There are more than 2 billion English learners worldwide. The turnover of the ELT industry for 2017 is predicted to be close to $2,000 billion. There are some 100 spectacular multi millionaires in the ELT industry, David Nunan, Jack Richards, and Raymond Murphy among them. The number of people involved in the ELT industry who earn more than $100,000 a year is difficult to count, but however many thousands of them there are, they’re mostly senior managers of ELT organisations , teaching institutions, and publishers; coursebook writers, and top teacher trainers. A sprinkling of these seriously rich people attend the IATEFL international conference every year and give it its glamour.
An estimated 250,000 native English speakers work as English teachers abroad, and it’s also estimated that 80% of English teachers in non-native English speaking countries are not native English speakers. So a very conservative estimate is that there are more than 2 million people teaching EFL/ESL courses today. Here’s the current situation for most of them:
- they earn less money than most teachers in their country,
- they have no permanent contract,
- they have no holiday pay,
- they don’t get paid when they’re ill,
- they have no pension rights,
- they have little say in what or how they teach,
- they are offered few teacher training opportunities.
And here’s what Sebastian Cresswell-Turner said in The Daily Telegraph last week about UK EFL teachers :
Headline: The slavery of teaching English
Sub-head: The job is tedious, the salary appalling and the prospects nil. No one with a scrap of ambition would choose to teach English as a foreign language.
Excerpts: In Rome, typically, an English teacher working flat-out for a variety of employers and private pupils might earn €1,500 (£1,000) a month pre-tax for 10 months a year: £10,000 annually, therefore.
Permanent positions are scarce, and there is no work in the summer.
10-month contracts from September to June leave you washed up and penniless at the start of the holidays, with little option other than to sign up as a teacher at some miserable summer-school in Kent, where once again you will be ruthlessly exploited.
All over Europe – in Paris, Madrid, Prague and Athens – it is the same. In London the constant flow of foreign students provides work throughout the year – but who can survive on the £12,000-odd a year that TEFL teachers earn there?
The most objectionable aspect of this industry is not, however, the misery of those who work in it, but the posturing endemic to it. Typical of this is the pretence of professional credibility that surrounds the Mickey Mouse teaching certificate most teachers possess.
Every year, about 14,000 innocents pay £1,000-odd to spend four or five weeks acquiring a TEFL certificate from the two main examining boards that peddle them. I won’t deny that I picked up the odd trick, but I wish I’d spared myself the hassle and sent off to Thailand for a fake certificate, as a friend of mine in Paris sensibly did.
In my experience most language schools are miserable places, bucket shops whose owners shamelessly claim that the flotsam and jetsam they employ are highly-qualified, hand-picked professionals.
Indeed, many are not really schools at all, but employment agencies that send the workers on their books (freelance teachers) out to the premises of their clients (companies who have bought English courses) and take a whacking great commission (typically, about two-thirds of what the teacher is charged out at). As the “director of studies” of one such outfit once said to me: “If only you knew how much money we are making.”
So the clients get fleeced and the teachers, cowed into submission, toe the line and nod eager assent when the boss talks of “standards” and “performance”. Of course it’s rubbish; but the charade keeps the proles in their place.
Contrast this bleak picture with the one you get when you look at the IATEFL 2017 Glasgow Conference programme, where the impression is given that ELT is riding the crest of a wave and that in general things have never been better. IATEFL, with about 4,000 members, aims “to link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals worldwide”. Despite that “support” bit, the pay and conditions of members is outside their remit, and they have an appalling record on speaking out against poor training and certification and the widespread exploitation of teachers.
Remember what happened when Nicola Prentis and Paul Walsh tried to set up a Teachers as Workers SIG in IATEFL? Those who run IATEFL refused to allow it.
The issues that the Teachers as Workers SIG highlight are
- the establishment of a living wage and decent working conditions for all English language teachers
- the end to discrimination in ELT on the basis of gender, race, disability, native language, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age or political orientation.
The ruling body of IATEFL, registered as a charitable organisation, says that IATEFL can’t get involved in politics, and so they had no choice but to reject attempts to make Teachers as Workers a SIG. Sorry, they said, but despite our mission statement which says we will “support English Language Teaching professionals worldwide”, we are bound by our charter not to get involved in politics.
And yet a high point in the 2016 IATEFL conference was the plenary given by Silvana Richardson which made the case for NNESTs. How much more political can you get? It seems that it’s OK to speak out against discrimination against NNESTs, but not OK to even publicly discuss at an organised plenary or forum the lack of a living wage and decent working conditions which affect so many English language teachers. This amounts to a political decision by the IATEFL bosses, one that I suggest reflects the fact that while supporting NNESTs is progressive (likely to consolidate rather than threaten the status quo), asking for a living wage and decent working conditions for teachers is opening up a can of worms. It sounds reasonable, but Oh the problems it would cause! “No, No, No!”, as Thatcher said whenever she got a whiff of real change.
So let’s be clear before the 2017 IATEFL international conference gets underway: those running IATEFL choose to ignore the pay and conditions of most of our teacher colleagues around the world. They carry on as if we all worked in an ELT environment which was generally OK, as if none of the issues raised by teachers about their pay and conditions existed. That a journalist should write about ELT in the way that Sebastian Cresswell-Turner did in the Telegraph last week is an indication of just how bad things have become: for most teachers who work in ELT industry today, ELT is a nasty business where most people get a very bad deal. Surely it’s about time IATEFL shone a light on the pressing problems facing us, rather than turning a blind eye to them.