Teachers like us

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Cliched doodle no.100

When I first declared that I wanted to teach English as a foreign language, a friend of a friend told me “But teaching English is for losers.” I don’t tend to see myself as a loser and it wasn’t what you’d call a helpful comment so I stashed it in my grudge pile until this year, when an eye-opening experience made me wonder why this view exists and how teachers are viewed and valued.  This is a sort of rambling reflection based on that and an invitation to discussion.

For my part, I see myself as a pretty solid bet: I take my career seriously and that’s why I blog and why I did the DELTA. My experience until 2015 had been that reputable schools value their teachers and pay them appropriately, take pride in their efforts and are keen for them to engage in professional development.  This year, however, life has served me three courses of That Ain’t Always The Way, Ducky:

  1. I experienced a working environment that placed somewhat less value on teachers and teaching. Needless to say, most teachers expressed negative feelings about the school and it was altogether rather uninspiring, not to mention surprising given the status of the school.
  2. While reading posts from a facebook page for expats in Madrid, it occurred to me that perhaps English language teachers are only worth what students will pay, and if the going rate is brought down by unqualified non-career teachers, then that’s what we have to deal with.
  3. I’ve just moved back to the UK and have been checking out the teaching options for a while now. It has been rather disheartening to discover that there are so many job adverts for zero hour contracts, with low rates and no benefits, and – I’m guessing – no pay for lesson planning or marking. I realised that some of the best jobs in the UK in terms of pay and esteem seem to be at universities, teaching EAP, but this seems tricky to get into outside the summer months. (See Gemma Campion’s very interesting post What is required to teach EAP on the blog Teaching EAP for more about getting into EAP and EAP practitioner identity.)

What’s this all about? It appears that EFL teaching (outside certain institutions) is often not seen as a serious profession. Why is this? Is it because it’s “so easy” to become a teacher? (See this post on eltjam for an interesting discussion on this topic.) Are there too many of us and not enough work? How do we assert ourselves and receive recognition for our professional status from society? Do we need to? Am I expecting too much?

On a positive note, I’ve been very lucky to have worked at a fantastic summer school this year and am just about to start my first EAP course, which I’m excited about.  And there’s a three day induction – a good sign that teachers and teaching are valued at this institution.

Is your experience similar to mine or totally different? I would love to hear your views.

 

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10 comments

  1. Joanna Malefaki · · Reply

    Good luck on your first EAP job! You will have so much fun :D. Great post btw.
    Joanna

    1. Thanks, Joanna! I’ve just finished my first day and so far it’s really great!

  2. When I came back to the UK, I didn’t want to take anything that wouldn’t offer me the salary and benefits I need/want at this stage in my life/career. That ruled out a lot of vacant positions, but I stuck at it and found the right teaching job for me. I think teaching English must be like any career, there are a range of options. I don’t and have never felt remotely like a loser 🙂 If you persevere, I’m sure you’ll find the right teaching job for you. 🙂

    I teach EAL in a mainstream school and I have to say that there is a lack of knowledge surrounding EAL/EFL in a lot of schools. From other members of staff thinking EAL teachers are not qualified, to them thinking anyone could do it or thinking we must be fluent in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French (insert any language) to teach EAL… Also potential employers, colleagues, friends… Many seem to think working overseas as an English teacher is a bit like going on a long holiday. Sigh.

    1. You did well, Zoe! Thanks is for your post! I didn’t mean to sound whiney about finding work – most of the time things look fairly positive – it’s just sort of disappointing that the view of EAL/EFL teachers (even amongst other teachers!) is as you describe so often. Perhaps this lack of knowledge is what affects our standing in society. But then, there are plenty of people who teach to go on holiday too. How do we stand out? Is the diploma enough? Sorry, more questions!

  3. I’ve always summarised the problem as being a market flooded by cheap labour, driving down the prices. Although I realise this will always be the case, especially when it comes to private lessons, it does annoy me that language schools can (and do) hire unqualified teachers. This is what devalues our role, because outwardly there’s no difference between highly qualified teachers who see TEFL as a career and unqualified people on holiday.

    The real scandle is that there’s probably not that much difference in their pay and conditions.

    Where’s the motivation to get more qualified and to view it as a more serious career? There’s certainly no extrinsic motivation; I’ve actually heard teachers say that they don’t get paid enough to care/invest their free time in CPD.
    IH pay Delta qualified teachers an increment of €35 a month. If you work out how much that is per hour…. It’s an insulting 43c pay rise. Ouch.

    Reading through the articles/posts you linked to (thanks!); Scott Thornbury’s post particularly resonated with this depressing quote:
    ‘prospects for professionalization are … seen to be limited because, although teachers act professionally in the day-to-day sense of working conscientiously and responsibly, the socioeconomic conditions make it impossible (or at least extremely unwise) for them to make a long-term commitment to EFL teaching’ (p. 706).

    Johnston, B. (1997). Do EFL teachers have careers? TESOL Quarterly, 31 (4).

    It’s a shame how frequently I feel I may have made an unwise career choice 😦

  4. This link might interest you, I have just come across this blog where you’ll find a lot of stories from TEFL teachers around the world who tell about the difficulties they’ve encountered working in the industry..http://libcom.org/blog/angry-language-brigade

  5. Hi Emma. I read you posts with great interest. It is, in fact, the only blog that I read regularly so thanks for your excellent posts.
    I have sometimes thought about starting a union for EFL teachers to get rid of all the academies that employs teachers without contract or lack of other rights. Because no one is doing anything about these rogue academies that are continuesly lowering the standards, it is increasingly difficult for the serious and professional ones to offer their teachers a permanent contract and a full time job.
    I admit that I’m not a vocational teacher but rather one who was pushed into it by necessity. But I’m angered by the poor conditions we have to work under (I’ve worked without a contract, with a half the pay as cash in hand etc) and it’s just not fair. Unfortunately I think it’s due to the huge demand in the market (Spain anyway), huge offer of young, willing and uncaring teachers, and a lack of control by parents (quality) and authorities (labour law).

    Personally I only prepare the time I’m paid for which in my current job is 2 hours weekly for 17 hours of class. This is cynical but fair is fair. This ended up being a rant but I basically just wanted to say that I agree with you and admire you for your passion for teaching.

  6. […] When I first declared that I wanted to teach English as a foreign language, a friend of a friend told me "But teaching English is for losers." I don't tend to see myself as a loser and it wasn't what you'd call a helpful comment so I stashed it in my grudge pile until this…  […]

  7. Thank you for this post, Emma!
    I am Russian, worked as an EFL teacher in Russia for five years, but was thinking to change my career because of the working hours, low salary, no visible development path. Only later I realised that schools are different and I was working in the best school in a small town, so the dynamics was different from, say, IH schools. I moved to a big city, was studying International Business Management as my second degree and working as an EFL teacher at the same time, just to support myself financially. When I finished that course, I was obsessed with getting a corporate job. No matter how little I cared about the job itself. I felt I needed to be there, but at the same time it felt wrong. After a number of rejections I decided to change the scenery and ended up going to the UK for a one-year charity project, after that I had a baby and in March this year moved to Madrid with my husband and son. And again, I was hesitating thinking about what to do in life. As you say, “non-career” teachers bring down the value of EFL teaching jobs. It seemed so unfair, that I spnt years in my life learning English, learning meodologies, getting qualifications to make sure students get the necessary support. And some people saw this job as an easy one, just because they happened to speak English as their native language. In the end, I decided to listen to my heart. Recently I started working at IH Madrid, and I’m doing my part-time DELTA. I absolutely love everything I read about or face in class. My two-year break from teaching gave me valuable experience in other things, and now I can bring more into the classroom. I know, it’s been just a month since I started, but I feel really inspired and excited about my further steps. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I am thinking about starting to blog about my professional life, but at the moment I am only writing in Russian, mostly about culture and life in different countries.

    All the best in your new job! Hope to read more about it soon 🙂

  8. Thanks for this article. I wholeheartedly agree.

    What’s worse is that some of these unqualified teachers like to brag about how easy it was for them to stroll into such jobs. Then my non-native friends, who take their jobs very seriously, are struggling away in the background on lower pay.

    I’d love to see a clampdown on unqualified teachers, better conditions (especially for the non-native teachers who know what they’re doing) and for EFL to be taken more seriously.

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