What are good working conditions in ELT?

I’ve read a lot about poor pay and working conditions in ELT recently. Keith Copley’s recent article in ETPro touched upon some of the many issues that influence working conditions in the industry – institutional power, neoliberal-romantic rhetoric that promotes certain other aspirations (freedom, life experience) above renumeration, and so on. I’ve read tweets about strikes over pay at ELT centres, discrimination of NNES teachers, university lectureship roles which require advanced qualifications yet offer relatively low financial reward, to mention just a few of the issues.

Obviously I fully support the push for better, fairer pay and conditions. Now that’s said, what I don’t read often are stories of good working conditions. I get why. I mean, no one wants to be smug and come across as ‘well none of this affects me, I’m doing quite well out of TEFL thank you very much’. The fact is though, jobs in TEFL with good working conditions do exist. Keith Copley knows this as well as I do; we work in the same institution where, overall, the working conditions are great.

Here are the benefits that our employer offers us here in Thailand. I consider this to be a working conditions WAGOLL. On balance, there are very good conditions in our organisation – you’ll find a lot of teachers at our school have been here a good few years, and it’s no surprise why.

Excellent pay

The pay for full-time teachers in our institution is very good. It’s easily enough to live on, and you should be able to save a bit too. The hourly rate of pay for part-time teachers ranges from 24-27 pounds, depending on qualifications and experience. You’d be hard pressed to find a teacher criticising their salary in our staffroom – if they did then I think they probably need a reality check!

Pay increments

Every year we go up a pay grade. This is capped at a certain amount for teachers with a CELTA, but those who decide to take a DELTA continue to move up the grades. The salary cap for DELTA teachers (not managers, just teachers) after progressing around 10 pay grades works out as about equal to a teacher’s base salary at a mid-tier international school here (92,000 baht per month, or 2500 pounds). That’s an extremely good salary relative to the cost of living.

Paid planning time

The working week for full-time teachers is expected to be 37.5 hours. Teaching is 21+3 hours (cover). The remaining time consists of paid planning time (30 mins per 1-hour lesson taught). Any remaining time is…

… paid time for CPD

It is mandatory for teachers to undertake CPD. There is an annual CPD cycle where teachers must attend a quota of INSETTs and undertake development tasks. It is excellent that this is paid.

Funded CPD opportunities

Every year you can apply for funding for training opportunities. Generally, people opt for training such as DipTESOL, MA in TESOL, Academic Management training or specialist teaching modules. I recently completed an MA through NILE, which cost me 1000 pounds in total – It would have cost nothing if I hadn’t missed one of the application deadlines! The only condition(s): stay with the company for a year after completing the training, and share what you’ve learnt in one or two INSETTs.

Matching contributions

Employees are offered matching contributions to a pension scheme. There is an institution-sponsored scheme with one of the big pension firms. However, employees in Thailand can opt for contributions to the Thai Provident Fund instead, which is a very good system.

Private health insurance

We are given private health insurance. This is available for employees, spouses and dependents. I have experienced first-hand the benefits of this after suffering a bad football injury last year. A $13,000 operation later, and I’m back scoring goals having paid only $200 of the fee myself.

Settling in allowance

When you first arrive in Thailand you are given a sum to help with the initial move, plus 2 weeks accommodation is provided to help you find your feet.

Christmas bonus

We get a Christmas bonus that I always think is ‘about 500 quid’. However, the exchange rate bumps this up to closer to 650 quid these days.

Shipping allowance

After staying for around 2 years, we are entitled to the costs of shipping our belongs home, to the cost of (something like) 1000 pounds.

Other perks include travel expenses, sick pay, paternity leave, flight reimbursement, etc. We get extensive assistance with visa and work permit renewal, filing tax returns, and so on. In fact, the company pay for agencies to help us, making things very straightforward.

NS/NNES teacher equity

We are an equal opportunities employer. Anyone meeting minimum requirements is eligible to apply.

Teacher representation

Every teaching centre has a teachers’ rep. They attend a twice-termly meeting to raise any concerns/issues on our behalf. This representation in the past has led to changes to working hours proposed by management to be scrapped on the basis that they are in breach of contract. Employees can request representation in any meeting with management. Reps are paid to undertake their roles, and are voted into the role by teachers.

Is it all good?

Most of the moans I have about my workplace are just hot air – stuff like office politics, crappy timetables, the odd bit of hoop-jumping, bureaucracy, etc. In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing. I mean, I like to make it something, because then I have an excuse for a beer and a rant, but all told it’s no big deal.

I admit, there’s the odd thing that grinds my gears. The CPD cycle we have in place can work to good effect, although part of the performance management process involves giving teachers a performance rating. I mentioned this last year in relation to Loraine Kennedy’s talk. Personally, I find the idea of giving job performance a ‘rating’ divisive and a bit demotivating, but I live with it. The biggest, and I feared damaging, change was last year when that performance rating led to a new system of performance-related pay. I’m vehemently opposed to the idea of performance-related pay. Well, I was, until I got a performance-related bonus. Now my integrity has gone out the window because I can afford to buy a new electric guitar. Plus, no one else seems to think that performance-related pay is an issue, so I guess it’s not worth arguing the toss about.

The teacher rep system we have in place is excellent. I would say that this is one of the best things about our working conditions (although I’d take the good pay over it – mouths to feed and all). It’s great to know that someone has your back, and this mediation creates useful dialogue between teachers, managers and admin. In the past, this has led to positive change. The fact that this is a paid position shows that the company value the voice of the teachers.

The commitment to offering incentives to teachers in our organisation continues. These are mostly financial (of sorts) although the funding for training has wider benefits. We have recently been offered a new bonus as an incentive for holding a specialised qualification in teaching YLs. Anyone with a CELTA YL extension, TYLEC or equivalent is given an annual bonus, about the same as the Christmas bonus. What this means in practice is that, with all the random bonuses, for three months of the year you actually get a salary increase of around 20-25%.

So what?

My working conditions are good, so what? I’ve been accused before of being blinkered to the realities of our industry – maybe my own working conditions shed some light on why. However, I’m genuinely interested to find out if there are more of us in ELT who are actually, on the whole, quite happy with our pay and conditions. I feel very much in the minority here, which (boo hoo) makes me feel a bit embarrassed. There’s a lot of calling out bad employers (remember that brutal TEFL blacklist?), but not a lot of praise for those who get it right.

Feature image: Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

9 comments

  1. A wonderful article/post about working conditions. It is a good reminder that working conditions in English teaching can be very good but unfortunately most teaching professionals in the UK have taught in organisations which don’t offer the same support or remuneration.

    For those individuals who wish to remain positive, there are opportunities internationally such as the BC which place greater respect on their employees. A wonderful article Pete and thanks for sharing your experience.

    But for those that are unable to relocate abroad, are there better opportunities for professionals in the UK than the private EFL industry?

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  2. This is interesting – I left the private EFL sector back in 2004/2005, and moved slowly but surely into the public ESOL teaching sector in the UK, working with migrant communities. When I was in the private sector, I never had a full contract, only hourly paid work, but in at least one place, there was support for training and development (I had my DELTA paid for, for example).

    In the public sector things weren’t much different as an hourly paid lecturer, but since then I’ve got onto a full time, permanent contract, and in that situation things are much like they are outline here. For me that seems to be the challenge – getting those permanent, fully supported roles, and in all context of ELT, hourly paid staff tend to get a raw deal.

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    1. Yes, agree with hourly paid related comments based on experience. In my context I think hourly paid teachers do very well. In smaller centres they have pretty much guaranteed hours, and have the opportunity to opt into things like private health insurance if they wish (though slightly less benefits). HP teachers are paid to attend training. They have first dibs on overtime. They also have flexibility to take on other roles like IELTS examining. They are looked after I think.
      Cheers for commenting!

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  3. In my experience, the people who do well out of ELT and live a comfortable lifestyle tend to be single and childless. I work in a similar place to the one mentioned in the post, where it’s relatively more experienced teachers, and I can only think of one foreign teacher who has school-age kids. The benefits of £2500 a month soon disappear if you want to send your kids to a school with a similar curriculum to back home, and very few ELT jobs will ever pay for an international school. For this reason, I don’t know many people who continue teaching in the developing world for long after they’ve had kids.

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      1. Thanks for writing this, Peter. Pointing out how good some ELT working contexts and conditions are is a good way of highlighting the extent of the inequality that exists in our profession. I’m sure that this will come across very clearly to many teachers living and working in the same country as you, but who find themselves in very different circumstances.
        I’d like to ask a couple of questions though, if you don’t mind:
        1. I’m curious about the performance-related pay mechanism that you mentioned. Who measures your performance, and how? Using what criteria? You say you’ve changed your opinion about it because your own performance has been rated highly (congratulations), so will you change your opinion back again if you receive a poor rating in the future?
        2. While your post focuses on all the positives about the working conditions where you currently are, you agree with Joe’s point above that your workplace is a lot less appealing for teachers who have families to support – so much so that you’re actually planning to leave. Given that many teachers over (let’s say) 30 either have kids or plan to have kids in the future, isn’t this a rather major problem with regard to inclusion?
        Cheers,
        Steve

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  4. Hi Steve, cheers for comment. I like the way you’ve interpreted the post as raising awareness of inequality in the profession, it’s good that it is evidence of both positive and negative aspects of the industry depending on how you look at it. I’ve actually been interested by how the post have been received depending on different social media! The contrast been comments on Twitter compared to LinkedIn has been food for thought.
    Good Q re: performance-related pay. So, evaluating teacher performance is a pretty complicated process! First off, on the surface it appears as a top-down process because the final say with a teacher’s line manager. Teacher performance is rated against a series of core teaching skills, and company ‘behaviours’ (workin together, making it happen, creating shared purpose, etc). The whole process relies on evidence gathering:
    Teaching skills are assessed through a developmental observation, evaluative obs, and a peer obs. There are different levels of skill required depending on qualification. The obs process is in itself a detailed process, I won’t go into the details. The behaviours are assessed through evidence. First, every teacher works on 2 or 3 development aims and gathers evidence on their progress/achievement. One aim must relate to classroom practice, while others might be things like developing curricula, projects for things like engaging all stakeholders, teacher training, and so on. List is endless really. You can’t just say ‘I’ve achieved my aims’, you need to gather evidence (email interaction, feedback, resources, so on). Each teacher also has an achievement log to record additional evidence of good performance. All info is put to a panel at the school who confirm your rating, making sure it is peer-evaluated. Phew, epic! But a very thorough and clear process once you’re involved in it.
    I can see how the wording of my post may have confused you – 2 points though. A) I was being facetious, I still disagree with performance-related pay in principle, b) you assumed I received a bonus due to ‘good performance’, although the center technically would word my writing as ‘good’, I actually achieved the expected performance. Rating is on a scale from 1-5. 1 is basically outstanding, 2 very good 3 good, 4 needs development. If you get 5 then you would already be facing disciplinary procedures. Most teachers, I.e about 75-80%, receive a grade 3. When the system was introduced, the company wanted to reward performance for points 3,2 and 1. Teachers complained, because scoring a 4 does not mean you are not an integral part of the teaching team – you would still have contributed for sure despite some bigger areas for development. So, they decided to reward all teachers performance from grades 1-4 at different percentages. 1% bonus for grade 4, 2% grade 3, etc.
    Your 2nd Q re inclusion is an interesting one, as I think it depends largely on the educational ethos/values of a parent and the moral decision they make about the edu of their child. Naturally, this judgement (I say judgement to highlight subjectivity) depends on resources available – money being the big one. The reason I am changing careers is this:
    My teaching role combined with my work as a writer bring in a good wage, but the value of working at an international school outweighs this as these jobs offer free places for teachers children (2 places often, sometimes 2 and half funding for a third child). Some of the edu opportunities available at international schools are UNBELIEVABLE, but they come at a price. The school I would like to send my kid to charges (well) upwards of 10,000 dollars per year. I don’t have to chose this school, but that’s what I would like for my child. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easier for me to retrain and seek jobs that make this form of edu affordable. I have friends who choose to put their children through the local education system here in Thailand, or through Thai private schools. It’s possible to do that, but the system doesn’t fully align with my views/values. I feel bad that I’m making these important decisions for my kid! But hey, I have a few years to think about it.

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    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed response.
      It seems that your employer has put a lot of thought into its implementation of a performance-related pay system, which is a good thing – I suppose. At the same time though, if I was working there I think I’d feel that the onus placed on teachers to produce evidence of the quality of their performance is a bit problematic. If managers want to assess the performance of their teachers, shouldn’t it be up to them to gather the evidence, rather than making the teachers do it? Making teachers accountable is one thing, but requiring them to prove their worth by collecting evidence can lead to what’s often described as a culture of performativity. This type of working culture is very evident in other areas of education, such as the state school system in England. Stephen Ball’s article “The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity” explores in some depth the detrimental impact that such a culture can have, not just on teachers themselves but also on teaching practice. (I can’t find an open-access link to the article, but you might be able to access it here anyway: https://iatefl.adobeconnect.com/_a875541554/poc7ebafgg80/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal . If not, I wrote a blog post about it a while ago, where I explored ways in which a performative culture impacts ELT: https://stevebrown70.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/performativity-how-measurement-evidence-gathering-and-accountability-are-wrecking-education/ ).
      Briefly, requiring teachers to produce evidence of the quality of what they’re doing can lead to such practices as “fabrication” (going out of your way to create documentary evidence that makes your practice seem rather better than it actually is) or “gamesmanship” (treating the whole process as a kind of game by investing your energy in creating the illusion that you’re doing a good job, to the extent that you don’t have any time or energy left to actually DO a good job).
      Of course, employers have the right to implement measures to ensure their staff are doing what’s expected of them, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to make judgements about staff performance. In fact, in one of my first ever blog posts I argued in favour of observation of teaching practice as a form of appraisal: https://stevebrown70.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/why-its-in-teachers-interests-to-be-observed/
      However, I’m just a bit sceptical about where it can lead and I think employers need to be very mindful of the potentially damaging impact that Ball highlights so well.

      As for the family-friendly question, decisions about your children’s education are fraught with all kinds of ethical dilemmas as well as economic ones, and I’m sure I could tie myself up in knots of contradiction if I tried to unpack all the (conflicting) thoughts I have on that. Aside from the issue of whether or not to have your children educated privately though, I think there may be a wider problem about how well ELT employers accommodate staff with families. For example, when my wife and I worked for the British Council in South-East Asia, we had to work at least one weekend day, so our teaching timetable had to be either Tuesday-Saturday or Sunday-Thursday. But of course our kids were locked into a Monday-Friday schedule at their school. This meant we weren’t all able to spend our weekends together, and it really messed with our wellbeing as a family unit. The worst thing about this from my perspective was that it seemed completely unnecessary. Sure, the school was open 7 days per week, but there were plenty of people who didn’t mind teaching weekends and it could have been easy enough to make special arrangements to cater for the needs of staff with children. Ultimately, management’s refusal to recognise this need was a major reason why we decided to terminate our contracts early. I expect we were replaced by people who didn’t have kids and were therefore more flexible – but not necessarily better.
      I think there is a general (though not widely discussed) sense that working in the private ELT industry is a young person’s game, and I don’t think that’s very healthy in terms of its reputation. If anything, it strengthens the discourse that English language teaching isn’t a “proper job” – it’s something people do for a few years after uni, maybe as an excuse to travel, rather than something people do as an actual career. Many highly competent and professional teachers (like yourself) find themselves having to leave ELT in order to address other priorities as they get older, and I think that’s quite an injustice. Maybe things are changing, but I feel there’s still a long way to go in this regard.
      Anyway, thanks again for the post and for your reply.
      Steve

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