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January 26, 2007

Workplace Issues - Putting Your Foot Down

Hello Readers,

Have you ever noticed that when you go abroad, you find yourself doing things you wouldn't normally do? For some reason, leaving your home country can bring out a sense of adventure that is often forgetten about when stuck in the routines of our daily lives. But do we sometimes go too far...

...only to regret it later?

When it comes to ESL teachers in some foreign countries, it's not uncommon to hear complaints that we're treated like dancing bears. I once worked at a school that would do anything for money... or have us ESL teachers do anything for money, that is. On one occasion, my boss was preparing to sign a contract with a very wealthy man who wanted a young American woman to tutor him in English over dinner, at the movies, or at a club. When I told my boss that I would not teach the student anywhere but at the school, my boss told me not to worry about it and suggested that I might look more attractive if I took off my glasses for the meeting with the client. How absurd! (I quit soon after that whole experience, and no, I did not end up teaching the man at all).

My point here is, that there are plenty of schools out there that forget that teaching ESL is a professional business and start thinking of ESL teachers as a product to be sold. Look, they can dance! They can sing!

So, remember that sometimes, you need to stop and think about what you're being asked to do and make sure that you are OK with doing it. It might not be as extreme as my example above; it might simply be doing a few extra hours here and there with no extra pay or taking on more responsibilities without any extra benefits for you.

Have you ever had a bad experience like the one above? How did you deal with it? Feel free to share your stories here.

Good luck!

Carol Rueckert
Writer, ESL Lesson Plan
E-mail: crueckert@eslemployment.com
Blog: www.esl-lesson-plan.com

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." - Chinese Proverb

*Looking for more articles that focus on workplace issues specific to ESL? Click HERE!

About the author of this entry:
Carol, a native English-speaker who hails from the small town of St. Joseph in Minnesota, USA, and lived and worked in China for more than 7 years. During that time, she worked with students that range in age from three to more than sixty years old. She worked in universities, private language schools, grade schools, international schools, as well as private tutoring. Besides teaching, she also worked as a head teacher, an education manager, and a material development manager. In addition to working on this newsletter, she currently writes a monthly column for Time Out Beijing. Carol is also currently working on her MA in TESOL at the Oxford Brookes University in England. Look for her posts on the ESL-Jobs-Forum discussion boards!

Posted by crueckert at January 26, 2007 08:58 AM

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Hmmm. Carol, I have mixed feelings on this one. While it is not acceptable that your boss asked you to pretty yourself up and basically date this guy for money (and hence, imply that looks are more important than teaching ability - and he was preparing to sign the contract - I love the way they just sign you up for teaching in this country and assume you'll be able to do it (note heavy sarcasm)), on the other hand, we are basically a product to be sold. That's what business is all about - marketing and selling a product. Private schools need to make money, and their product is foreign TEFL teachers. I basically freelance here (I have an F visa independent of any school), and at the end of the day, if somebody wants to pay me because I'm foreign Caucasian and because of the implied status it brings them to be seen with me, then good for me, bad for them. I'd be asking 200RMB an hour and free dinner and drinks.

One major catch I've found that schools/agents get foreign teachers with here is travel time. There are a lot of places outside the city limits that are desperate to get some "laowai" in front of their classes, but can't drag them out there. I've fallen for the old "oh, it's 20 minutes away and a car will pick you up" trick a few times. It's actually more like 35 minutes, and then if you hit rush hour, it's an hour. So your 150RMB an hour job suddenly doesn't look so good.

One guy I'm negotiating with right now wants me to teach business English in a factory out of town. I've told him I'll teach for 150RMB an hour if he holds the classes in his office in the city centre, else 200RMB an hour at the factory. Obviously, he's not happy, but as you said, you've gotta put your foot down. China is hot right now, and there are plenty of other almost-as-well-paid gigs in this town.

Posted by: Benson Wallace at January 26, 2007 01:14 PM

Funny, I was just thinking that the children I teach here in Andorra have been treating me like a dancing bear who they can taunt and treat as cruelly as they like, disrupting the learning process freely and working together like a pack of dogs to provoke me. How many ESL teachers find that they are poorly paid babysitters for children with behavior problems who their parents just want someone else to endure for a while? How many ESL teachers are put into situations of teaching children who are not in the least interested in learning English?

We need to look at what situations we allow ourselves to be put into.

Posted by: Ariel Ky at February 13, 2007 06:39 AM

I'm planning to go to Valencia at the end of March where I will be looking for teaching work for about 20 hours a week or so.
Has anyone any suggestions? Also, is it possible to get reduced rates for longish stays in cheap hotels/hostals?
all advice and info gratefully received.

Posted by: Frances Dumigan at February 13, 2007 12:05 PM

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