The importance of an agreement when working with learners

I decided to write this article because someone who is thinking about becoming an online teacher asked me about it, and I thought the ideas might help other people in the same position.

I’m not a lawyer, but when I was setting up my business, I decided to write a short agreement that I wanted all new customers to read and consent to before we started working together.

It’s not long, but it covers questions like
How much are the lessons?
What happens if a student cancels a lesson or doesn’t show up?
When am I available to teach? (I don’t mean a diary, but the fact that I work Monday to Friday and you won’t get an answer in the middle of the night).
Is homework included?
Which software options are available for the online meetings?
How long will I wait before assuming that the student won’t show up?
How long are the prices valid?
How can payments be made? (Bank transfer or Paypal for UK customers/Paypal for everyone else)
I decided to do this because I ran into a few issues when providing free training in my spare time, and I wanted to be really clear in setting out boundaries in terms of what I was going to do, and what I expect from my customers. I think many teachers run into problems or frustrations because they don’t set out clear boundaries at the beginning, and then they get frustrated because the learners don’t do what they want them to, even though what they want has never been clearly communicated.

I don’t ask for a signature, but I do ask that people email me back to say that they have read and are ok with the terms set out in my 2-page document. I work in two languages, so I also offer the document in German for German speakers who feel more comfortable with that, or who are beginners and would not understand the document in English. I wouldn’t offer the document in other languages, because I wouldn’t feel confident answering questions about it in any other language. The English version is free from legal jargon, and therefore fairly easy to read and understand.

The main reasons for having the agreement are to be clear about the charges (I have discounts for block bookings, and two rates depending on the time of day), and to be clear that customers understand that I will charge them if they cancel at short notice. In most cases, this is a great way of discouraging people from doing that, as there will be consequences for them. However on the other hand, I want to be fair, because everyone hates services with hidden charges. This in fact isn’t a hidden charge, because the information is on the website too, but at least I know I did my bit in drawing people’s attention to it.

The other reason it’s good to have an agreement is in case you need an exit strategy. In the 5 years that I’ve been working with students, I’ve only ended the arrangement twice, but in both cases it was helpful to be able to refer to the agreement, to which they’d agreed before starting the lessons, and explain why what they were doing was not in line with it.

There were a couple of people who weren’t ok with the terms that I’d set out, because they thought they shouldn’t have to pay if they cancel at short notice because they have busy lives, but I wasn’t sorry to lose these potential customers, as doing so left more time for people who actually value my time! People who want this level of flexibility need to find someone who is willing to offer it, and I’m not that someone!

This maybe sounds a bit more formal and official than some teachers would like, but the truth is that after people have told me their happy with the agreement, we never talk about it again unless there is a problem, which only happens very rarely.

If you’re thinking of setting up an English-teaching business, have you thought about an agreement for students? If you are already working as an online teacher, do you have an agreement? Do you find that it helps?

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Kirsty working with students


2 Comments on “The importance of an agreement when working with learners”

  1. Elfin says:

    Hi Kirsty, I think this is really useful!

    I have a document with my guidelines as well but it’s not as comprehensive as this one. I might add a thing or two, now that you brought my attention to it.

    It is really important to have a document like this and to always think worst case scenario.

  2. I’m glad it helped :)
    I agree it’s good to think about the worst case scenario – then you already have a plan if it actually happens, which makes dealing with it less stressful.


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