Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Teachers as Workers IATEFL SIG

Following my post asking Who’s The Wolf in ELT? – candidates being language schools including big chains, no less than the British Council itself – I got a surge of DO SOMETHING from reading one of the comments.

Blogging is all very well (in case anyone didn’t notice, I love it and seem to find more to write just by virtue of having somewhere to write it) but it’s not action in any real sense. I plan to contact the BC directly to give them chance to respond and have some ideas for following that, but it’s still just generating more internet paper.

So Paul Walsh’s comment and link to his post The V Moment contained a brilliant suggestion that I’d never have thought of – a SIG group for Teachers as Workers (TaWSIG).

I feel that teachers and teaching associations should take more of an active role in lobbying for change in the industry. Paul Walsh

So, I’ve contacted Carol Read, the outgoing IATEFL President, and outlined what I think such a SIG could do, suggested to Paul that we co-run it and been told that we first need to establish that there is demand for such a SIG in IATEFL.

If the type and number of comments on the original post doesn’t do that, if the number of times it’s been viewed and shared doesn’t do that, if the common knowledge of the state many teachers work in doesn’t do that, then hopefully this little Twitter survey will.

So, saying YES here takes a few seconds, no need to register or anything and is anonymous.

Loosely, the SIG would be interested in:

  • informing teachers about the kinds of contractual questions they should be asking
  • comparing EFL teachers’ conditions with those in the public sector
  • empowering teachers in how to get better deals for themselves
  • encouraging best practice in employers and highlighting those that do not follow them.


So, this could be the beginning of something exciting! I’m excited! It’s going to give me loads more stuff to blog about 🙂





17 comments on “Teachers as Workers IATEFL SIG

  1. katherinebilsborough
    May 8, 2014

    Great idea Nicola! Many English teachers feel isolated and that they have nobody to ask for advice. Most of us have been shafted by some dodgy contract at some time. I was once asked to sign a contract stating I wouldn’t live in the same flat as somebody teaching at a different school – which was absurd anyway but even more so when I had to consider separating from my husband in order to meet my contractual agreements! So I’ve just voted ‘yes’ and am sharing your link in all my Teachers’ groups. Good luck!

    • Nicola
      May 8, 2014

      That’s hilarious! What company secrets did they think you were going to spill over your cornflakes? The photocopier code?

  2. Pingback: Who’s the Wolf in ELT? | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  3. Matt Salusbury
    May 8, 2014

    What about trade unions? There’s no mention of trade unions. As my editor put it, they are your insurance policy against unfair dismissal, you can’t afford an employment lawyer.

    Most unions – in the UK at least – that represent teachers either aren’t in my experience particularly good at teachers (they’re general unions like the GMB) or they’re more aimed at the public sector and (like the UCU) not particularly good at the private sector with their small employers, again a personal opinion based on my own experience. The ATL union seem more expert at the private sector, from what I’ve seen of them.

    We at EL Gazette have come across some very impressive unions set up by or representing mostly expat teachers in Korea, China and Japan. The Foreign Teachers Union in China even goes undercover to secretly film and expose fake “recruitment agents”.

    All the above would mean that being in a TaWSIG AND a trade union as well would make sense.

    Matt Salusbury, EL Gazette (full disclosure, Committee member, NUJ London Freelance Branch, former UCU member.)

    • Nicola
      May 8, 2014

      Thanks for commenting Matt. I had the same general impression about the trade unions in the UK when I was considering joining one years ago when I worked there.

      Since I have not much idea about trade unions I would guess not many TEFLers do and so TaWSIG would be able to present info about that too. Maybe inspiring people to set one up. If we get the go ahead, making a newsletter is part of it, so stories from the unions you mention would be good content. Maybe I can commission you to write for me 😉 hahaha, am just being cheeky!

      I didn’t mean I would pay a lawyer! Just that in the vast range of other jobs EFL teachers have had or are married to or have family in, there might be someone willing to be on the Committee as a volunteer adviser.

      • Matt Salusbury
        May 8, 2014

        When I said “you can’t afford a lawyer”, it was a comment from addressed to EFL teachers in general, in the plural, and not to anyone in particular. My apologies if that was unclear and if anyone took it as addressed to them personally, it wasn’t.

  4. gotanda
    May 8, 2014

    FWIW in discussion with IATEFL, the Japan Association for Language Teaching had a SIG with a similar remit for many years (Professionalism and Language Education). After a good run (12-15 or more years? IIRC) mainly dealing with employment at universities, they shut themselves down. But, JALT has an ongoing and active Standing Committee on Employment Practices that is represented at our national Executive Board meetings and some conferences. That committee has an interest in things like tracking exploitative outsourcing and placement companies, unfair contracts, etc. Just for comparison if they want to know if something similar exists in other language teaching organizations. Good luck!

  5. lclandfield
    May 8, 2014

    I’ve answered yes in your poll. If you don’t have a special interest group something good might come out of it anyway. Best of luck with it!

  6. richardwhiteside
    May 9, 2014

    Great idea Nicola. I have a feeling that this could be a way of connecting a number of associations, in terms of communication anyway. I have a feeling that there is a fair number of local groups who do make efforts to provide training and ensure decent working conditions for teachers, as well as good quality teaching for students. What perhaps doesn’t exist is a global group connecting all the dots. Good luck!

  7. Michelle Worgan
    May 10, 2014

    Hi Nicola, just read both posts and voted yes! I have been working in the same (very small) school for 12 years because it offers the best conditions in the area. Full-time fijo discontinuo contract, reasonable salary. However it is becoming difficult for our school to compete with others for this reason. Nearby schools offer classes at half the price we do. They do not have their teachers on the books, saving a couple of thousand a month in the process, offer very little in the way of teaching resources and no support. The owner of one was a wardrobe salesman before setting up the business. Of course, teachers do not stay more than a year, but perhaps he doesn’t care or won’t care unless he finds himself with no teachers.

    The idea of an organisation to help advise teachers is an excellent idea. However, if you need a job you basically have to accept what there is, especially in the current economic climate. We can see similar problems with all the news about zero hours contracts in Britain.

    I have voted yes even though I am not a member of Iatefl. This is one problem I see with the association you are planning to set up. How many teachers on low salaries and in precarious working situations can afford to join iatefl? Most teachers (those without twitter, blogs etc) haven’t even heard of it! This might mean that the only teachers it actually protects is those that don’t really need it.

    Anyway, thank you for acting on your idea. It is a very worthwhile project and I wish you luck. Keep us informed!

    • paulwalsh
      May 12, 2014

      Hi Michelle,

      I agree with you completely. I hadn’t heard of IATEFL for the years I was working in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I also didn’t have any money to join or go to conferences! And you’re right, the workers in the most precarious situations might not be helped. So I think there would have to be a place for outreach – how to reach those who need the most assistance? Also, just a list of ‘questions to ask a future employer’ is something that would have been useful to me when starting out.

      Your first point about good schools suffering against cut-price (and often inferior) rivals is something I’ve also seen. That’s why I think good schools should be given a lot of credit. Why can’t teachers create their own criteria for judging a school? Critics might say – well, it’ll just all be about money! But I don’t necessarily think so. What’s wrong with just collecting information from working teachers – are we not a rational, reasonable group of people? We can also do this now with the tools available.

      This might create a virtuous circle whereby the better schools survive and are able to attract better teachers – I don’t know. But surely raising the standards across the board would let the ‘good’ schools’ float and the ‘bad schools’ sink.

      No one wants a race to the bottom – it’s not good for teachers or schools.

  8. Thomas Ewens
    May 10, 2014

    Nicola, you’ve touched on issues which a lot of people in the industry definitely feel very uncomfortable about. But they need to be discussed openly and honestly, so all power to you.

    I am happy to offer to help out.

    • Nicola
      May 14, 2014

      Thanks! I may well call on you if we get the go ahead to submit a SIG proposal 🙂

  9. teamslb
    May 11, 2014

    Hi Nicola, I commented on the “Wolf” post and would like to say to keep us in mind – the SIG sounds like something we’d really like to be part of.
    Neil, Coop SLB

  10. Pingback: Five questions about fair pay, respect, and equal rights for TEFL teachers « Cooperativa de Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona

  11. James Butler
    January 16, 2015

    I’m so happy to read a hard-hitting but honest review of employment conditions in this industry (I say industry rather than profession because teachers are generally not treated as professionals).

    I wholeheartedly support your efforts to improve teachers’ employment conditions and would like to be on your email list to receive updates.

    • Nicola
      January 16, 2015

      Thanks. Paul Walsh and I proposed a SIG about teachers as workers to IATEFL who completely squashed it. I’ve written about that for EL GAZETTE but it’s not out yet. Paul has started a grass roots group in Berlin and there is something similar in Barcelona. For me the SIG was the way to make a difference from a big platform so without that I don’t see enough change potential.Quite simply organisations like IATEFL have no interest in changing an industry into a profession and there isn’t anyone pressuring the schools. That certainly won’t change with Marjorie Rosenberg as next IATEFL president. I’d post Paul’s links but am typing on my phone. check out the post related to this where he comments and his blog is decentralisedenglish

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