This be the post
I am beset by existential angst. Normally this is the preserve of the troubled teen and I can only just about remember those days. But it’s coming back to hit me in a big way. prompted in no small part by @geoffjordan’s recent blogpost that served as a heartfelt and well-justified j’accuse of the con-game that is ELT. I have recently taken to advising people to stay away from ELT as a career and am beginning to rue the day that I ever handed over my hard-earned cash to finance my induction into this corrupt little game. When you are half way between your apprenticeship and your retirement, this is not a good situation to find yourself in.
Geoff’s follow up post was more of a roll call of the reasons why ELT was not quite as bad as he may have made out. This was agracious balancing of the books, but I was less swayed by the arguments contained within. Ultimately, he called it right when he said that this is an industry that pays poorly and offers very little in the way of professional development and progression but offers you the opportunity to work with some impressively driven individuals. However, I think that the field of education is full of impressively driven individuals and there are other areas where you don’t get as rudely shafted as you do in the world of ELT. I look at the work of people like Vilges Suola (not his real name) and, to be frank, am utterly disgusted at myself for earning my daily bread in an industry that keeps such people in such repugnant conditions. God forgive me, but I am the type of person that recruits such people under such offensive terms and conditions. I sleep at night by telling myself that I have no say in this and that I am just following the orders of the commanders. The historical parallels are not reassuring.
Vilges, as we shall call him, is a talented writer and a consummate human being. For all his self-publicised flaws, he is exemplary in his celebration of the pleasures of living and his efforts to make something of what he does. In short, he is the kind of employee that teaching centres around the world should be fighting over. Instead, he is offered seasonal work and never really shrugs off the spectre of financial insecurity. This is exploitative under any circumstances. When you consider how much profit his efforts are generating for his employers, it moves from being exploitative to being criminally exploitative. In the UK we fleece international students. Where I work, I look at the quality of teaching and see that it compares with the quality of terms and conditions. But there;s a great big gaping hole between the quality of terms and conditions and the size of the fees that the students are paying. We pay monkeys but charge for artisans. When a DoS is trying to secretly manage a team of monkeys, she has no right to demand that they work with the care of artisans. She has no right to expect anything beyond the hope that they will not pick their arses in public and toy with their private parts in front of the crowd.
I have dedicated myself to education for the last twenty years. I have made it my main driving force in life. I read about it incessantly. I have written about it for twenty years. I have devoted thousands of pounds to learning more about it. I have taught thousands of students, each of whom has paid thousands of pounds for the privilege. My work has generated millions of pounds for someone, somewhere. My wages, which are not at all as bad as they could be, are insufficient to see me through to the end of the month. And I long ago abandoned the beluga and vodka for lunch.
But it’s not all about the humiliating exploitation. It’s about the sense of professionalism. I demand a lot from my teachers – I expect them to dedicate themselves to the theories of learning, linguistics, psychology, teaching. I expect them to willingly submerge themselves in the demands of education and to let the waters carry them along throughout the teaching time. When they don’t do this, I think badly of them and see them as falling short. But why on earth should they be expected to do this? Are they trained adequately? Is the CELTA a meaningful induction into the work of a teacher? Is it, my arse! What about the DELTA? Ditto. A Masters? Ditto. A PhD, perhaps? Good god almighty, no. On an aside, let me stand on this soapbox and decry before god and men that IT IS A FUCKING CRIME THAT UNIVERSITIES ARE DEMANDING PHDs FROM PEOPLE WHO WILL ULTIMATELY EARN A FRACTION (AND I MEAN THAT LITERALLY) OF WHAT THE ARSEWIPES IN ‘THE APPRENTICE’ ARE EARNING. You will have to forgive my fruity language but “veritable” and “nincompoops” did not carry the same weight as the more explicit terms.
We belong to the profession of educators and we deserve more. We deserve better terms and conditions and our students deserve to know that we have been trained to act professionally and that we are supported in our ongoing professional development. The existence of contracts that provide for seasonal work in order to maximise the profits for owners and institutions should shame us all. Four-week training courses are a shame to us all and belittle all of our efforts. The fact that professional development is seen as the responsibility of the individual is the weeping sore on the cancer that our profession is suffering from.
Angry? Yes. I think I am. I am angry that I have devoted so much time, money and effort to something that is so richly undeserving. I am angry that I have let myself judge others on criteria that I had no right to ever impose. I am angry that other people have directed such creativity and such ingenuity at the challenges that we all face and are so shamefacedly ignored.
And I am angry, above all, that this anger will never change anything. If my children become ELT professionals (HA!) they will find themselves being underpaid and overworked. They will find that they work alongside people who pass opinions off as facts. They will find themselves in a supposedly scientific endeavour that pays homage to the most absurd fruitcake theories. They will almost certainly find themselves denied support for professional development and will find that the channels of progression are clogged up beyond all navigation. They will be conned into devoting their time, energy and money into a never-ending drive to better themselves while the real purpose -the dishonourable and base motive of enriching others- is hidden from their eyes. They will chase their tails as they are denied the guidance and wisdom of academic research.
Philip Larkin is leaning over my shoulder as I resist the temptation to read back what I have just written. He is whispering menacingly to me:
They fuck you up, your managers. They may not mean to, but they do. They bathe you in the crap they learnt And tell you that what's guessed is true. But they were fucked up in their turn By fools with masters, dips and certs, Who half the time were but half-learnt And half, pretentious jumped up turds. DoS hands on misery to serf. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out before it gets much worse. Don't manage anyone but yourself.