Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Changing Faces of TEFL

I'm pretty sure the average English teacher has changed a lot in the last five or six years, especially.

On the one hand, I'm older and the world has changed, and on the other hand, the jobs that I get now are generally better (in terms of salary, if nothing else) and thus may attract a slightly different breed than the cruddy language schools I started at.

But it seems to me the "average" English teacher has changed.

In the beginning there were these people:

You had the Mean Old Bastard, the Bloated Middle Aged Alcoholic, the Hip Young Guy. They pretty much made up the bulk of language schools employees. Happily drunk, barely qualified, cheerfully amoral. There were the Frumpy Yet Idealistic Young Women and the Professionals, but not nearly so many. The Professional was usually the Director of Studies, and used a lot of jargon, but was often secretly even more depraved than the others. (Come to think of it, it's even been a while since I've heard the term "Director of Studies" used.)

This would have been the 90s. 

In the 00s, things changed. Slowly, and more quickly in some places than others, but they changed. Other people started entering the trade.

And I drew cartoons about them. 

I wrote a whole series of cartoons when I first started this site back in 2003 (!).

But what about now? 

Well, you'll still find all those people in the business. Just in different ratios. 

So the Mean Old Bastards are still around, in smaller numbers, but they're mostly consigned to the shittiest jobs -- rural China, for example -- and clinging miserably to ever-crappier positions in the Middle East. In many cases the Drunk Middleaged Whoremongers became Mean Old Bastards, as it's not nearly so possible these days to stay drunk all the time and keep an English teaching job. 

The Hip Young Dudes kind of surprised me, in that in many cases they have turned into the Professionals. They got Master's degrees and started being more discreet about fucking students, and turned their smarmy ways towards obtaining important positions at well-paying schools. Oh, of course, they occasionally turned in Middle Aged Whoremongers. 

There aren't many Hip Young Dudes entering the business these days, because those guys all want to operate affiliate websites and do online marketing and all that kind of thing. 

Now, the Frumpys?

The Frumpy Young Women tend to be Middle-Aged Women now, but they are fucking EVERYWHERE in TEFL now. They are much more confident, much more professional and qualified, even more blazingly indignant about social justice and GMO foods, but they're still pretty frumpy. 

They've kind of combined with the Hip English Chick archetype, in fact, although I'm seeing a lot more American chicks than English these days. In any event there are a lot of 90s nose-rings still in evidence. 

Many of the others are flat-out disappearing in these days of high demands for qualifications and experience. The Crazy Guys are mostly unemployable, rarely getting past Skype interviews. The Canadians and the Starting Over Guys, who were mostly just doing it for a short time, find it hard to get work. The Bullshit Artists can't verify their documents, and the Conspiracy Guys don't want to.

I am seeing a lot of these, in the modern era:  

These couples used to be middle-aged, but now I'm seeing more relatively hip and young such couples. 

What about the rest of you out there? I welcome your comments. Are my observations typical? Am I moving into such rarefied air in the world of ESL that my finger is far from the pulse, and instead jammed up my ass? 

My collected book of cartoons will be FREE on Amazon, from September 28 to October 3

Saturday, September 17, 2016

TEFLpocolypse: Day of Reckoning

"For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" - Revelation 6:17

The TEFLpocolypse abides. 

Oh, me? I'm fine. Don't worry. My job seems to be going well enough, and I really dig Beijing. 

But I narrowly dodged a bullet at my last job, and some of my colleagues there weren't so lucky. 

Fucking contracting companies. 

I am referring in this case to government contracting companies, not plain old recruitment companies. (The term is sometimes mis-used.) Contracting companies provide personnel for government contracts, usually military / industrial in nature. I worked for one last year in America, and I worked for one in 2013 / 2014 in the Kingdom.

Basically, they provide employees so that the government don't have to provide employees with full time jobs, permanent contracts, full security clearances, and full benefit packages. While your salary might be good or even great, it is the result of a formula designed to provide the lowest bid on the contract. 

And you're fucking expendable. 

My first contracting job, in which me and maybe a hundred other people provided our TEFL skills for the state-run oil company in Kingdom, was to me very unpleasant though highly paid, and I left after a year. I didn't have any particular problem with my contracting company, but I saw many others -- people being suddenly let go for little reason, paperwork being bungled, money not getting paid, people being forgotten about after being promised jobs

Most of the hundred or so people I was hired with were let go in summer of 2015, when the low price of oil caused major repercussions in the economies in the Middle East. Most of them were older guys who had been hoping to ride that gravy train until they retired, and most of them had been constantly reassured they would be offered another contract. 

My last job, in America, struck me as a half-assed, tentative deal from the very beginning.  I was interviewed, then didn't hear anything, then offered a different job, then offered a part-time job, then finally offered the job on the condition that I could start in a week. 

Needing to stay in America to help my Parkinson's-stricken father, I took the job, but I could tell it was no sure thing. The HR guy who met me on the first day was a cynical retired military guy who said he doubted the job would last until Christmas. (The job did, but he only lasted until March of the next year.) When my boss, the manager of the program, came to meet me, she was in tears, having just been bawled out by her superiors (government folks, I guess) over something she didn't want to discuss. 

As the months passed, I was appalled by the e-mails full of corporate nonsense-speak about teams and goals and leveraging our sensibilities, which were lengthy but said very little. I was required to watch something like 5 hours of videos of training in things unrelated to my field. They even once sent out an e-mail asking if we had previously worked on any contracts that they might be able to bid on and poach. 

The students at that job could not care less about learning English; there were nearly 200 when I arrived and they were being sent home in droves, for discipline violations and occasionally completely criminal acts, while none were arriving. 

I expressed my doubts to my colleagues. They were a mixed bag -- mainly retired public school teachers and a lot of younger TEFL refugees bounced back from whatever jobs abroad. 

Usually, I was told to stop being so negative. 

The whole government contract world is extremely complex, with a lot of regulations and rules, and anybody who has ever dealt with the Kingdom will tell you that things rarely get done quickly or accurately. Everyone knew the original 2-year contract was going to end in September of 2016 -- that is, the original contract between the government and the company. (The employees were all on at-will employment agreements, which could be ended at any time.)

In the spring of this year, we found we had few students -- less than 50 remained from 200 --  and a lot of doubts about what would happen next. 

Fortunately I got this job offer at a Chinese international school in May. I continued working in the USA until a week before I left, because mainly we were sitting around doing not much. (My favorite kind of job.) 

About the same time, the boss told everybody that a new company would be taking over the contract in September, and sometime after that, "at least 800" new students would be arriving. She promised everyone they would have their jobs, and she even thought she could get everybody a bit more money. 

Maybe she even believed it. 

All week long, I've been getting panicky, horrified e-mails  from people working there. 

The new bosses came  -- and said that since they have not yet received orders for the arrival of new students before the end of the year yet, they would only be hiring 2/3 of the staff. 

One colleague was a guy who I worked with in the contracting job in the Kingdom. He is in his late 50s and had been terribly relieved when he was hired to replace me in May. Now he's at least hoping he'll be eligible for unemployment. 

One guy, who had relocated from another state with his wife and new baby, got an offer -- $2000 less a year than he'd been making before. 

One colleague had developed a brain tumor which was being successfully treated; she will be unemployed and out of insurance at the end of the week. She is thankful for Obamacare. 

"Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." -- Mark 13:33. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Far From Home

I am far from home in a new country.

I don't speak the language. Many things are different and unfamiliar. 

I live in an apartment that somebody else furnished, and my own things here could easily be fit into two bags. 

So why do I feel so comfortable? 

I'm sure there are probably volumes of psychology to be written about it, but it all gets back down to the fact that this is what I do. I have spent most of my life teaching English in other countries. It's just ... what I do. 

I feel far, far more comfortable walking around in the streets of Beijing than I did in the small town in America I was living in last year. 

So how is everything?  

The apartment provided is nice enough, roomy, bright, and well-furnished. The area around me is mostly a work in progress, but there are shops and a decent restaurant. 

I live outside of Beijing, but it's easy enough to get to the center with frequent buses. Beijing seems a bit nicer than I imagined, although I am aware the brutal winter will soon be upon us. 

The job? 

So far no problems. Classes have been okay. As at a lot of international high schools in China though, there are a lot of annoying extra activities that involve sitting or standing around more than one would like. 

But I'm teaching some fucking English, baby. 

That's what I do.