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The ESL Industry: Them and Us

November 24, 2005

It seems counterproductive to me for employers and teachers to see each other as sitting on opposite sides of the fence.

Friends,

Of course there are bad employers and there are bad teachers. The one needs to be able to recognize and jettison the other: teachers should not stay with bad employers and schools should not keep bad teachers on. But then we do not live in an ideal world and most employers, and most teachers, have strengths and weaknesses . . .

. . . A successful school, and that is what both employers and teachers want, needs good teamwork. Employers need teachers to fulfill their obligations; teachers need employers to provide them with the tools and support they need to function effectively and administrative staff need both to understand the demands of the classroom and have their roles understood by teaching staff. In other words employers, teaching staff and administrative staff are all stakeholders in the school as an entity. So where does ‘them and us’ approach come from?

ESL Dualism.gif

Unfortunately many teachers will have their tales of unscrupulous employers. Indeed I’ve fallen foul of at least two myself. Similarly, employers will tell you horror stories about teachers and their faults. The harsh reality is that some schools pay poorly, demand excessive hours and give few benefits. Not surprisingly, such schools either attract poorly qualified and inexperienced teachers or, if the teachers are worth their salt, they quickly become resentful of their conditions.

I don’t know what the solution to this state of affairs is. But what I do know is that in a good school, the mutual appreciation of all the stakeholders creates an atmosphere that is almost tangible. You see it in the expressions on people’s faces, on the pride that is taken in the physical environment and you can sense the buzz in the staffroom and common rooms. So what makes a good school and a good employer? I don’t think it has much to do with the lavishness of the facilities. Teaching is first and foremost about people so the good school needs to care about people: students, teachers, administrative staff.

To care about people, you have to communicate the nature of your caring. This means open communications, a willingness to listen and to take appropriate action, to explain why decisions are made, to actively seek suggestions for improvement. A good school is, I suggest, also dynamic, wishing to develop new services as demand changes and to help everyone develop their potential. Of course private schools are commercial undertakings and have to be profitable but and it is true also that some schools will wish to operate like no-frills airlines, providing the most basic service for students who can afford nothing more. But whichever market sector the school aims at, there is nothing about being commercial that is incompatible with respect for people. Indeed an employer who wishes to build a sustainable school that enjoys a good reputation and has happy staff and students will soon discover that this can only be achieved through the efforts of a harmonious and happy team.

Sincerely,

Patricia

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