old but by the beach. Imaging Geelong or Newcastle, but like 1000 years old 😀
In my experience, how you have a qualification doesn’t particularly matter. Having taught before, that’ll be your best asset. But yes, you cover all your bases by having some kind of formal qualification alongside a qualification. You don’t need a masters or bachelors or anything. Most employers just want some kind of formal acknowledgement. I got a simple online certificate and managed to get a whole lot of job offers just by having the certificate and a can-do attitude. If you’ve got experience to add to that equation, well, you’ll be set! This is the qualification that I got, too: https://premiertefl.com/?ptaff=207
Thanks a lot for your reply. I’ve sent you an email with some follow up questions 🙂
I am curious how you set up your business here in Poland to teach English. I have gotten a job in Katowice but must set up a company as an american and I have a lot of questions regarding this.
What type of company (I have read that non EU citizen can only open a joint stock company, llc, or two other types of corporations. Not a one man company)
After you set up your company, where you able to work right away? Did you wait for your card to start working?
I have more questions and if we could communicate via email that would be very muhh appreciated.
I can assure you it wasn’t easy! As a non-EU citizen, I suggest checking out a company called TwojStartup. I work with them for a lot of what I do. Shoot me and email – phil [at] expatspoland [dot] com
I came across your blog and TOTALLY enjoyed it!! Very informative about the culture , people and the country.
I am planning to register for the TESOL/TEFL and want to teach in Warsaw or somewhere near Zakopane.
What part of Poland did you live and teach ?
I am a Canadian and not sure how long it takes to find a teaching job in Poland. Once I complete my certification then I will be in a better position to
assess the Work visa requirements and the logistics of landing a job in Poland. I have visited Poland couple of times and just love the place .. and the place.
Is it easier to find jobs in major metropolis like Krakow, Warsaw.. and do the schools provide you accommodation ?
Im Polish Australian born in Nz
Idl ike to teach English in zGdansk
What is the best ” teach English Course”
This was an awesome afternoon read as I procrastinated at work a little. Being that I am 38, out of a long relationship and having traveled a little finally; I feel like I need to get as much out of life as I possibly can. I love Europe and have been toggling with the idea of teaching English in Europe, my first choice has been France but now Poland is looking like a very good alternative. I guess my barrier is my age and it looks like many work visas are limited within a specific age group of 18-35, which makes me feel like a senior, haha. But seriously, I would love this opportunity but it’s trying to find how to achieve it without having some un-birthdays to get younger. Definitely more research to do, my grandparents are originally from Poland. If there are any sites that would be good places to further my research on how to obtain a job teaching English in Poland, France or Europe, please share! Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂
hope you are well.. and you had a good Easter!
I have completed my in-class ( 60 hrs) TESOL and received my certificate also.
I was wondering if it would be good idea to start out by teaching online some student based in Poland , before I move out there.
Would you happen to know of a database or a website where I could engage students ?
Hi Phil, Shayne here, I am from Adelaide, I would to teach English in Poland, I came across your informative post in Google. I have tried in vain to email you, this is why I am placing up post. First up, thanks for that, it was encouraging to see your journey, and hopeful for myself. I have an academic background in medical sciences for 3 years, and then social work for 4 years, so I am reasonably educated. I have spent the last 20 years being self employed, and divorced 3-4 years ago, and find myself wanting a change. Could you please suggest any effective strategies to attaining employment as an English teacher? All ideas much appreciated, and hopefully I can buy you a beer sometime. Yours sincerely Shayne McIntyre.
Good day Phil. Where would one begin to search for a job teaching English in Poland? Me and my Fiancee are from South Africa (currently in China)
Hi Phil! Great post! It has been my dream to move to Poland and try living there for a while. I am a native english speaker and my parents, who are from Poland, put me through Polish school so I have a knowledge in both languages. I am currently applying for jobs in Poland and many of my friends are telling me that I could make it in Poland by giving tutoring lessons. Do you know anything about how this process looks like? Thanks so much and hope you are enjoying living in Poland 🙂
Can you give me the answer to those same questions Lee asked?
Basically there’s no need for a degree. A great attitude, the ability to work and some form of qualification will be your best options – plus a little luck. Anything specific I can help you with?
My girlfriend is Polish and she wants me to go to Poland with her when she heads back (we’re in England atm). If I complete a TELF course and move to Poland with my girlfriend, is it just a case of visiting local language schools and asking if they have any vacancies? And until I find a position I could do some online teaching and/or try to gather some students for private lessons?
Thank you very much for your help, it’s much appreciated.
Completing an online TEFL course is, I’d say, the bare minimum required to get a job as a teacher here. But it depends on the school, your work status (are you legally allowed to work in the EU?), and whether the school wants experience or not. A good attitude doesn’t hurt either. Private lessons and online lessons are the easiest way to earn some extra cash, for sure, but it’s not enough to earn a decent living IMO – that also depends on where you’re living, too.
Let me know if I can help any other way!
I think I’ll complete an online TEFL course regardless of whether it would impact my chances, mainly to have a better understanding of how to teach English. I’m English so as it stands I’m fine with working in Poland but with Brexit at the end of the year I’m not sure how things might change. I would be living Ustron/Skoczow so I think the cost of living is reasonable. My girlfriend had a look at how much private tutors are in that area and the price per hour ranges from 60-100 zl. She also mentioned that being a native English speaker is considered better because Polish people who teach English tend to teach BBC English and Polish people would rather learn “normal” English, have you found this to be the case?
Thanks again Phil.
Yeah absolutely. Being a native English speaker is what everyone wants, it’s the one advantage you’ve got, so any other reason you can give someone to hire you, the better. Ustron is was down south in Silesia, so that sure won’t be as expensive here in Warsaw! I think your biggest problem will be Polish to be honest! 😀
Like!! Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.