EL-FREE

How much free work do you do as a teacher every week? Every month? Every year? It has become very clear to me over my 6 years in the industry that there are a number of things that directors, owners, students and even other teachers expect us to do without payment. For this post, I thought about listing some of the things that I have to do for free and stating the case for why they should be paid. This is completely based on my own experiences in Dublin and is not representative of a consensus view. It’s merely the start of a conversation, no more, no less.

1. Lesson Planning.

This is the first and most obvious one that jumps out for me. In all my time teaching I have never once been paid to plan a lesson. I have heard of schools where lesson planning is paid for or others where preparation is ‘included’ in the teaching rate, but I have never received a penny for preparing a class, which is crazy really when you think about it.

Where I work now, I have to submit fairly detailed lesson plans at the start of every week. These are required by the school to meet the accreditation standards that they have. Without them, the school could fail an inspection and thereby lose a massive chunk of its business. However, they have no interest in paying teachers to prepare them and worse, they sometimes come and complain about the quality/detail of those that are submitted.

Lesson-planning is a skill. It’s one that we learn on our CELTA (or other) courses and improve on our DELTA (or other). Not anyone can do it. If you ask a man on the street to come and plan a class, they won’t be able to. This is the very definition of skilled work. I teach 30 hours of classes per week. It takes about 3-4 hours to put together plans for that amount of lessons, but when I started it was more like 10 hours. All of this work, all unrewarded.

2. Administration.

Next on the list is administration. This covers correcting tests, filling in forms, sending and receiving work-related emails and so on. You could include staff meetings in here too. Where I work we do get paid for attending meetings, but it’s at a lower rate than for teaching. That makes sense in somebody’s mind but not mine. We have to run a test every two weeks in my school. If you’re smart you can use peer-correction and you can manage to not have to take anything home, but for my first 3 years as a teacher, marking papers was a part of every weekend, probably 2-3 hours worth every week.

I get around 20 work-related emails each week. I respond to 2-3. Lots of them ask me for ideas about how to improve the school, adjustments to procedures etc. In these cases I provide my expertise for free. I have trained and gained experience so I can make suggestions and I can help to improve student and teacher experience in my school, yet this is not valued, it is simply taken. If you don’t contribute in these situations then you may be overlooked for promotions or interesting projects or basically for anything. In the case of those who don’t have permanent contracts, the willingness to do this kind of work for free may be the difference between renewal and being shown the door.

3. Professional Development

Finally, for today anyway, there’s professional development. As a teacher you are expected to engage constantly in professional development. You must keep up to date with methodology and research, you must attend events and conferences, you must never stagnate, you must always improve. However, I am yet to hear of a school where CPD is paid for.

When teachers improve themselves professionally, they also improve the skills they possess and the service that their school can offer. (Remember, schools consider themselves to be selling a service.) A barista will be paid to learn to make cappuccino hearts, a barman will be paid to learn to make fancy cocktails – their employer understands that better skilled staff equals better profits for them – the schools I’ve worked in have failed to recognise this. Not only is the professional development itself unrewarded, but those higher-skilled teachers are normally not rewarded with increases in wages or improvements in conditions, unless of course, they change to a new school/country.

The average teacher probably spends 2-3 hours a week on CPD whether they know it or not. Reading an article about a new technique. Searching online for new materials. Even looking in the dictionary for the definition of a word and making an example to use in a class the next day. Referring to Swan to answer a student question the next day. These are all examples of CPD, even though they may not look like it. Throw in 1 conference a year and a couple of talks/videos and you’re looking at about 2/3 weeks pay per year that is not being given.

Solutions.

There are few, if any, viable solutions to this problem. One obvious one is industrial action – a work to rule if you will, where teachers only do the work they are paid for. The problem with this is that teachers are not organised and that it’s quite a drastic action. Another solution would be if teachers were paid salaries rather than wages based on hours taught – perhaps then this extra work could be included in the salary package. I’m speaking from my experience in Dublin where the private language schools pay by the hour for contact only, maybe in other countries there are other systems in place.

These are the kinds of things that teachers need to start talking about. The conversation has started on Twitter already thanks to a proposed TAW_SIG and there are other groups out there who want to do the same. What do you think? Do you work a lot for free? Let me know in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “EL-FREE

  1. Plenty every day done free, gratis, and mahala -as we say in South Africa. I work for myself, so I should be factoring those costs in to my hourly rate. If I included travel time, parking, petrol, lesson planning, books and stationery, the cost of the lesson would be at least three times what the going rate is – well the going rate the market will bear, that is. Yes, yes, I can ‘deduct’ some of that from my tax bill…. If I earned enough to pay tax that is. Mug’s game, really it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Candy, yeah it’s a shame. I imagine it’s more pronounced working for yourself alright..
      I do a bit of one-to-one myself but I don’t depend on it and it’s just a bit of extra pocket money for me, but I charge a higher price than a lot of people in Dublin for that reason, and I always explain to the student that the price is high because of the preparation I do.

      Maybe one day we can at least get to have this conversation with someone who makes the decisions rather than just grumbling in odd corners of the internet – who knows, maybe that day is coming!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with the points raise here Liam, and well done for bringing this up as this is something we often talk about in Berlin: if you factor in the free work we do, it’s no longer a wage worth having.

    Naturally if you’re working, then you should be paid. Lesson planning is work. I really don’t see any argument here.

    But like you say, teachers are not organised and lack the capacity to do anything about this. That’s the question I’m interested in: what prevents teachers from organising themselves and transforming their working conditions?

    As well as our working conditions (we’re perhaps freelance, spread across different sites or schools) there are inherent problems that prevent teachers from organising e.g. teachers are willing to put up with crap working conditions (and not do anything to change things) because they intend to leave ELT after a few years.

    It’s a massive problem that will require a lot of discussion to sort out. At this stage, as Paulo Freire would say, we need more ‘problem posing’ than ‘problem solving’ IMO. Articles and posts such as yours are a step in the right direction.

    paul

    Like

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