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Teacher exploitation

December 16, 2008

Hello again,

I received a comment following my post about teacher satisfaction, which painted a very sorry picture of an organisation’s bad treatment of teachers. Underlying the poor management,...

...teacher exploitation and downward spiralling morale is, I believe, fear that the company is not going to survive. What are a teacher’s options when the ship is clearly sinking?

It might be possible for the teachers jointly to request a meeting with management to try to air their grievances. Frankly I doubt if this will do much good. So perhaps it is better to analyse the situation in greater detail.

First, how is it that the school can get away with paying an insultingly low rate? It rather suggests that they do not look for qualified people with experience but will accept those willing to work for a pittance who, perhaps, would not be employable in top-end schools. By paying a low salary they may be able to compete more keenly for students by offering lower tuition fees. If this is the situation, then I think the best way forward is for the teachers to build up their portfolio of qualifications so as to be able move to a more respectful employer. There is no long-term future for an unqualified teacher so if English teaching is your aim, it is better to work towards the generally accepted qualifications. Otherwise the only employment option will be in these cowboy outfits.

However, if the teachers have the necessary qualifications and a meeting with management produces no improvements, then look elsewhere. Reputable employers exist and, while you may need to relocate, you have much to gain and little to lose. Failing that, why not set up as an independent teacher and work freelance? You could offer private lessons to a wide spectrum of students and look for prospective students in the local businesses.

It is often difficult to see a way out of these demoralising situations, but everybody has choices and the first should be not to work for one of these low-grade schools.

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  1. Peter Vahle Says:

    I'm surprised you do not mention joining (or forming) an English Teachers' union in your article. If English teachers were better informed about their own rights and the legal responsibilities of Language Schools, it would be a good first step in the process of the 'low grade' schools you mention either shaping up or going out of business.

    Peter Vahle
    Chair Elect
    TESOL Forum for Fairness in Employment

  1. Mary Ann Says:

    I just had a contract sent to me from a school in Spain. Being a Canadian and not an EU citizen, I was informed that I must send the visa fee and half the accommodation fee in advance to the Head Master of the school. This amounts to over $2000 USD ! I can understand their concern that I may not show up, but how can I verify that this is not a scam and that the school is legitimate or perhaps may be going under and are trying for a last grab of cash? This would be my first teaching job. Is this usual protocol for a school to ask for money in advance to cover fees and expenses?

  1. Eric Roth Says:

    How can English teachers protect themselves from being exploited by unethical employers?

    What about making smarter choices by collecting more information, asking more questions, and only working for institutions with an excellent reputation? I don't mean to blame the victims, but as worldly educators English teachers should know enough to avoid getting into awkward, difficult situations in foreign countries with a high tolerance for employer abuse. Use the web. Check claims. Work with people you know - or know of from friends and TESOL conferences. Just use some basic consumer savviness before traveling thousands of miles to a distant land.

    Naturally, your suggestion to be well-trained and collect the appropriate credentials can only help. Yet beyond joining TESOL or collecting the right piece o paper, English teachers and administrators can and should use their considerable intelligence and research skills in choosing their employers.

    Finally, it behooves everyone to both leave an abusive situation (at work or at home) and report any legal or ethical violations to the appropriate authorities. Naming names protects the innocent by exposing the guilty.

    Thank you for addressing this important, often overlooked aspect of our honorable profession.

  1. David King Says:

    Hi - Although I agree with your advice in principle, in practice things are a lot less black and white. With a post-grad degree, CELTA and now nearing completion of my DELTA I'd like to think I'm fairly well-qualified. And given the consistently positive feedback I get from my DoS and my students, I think I can say I'm doing a good job. So why is finding an appropriate level of remuneration with a reputable school so difficult? I'm afraid the answer lies with how easy (and cheap) it is to become CELTA qualified. With the CELTA factory relentlessly churning out newly qualified teachers, who are grateful for any opportunity to work despite their lack of experience, employers have little incentive to retain, and reward, well-experienced professionals. Sad, but from my experience, true.

  1. Jacob Says:

    Great article but what are the right ESL qualifications. I live in a poor part of China and it has two types of teachers and they are retired teachers/professors who have taught English their whole life or the other extreme college kids that where just traveling through and wanted to make a buck. Maybe my community is not the norm but in the field of ESL there seems to be allot of argument about what qualified is.

  1. Stefan Schneider Says:

    This is a very good article. Especially when we think about teacher exploitation in Asia has be so become terribly common.

  1. david Says:

    One of the problems is that there are too many "teachers" floating around, with and without qualifications, many of whom offer terrible service to their students. It's a buyer's market in China.
    Many organisations are unscrupulous when dealing with teachers, and their misleading comments during the initial interview should set off alarm bells to the prospective teacher.
    For example, in a joint-venture school, ask where the partners are from. read the contract carefully before agreeing and signing it. As a foreigner in your desired country, you have precious little legal support if the employer runs afoul of the law. This is especially true if you work in Asia. One should also be careful of being hired to teach or to do demo classes, payment per hour differs greatly, and payment per hour for demo classes never appears on the contract, nor is it mentioned in your interviews. There are a number of teaching organistions in China notorious for this misrepresentation. If you don't play ball and do the demos, they won't hire you to teach. Then there are those teaching companies who ask you to represent them at education fairs. Here again, you never receive any remuneration for the time you spend there...they say you are doing it for the good of the firm and that you could augment your teaching hours if you help recruit students. I could go on and on about the unfair treatment levied against teachers of all stripes.
    "Beware," is the byword.

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