Why not teach in Poland?

Matt Salusbury visits Poland to discover modest pay packets for English language teachers – but generous holidays and a rich history and culture could make it a country worth considering

It can be tough earning a living as an English teacher in Poland. Even being a native speaker there doesn’t necessarily confer an advantage over locally recruited teachers in terms of hourly rates.

There are sectors where you can make a decent living, however – the universities sector is worth a look.

Life as an EFL professional is also easier if you’re prepared to consider teaching work outside Poland’s bigger, more expensive cities.

Poland’s private language schools sector has relatively few international chains. There are some British Council and International House branches (more likely to hire native speakers) but most of the private sector is home-grown Polish chains.

Dominant among these is Empik Schools – an unusual business model, it grew out of a bookshop and department store operation. I was told Empik markets itself as offering experienced, qualified teachers – usually Polish nationals, often with an MA. Smaller chains and independents advertise ‘natural English’ (native speaker) teachers, often teaching in tandem with Polish teaching assistants.

Several Warsaw-based teachers I spoke to warned that in a competitive private sector, powerful clients force down the rates schools charge them, unfortunately reflected in the rates paid to teachers. One teacher told me that rates in the private EFL sector are falling. Despite annual inflation of around 2 per cent, even salaries in universities haven’t gone up for at least four years.

In language schools and universities, some employers try to push teachers into self-employment. The bureaucracy of being self-employed is onerous, especially the burden of having to pay ‘the Zus’ – social security contributions – upfront. This can come to over 1000 zlotys a month.

They’re at a much reduced rate for the the first two years of self-employment, though. Peter Whiley, editor of the Iatefl Poland newsletter and English teacher at a university in Warsaw, described colleagues ‘buying computers they don’t really need to get the reliefs’ on the Zus, adding that self-employment is ‘just not worth it’ for many.

There’s awareness of a skills shortage in Poland, including foreign languages, according to Marek Kiczkowiak, EAP lecturer at the University of Leuven, currently completing a PhD on Polish ELT.

Kiczkowiak says of Poland’s private ELT sector: ‘The initial boom after we joined the EU is slowing down, but there’s still room for expansion… the private sector is still doing pretty well.’

English proficiency is generally ‘getting better,’ particularly among the ‘newer generation of teachers’, he says.

There’s a perception that the standard of English taught in Poland’s state sector secondary schools is not great, although it’s improving rapidly, to the point where a once-common side line in English tutoring for school students is drying up.
Business English is a growth area, with one full-time self-employed native English speaker reporting that he makes a good living doing nothing else. English for young learners and in particular English kindergartens seems to be a gap in the market ripe for expansion. There are some private nurseries that have two child minders, one Polish speaking and one English speaking, while even state nursery schools offer English if they have the budget for it.

Public sector schools will only recruit teachers who have government-approved qualifications – a BA or MA in Tesol or ‘English philology’. Foreigners need to get their degree certificate translated then validated by the Ministry of Education, or take a degree in Poland. While the public sector has low wages and little prestige, it’s very stable work once you get it, with three months paid holiday.

Poland is going through interesting times, but not in a good way. During my July visit there were regular protests in Warsaw at the government’s dismissal of many Supreme Court judges. One consequence of the political mood of the country is that there are fewer hours of English taught in state schools, with more hours for Polish and religion instead.

“ Business English is a growth area... English for young learners and in particular English kindergartens seems to be a gap in the market ripe for expansion ”

Teaching in universities isn’t very lucrative. English teachers at private universities have to teach intensive summer pre-sessional courses or do proofreading to make ends meet. Danuta Soltyska, Iatefl treasurer and teacher at the Polytechnika (Warsaw University of Technology) notes that full-time salaried contract university teachers can spend potentially unlimited hours on the preparation of tailor-made ESP materials.

It’s becoming harder to find full-time jobs at universities, partly due to a rise in the retirement age. Soltyska also observes that the ‘demography is against us’ – fewer students of university age mean that some private universities have collapsed, although enrolments are expected to recover in a couple of years.

Polish universities, Poznan in particular, are attracting more international students (some via Erasmus) to their few English-medium courses.

There are many Turks, Chinese and Latin Americans at Warsaw’s Politechnika pre-sessional, MA and BA courses. Vistula University it’s predominantly Kazakhs, Ukrainians and ‘the odd Israeli.’

Also worthy of investigation are Poland’s teacher training colleges, which have now left the control of local government and come under the wing of universities. While teacher-training colleges pay less than universities, ‘they look after you’, says Whiley.

Why Poland, then? Expats I interviewed cited friendly people, good food and drink and a cost of living that’s still relatively low in the smaller cities.

While Poland’s modernising fast, it’s still not that ‘touristy’, there’s plenty to explore by way of history and nature. Polish language classes are usually part of the package for expat teachers. Whiley, who moved out of Warsaw and now commutes from a small town 70 km away, advises looking at smaller cities where there ‘aren’t many native speakers to go around, somewhere off the beaten track.’

Money Matters

4.8 zlotys = £1
3.6 zlotys =US$1

Rents: a room in Central Warsaw is 1300 zlotys a month, a Central Warsaw flat of your own is 3000 a month. Rent in Krakow is 500 zlotys for a room and 1000 for a flat of your own. Outside the big cities it’s lower.

Pay: Teachers were reluctant to be open about their salaries in a country where in law contracts are confidential. The highest Warsaw private language school rates (‘for older teachers’) are 50-60 zlotys an hour (net with paid holidays). One teacher reported Polish colleagues were paid less – around 40 zlotys an hour. Monthly salary for a starting teacher at Warsaw Technology University is 3000 zlotys gross, 2000 net.

Cost of living: Relatively low – especially food, drink, housing in smaller cities.

Qualifications: Native speakers need a degree and a Celta or equivalent. Polish English teachers need a teacher training degree with methodology component or you can hold another degree plus a Celta or equivalent and a language exam at C2.

Professional development: You can take a Celta or Delta in the bigger Polish cities.

Exams: The Cambridge suite (FCE and CAE) are the most common, followed by Toeic, then Ielts and Toefl (rarer) and the Matura, the Polish exam for English.

Immigration: EU nationals can work in Poland. Nobody knows what will happen to UK nationals when the UK exits the EU, in March 2019 at the earliest. Currently it looks as if freedom of movement within the EU for UK nationals will last at least another two years after that. English teachers who are Canadian or US nationals can obtain work permits in advance if they have evidence of a job offer for ‘work in the profession requiring high qualifications’ See: http://bit.ly/2wEgtQx

Useful links

Matt Salusbury, is a freelance journalist, He was previously news and features editor of EL Gazette and was an EFL and ESOL teacher in Turkey, the Netherlands and the UK.