Saturday, April 26, 2014

It's Official: TEFL Still Sucks

So those who dare oppose English Teacher X usually claim that my experiences are unusual; that I have worked at only low-quality places that employ the bottom of the barrel, ergo my perception of TEFL is colored by my own personal depravity.



Well, here I am now. This is undoubtedly the highest-paid English teaching job in the world; I have never heard of any jobs that pay more. (I make $8000 a month, without accomodation, but there are "direct hire" guys here making $12,000 a month, WITH accomodation.)

The teachers are all highly-qualified; CELTA, DELTA, at least 3 year's experience minimum. There are a considerable number of Master's Degree's and even a PhD or two.

We work for an enormous state-run company; our students are new employees -- trainees, actually -- who do a sort of "prep year" thing of English plus training in whatever job they specialize in -- and the guys we get are quite often security guards, fire men, and low-level machine operators.

(In other words, people who really have no need of English in their jobs at all.)

And what do we do in class?

We stand there, while the students refuse to work.


Many of the students can speak English fairly well, actually, but they quickly learn that there is no reason at all for them to work, because they will all pass the course. The multiple-choice final tests are so easy they can usually guess their way through them, and the worst case scenario is doing the exact same test several times until they pass. There is no award for getting high marks as opposed to just barely scraping by.

There are individual assignments -- writing assignments and speaking presentations, which are about 20 percent of the final grade -- but basically, we're not allowed to fail anybody on these. I learned this in the second month, when a student basically read a few words off a power point slide and demanded a passing mark of 70 for it. He argued with me until I marked him absent; a senior teacher brought him back and told me that if he said anything at all, I should pass him.

(The other side of that coin is that we're not allowed to give anybody a 100 on these things; if we do we have to write a report about why we thought it deserved a 100.)

And basically, if you try too hard to make them do stuff, they'll probably complain about you until they get a teacher who DOESN'T try too hard to make them do stuff.

There are several rules we ARE allowed to enforce strictly -- students have to LOOK like they are studying at all times, in case any high muckety-mucks decide to walk through the place.  No sleeping, no phone use, proper uniforms, etc.

But as long as the students are doing those things (or not doing these things) nobody gives much of a shit what else they do in class.




You can try to throw them out of class for not working, but generally administration will not support the teacher in this case. Plus, the students have several ruses for that -- they'll either circle answers at random, copy them from the smart kid in their group, or get the answers from the internet or another class, so that it looks like they did the work.

You can of course try to bring in your own "interesting" activities -- but pair work speaking almost always devolves into the students speaking Arabic together. They simply have no desire to do it; they want to get through the program as quickly and easily as possible so they can start getting their full salary. (They get paid for this training, of course -- something like the equivalent of $800 a month. Throwing them out of class costs them money, which is why it eventually causes serious problems.)

In addition, quite a few topics are banned, of course. You're not really even supposed to talk about their families in class (for religious and tribal reasons. Rivalries between tribes are even worse than the usual Sunni vs. Shiite thing.)


Now of course, doing nothing in class wouldn't be so bad -- except for the fact that we have to do written lesson plans for every lesson, and there are occasional random observations. So you do nothing most of the time, but you do have to have an emergency back-up plan of doing something. 

There will always be those few mouthy hip young dudes who want to talk about your life with you -- especially whores and Bahrain and alchol and that sort of thing. But other teachers have warned that, while it's a decent way to get them talking English for a bit, it's not a good idea because they will occasionally try to record their teachers talking about untoward shit on their telephones for blackmail or general revenge purposes.

 I've found competitive games often work to get the students engaged; but these almost inevitably devolve into students shouting at each other in Arabic during the whole thing and producing a very minimal amount of English.


So here we are, the well-trained, seasoned veterans: standing there doing nothing while the students sit and speak Arabic. We console ourselves by counting our money, and trying to go somewhere interesting for the weekends and the holidays.

Meanwhile, at small private language schools all over the world, full of motivated and enthusiastic students who really need English for their jobs?

They're getting barely-trained backpackers and dropouts and retirees and PUAs, who get paid $5 an hour. And the usual fallback for those guys is talking about their lives with the students.

Ironic, eh?




11 comments:

StevieAustin said...

Sounds like a management case study description.

The issue seems to be how can the teacher optimize results if coercive tools are not available.

It seems like an issue that should be current in education given that the strict authoritative style of instruction that used to happen in the 20th century has fallen out of favour and times.

The issue you describe would appear to be an issue that affluent countries will soon be facing, i.e. students who no longer "need" to study due to easy opportunities in well run societies which do not require highly specialized skills (think Australia and Canada's issue with the high paying Mining
jobs like security guard $100,000 usd per year).

To me the answer lies in changing the reason from "need" to "want", and the only way to make students "want" to study, is to incorporate interesting, enjoyable methods.

Obviously you are already aware of this, and have tried various standard techniques, but they have limited success due to reasons you outlined.

For me I believe that a revolution (or at least marked evolution) needs to occur in education in order to successfully move to this new paradigm.

Whether an employee can effect those changes is unsure, probably unlikely, but possibly some small improvements can be made by utilizing as many multi media tools as possible.

This would require a lot of outside work hours efforts from the teachers, i.e. searching the net for tools, possibly lobbying management to implement them, tapering them to fit the specifics of the audience, etc, etc,.

However if this extra work needs to be done, surely teachers who receive $8,000 a month salary should be open to leading the change and fighting the new fight?


englishteacherx said...

Actually one colleague who had been working at a University in America said that the attitude of rampant copying / outsourcing of work is pretty prevalent there, also. He said, "Remember back when only the smart kids went to college at all? Now it's like only the smart kids get PhDs, and everybody else just gets master's degrees."

Anonymous said...

Dude, you're sitting pretty. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Remember back when only the smart kids went to college at all? Now it's like only the smart kids get PhDs, and everybody else just gets master's degrees."

As a former ESL teacher who is mucking his way through grad school in the USA, I agree that undergrad is not the specific domain of smart kids (this wasn't even true in the 1990's, but I guess its less true now with the internet). Of course, the specific school is everything but, in general, lots of dumb kids manage to graduate. Undergrad is the new high school (which is why I found it necessary to continue). Also, there are fairly low rigor Master degrees (ie: M.Ed, MA). However, MS degrees, specific technical degrees, and clinical degrees tend to still be at a level of difficulty that keeps out the riff raff. You can't outsource the type of work required because the tasks require a broad base of understanding and need to be filtered through a research lens to output acceptable material. PhD's can be, but aren't necessarily prudent to get from a career:money and time spent standpoint. It depends. More PhDs are underemployed, even at Universities, than not. University professors tend to not make more than do you, ETX. You'd be about on par with an average US University Prof with over ten years experience in terms of pay. I think that the MS/technical Masters is still the sweet spot if you don't want to teach at a University, although degree creep tends to happen in most technical professions (the need for higher and higher credentials).

The issue you describe would appear to be an issue that affluent countries will soon be facing, i.e. students who no longer "need" to study due to easy opportunities in well run societies which do not require highly specialized skills (think Australia and Canada's issue with the high paying Mining jobs like security guard $100,000 usd per year).

Situations like these are regional socioeconomic inefficiencies that have been undergoing a smoothing process (globalization) for some time now. In the near future, there won't be any more 100K security guards. The rate of pay will tend toward the actual value of the work.

To me the answer lies in changing the reason from "need" to "want", and the only way to make students "want" to study, is to incorporate interesting, enjoyable methods.

Yes, but this is difficult. I recommend a rotating incentive program that keeps incentives fresh to keep the motivation from dropping. It's a technique that we use with autistic children.

For me I believe that a revolution (or at least marked evolution) needs to occur in education in order to successfully move to this new paradigm.

That's a little dramatic. The science of operant conditioning and human motivation toward behavior change isn't new, so studying and application is needed - not revolution. It's not that this hasn't been though of and rigorously studied, it's just that teachers aren't taught the models. Researching behavior change techniques, or buying the relevant books on amazon, should give fresh ideas. A core motivator for the students in ETX's class would be to find and explain a novel perspective on why trying harder would benefit them. They have to understand a significant benefit before any change occurs. It sounds like the main problem is that learning English has been wholly de-incentivized. True incentive has to be found and communicated. Make it about their kids or future opportunities, or think of a short term elite club that top performers get into like the America!(cue Eddie Murphy) immigration club? I'm not sure what would motivate these guys, but perhaps some type of status based competition would. I'm just brainstorming.

englishteacherx said...

Well, I have mentioned before that basically the more affluent governments of the Middle East are sort of trying to buy out the "Arab Spring" generation (a very large demographic problem) by subsidizing copious amounts of these university / job training programs, as well as keeping prices low and giving a lot of holidays and such.

The Middle East will be a VERY lucrative destination for English teachers for another ten years or so because of this, I'd say. But when / if the governments start running out of oil money, look out.

They could try to base salary on performance here at the institute or something but that would probably just make cheating even more rampant.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me which Arab nation your drilling gold - even city/damn institute.

If these fudge packers are throwing away money to teach skinny, elvis clones wearing camel hoops on their heads - i'll even teach them to dance like the *king* - if they swing that way.

englishteacherx said...

You can contact me by email or on my facebook or twitter page by personal message, I'll drop you some tips about getting employed there.

Anonymous said...

You are the official don-dada-corleone of the Tefl world. Peace and I will link you.

Anonymous said...

Couple things:

1. Take it easy ETX, most people hate their jobs. At least yours isn't difficult, pays well, and gives you lots of time to travel. Lots of people would kill for your situation.

2. I also have taught TEFL, in Latin America, for far less money, though at times with free housing and coupons that could be used to pay for groceries. The perks were similar to yours, and the job just as lousy for the same reasons. If the entire system is designed to just let everyone pass with minimal effort, teaching is a slog. The teacher is also put in a position to carry this all out without complaining, because really, the teacher is replaceable and is valued for being a toady more than as an effective teacher. You can't really win.

3. If you really like teaching, do it in your home country as a profession. TEFL is a great way to learn valuable lessons about how life is not the way people tell you it is, and it can be rewarding to live as an expat for a while. But the TEFL profession is simply rigged to suck. Don't stay in too long, lest you become as cynical as ETX. He's trying to warn you!

4. Most people who want to learn a language will do so, regardless of whether their teacher sucks. But so many students expect teachers to just dump language ability into their brains in a matter of months, with no effort on their part. Teachers are not magicians, but one thing that has surprised me in my time as a TEFL teacher is how much everyone except teachers seem to believe this.

englishteacherx said...

Well, I did teach in the US for a year, in New York -- it sucked, unsurprisngly.

But yes, of course, the main thing -- I haven't ever really done anything except teach TEFL, so I don't have anything to compare it to. Oh, I mean, a few short stints as a gardener and a summer working at a 7-11. Gardening is a fine job in small doses, much like TEFL.

Anonymous said...

I'm personally waiting till I get jaded by the 'everybody passes' bollocks because when they hit the IELTS wall the whole thing falls apart.

Of course, it's not just the teaching and the students to worry about. The management structure and collection of eccentrics and psychotics you get to work with puts this field of ours in a world of its own.