Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
Sugata Mitra’s IATEFL webinar last week, a Q&A type session, did comparatively little to change the ELT community’s mind about his IATEFL plenary. Those who saw his ideas as a threat to teaching and an inadequate solution to the lack of teachers in developing countries felt they had been heard but not listened to. His fans waxed lyrical.
The reactions are as extreme as they are opposed. Anger and name calling on the one hand, deification on the other. He was called a madman, evil and a wolf in sheep’s clothing but got a standing ovation (OTT in my opinion) at IATEFL and you can practically Google the word inspiring and end up at one of his TED videos.
Sugata Mitra himself veers from teacher alienating to teacher pleasing.
He says teachers will be obsolete one minute but the next that the idea children can learn by themselves doesn’t exclude teachers. Teachers I know in mainstream primary education are generally fans of both Sugata and Ken Robinson, who is heavily critical of current education in broadly similar ways. Both see children as having greater potential than the school model allows for. However, the difference is Ken Robinson didn’t say it at an IATEFL plenary and as such has not crossed the baffling gulf between the two educational fields. ELT barely knew Sugata Mitra existed prior to Harrogate.
Now ELT knows and the reaction is fear, mistrust and immediate conflation with the other Big Threat to teachers: Adaptive Learning.
The current threat to ELT (and the promise) is slowly coming into focus […] I believe that teachers of all kinds are and will be increasing replaced by computing. Who will be doing this replacing and for what reasons? Will “we” invest in people plus computers when we have the chance or will we only invest in computing? Are semi-intelligent computing and Holes-in-the-wall really the panacea that some might like to claim? […] Like I think I said before, I don’t think technology is just responding to the market; I believe it is actually making the future…..our future. Michael Butler on eltjam.com
There’s a sense of proportion missing. Poor African and Indian villages with a few computers in places where there are no teachers and teachers do not want to go is not the end of EFL teachers. Children learning to find the answers to questions from the internet and picking up a “smattering of English” along the way is not a threat either. How insecure about your profession would you need to be to think it is?
Or, more importantly WHY would you be that insecure?
The answer to that lies, not in countries where it’s hard to get teachers but in places where it’s easy.
There are two kinds of English teachers. Holiday TEFLers and Lifers. Most of us start out as the former.
To avoid offending, I’ll use my own path as the example. I wanted to live abroad, l had no idea what to do after university – a Philosophy degree will do that to you – and was quite happy to work 20 something hours a week with no responsibility. I sneered at my friends in graduate jobs who were putting in 50+ hours a week and were too stressed and busy to enjoy their, admittedly much bigger, wage packets.
I was a crap teacher for the first year; I had students with better attendance and timekeeping than me. If I wanted a week off to go travelling, my crappy language academy got someone to cover the class. I dossed around at a crap summer school for a month and then travelled a bit more for the other month I had off while picking the next cool place to go. I never considered money, professional development, pension, holiday pay, contracts for more than a year, worker’s rights etc.
I also never considered my escape route so ended up having to become a Lifer.
Suddenly I cared. I soaked up CPD, I made my own materials to make sure my students got lessons suited to their needs and I paid my own way through an MA ELT.
Language schools can and do exploit both these types of teacher. The first group because they don’t care, won’t stay and their reason for being there is to be able to live in the country. The second group because they find reasons other than their working conditions to stay; they marry a local or just love the country too much to leave but teaching English is their only way to make a living. They might find a “better” academy but the competition in that respect is dire.
I work with people who have degrees, postgraduate degrees and years of experience in many different contexts. Some of them have families and mortgages. Some of them are employed on zero hours contracts – which means we pay them for the hours we get them to teach, but there our relationship ends. We have no commitment to them, we pay them a starting salary that is marginally higher than what an unqualified school teacher earns in the UK and we never increase this. We are not the most exploitative company that exists. The Secret DOS
There’s a school here in Madrid with a very prestigious sounding Cambridge name and fairly high fees that pays its teachers what works out to € 8/hr. They have it set up in such a way that a teacher on 24 contact hours/week earns € 800/month. If the teacher wants to earn more, say, to save up for hot running water or heating in winter they can up their hours to a 30 hour week contract, and take home € 1000. |That’s half a week’s pay extra for one extra week’s class hours a month.
I heard of a case at a well known school where a long standing teacher suddenly started getting complaints from students. Firing her would have meant having to pay her an end of contract fixed 45 days pro rata pay. Reducing her hours would push her out with no need to pay it, so that’s what they did. And this happens all the time.
I had a timetable at a smaller school which featured another common teacher screw over for hourly paid teachers. Cancellations for which you’re not paid. The school doesn’t bill for those lessons – but that is a marketing benefit which enables them to hook big business contracts so shouldn’t be a cost that is borne by the teacher with fickle or busy students clogging up their timetable.
A very well known chain here is run by a savvy businessman. When the Committee rep listed all the reasons why good, experienced teachers wouldn’t want to stay there, his reply? “I know”. Experienced teachers are paid more than fresh off the internationally recognised CELTA course that they run. Students are lured in by the promise of experienced teachers but you don’t need to keep the same ones around, with their inconvenient demands for long term contracts that you might later regret having given such generous terms.
I interviewed once in London with another big chain, EF, for a Senior Teacher job, got it and turned it down as the salary was unliveable – around £17,000. I told them why. Then they had an ADOS position come up and asked me back for interview because they’d been impressed with me and thought I would fit in. At that point I had an MA in ELT, ten year’s experience and a summer Academic Manager job which I had been f*cking amazing at. (Once I stopped being a holiday TEFLer, I big time redeemed myself professionally). They said they knew salary had been a concern and were willing to discuss it. Great, I thought!
They weren’t willing, however, to cover expenses for me to take the day off my hourly paid teaching job and get the train from York, even though this was a second meeting and at their request as this second position wasn’t even advertised yet. It cost me about £100 in all. I played nice at the interview which was more of a chat – until they told me the salary.
For anyone who doesn’t know, that is impossible in London and lower than any mainstream teacher’s starting out salary by a few thousand. I asked (with impressively concealed contempt) at what point the salary became commensurate with an MA, ten year’s teaching plus management experience.
I didn’t get the job, of course. When they wrote and told me this very obvious conclusion to my £100 waste of time, I replied that they had made the right decision as I would only have stayed in such a risibly paid job long enough to find a better one.
Thank God, then, in a job market saturated with money grabbing, as bad as bankers, exploitative Fat Cats, that there’s the British Council!
Once you’ve got two year’s experience and have stopped viewing TEFL as a filler between jaunts and jollies, as long as you meet their standards of excellence and pass the rigorous recruitment process, you’re in.
As the world’s leading cultural relations organisation, the British Council touches the lives of millions of people each year. For every single one of them, the way we conduct ourselves speaks volumes about who we are, and what we stand for. Our Code of Conduct sets the standards for the way we work in all our activities and locations. These standards are designed to help us behave in ways that earn people’s trust, create understanding and build mutual respect. British Council Code of Conduct, Feb 2014
They have gleaming codes of conduct for everything:
Integrity: Being consistent in what we say and do, builds trust. We are always honest and take responsibility for our actions.
Mutuality: Effective relationships are the heart of our work. It’s a two way exchange.
Professionalism: As leaders, we understand our responsibility to deliver excellence every time. Setting the highest standards for ourselves and expecting the same of others means that we’ll stay true to our values. British Council Code of Conduct
Of course though:
…The code [of conduct] can’t cover everything. So, when dealing with an issue that it doesn’t address directly, we should use our values to help resolve it, speak to a manager or consult the Human Resources, Finance or other relevant intranet site. British Council Code of Conduct
That must be how, in Spain, they have got away with this: A reasonable hourly rate (for ELT) but Social Security contributions and, therefore pensions that are tied to a part time contract as they only count the contact hours ie 24. Not planning, marking, report writing, attend in-service training, offer internet availability to students and all the other things that make that a full time job. As it stands teachers would need to do 34 contact hours to qualify as full time workers and get full Social Security payments.
Probably cooked up somewhere between Human Resources and Finance. Probably not resolvable by some relevant intranet site.
Happy retirement suckers! Hope you’re loving your Menu del Dia, smug weather Facebook updates back to Blighty and free entry to the TESOL Spain conference once a year (in your free time not work time).
Whenever anyone asks me about taking a CELTA and becoming an English teacher, I always say do it for two years with your exit strategy planned. Go freelance as soon as you can. Work for language schools as long as it takes to poach students from them.
The threat to teachers, the disgusting lack of respect and the abuse of teachers’ circumstances doesn’t come from Sugata Mitra, SOLE, Adaptive Learning or any other tech that can be invented or used. It comes from the industry of language schools.
Why aren’t we challenging language schools as evil wolves in sheep’s clothing? Why aren’t we up in arms on internet forums, organising mass walk outs and generally kicking up a huge stink?