The topic of Teachers as Workers came about a few years ago and after a period of stillness, it seems it has returned to the fore. Initially, the website was spruced up and there’s been a couple of blog posts connected to the topic, including Geoff Jordan’s recent one.
Everyone writing about this topic at the moment is raising valid points about:
- Working conditions for teachers
- The rate of pay in the ELT industry
- The lack of action on the part of supranational organizations
Paul Walsh, Nicola Prentis and Geoff Jordan have done a good job of covering the arguments behind forming an organization which fights for teacher’s right, why an IATEFL Special Interest Group was a good option and some possible reasons for IATEFL’s lack of involvement in this topic.
Reading about all of this makes you realize what a sorry state of affairs the profession is currently in. In a 2004 article in the Telegraph, shared by Geoff Jordan on his blog Critical ELT, the author looks at the then working conditions of English teachers.
With an example of €1,500 a month before tax and deducations, long working hours and dividing your time across several schools as well as private lessons, you’d think the author had interviewed a teacher working in a developing country. Yet, he was talking about a typical teacher in the Italian capital of Rome.
Looking at other European cities, including Prague, Athens and Madrid, the situation wasn’t much better. From my own enquiries, I understand that a teacher working in a former Soviet bloc country at the time of the article’s publication would have earned around £200-£250 a month.
Of course, the argument here is that the salary is relevant to the local economy. This would be a valid argument if the teachers in question were full-time residents in the countries they teach in. However, the vast majority receive fixed term contracts of around nine months i.e. one academic year. This leaves them either having to spend any money they have saved to tie them over till the next academic year, returning to the UK for the summer (where costs are higher) or getting a job “as a teacher at some miserable summer-school in Kent, where once again you will be ruthlessly exploited.”
To make things worse, over the course of the last 13 years, since the publication of the Sebastian Creswell-Turner’s article in the Telegraph, the cost of living across the globe has soared, yet inflation has barely risen and any rise reflected in annual salaries is nowhere near enough to make ends meet.
In short, schools haven’t been increasing wages, inflation hasn’t forced any decent increase, and the cost of living has risen uncontrollably. The end result is that the financial situation eluded to by Sebastian Cresswell-Turner is sadly not history: it’s still true today.
For example, two years ago I was working at a language school in Poland. My salary at the time equated to £300 a month. However, I had extras for holding a senior position and for delivering a number of exam courses. Take this away and we’re talking about £250 a month. No change since 2004.
A year after leaving that school I had forked out around £3,000 to do the Cambridge Delta. What I gained from the course professionally as a teacher was second to none, but the promise of more money didn’t really come through. I did get a higher position but I ended up being worse off financially than just a regular teacher. In fact, at one point I found myself in a position where there were days when I had enough money to buy either a ham sandwich or a coffee, but not both!
All of this eventually fed into my decision to leave the industry as a full-timer. In 2016 I moved into the tech sector. Teaching English has since become a side job for me. What’s really strange about this is that I’ve actually started to enjoy it more: now that I have financial security, a stable job and a regular income, I don’t view my teaching as a by-the-hour-value commodity but as a true educator trying to help those to better themselves.
Is the future of English Language Teaching bleak? For those who have been in it a few years and want to remain, I’d say yes, but as Sebastian Cresswell-Turner alludes to, the industry is replenished every with around 14,000 innocent hopefuls. Should we all drop our board pens and walk out, the next cohort of tefl-tastique teachers will just pick up the reigns.