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The Responsibilities of ESL School Owners

February 09, 2006

Hello again.

Concerns raised here and in other blogs about cultural differences and issues such as freedom of speech set me thinking about the responsibilities schools have towards their teachers.

Many teachers, newly qualified and eager to see the world, are young and quite vulnerable. They are unlikely to be prepared for the challenges of living and working in a culture very different from their own. The various issues they face differ in their level of seriousness and complexity but I feel that employing schools have a responsibility to guide their new recruits through the most difficult areas . . .

. . . In identifying these areas I suggest three major categories: those relating to the laws in the country where the school operates, issues concerning the teacher’s health and safety and the more general area concerning the country’s cultural norms. Ideally, of course, the teachers should be prepared before they arrive (essential preparations include having valid visas and appropriate vaccinations before departure) but merely sending out information in advance is unlikely to be sufficient as experience is always slightly different from expectation. This means that the induction period for and process for new recruits must be carefully planned.

Given that schools look mainly for native speaker teachers and that the greatest expansion in English language need is in the Far East, Middle East and Eastern Europe, it is easy to predict the areas that are likely to present the greatest challenges. Teachers used to open societies, for example, where freedom of speech and discussion of controversial issues and politics is normal will find it quite hard to adapt to countries that place taboos on certain topics. It is easy for teachers to err inadvertently. Take materials as an example. If teachers like using their own material they may breach taboos on topics such as alcohol, free association between the sexes, or issues such as gay rights.

One way of adding value to a formal induction process that instructs the teachers in all the topics they need to be informed of is to assign the new recruit a mentor from the experienced staff. I would suggest that mentoring sessions are scheduled regularly and with each one dedicated to a specific topic. The new recruit could be encouraged to keep a diary that notes any issues that cause concern and these can be discussed with the mentor. The mentor in turn should be informed about how to refer the new teacher to other appropriate people in the organization for help with specific difficulties.

Please let me know what you think.

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