The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

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.
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20 Jun 2013 - Posted by | Rants and ramblings

29 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Five against one: Teaching against the odds. and commented:
    Sadly, very true.

    Comment by bealer81 | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

  2. How very deeply depressing. How can one get out when one doesn’t know any better than to devote oneself to a cause so very dear to heart. I’d rather not be a clog in the corporate machine…maybe choose the lesser evil?

    Comment by Shreya | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • That’s a beautiful typo, Shreya! A clog in the machine is, of course, preferable to being a cog in it! I think it is important to identify exactly what the cause is that is so dear to your heart; if it is the actually teaching of English as a foreign language, then as long as the exploitation can be tolerated, why do anything? But I suspect that for many of us, what really moves us is education. For many others, the main motivation is the students. And for the BANAs, the job offers us the means of living and working abroad in some fascinating countries. The last is sometimes very ethically suspect and we earn far in excess of local teachers despite being, in many cases, much worse qualified. The first two are clearly more honourable motives, but for me the enticement is even more concentrated in the world of conventional education.

      Of course, there will be some who read this who may think, “Well, if you love it so much over in Conventional Education”, why don’t you just go and live there? This is a very valid question and I need to consider whether or not the relative security in a job that no longer convinces me is preferable at this stage in life to the possibility of a greater happiness in a riskier endeavour. Regrettably, it seems to me that so many years dedicated to ELT means that my bank gets a say in the matter too!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  3. A great critique and a depressing post at the same time. The ELT world can be dark and hugely underpaid, with many teachers finding themselves stuck in a situation with no progression and little reward.

    That is why I went freelance; I saw where my career was heading. There is no real progression in the ELT profession when you works for others. Going alone opens up a whole new world to the teacher.

    Comment by Jack | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Hi Jack – this was never meant to be depressing, but looking back, I can’t see how it was ever going to be anything else. The point you make is a fascinating one and I’d love to read a blog post about how going freelance works and how it compares with working for the benefits of others. If you’re the one for writing that blogpost, please let me know!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  4. All too true, and pretty refreshing to hear these kinds of comments from a DoS. If senior ELT professionals feel this way what hope can there be for the mere minions like me?

    Surely, though, it’s possible to take the exploiters (for want of a better word) out of the equation? I may be in cloud cuckooland here, but a school cooperatively run and owned by its teachers would surely solve many of the problems outlined above. There’s no shortage of teachers that are sick of seeing decisions made for business rather than pedagogical reasons, sick of feeling that their efforts go unrewarded, or who feel that they have no choice but to abandon the profession (again, for want of a better word) because it simply won’t pay enough for anyone who’d like to live like a grown-up.

    I don’t agree that getting angry can’t change anything. What’s needed is someone to lead the way and model a school around sound pedagogical principles, fair prices for students and fair wages for adequately qualified, dedicated teachers, which can’t be that hard if you simply do away with the fatcats who usually syphon off the profits without ever setting foot in a classroom. Co-operative schools are already being implemented in general primary and secondary education in Britain and the US, so it’s not a completely barmy idea.

    Care to lead a revolution, Secret DOS?

    Comment by Matthew Ellman (@mattellman) | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Thanks, Matt, and thanks for bringing a possible solution to the problem. I look at my whinge and think of the advice in the managers’ manuals: when confronted with a whinging teacher, look them in the eye and ask them what the solution is that they are proposing for the problem they have just brought to your attention.

      Funnily enough, I left my computer that morning and went to work. On the way I stopped off at a bookshop and bought The Escape Manifesto [http://amzn.to/12itRAY]. I have only read the introduction so far but was impressed by how their solution was to set up a crowd-sourced financing option for those people who want to flee the soul-destroying indenture of Mammon. “I wonder,” I wondered, “if Twitter could ever come into its own here? Could we persuade the rich and mighty of ELT to fund an experimental school where teachers would be reasonably paid, conditions would be reasonably agreeable and the education would be reasonably priced?” I doubted it a little too much. In my experience, the rich and powerful got to a state of being rich and powerful by not really giving too much of a damn about the poor and powerless.

      I agree that the idea of setting up a cooperative is not at all barmy though. I have just spent the last five minutes staring wistfully at a big tree in the distance and imagining what the cooperative would look like. It induced a sense of calm and yearning (if that isn’t too much of a juxtaposition) that was comparable with the sense of calm and yearning I get from wistfully staring at trees and thinking about how life would be if I ever won the Euromillions jackpot.

      My school would recruit newly-qualified teachers and pay them a decent wage. It would set them up with a truly developmental initiation into the field of ELT and would then corrupt them for all future employers. I think it would be important to focus on NQTs because, I am beginning to suspect, ELT is really the purveyance of snake oil. That is, rather than just being beset by snake oil sellers, perhaps there is no more to ELT as it stands than there is to a bottle of smoke. This, of course, is an entirely separate blogpost and I am wary of alienating myself completely from my readership just yet. I will try to delay such provocation – at least until next week!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  5. Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
    For we are the teachers of English that never have spoken yet.
    ….
    There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
    There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
    You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
    Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.
    …….
    The bosses shuffle papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
    They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
    And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
    Their doors are shut in the evenings; and they know no songs.
    ….
    It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
    Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
    It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
    God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
    But we are the teachers of English; and we have not spoken yet.
    Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

    With apologies to G.K. CHESTERTON. And how did he sneak in that bit about beer?!

    Comment by geoffjordan | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Touche, maestro. Thank you for introducing me to this poem by Chesterton (a man whose catholicism has always acted as an incentive to rather unjustly [it now seems to me] ignore him). I have just read his Wikipedia entry and am grateful to you for having introduced him to me. A sterling rewriting of his poem.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  6. Many thanks for the link and kind words! (But you should see me being consummate at five of a November Monday morning, or training psychic death-rays on teenagers on the train.) I too advise people to avoid TEFL as a ‘career’ if you can call it that. But at the same time I can’t say I regret having got into it myself. Not all the time, anyway.

    Comment by vilgessuola | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • I suffer this paradox and have resolved it by deciding that I don’t regret having got embroiled in ELT as much as I regret not having got embroiled in any other career.

      Now that I’ve typed it out, I find it is not true. I actually do regret having got involved in the murkiness of ELT although I recognise that were it not for this, I would not have lived the life I have. ELT really comes int its own when you are travelling the world and have a means to do so. But when you are stuck in the dreariness of England – the second day of summer is currently breaking, along with the rainclouds- ELT loses its one saving grace. And all the efforts and originality that it sucks up seem unrecompensed. It exists in the UK, it seems, to line the pockets of those who already have more than their fair share.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  7. I work as an ESOL teacher, formerly an EFL teacher in Europe and Asia, but would not have been able to continue in the profession and afford to buy a house without the financial generosity of my parents and sisters. Sometimes I wish I had followed another career path, and yet I have lived in six countries and met and taught some lovely people.

    Comment by William | 20 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • ESOL teachers, it seems to me, cross the divide from ELT to Conventional Teaching (CT) inasmuch as ESOL is rooted in the world of education rather than in the world of linguistics. And yet it struggles to shake off the idea that ESOL teachers are well-meaning bumbling amateurs who like working with foreigners – not real teachers. Perhaps this is the curse of UK Further Education – a field where for many years, all teachers were regarded as well-meaning bumbling amateurs.

      It would be fascinating if someone were to do a survey of how the public sees ELT and its professionals. Perhaps someone in the British Council will read this and commission such a piece of research. A comparative study that looked at how we were perceived by teachers would also be of great interest and might be a spark to ignite more anger or a wet blanket to pacify the flames. If we were regarded as hippy drop outs who seek to freeload around the world, I can see people getting angry and demanding better treatment; if we were considered to be on a par with the great and the good of conventional teaching, I can see people getting angry and demanding better treatment!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  8. Whilst I think this post beautifully describes the anger felt by almost every ELT in the world, lets be honest, we all knew what we were getting into (although, as you point out, it certainly doesn’t make the practices right). But, I would rather be a poor, over worked ELT, travelling and learning about the world than a millionaire banker any day 🙂 In fact, before I got into ELT I was a banker (it wasn’t intentional, I fell into the profession because when I returned from travelling it was the first job I was offered). I became an ELT because sitting in an office, advising people to take mortgages they couldn’t afford, in the town I had lived in my whole life, couldn’t satisfy me. It fact it made me feel out right depressed. While the ELT industry isn’t much better, at least it does allow us to see parts of the world, learn about the world and meet people we would almost certainly have never met otherwise.

    Comment by Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh) | 21 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • I’m not sure that I did know what I was getting into. Until fairly recently I have been investing real time, money and effort into improving my chances. I never for a moment thought that I would find myself in a field where you needed a PhD to be considered to teach students how to use English; I never thought that I would find myself at the age of ahem struggling to support a family of four despite having three postgraduate qualifications; I never realised that what was considered a good wage in this racket would be considered small change by some telephone sales operatives.

      ELT doesn’t allow those of us who have dared to have a family travel and see the world. All I have are my memories! I am old enough to remember the cinema advert where young impressionables were encouraged to join the British Army to travel, see the world, meet new people (and, some wit added, drop bombs on them). This is undoubtedly a perk of ELT -as attested to by many here- but, it seems to me, it lends weight to the argument that this is a rather unsophisticated endeavour – best suited to the newly qualified and recently graduated who want to spread their wings a little before settling down to a real job. For years I resisted that image but am now beginning to think that it was perhaps the most accurate portrayal. Ironically, I can see the justification for the fat frontisteria owner exploiting the backpackers – after all, it is his/her country and his/her capital that allows these young spirits the opportunities to benefit from this once in a lifetime experience. And he/she will have to remain long after these flower children have gone back to the real world and are engaged in business themselves.

      I have had the pleasure of living in a handful of countries and getting to know them far more deeply than if I had stopped by on a package tour. But it seems like poor recompense for the thousands of pounds that I have invested and the hundreds of thousands of hours (is that even possible?) that I have ploughed back into the profession I am part of. And, I fear, in my darker moments, I can’t even fall back on the moral justification because what we do, as you may have suggested, is not so different to the mortgage-flogging banker. Now is probably not the time to unleash my self-hating ELT invective so I will guard my counsel!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  9. Great post, secretDos! I think mattellman’s comment above is the very *first* time I’ve heard about cooperatively managed schools in two decades in EFL. You hardly ever hear about teachers who jack it in and set up on their own, like in plenty of other industries. I wonder why that is?

    Are teflers not trained to manage? (Surely within the 4 weeks of CELTA, there’s plenty of space for a module on starting up and developing a school?)

    Or does TEFL not attract people with business/management/organisational talent? Maybe us liberal verbal people-people don’t think we can? Or does it not even occur to us? Or maybe what it takes to run a school is business nous, and not teachers’ skills?

    This is a very puzzling phenomenon.

    Comment by Alan Tait (@alanmtait) | 21 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Another interesting area for research: why teachers don’t take over more often. I’d pay to read research like this (although more realistically I would #icanhazpdf it to avoid all payment). I suspect it is that most TEFLers lack the capital to set up the school – many of them being hoodwinked into diving headlong into penury by financing postgraduate qualifications of one sort or another.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  10. So true and gives such a strong sense of déjà vu…

    Since ‘money maketh the world go round’ it is quite natural to see things falling apart and going downhill (not necessarily in ELT), which leaves freelancing as the only way to fully enjoy teaching and wisely invest in professional development, albeit a very insecure one.

    Still, I don’t believe we could build on anger however righteous it might be.

    Comment by esgaleth | 22 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Freelancing is beginning to sound like a bloody attractive option, eslgaleth! I share your pessimism about building on anger – not just because it is a negative emotion and therefore to be shunned but because it often burns out quite quickly and leaves people worse off -and more exposed- than they were before. I really do think that the best options are as Geoff suggested in his blog: become an academic, write a book or get out.

      If I can’t get out, I am resolved to stand as a warning to the youth! I will tell all who pass by to find another job or redirect their energies. It may be too late for me…

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  11. Must be that time of the year. I too was lamenting this fact just last week, when a good mate with far less quals and experience got a corporate job with far more benefits and cash. Unfortunately, rather like you i suspect, i really love my job. So all i can say is that i tell myself my success or failure cannot be judged on the success – or failure – of others. If i really dont like it, i will have to change it.

    Comment by darridge | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Absolutely true. I don’t think we should judge ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. WHat we should do, however, is not be fooled into seeing things as they are really not. I do not love the job of teaching English as a foreign language. I would never have said that until recently.

      I love teaching. I love English. I love working with other people. I love autonomy. But above all, I love doing something that I feel I am good at. Whatever it may be. I love exploring to see how I can become better than I already am. I even think that I love sometimes thinking that I am not really all that good. I love helping other people – or at least thinking that I am helping other people. I can do all of this in a field that has absolutely bugger all to do with ELT and I lose next to nothing from moving! That’s what I’m talking about!

      My success can be judged by how readily I can do all of these things while living a relatively secure life and providing for the relative security of those for whom I feel responsible. Unfortunately, ELT demands my dedication and professionalism while denying me the security I demand in return. This is indeed a painful realisation (especially at the age of ahem).

      What to do? Get out? Be free? Take my whining ass away and go and mess up someone else’s day? Quite possibly! Perhaps I have no right to be so moanful and desolate. And my intention isn’t to persuade everyone to join me in collective angst. It was mainly to offload my feelings and to share my resolution to do something. It is wrong to stay in a state of despair and not do anything. Geoff’s original post, combined with Nicola Prentice’s great post about getting published acted as a catalyst for change rather than opportunities for bemoaning.

      If there’s a message to my ranting it is this: look critically at the world of ELT; what you think you love might not necessarily be what you are signing up for. If, like me, you find that you have wasted a lot of time, money and effort in your purfuit of life, liberty and happineff, it needn’t be too late. Personally, I have resolved to devote much less psychic energy to the world of ELT, to get off the backs of those who aren’t as gullible as I have been and to reinvest this time, money and effort in things that I really do love.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  12. In recent months I have also had a pop at the state of ELT and the fact that its increasingly corporate nature is impacting negatively on our ability to actually do the job effectively (e.g. here: http://stevebrown70.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/let-there-be-light/ )
    However, I get the feeling that the level of vitriol expressed in this post (and, to some extent, in Geoff Jordan’s post as well) suggests that this is less of a critique of the industry and more of an outpouring of disenchantment with your own lot.
    Most of what you seem to be unhappy about is not exclusive to English Language Teaching. Feelings that you are under-appreciated, that other people are benefiting from your hard work, that you’re being exploited, that it’s all a big waste of time – these are feelings that people in all sorts of careers experience at some point or other. I’m sure that if a doctor, or an accountant, or any middle-management employee was to read this post, they’d conclude that ELT is very much like their own chosen career path.
    It seems to me that both you and Geoff have reached a point in your careers where you no longer believe that what you do is as meaningful as you thought it was, nor is there much sign that it ever will be. Possible symptoms of a mid-life crisis, Secret DOS?
    I’m not making fun of you, by the way – I know very well that these emotions are not funny. But it’s important to see them for what they are.

    Comment by stevebrown70 | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • Hi Steve
      I’m not sure that I’d go as far as vitriol (although on reading my comments about the participants in The Apprentice, perhaps you’re right!), but neither was this ever intended to be a dispassionate critique of the industry.

      I think what perhaps my vitriol obscured was not just that I am at a point where I am disgruntled, but that the indicators of disgruntlement were there to see right from the outset. Because although a doctor or an accountant may also be beset by such feelings, they have a much higher standing in society and are much more richly rewarded for their work than the humble ELTer is ever likely to be. What may be more exclusive to English Language Teaching is the lack of career progression and the lack of recognition for professional development. Doctors are expected to engage in professional development, are members of a professional body and are financially compensated for the high expectations that society has of them. What’s the average ELT wage? How many people are expected to pay for their own professional development out of that?

      To draw too rapid a conclusion that the post is about my feeling under-appreciated or resentful about how my hard work results in the enrichment of others is to miss the point that it isn’t just about me. It’s not about the inhabitant of Secret Towers concluding that she will never be on the cover of Time magazine. So I don’t think it is a mid-life crisis. The fact that it appears to have struck a chord with so many others suggests that it may be more about me (or, alternatively, and perhaps more bleakly, that we are all hitting our mid-life crises at the same time).

      I think it’s about keeping a sense of perspective: we are underpaid, prone to overworking ourselves, and typically over-complicate a fairly basic job. It’s about recognising that the terms and conditions that we are usually offered are responsible for the rather poor standards that are sometimes (ofttimes?) at work. It’s about warning people who are new to the profession that it might not be all that it’s cracked up to be and that it is wise thinking carefully about how you invest your money, time and efforts.

      However, if you regard the prospects of international travel as worth it, or if you are financially independent enough to take the hit and do something that you love, then why not? The job is great from this perspective: we get to meet people from so many different cultures and have our lives enriched as a result; we get significant autonomy; the holidays aren’t bad (assuming that you are not on a zero hours contract). My point was that these benefits are not exclusive to ELT and that this is worth highlighting.

      To conclude that this is all about me serves to isolate these criticisms and possibly implies that they are unworthy and dismissible as the ravings of a malcontent. This lets the industry off the hook somewhat. My own lot is actually much cushier than the lot of everyone else I work with. As Geoff says below, I’ve been lucky (although perhaps it is true to say that I have made my own luck). Regrettably, however, I am in the minority.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 24 Jun 2013 | Reply

  13. For my part, I can’t say that I have any complaints about my career in ELT. I’ve been lucky: but most EFL workers won’t be.

    My point in my original post and I think the one that the Secret DOS picked up on, is that most people who work in this field get a very bad deal; a situation which is unlikely to change.

    Comment by geoffjordan | 23 Jun 2013 | Reply

  14. I’m just catching up on some old blog posts. I think you’ll disagree, but the one issue that constantly leaps out at me throughout this post and the comments is money: ELT professionals are underpaid, they can’t afford to pay for their own professional development, what students pay in no way resembles what teachers earn, someone in the middle of their professional life is struggling to support a family, the school owner is raking in outrageously more money than the DOS (not to mention the teachers) and on and on it goes. Again, I think you’ll disagree, but I get the impression that if you were earning double your salary (in your current job), this post would not have been written.

    And I totally agree with what Steve writes. During my career in Asia and Latin America, I was a highly paid and highly respected “member of society”. I was apprehensive about moving back to the UK. In terms of being respected, I find that most people neither know nor care enough about ELT to disrespect it. In terms of pay and conditions, there are people who are far far worse off – I do better than average, no-one owes anyone a living, and in what company does the owner not make more than the minions?

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 26 Jun 2013 | Reply

    • I do disagree. Although money is the primary way that work is rewarded, salary is not what I am banging on about most here. It’s certainly not a principal concern for me personally. A re-reading of the post might highlight the fact that although I bemoan the lack of financial compensation, the main issues for me are the fact that people tend to be heavily exploited in their terms and conditions: there are few opportunities for professional advancement, few opportunities for professional development (despite an expectation that teachers engage in it – often at disproportionate prices), little correlation between the qualifications that are demanded and the status that one enjoys, ineffective training and induction into the profession, a lack of universal standards governing our work. I will have to stop there because I am getting dizzy scrolling up and down between the post and this reply. You could pay me triple what I am currently earning and without changing these deficiencies the post would still remain valid. I think you are probably right to say that I wouldn’t have written it, but not because the complaints would no longer be valid but because of the adage that advises against killing geese that lay golden eggs.

      Were you really highly paid and highly respected in your previous employment? That is good to hear – and on reflection, I have felt in the past that I belonged to an organisation that invested in my professional advancement and provided clear and meaningful standards. Step forward British Council…I probably wouldn’t have described myself as highly paid at the time, but then it’s not all about the money. I probably would have said that I was comparatively highly-respected – acknowledging that there were many other people employed in the same city who were more vulnerable to the deficiencies that I have laid out here.

      Of course there are people who are worse off – surely aspirations involve looking up rather than looking down? I am aware that when we take into consideration the plight of the fruitpickers of Kent or the call centre workers of Swansea, life could be worse. But then the fruitpickers and the call centre workers are unlikely to have people demanding a level 7 qualification from them as a prerequisite to interview. Nor am I so naive (anymore) as to think that owners should share their wealth with their minions. But I am naive enough to think that they should sacrifice some of that wealth to invest in their minions’ mental health and professional well-being. Finally, I don’t know that I ever suggested that the vast majority of people were disrespectful towards ELT – if my point is anything it is that we shouldn’t focus on whether people know or care about ELT because ELT is only a sub-strand of what we do – primarily we are teachers and, in my opinion, the terms and conditions of our employment should reflect this.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 27 Jun 2013 | Reply

  15. I totally agree! From reading this and previous posts, I certainly don’t think you are motivated by salary alone, or even primarily. But I do think that financial gripes featured prominently in this post, probably unintentionally, or subconsciously!

    More importantly is the issue of professional development. I too have been lucky in that the entire cost of my delta was paid for by the BC, they also ran regular teacher training sessions, inset days etc, while I was there. My current employer has recently paid for me to have three days away at a development conference. Of course these employers expect some return on their investment in terms of my time and improved quality, but still, THEY are investing in MY development. I think a key point though is that I CHOSE to participate in these areas of development. I was certainly encouraged, perhaps more by peers than powers, but I wasn’t obliged in any way to do a delta (OK, there have been insets which I have had to attend, but in terms of longer term and deeper development, I have been the driving force). I think when one considers the inadequacy of the Celta, Tesol cert etc coupled with the lack of a drive to develop personally which I have seen in many teachers, then yes, perhaps the machine should expect more of its cogs, and more significantly, the cogs should demand more of the machine.

    Was I highly paid and respected in previous employment? Of course both are relative. I earn much closer to the national average in the UK than I did in various overseas posts, where I probably often got well above the averages.

    More importantly, I do feel that teachers as a whole are respected in the countries I have worked in, certainly more than in the UK and very much more than ELF teachers in the UK. Maybe that’s just me and my naivety, but who knows? Perhaps some colleagues who have worked in Malaysia could concur/disagree…

    But again, just as we are not motivated by salary, I think we are also not motivated by what others (outside the profession) think of us!

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 28 Jun 2013 | Reply

  16. And to show that EFL teachers are not the only ones upset with their working conditions, here’s an interview (from last year) with the bloke who knocked Roger Federer out of Wimbledon this week. http://www.letsecondserve.com/2012/04/translated-interview-with-sergiy.html

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 29 Jun 2013 | Reply

  17. […] It might just be the posts I am attracted to, but something I’ve noticed when reviewing blogs for my reanimated blogroll is people who’ve totally had it with the whole TEFL world, such as this and this. […]

    Pingback by Top complaints about TEFL | TEFLtastic blog | 07 May 2014 | Reply


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