Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marching On Empty...

Well, I can't even begin to tell you how busy I've been this week, what with one thing and another, but it's not been good news for this blog. I've had no time to think about my usual TeflTradesman activities, such as finding shameless shysters or ridiculous teaching ideas to expose. BUT, I can promise something substantial soon, as I do have a couple of crackers in the pipeline, if you'll forgive the awful mash of metaphors there.

In fact, the only event of real note has been the reappearance on the UK Tefl scene of that well-loathed slimeball and all-round pariah, Paul Lowe. Apparently he's up to his old tricks again, trying to shaft innocent punters by posing as a 'bona fide' language school owner, when he's clearly not. Take a look here for the latest on the Windsor Swindler and his typically shyster antics.

So I'll leave you all, if you don't mind, with another archive McAnus, a true 'blast from the past' - in this case from exactly five years ago, when my original TeflTrade blog was little more than a mere howling newborn at just two months old. Although the posting itself was no great shakes - a certain, erm ... 'culling' from Dave's ESL Cafe - it did attract no small amount of informed (and quite uninformed!) comment at the time. And have things changed? It's over to you...

A good deal of complainants on this forum [Dave’s ESL CafĂ©] are right to point out the lack of financial reward in the domestic EFL market, and the scant professional esteem traditionally given to them. However, I do feel that the focus of their anger has been misapplied to some extent.

Firstly, let’s look at the comparative aspect. Teaching in an EFL school is very different from teaching in a state school. Having done both, I would say that state school teaching is far removed from most EFL classrooms. Stress levels are quite certainly lower in TEFL, as students tend to be more motivated, assessment requirements are usually lower (or even non-existent), and, in my experience, aggression and violence are entirely absent. As a result of all the above, salaries in TEFL tend to be lower. In short, it’s an easier job – much easier.

For example, a colleague of mine went back into mainstream secondary school supply teaching after having worked several years teaching English in the Gulf States. On his first Monday back at a London chalkface he found himself subject to verbal abuse from his pupils, and had to separate two brawling teenagers in the playground, receiving several kicks in the shins for his troubles. The following day he saw an advert in the Guardian for EFL teachers in Kazakhstan. He immediately applied, and has been there ever since. Obviously, if you can’t stand the heat, it’s very nice to be able to step outside of the kitchen and warm your toes elsewhere.

What the above really means is that many teachers who are not prepared to endure the tough physical conditions of the public sector, and who do not want to live abroad, are prepared to put up with the demeaning financial incentives offered at EFL schools. However, although that might be fine if you're young and single (or gay), most married people find themselves obliged to turn their backs on either their country or their profession, as many on this forum have already stated.

Quite simply, EFL teachers earn so little in the UK because there are so many of them, especially in London. In fact, this state of affairs is even promoted by some of the larger language schools, who are now prepared to offer TEFL training to people without degrees. This is due in no small part to the fact that most students currently graduate with debts of around £10,000, and therefore few are in a position to afford to spend another grand doing a TEFL course, and then spend several years working for peanuts in some exotic far-eastern location. Moreover, the fact that EFL schools have started training up older people with plenty of work experience but no formal academic qualifications is undoubtedly causing a creeping de-professionalisation of the job.

What’s important here is the fact that it is possible to become a teacher after just one month of intensive training, which does not enhance the profession's image one bit. HGV drivers typically put in more hours to get their licence, and they earn more money for their efforts. It's the same with nurses, who feel more respected after their years of training and preparation. I mean, let’s face it, there is a fundamental difference between a bod with a First Aid certificate and a properly trained nurse; equally so between a TEFLer with his Mickey Mouse cert and a properly trained teacher.

So, what can be done? Well, for starters the British Council needs to insist that ALL EFL teachers working at accredited schools in the UK are Diploma or PGCE qualified and hold valid degrees. A TEFL cert might be OK for abroad, but not for the homeland. And for seconds, TEFL teachers need to get themselves properly organised: getting rid of the travelling TEFL cert brigade will certainly help to establish the profession at home, and make it easier for proper teachers to organise some sort of Union or Association to protect their interests.
Any volunteers?

First Published: Sunday, 6 March 2005


'A visitor' left this comment on 6 Mar 05

I skipped the Dip and went straight on to doing a Master's, and I'm glad I did so: I'm very much in disagreement with the whole RSA/UCLES methodology, which I see as being nothing more than one of many methods. They're pretty good at practical stuff like classroom management and techniques for teaching pronunciation, though; I'll give them that, at least. From what I know of the Dip, it continues with its PPP (or 'Test-Teach-Test') methodology, while glancing at other methodologies and at bits of linguistics that fall their way. That isn't good enough. I certainly don't think that it should be insisted that EFL teachers in the UK have the Dip, as that is certainly no guarantee of someone being a good teacher.

An example: last autumn I remember talking to a Dip-qualified RSA teacher trainer from Birmingham, who used to teach language courses at Manchester Uni. She said she used to have one year to bring Arabic speakers up in level so that they could research and write their PhDs. She said it was impossible, especially as their native language isn't even Indo-European. Well, I disagreed with her. I think language learning is very much about affect, and as such it makes no difference what your mother tongue is. Secondly, of course it's possible to reach the required level in twelve months of living in the country. But typical RSA classes aren't the solution for most people - only for the students whose individual learner styles they suit. Instead, there's more of a need to focus on motivation and self-esteem, encouraging learner autonomy, and so on. RSA/UCLES only really pay lip-service to these issues - in reality, their methodology is still very much about the teacher being the font of all knowledge.

In fact, what I'd say about TEFL teacher training is this: it doesn't train people in grammar, vocabulary development, or any aspect of human psychology. These are the core areas that are needed. Instead, it concentrates on one single method (PPP/TTT), and it obsesses about stages and aims and concept questions - and all sorts of other ways by which the teacher can (supposedly) control what the students learn. RSA/UGLIES is a control freak that isn't suited for training teachers at all.

'Alistair' left this comment on 6 Mar 05

What David said. Though after my experience in London, after several years of only teaching abroad, I found a lot of EFL teachers wanting. Perhaps that was just my luck with the schools I taught at. I found that the levels of professionalism of my Brazilian colleagues far higher than their British counterparts, and the salaries corresponded comparatively. I really don't know what the answer to this is, whether EFL teachers should take themselves more seriously so that they are taken more seriously in general. Or there should be some kind of drive to get recognition, coming from the industry and the teachers as a whole.

'john williams' left this comment on 9 Mar 05

What should be added is teflers in the UK are often not paid much or regarded as professional as many of them aren't. They are very scruffy. Secondly it is very simply a case of supply and demand. Not many jobs, many teflers = low wages. Simple really

'Alistair' left this comment on 10 Mar 05

hmmmm...Mr. Williams your tone sounds familiar. But I have to agree with you to some extent, based on my own experiences. And for many years those that came out here seemed to treat it as a joke. Which made it hard for those of us that live here. Instances of native speakers suddenly picking up sticks and moving on in the middle of the semester are still (unfortunately) not unusual.

''Sandy' left this comment on 12 Mar 05

I agree with David – and disagree, too. For example, I didn’t do the RSA Diploma, but the Trinity College one, as it was the only Diploma that could be done by distance learning back then, in those days before e-mail and the internet made learning at a distance so easy. I can’t therefore comment on the modern RSA Diploma syllabus, but if it is as narrow and prescriptive as David suggests, then he’s entirely right – it would be no measure of an efficient teacher. After all, the only thing that the average Tefl certificate does is enable you to be an efficient deliverer of coursebook materials, and modern teaching is much more than that. If the RSA Diploma merely takes that perspective and intensifies it, then maybe it’s not the benchmark that I imagined it to be.

In fact, the distance-learning course I did involved a whole year of Postgraduate-level modules, on heavy stuff such as Phonetics and Psycho-Linguistics, as well as a study of comparative teaching methodologies, not to mention a full-blown project on ... ooh-err, something or other! I should also point out that I did a PGCE to become a teacher of MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) before I did the CELTA, and the contrast in approaches was startling. Whereas the PGCE had a strong focus on the ‘peripheral’ factors that David mentions, such as affect/motivation and language psychology, it was only the CELTA that was obsessed with method. In fact, at the time I thought the PGCE was negligent in its scant treatment of teaching methods and classroom management, and maybe it was. But if so, then the CELTA was/is equally guilty of being remiss, by refusing to acknowledge the importance of the other factors. But there again, you can only squeeze so much into a four-week course, can’t you?

Which brings me back to my original point: that a lemon with a CELTA is just that – a lemon with a CELTA. If he or she wants to develop into a proper teacher, they need to make a much greater effort. And, with perfect timing, this will be the subject of my next blog (watch out for 'Eddie Yates'!).

'A visitor' left this comment on 17 Mar 05

Teaching is a nobel profession, so don't expect financial rewards and there are great language schools around where staff love working and return year after year...Pilgrims/Bell/KLAC
Paul H

Sandy' left this comment on 17 Mar 05

Paul, your sentiments might be easier to stomach if you could actually spell - 'nobel'?. And where is the link between being a noble profession and getting paid shite? I don't see it. There are plenty of other 'noble' professions out there - doctors, judges, for example - but they don't put up with crap salaries and conditions, do they? I hate to revert to an old cliche, but tossers like you are definitely 'part of the problem, and not part of the solution'.

As for staff returning year after year, you're obviously on about summer schools. And yes, staff do return - I was one such member of Bell's staff many years ago. But it is only seasonal work(and one in which mugs like me were working 12- or 14-hour days, six days a week). My main gripe is with the permanent tefl school shysters and the need for the simple punter to make a proper living, 365 days a year.


Anonymous said...

great post.

so when can we look forward to our radical efl poet unloading on life and work in the bling sandpit? or is this not possible? or when might it be possible?

The TEFL Tradesman said...

What's all this about 'radical EFL poet'?! Are you referring to Stan Cruddy (RIP)?

Lisa said...

Could be worse. Pay peanuts get monkeys. Pay niggers get niggers!
Look shaddap! EFL teaching is a holiday job just like working in a cafe, the fact that you can get qualifications to do it better doesn't mean you are worth anything. A waitress or bluecoat gets H&S training in hot water and climbing ladders. Does she then believe she is top of the shit heap? Of course not SO SHADDAP

Anonymous said...

no, i'm referring to you TEFL tradesman... when will you be free to write about what you really saw in the bling sandpit?

did you see any/know any dodgy arrests? forced labourers/slaves while living the middle-class efl life?

Maria Marta said...

I think the solution is a BA in English plus an extra year, maybe something like a PGCE in TEFL/TESOL whatever. That's what non-natives do in their own countries and that's partly why they are perceived to be more professional.