A life lesson

There are ups and downs in EFL careers, especially when you move around. For some reason there is a serious percentage of EFL schools that are dodgy either in what they do or how they do it. I am yet to meet more than a handful of similarly minded teachers, in fact, most of us are professional and strive for the best but who get burned. Some don’t get paid, receive contracts, get fired with no warning or just treated badly on a day-to-day basis.

I understand why so many get out of the industry because it’s so hard to stay in it. How many others are full of short term or no contracts and chasing hours and pay, unpaid prep, travel and holidays? But still we soldier on because we feel we are making a difference to our students.

Well, I think I have just had a brush with another of these ‘unsavoury institutions’ and it certainly puts you off continuing. I mean, why keep struggling to find work and develop yourself when nobody is bothered, you won’t get a FT job and there’s no praise or reward from above or below? At this precise moment I am more than willing to stick everything in the bin and just jump ship. This would end the continual battle that is freelancing that splits prepping with job hunting, chasing payments and interviewing.

I love EFL and teaching and all I ask in return is to be treated by an employer fairly and respected, when I earn it, by my students. Yet, the former is quite often to provided and here in France there are laws against slander so it means you can’t even tell anyone about your bad treatment. Thus, teachers get stiffed and we are expected to take it because as some say “we are not real teachers’. Well, I taught one yesterday and he just reads books to his students who mainly sleep or lean back on their chairs. He isn’t interested in teaching methodology as “learning isn’t interesting, students just have to do it”. That’s a far cry from us constantly developing EFLers.

So, should I put this latest event down to experience and trundle on with my desire to become the best possible teacher I can be and setup and run innovative courses? I mean, half the time my students aren’t really interested and couldn’t tell the difference between an MA level lesson and a dustbin or am I just doing it to prove something to myself? Whichever it is perhaps now is the right to make logical decisions and find/choose a reputable employer and position, if it exists. Or maybe it is the right time to move on or sideways. Then again it may just be time to get my boots out and become a lumberjack. We shall see…..


15 thoughts on “A life lesson

  1. i feel for you brotha! elt teaching is indeed very precarious, the best one can do is have a hand in many pies and hope that this diverse income can compensate for bad times?
    sorry can’t offer any practical suggestions! i dare not say what the future holds in these tough times! wait for the revolution!?

    • Pies? Yep. I do work for some great places but when you work with one that looks like ‘a career’ and they are all promises you think “wow, I could stay here and make a difference” but then when you run into trouble with them you realise perhaps you were a bit naive. Use EFLers are always either running from something or to something looking for a proper job but perhaps there aren’t any, unless you have a Phd or become a DOS. I like teaching but maybe I need to move up or go it alone.

      • hi thought would add that a place i work for will be delaying my payment another month so am considering not handing in any marks for them till then. fair enough no?

        also expression is ‘fingers in many pies’ but since i am not very nimble i use my whole hand! 🙂

        • Yes, I have the same and will do the same thing if I don’t get the payment. I like ‘hands in many pies’ to mean you are more involved in other activities than just a finger would suggest.

  2. Bummer – been there, done that. Still accepting less than I’m worth and being treated like I should be grateful. Problem is, as with all teachers, I love what I do; and reading through the lines you also (normally) love what you do! Keep your chin up; see it as a knock back and use the experience to learn to never put yourself in that position again. Enjoy the ‘digital cheer up beer’ I just bought you!

    • Cheers for the comment lLouise,

      This was a late night ‘tell it how it is’ post. Thanks for the beer. I think I shall move on and invest my skills elsewhere. It does annoy/depress me a bit that there are so many dodgy places, no wonder EFL has a bad rep at times but the students are always nic, us too. Has the time come to ‘cut out the middleman’?

  3. Hi Phil,

    I think we’ve all had those days. I went through about a year of it–even used my DIF hours to do a bilan de compétences to find something different to do. In the end though all the other jobs I was interested in offered nothing better in terms of security, pay, etc. and regularity of work. Plus teaching does offer a certain level of personal satisfaction in terms of intellect, human contact, and helping people (but let,s not paint the world pink–there are rotten students who couldn’t care less too and make you just want to go through the coursebook motions).

    I think part of the problem is that we teachers can be reluctant to stand up for ourselves. I know I’ve got one employer who is doing two things that are clearly illegal according to work laws (I even went to a lawyer to confirm this) and with my colleagues we confronted the boss once, he said he’d look into it but would end up shutting shop if he had to pay what the law really required, we waited about a month to check back, boss said he hadn’t had the time but reiterated how much it would cost and that he would be forced out f business and nothing’s been said since.

    If teachers got tough about their rights, maybe employers wouldn’t act like scum so much. But I think the root of the issue goes back to quality–a lot of places would rather pay low wages and have high staff turnover than invest in keeping quality (and hopefully higher paid) staff. Unfortunately it seems the predominant attitude is “if you’re not happy, look elsewhere.” when the dedicated teachers start asking for salaries that match their quals, management gets jittery or even defensive and the dedicated teacher feels alienated, underappreciated, overworked, etc. and begins looking for a way out (which probably really suits the manangement).

    So I think it may indeed be better to cut out the middleman–the clients themselves want quality, you want to be encouraged to give quality classes, so why put a wrench in the middle of that equation?

    • Thanks Christina. I asked a teacher in a local school and she said depression is actually common, probably to do with bad kids and admin pressure. I don’t think we get that so much but maybe people teaching EFL in those schools do. I know when I was training I was sent to some bad schools in London where kids had fights every day and even parents had very aggressive conversations with teachers.

      I saw a film advertised called ‘American teacher’ which shows much the same. I think you are right that we train well and try to do a good job, the students want to improve but there are too many of either money grabbing swindlers (private) or incompetent bosses (public) who just want to do nothing but get money. This reflects on us and I have had to defend schools to my students more than once.They always ask “where does my money go?”.Well, it’s not to the teachers.

      I’ve also met many new schools which look great and the bosses seem nice but they just forget one vital thing: You need to get good teachers! They then realise they have to advertise but normally pay low and thus don’t get people of quality. Now, I’m not a businessman but I think in education the teacher is vital and the courses should begin with them and spread out, of course catering to what students need too.

      I worked at one place where all the staff allegedly went on strike and all got fired and replaced by PT teachers who had evening jobs or recent CELTA grads within 7 days.

      As another solution I’m applying for a PhD but they mainly seem to be for current staff in universities or high paying foreign students. You also wouldn’t believe how many ‘education institutions’ are offering courses, the majority of which look unaccredited but I may be wrong.

  4. I’m pleased to see this in print! It is the elephant in the room. EFL runs on the very young who use it to travel or earn a few bob, PhD postgrads (not CELTA qualified) supplementing a grant, women supplementing the family income and old farts like me who aren’t looking for a career. I have a zero hours contract with what in this world is a very good school that seems to care about standards (as far as that is possible in the circumstances) and that suits ME just fine as I can work as much or as little as I like. So I do it as an interesting and intellectually satisfying hobby but this is no way to run a business. Not much fun for those who have to pay the rent.
    Even my “good” school won’t buy course books and subscribe to EFL websites because of financial constraints. In fact it was the struggle to find the complete set (student’s book, teacher manual and CD) that set me on the Dogme trail so some good came from it albeit unintentionally.
    While there is a ready supply of people who are willing to fill the need for “teachers” this will just go on and on. Students buy courses without full knowledge of what to expect encouraged by agents who are only interested in the money and the schools would accept a gorilla if it had a fistful of fivers (and we would have to teach it!)
    It’s a shame that such a noble profession is mired in such distressing circumstances.
    I think that one way through would be small cooperatives of teachers working online and maybe branching out from there but it would take a lot of effort and ingenuity to make it work. Don’t look at me, I’m far too ancient for such things!

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the comment. I was a bit exasperated last night so just thought I’d say how I felt and as many other people on Twitter/blogs seemed to be feeling.

      Sounds familiar mate. Financial constraints fine but you need a strategy ie use dogme, authentic texts, news or make your own stuff. that might actually be better than using a book. Then if it’s good use it again and even sell it to a publisher/publish it yourself.Then you are actually making money.

      Ah agents? I know them well but they often don’t know anything about my classes.

      Small co-ops? Yes, that was my idea I pitched to Dave D, Karenne and Tyson as they are studying an MA in tech. They are big names in EFL tech and I’m sure when they graduate will make a bit contribution to EFL, they’re also great people so would set a great example for others to follow. I know a few online schools and lesson prep places that do well so it might be the right time to go down that road but here a lot of places don’t have a phone/net signal so it could be a problem. Eeek.


  5. I couldn´t agree with you any more on this subject Phil. I´ve said these things before, sober and otherwise, TEFL, or whatever one chooses to call it, is not a profession. There are professional teachers and professional attitudes, of course, this not what I´m alluding to. I think many people are defining TEFL is an industry and we are treated as such in terms of pay, contracts and all the other stuff you mentioned. I mean, nothing says (semi) skilled labourer like an hourly, piecemeal wage A critque of our industry is needed. I´m doing an MA to get out of the day-today shyte that is TEFL, or at least move laterally.

    • Cheers Don. Oh yes, I’ve seen the ads. I do get fed up of seeing DOS people who have few if any EFL qualifications. Now, everyone seems to be doing translation and are English teachers/translators/interpreters but I’m pretty sure they are not qualified to do any but they still get work. Does this mean all language-related jobs don’t need training or certification? If I’d known all this I’d have left school at 16 and set up a language/translation company.

      I do wonder why we are all doing TD/CPD when it probably won’t help our careers or pay.Yes, a few, very few, may find jobs in FE or move into CELTA training but they aren’t guaranteed providers of FT jobs either. I did hear some people’s CELTA courses were cancelled this year so does that mean less people are entering the industry due to poor conditions/prospects. I know more and more foreigners doing DELTA and teaching in the UK so have we natives lost interest or just realised it’s too much hassle. It would be interesting to see the figures.

  6. Totally agree with you and what everyone else has said on this post. Like everyone I have these moments of frustration. Here in Germany it is much the same. Working my little cockles off, preparing my own materials, creating my own ideas to provide fasscinating and engaging lessons and excellent learning experiences, reviewing the lesson, improving the lesson for next time…why do I do this? Good question! Enjoyment and love of the job and to make a difference to my learners. I certainly don’t feel that it is appreciated my client (even if it is by the learners) and that my client will soon be offering me a pay increase or permanent contract. It is certainly all take take take here too. It’s the world we live in. If you want something you have to go out and get it…no-one will offer it to you on a plate. Especially in the TEFL world. Anyway keep your chin up! Good things happen to good people!

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