After quite a few requests for this post, here it is!
I am desperate to spread the word about how difficult it can be as an English language teacher both in the UK and abroad, especially as there are so many misconceptions about both.
Many people believe that teaching abroad is just a big holiday with minimum hours and lots of money, especially with the stereotypical ‘backpackers’ taking most of the jobs. And on the other hand, many people think being a teacher in the UK means you’re well supported, have a decent salary and have plenty of opportunities for training and promotions.
Both of these scenarios can be true, but in many situations they’re far from the truth.
When I started teaching two and a half years ago I was extremely lucky to work for the most amazing, family-run school. There were rules and regulations, paper work without it being pointless (lesson plans, record of work, student reports), staff events, loads of support and the pay was extremely generous. Unfortunately I have not found a school that even comes close to the one I first worked at.
Many of you know about my awful experience in China, and the terrible school I ended up at in Warsaw, and many of you also know of my recent struggles to find a good school here in the UK. But if you’re new to the blog, here’s a quick break down.
- 2018 – China. Promised mostly teenagers, 25 hours a week, £2,000 per month with health care, SIM card, internet, good quality apartment.
What I received? 3-10 year olds, 6 hours a week, £0 with no SIM card, no internet and a very old apartment. Managed by a sexist, non-teacher who tried to bribe me to stay in China by buying me presents every day. He quickly became very nasty when I said I wanted to leave, saying I was the worst teacher he’s ever met. Bearing in mind he hadn’t actually seen me teach. I had months of abusive emails.
- 2019 – Poland. Promised a mixed timetable, 20 hours a week, £800 per month with health care, good quality apartment, pre-made lesson plans, top technology in every classroom, 2 weeks of training.
What I actually received? A CAE/FCE timetable, 40+ hours a week due to no lesson plans or materials, no training, very little support and certainly no technology (whiteboards and CD players). Awfully old, damaged apartment. The ‘state-of-the-art library’ was an old bookshelf in one of the offices. The staff were spiteful, vindictive and constantly bothering me for various, pointless reasons.
E.g. One lesson was 8 year olds at 6pm, after they’d been at school and sports club all day. They were tired, grumpy and definitely didn’t want to study grammar, so I skipped ahead to a vocab page where we could play games, aiming to return to the grammar the following lesson. I had two emails and a text message saying I wasn’t doing my job, asking me why I’m not teaching the curriculum and letting the students down.
E.g. I became unwell quite quickly and every time I asked for my health insurance card or number, they had an excuse. Or they’d tell me it was ready, but I didn’t need it. Or to just go to the doctors and they’ll search for my name on the system. It was clearly a farce and they were trying to avoid paying for my insurance. I ended up going private and paying for the lot.
The list goes on, but I won’t (my inner dragon will come out otherwise! RAAAAAAAAAAAR!)
You may also have heard about the school I worked for last year, and although many staff didn’t stay there long, I thought it was a fantastic school. The management were so supportive, helpful and extremely knowledgeable. You just knew they cared about what they were doing. There was never a negative vibe in the staffroom, no bullying or ‘cliques’ of teachers. I was very lucky!
But, unfortunately, after Christmas I wasn’t called back for work. Although I had been expecting this since day one, it came as a shock this time because they said they’d call me in the new year if there was any work. I believed them, until I saw them advertising and noticed they had hired four new teachers. Ouch!
This obviously made our move to Manchester a tough one, as I had no work at all.
So, for the last 5 weeks I have been calling, emailing and connecting with language schools around the city. I have had two interviews and two interview offers, but nothing else. I know it’s low season in the UK right now, plus Brexit and now the COVID-19 won’t be helping the situation, but I expected more from Manchester.
Maybe that’s where I went wrong?
The first interview went really well, followed by a demo lesson that could have been worse. The second interview was very laid back with an odd end to it, but a positive demo lesson followed, along with 3 weeks of part-time work.
I rejected the following two interview offers because the school I received work from offered me 15 hours a week for the foreseeable future. Nice one! Right?
Haha, well… When I arrived for work on the Monday morning, I had asked why the register didn’t have my name on it, but another teacher’s name. I was told that this was because he was the lead teacher for that class and I was just the cover teacher. I was furious! I had turned down the other two interviews because I thought this was a permanent role, at least for a while.
Those 15 hours just about covered all of my bills and to have suddenly lost them puts me in a really sticky situation financially – which has now added a load of new stress onto the stress I have been already feeling, especially as the schools that offered to interview me have now filled their teaching positions. D’oh!
0 hour contracts should be illegal.
Written confirmation from management should be considered a basic contract.
But no, we live in a world where people are allowed to take advantage of whoever they want, however they want, whenever they want.
Let’s be honest; you won’t always like your manager, your colleagues or even staff you have to work in the same building as. That’s normal. You can’t like everyone, but you can work with them. It’s called being professional, and unfortunately some people haven’t quite mastered that skill yet… and this is a big problem in the TEFL world.
Lack of contracts (0 hours, 5 hour contracts…)
Lack of payment or poor salaries (£10 per hour, if students don’t show, teachers don’t get paid)
Lack of development opportunities (teachers teach, go home, teach, go home… very little in between)
Lack of ‘community’ or teamwork (no staff activities, no staff rooms, no team spirit)
Lack of trust (in the system, in the staff)
In the wrong school, teaching English as a foreign language can be an absolute nightmare for those of us that truly care about our job and our students. Management can play a huge role in these nightmare situations and it’s usually management who have never taught, or have no desire to teach. People who are not educators do not truly understand what teachers and students need to build a successful team, a positive learning environment and, especially, be a part of a huge life experience for many students.
Many students have left home to come to the UK (and Canada, Australia…) to improve their English for University, for IELTS or simply to improve for themselves. It is part of our job to teach them about the culture, the strange and wonderful things that our country is famous for, and to help them enjoy their experience as much as possible.
The saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup” springs to mind here because how can we support our students if our management aren’t supporting us teachers?
Have you come across any difficulties when teaching EFL? Feel free to share them in the comments or get in touch with me on Twitter!