Teaching private lessons for a pittance? What if I told you you could double your rates while working less using a proven method that can transform your life? Interested?
But how do you differentiate yourself from all the other teachers hustling to make a buck? You need an angle. That angle is packaged in the English Coach System.
The English Coach System is the brain-child of Adam Beck, a Hiroshima resident with Master's in Theatre Arts and 20 years of English teaching experience in Japan, the US, and the Czech Republic. Beck's system was born in 2002 and he claims it to be a "reinvention of private teaching" and a "unique and superior method" that allows teachers to command higher fees.
Impossible, you say? What does he have that you don't? A "proven system," and "all you have to do is tweak it for your particular teaching situation and you could then launch your own English Coach program and begin reaping the same rewards."
Sounds amazing, but does it live up to its claims? I was recently contacted by Mr. Beck and he invited me to review his material.
The English Coach website is a punch in the face: Buy now or pay more! Big text, big graphics (the prominently displayed book turns out to be a series of PDFs), slashed prices, and highlighted text to make up your mind for you. The smell of get-rich-quick is difficult to ignore. There is something about websites that use ClickBank to handle payments. Can you see the connection with the author's website and here, here, here, here, and here?
According to the website, it is a "groundbreaking approach," "an approach that is truly a reinvention of how teachers normally go about giving private lessons," and "a proven way" that has been used in 11 countries. In a PDF that is given to students, Beck describes his system as thus:
What is an English Coach?
An English Coach can be compared to a sports coach. A marathon runner, for example, needs a coach to provide personalized guidance and encouragement so the runner can maximize his progress and realize his goals. In the same way, an English Coach provides the English learner with personalized guidance and encouragement so the learner can maximize his progress and realize his goals. Just as the support of a sports coach can have a powerful impact on the success of an athlete, the support of an English Coach can have a powerful impact on the success of an English learner.
What is the difference between an English Coach and an English Teacher?
An English Teacher can be helpful in providing a weekly opportunity to practice your English skills, learn a little grammar and vocabulary, and make gradual progress. However, for many learners, this sort of typical learning situation isn’t really effective because it can’t truly maximize your progress. And this is why many learners feel dissatisfied with their learning process and feel frustrated by their slow rate of improvement.
An English Coach, on the other hand, provides the sort of powerful, personalized support that can maximize your progress and enable you to realize your goals more quickly. An English Coach conducts a comprehensive assessment of you as a learner, designs an effective and enjoyable learning program for you, then offers continuous encouragement so this program can be successfully maintained and your language learning goals—and related life goals—can be reached as rapidly as possible (p. 1).
The methodology or approach to teaching English centers on life coaching. The role of an English Coach (you) is clarified near the end of the Success with the English Coach System booklet:
On this note, it's important to stress that your essential role as an English Coach amounts to life coaching through English teaching. Your main responsibility involves defining the student's larger life goal and then providing the kind of support that will enable them to keep that goal firmly in their day-to-day awareness so their motivation for English study—the means to their larger end—will remain strong and progress towards the goal can be sustained over time. This is how you will ultimately serve your students most effectively and the moments your students ultimately realize their goals will be the source of your greatest satisfaction as an English Coach. (p.31)
So here we are presented with a system that has no basis in any EFL/ESL methodology, yet promises to reinvent private lessons, double your income, reduce your teaching hours, and offer professional fulfillment. Guaranteed. If you're thinking, "This is too good to be true," you would be correct. The English Coach System comes across as more of a well-crafted sales pitch than a ground-breaking approach to teaching English.
The English Coach System is not entirely without merit. For $48 USD, you can download the 48-page Success with the English Coach System PDF plus a set of supplemental materials that the author claims are what you need to get started. These are:
While the materials are rudimentary (the author admits to using Calendar Maker to create his study calendars), they are immediately useful and are a starting point for beginners. Any limitations with the calendars, homework slips, rate sheets, and student evaluation documents can be quickly resolved with a little creativity, a word processor, or online application such as Google Calendar or Google Docs.
The system also makes use of Learner Binders. These are handed out to students during the first meeting and contain the English Coach logo, the Study Calendar for each month of the program, and a copy of the English Coach agreement. Provided that the binder is attractive and sturdy enough (the author suggests the 100 yen kind), this seems like a good way to make lessons with you "official" and reinforce the notion that you are a professional.
The author's writeup on key textbooks and activities is helpful albeit limited. It is certainly a good place to start.
What's missing from the supplemental materials are Japanese versions of them, and I wonder if the lack of documentation in Japanese might be a hindrance to signing up new students. Some of these documents, particularly the description of the English Coach System, agreement, and fee sheet, should be in Japanese.
Professionalism is a major theme in the booklet and is constantly stressed by the author. There is good reason for this because no student would pay top dollar for lessons from an unprepared, disheveled teacher. Much of what the author defines as professionalism is common sense: Dress well, print up nice business cards, print out nice materials, be prepared.
The professionalism of your work—how the public perceives your program, your promotional materials, and your personal appearance—is a crucial factor in effectively conveying the high-end image that will appeal to a high-end market. Your program must be thoughtfully-considered, your promotional materials well-designed, and your appearance suitably business-like in order to persuade prospective students that your higher fees will be worth the additional cost compared to other teachers. (The set of materials I offer will lay the right foundation for your program and your promotional materials, but the part about personal appearance is entirely up to you!)
And please don't misunderstand: I'm not at all advocating the notion of "style over substance." On the contrary, your work must have a bedrock of "substance" in order to succeed, especially for the long-term. At the same time, this "substance" must be presented well to the public—it must have "style" to be persuasive (p.8).
The "bedrock" of substance claimed by the author, however, turns out to be more like sand. For example, initial consultations take place at coffee shops and restaurants:
Because the environment for your meeting is an important factor in the ultimate success of your consultation, I strongly recommend that you determine a suitable spot in advance. If you aren’t able to do this prior to setting the meeting time, you could simply arrange to meet at a convenient landmark in town (“in front of the department store”). Then, perhaps 30 minutes beforehand, you arrive early to locate a suitable coffee shop or restaurant.
If the environment is so crucial, why not meet at the teacher's classroom/office/school? What's missing from the booklet is a discussion about working from one's own home or classroom versus teaching at students' homes.
In addition to being professional in a coffee shop is fudging the truth:
And finally, as time goes by, I strongly suggest that you solicit “testimonials” from your students. Among your other promotional materials, impressions from students, written in their native language, can be very persuasive as they provide true insight into your program and they foster a deeper level of trust in your service. (For the time being, you may want to use a few of the Student Impressions I have provided. I’m not suggesting you claim these comments have come from your own students—that wouldn’t be right—but I think it’s fair to use them more generally to demonstrate the satisfaction that students have experienced with the English Coach System.) (p.12)
There is certainly nothing wrong with testimonials, but borrowing testimonials is disingenuous at best. Moreover, the testimonials provided are completely unattributed. In using the testimonials provided, a teacher would be legitimizing a "system" about which he knows little. Aside from the claims made on the author's website, there is no clear indication of how widely used the English Coach System is.
The author's attitude toward new students appears to be evasive and counterproductive. For example, he says this about first contacts with prospective students:
At this stage, I avoid engaging in a protracted discussion about the program. Not only is it an inefficient use of my time—since most questions can be effectively answered through information found at my website or in the paper version of this information—it can even be counterproductive to my goal of gaining their enrollment. Since communication is sometimes problematic over the phone or through email—particularly when the native languages and cultures of the two people are different—I feel I have a far better chance of persuading them of the value of my service if I can meet them in person for an extended conversation. (p.13)
Talking about the program is a waste of time? Why withhold information? The initial contact seems like a good opportunity to impress upon student the merits of the system. Moreover, the overall attitude sounds flippant: If you want information, go read my website instead of talking to me.
The author also has a similar attitude about his fees:
So when someone asks you for your fee—and many people naturally will—you should avoid responding with specific numbers. In my case, I simply tell them that my fee is similar to the fees charged for private lessons at language schools (which is true, because schools typically charge more for private lessons than private teachers do), but that it very much depends on their needs and interests and the location of our meetings (which is also true). Every student is different and that’s why I first need to speak with them personally, so I can assess the appropriate fee. When I explain my fee to them in this way, they seem to understand and I’ve then successfully postponed discussion of a specific figure until our personal meeting. (p.14)
Again, why be evasive? Or is the purpose to lure students into a position where saying "no" is difficult? It reeks of the sales tactics used by the big eikaiwa schools.
Not only is the author vague about his fees, it appears that his fee sheet contains no information:
As the Fee Information Sheet shows, I purposely leave these boxes blank [space for the price of the lessons] until this moment so I can take advantage of the flexibility of my fee (p.20-21).
It is outrageous that the author would literally pencil in is fees right in front of the student. There is simply no reason not to show the price up front. The student is at a complete disadvantage in the English Coach System. Not only does the prospective student know little about the program, he also has no idea about how much it will cost and has no idea about prices until the moment the teacher writes it down. It is this kind of sales strategy that got NOVA into trouble.
The author also seems to take a page from the large eikaiwa school playbook by charging more for the first month than other months due to fact he creates a Learner Profile and Learning Program at this stage (p.7). Given how basic these documents are, the higher rate is simply a sign-up fee in disguise.
The author also appears to engage in some intrusive behavior during the sign-up process in that he recommends shooting a short video of the student during the first meeting:
Shoot a short video of the student speaking English so you can assess their speaking skills in detail. (It isn’t necessary to use video in your English Coach program to make it a success—and, of course, if you don’t have ready access to video equipment, this won’t be an option—but the use of video is another attractive feature of the program that will make your services stand out and enhance their value in the eyes of the public.) (p.19).
I question the appropriateness of doing this right off the bat. It is convenient for the author to make the video optional and them imply that not using it will take away from some of the specialness of your services, especially when he calls it an "impressive feature" of the system (p.26). It is a nice catch-all that allows the author to claim success if it works, and ignore it if it doesn't.
The author also states his preference for
giving lessons holding first meetings at students' homes as it 1) Allows him to see the home and understand his student's lifestyles, 2) Allows him see what learning resources they have, and 3) Allows him to shoot video there (p.22-23). This sounds awfully intrusive and has nothing to do with the actual teaching of the lessons. There are also cross-cultural implications to consider. Wouldn't shooting video be a little intimidating to many students? However, the author dismisses any charges of intrusiveness by saying once he explains his system, the students generally accept it.
Now that a student has been successfully qualified and signed up, the author delves into the delivery of the actual lessons. However, the booklet is short on details.
What should you teach? It all depends on the unique needs of the student. That's it. There is no advice or strategies for approaching reading and listening comprehension, conversation, or vocabulary building. If you know nothing about teaching EFL, you are on your own. The author's own examples do not offer much insight:
One student was involved in arts management and was hoping to participate in an internship abroad at a theater company. She wanted to read material in English related to arts management so I located a book on theater management that seemed interesting and wasn’t too difficult for her level.
Another student was interested in musicals and I felt the musical “Rent” would appeal to her in terms of its music and its themes. So we read the script and listened to the soundtrack and, afterwards, watched the movie version.
A third student loved animals so I found a couple of colorful books on animals written for native-speaking children that he could understand and enjoy.
This is more guided self-study than teaching English. The author does not describe what typical activities are nor does he explain how the ECS better in its approach.
When it comes to textbooks, the author suggests obtaining free inspection copies from publishers:
Expanding your familiarity with the ELT market largely depends on your own initiative, though the process is much easier, of course, if you live in an area where ELT resources are widely available through bookstores, book fairs, and publishers. However, wherever you are, it should be possible to locate publishers in your region through an internet search and send them email to request current catalogues and free “inspection copies” of books that you are interested in examining more closely (p.32).
The author notes that obtaining free copies is not easy in Japan, but he has managed to build up an impressive personal library of free books. Publishers in Japan are stingy with free books since it is too easy for small schools to make photocopies and use them for their classes.
However, should you have trouble getting free samples, you can always fudge the truth:
The publishers are naturally more eager to send inspection copies to teachers that teach a sizable number of students since they can potentially make more money if the teacher adopts their books. Because of this, I would discourage mentioning that you teach private lessons. Simply make general reference to your “school” or “program” and that you are now in need of a new reading textbook (or whatever kind of book you’re interested in) and you’re eager to examine some of their titles. (p.32-33)
Ironically, after informing the reader of why inspection copies are difficult to obtain, he turns around and essentially advocates photocopying them:
At first glance, this may seem like an expensive proposition if you have to purchase all these materials, too. But, in fact, I rarely have to buy any materials for myself. The secret, again, is in building up your own library of “inspection copies.” And once you have some suitable books on your bookshelf—say, three levels of a preferred reading series—it’s very likely that you’ll use these same books with a number of students (p.34).
The author acknowledges that limited access to ELT materials is going to be a problem with obtaining materials to fit student needs. He recommends contacting publishers in such a situation, but this has its limitations since it will not assist the teacher in understanding the materials. He says that using Amazon to obtain materials and reviews of materials is invaluable (p.33), but on the following page, he states:
For ELT materials, I don’t recommend using amazon. They certainly offer competitive prices for mainstream products—and I often order needed interest-related materials from them—but ELT materials are a specific genre that they generally don’t discount very much. By working with an ELT distributor, you’ll not only pay less, you’ll naturally find a much wider selection of ELT materials (p.34).
Sadly, this is another contradiction in the system. At the outset, the author states that you do not need much experience, yet by page 32 he calls for teachers to become extremely familiar with ELT materials. This is going to be a challenge if you don't have a background in teaching EFL/ESL. How can you know it well if you don't understand it and its principles? In all fairness, however, the author does recommend purchasing materials through Nellie’s English Books.
The English Coach System concerns itself with life coaching and has no academic or professional basis in its approach to teaching English in Japan. Moreover, the booklet lacks information on Japan-specific topics such as setting up a classroom or school, paying taxes, paying for health insurance, and making pension payments. These are topics that a teacher on his own needs to know about. This kind of information would have made the booklet much more valuable.
The booklet assumes that business is conducted in English. This does not sound like a recipe for success given the fact that the vast majority of Japanese do not speak English. True success in marketing your skills and business requires Japanese ability or an assistant. Replying solely on English will limit the number of students and your income.
The author plays a high-end market perception game, but does not really provide any instruction that is more academically and educationally sound. In other words he is telling people to set higher prices using his system when in actuality they are the same or worse than that of other typical private instruction and school instruction. The system is geared primarily to students with higher levels of English mastery, primarily adults, who are willing to pay high fees for lessons that are essentially little more than guided independent studies.
Ultimately, the English Coach System is about making the sale instead of teaching English. The marketing language of the website, the lack of concrete information from a pedagogical standpoint for different learners, learner levels, and learner needs, and the grandiose claims of reinventing teaching make it difficult to recommend this system to anyone thinking of going into business for themselves.
Due to some sloppy reading and writing on my part, I want to clarify a few items in my review that have to do with holding lessons in students' homes and using Amazon.
A big thanks to a Smithwatch contributor for his advice in writing this review.