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

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5 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!

      Like

  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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