CPD= Exploitation?

I’ve been ruminating on for several years of how Continuing Professional Development like observations, workshops and being given responsibility for a supplementary file or two often start off seeming like an opportunity and then gradually come to seem like just unpaid work that benefits the school more than you. While I’ve been thinking, someone else has been writing- and has summarized the situation in a simple and very direct letter in this month’s Humanizing Language Teaching Letters Page:

“Dear Ms Kryszewska

I wrote to you sometime ago – after I had been enthused by Mario Rinvolucri – and told you I’d be submitting to HLT. You very kindly sent me back the guidelines. I apologise for not getting back to you sooner.

I’ve since received your hand-out: “13 Reasons Why You Might Want To Write For HLT” which you circulated via e-mail to all the readers of HLT.

Unfortunately, as always in this exploitative industry of ours, there is no question of payment for this extra work. This is not your fault. I’m sure, as always, there is no budget for this in my school.

However, I have already produced many worksheets for my school and taken several teacher-training sessions without payment, and, to be frank, am sick and tired of not being remunerated for my time and effort. I can’t feed my family by “raising my profile in the company”.

As it happens, I already share creative ideas and infect my colleagues with enthusiasm on a day-to-day basis out of an feeling of basic human solidarity, which the people with their hands on the purse strings in our industry would do well to emulate. Perhaps I am harking back to a golden age of the 1970’s when teachers originally set up schools as co-operatives which have since been taken over by mercenary, corporate EFL barons who place cost effectiveness over pedagogy every time.

I object to a premiership elite of pop star EFL methodologists being handsomely rewarded, while the rest of have to slum it in the lower leagues on casual contracts and insulting rates of pay, wondering whether we’ll be timetabled out next week or not. With the greatest of respect to Mario Rinvolucri, whose work I admire immensely, I think it shows insensitivity and disrespect to expect others to produce for gratis what he does for love and money.

Instead of a school asking teachers to contribute for free, one sure way of avoiding the kind of de-motivation and stuck-in-a-rut-ness, would be to stop undervaluing our contribution every day of the working week by paying us a decent wage in the first place.

Yours ”

(End of quote. Name not published, but I would put money on this person working for International House, as this almost exactly echoes what people who worked for them in Madrid who did my DELTA with me used to say)

My twoyenworth on this matter,  slightly changed since I’ve been in Japan, is:

This person is right, but would be much better off  forgetting that fact as soon as possible (I recommend tequila for its magical effects on short term memory). Now that the younger generation in Japan have decided that they are being exploited by their companies they have thrown themselves into the same misery, soul searching and jobsworth attitudes that had become the particular speciality of the British over the years, reducing how well they do their jobs without improving their position or their happiness in any way at all. Until someone comes up with a better way of arranging our industry (and/ or industry in general) more fairly, the only two options which are likely to lead to happiness for you and the people around you are throwing yourself into the job with abandon or getting out completely. 

Might I have oversimplified the situation just a tad? Comments below please:

This entry was posted in CPD, HLT magazine, Humanistic language teaching, Lesson observations, links, Pilgrims, Teacher training, TEFL, TEFL celebs/ TEFL heroes and villains, TEFL heroes- Mario Rinvolucri, Working conditions. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to CPD= Exploitation?

  1. Aaron Nelson says:

    I feel the pain of this post. Rephrase: I felt the pain. When I first started teaching in Mexico, I started working for one of those money hungry companies – found out about that like 3 years into my teaching with them. Found out that the boss was sucking up 90% of the money, and tossing us what was left in unfair wages.

    PD, when it existed which was like twice, was on our own time and on the weekend. (Try explaining that to your fam!) No extra pay.

    Yeah, there’s lots of exploitation in the ESL industry, but I think there are more solutions to this than just shutting down or jumping ship. What if you tried changing a small corner of the industry by starting your own company? Make your own rules. Be that “just” company than you’ve always wanted to work for. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m having a blast. It’s not easy, lots of really hard work, but it’s slowly coming together.

    Shift the system.

  2. Alex Case says:

    Suggesting that to this person just occurred to me yesterday on my way home on the train. I hope you reach the point where you can pay yourself for CPD…

  3. Sandy says:

    Excellent posting, Alex – well done for bringing this item up. I shall be featuring the letter in my blog too, soon, along with a handful of appropriate comments.


  4. Alex Case says:

    Cheers Sandy, I look forward to hearing your take on it.

    As someone who has set up (non-paid for participants) CPD fairly successfully 4 times now, I think I might have to do a post on that too if there is any demand for it.

  5. Martin says:

    I’m in two minds. I can see what the letter-writer is getting at, there is often a very vague expectation that CPD will somehow lead to career progression without any clear path for it to do so. On the other hand, I also remember that when I got into TEFL, having left my career in IT, I was hugely impressed by the amount of opportunity, much of it free, to learn and progress within the job. As a programmer, any conferences or workshops I might want to attend would cost me four figures and only the gurus would dare to run a training session for their colleagues. TEFLs a lot more open than many professions.

  6. Alex Case says:

    Good point.

  7. Scott says:

    I think the real issue (as was pointed out above albeit less directly than it could have been) is the lack of any real career progression in TEFL. In Japan, where I teach, the general structure in the private sector is a pyramid with a very broad base and a very low summit. I suspect that this is true in very many places. ALTs (both dispatch and JET) work in a very similar situation.

    In the case of the UK (at least until 2011 when I left), schools are/were compelled to run PD programs under the terms of the British Council accreditation scheme. When faced with a choice of being compelled to do something they don’t want to do, the management of most EFL schools in the UK will choose to do it on the cheap rather than pay for it.

    To return to the case of Japan, it’s in many ways a CPD desert. CPD is not required by many (most?) private providers, nor, indeed, is a teaching qualification. RAther depressingly, it’s actually possible for the career teacher in Japan to end up with a tenured university position without having ONCE been observed, something which I suspect happens with some regularity. In my experience, CPD through undertaking a master’s degree (with no assessed practicum and dubious grading practices like returning an assignment with comments on how to improve it BEFORE assigning a grade) is largely seen as a method to get into the much sought after university jobs (their pay and conditions are, after all, far superior to the average eikaiwa terms) – an extrinsic-instrumental outcome rather than any kind of transformative or instrinsic motivation to be the best teacher one can be.

    From that perspective, then yes – CPD is exploitative. Inner circle universities collude in the exploitation by charging a great deal of money for their MAs/MEds. Japanese universities contribute to it by insisting on MAs & publications over demonstrable teaching ability, teachers contribute to it by playing the game, and schools and learners in the private sector contribute to it by being singularly undemanding.

    Anyway, sorry for the thread necromancy – CPD is a matter close to my heart and I find the situation in Japan quite depressing.

  8. Antony says:

    I shared the sentiment when I worked for BKC International House in Moscow. I left the company (with 5 days notice, they got what they paid for!) after 8 months and got a better job in another country with 3 times the pay in a much nicer place (a tropical Island in Indonesia close to Singapore called Bintan, worth a visit on holiday)! The job paid me well enough to jump on every opportunity that came my way without asking for extra pay, to thus ensure that I kept the job!

    Now I work for the BC who have paid for me to take a Dip Tesol and CELTYL and pay me a good salary…….

    I think that in order to deal with the exploitation side of things teachers should stop taking jobs that pay badly. In short whenever I look at teaching jobs on the internet I am astonished that people who are serious about teaching as a career actually apply for most of the jobs because the recompense is rubbish!

    As a person having a good rate of pay makes me happy I enjoy teaching but I’m not doing it for fun I’m doing it to feed my family and thus will only accept jobs that are high paying I’m also always looking to find out where the money in the industry is to ensure that I never have to take a badly paying job again (at the moment it is in the middle east, as conveniently am I).

    As for professional development I see it as a way of getting a better job and more money. As I get paid well I have no issues doing extra work as it will get me up the career ladder fast. If I wasn’t getting paid well I would do NO EXTRA WORK regardless of developing my career and focus my attentions on getting a better job instead..

  9. Antony says:

    Apologies for lack of punctuation in the above rant!

  10. Karl Millsom says:

    I feel somewhat torn over this issue.

    My first reaction is a troubled one; it always bothers me to think that these teachers do not consider the training itself to be of any value. CPD should be its own reward, I feel, regardless of the career progression it does or does not lead to. The opportunity to become a better teacher is one I wish people cared more about than they often seem to.

    On the other hand, it certainly makes sense that schools should also welcome the opportunity to develop their teachers into better teachers, and so they should indeed apportion more of their budgets to this area. Teacher’s shouldn’t necessarily be ‘rewarded’ for CPD in and of itself (attending does not mean improving) but it should certainly be better facilitated—allowed time off for CPD, etc.

    One problem with the whole matter that I experience first hand as a teacher in Indonesia is that schools and the government system in fact do officially recognise CPD at appraisals (this is for national teachers, not for expat and private sector teachers), so teachers are often keen to attend as many seminars as possible and collect certificates for their portfolios; however, sadly the seminars being conducted are often void of any valuable content or practical training, and those in attendance aren’t really paying attention anyway.

    Ultimately, I feel it should indeed be the teacher who takes it upon himself or herself to embark on CPD, if he /she really cares about his/her competence as a speaker, but that any smart school would find some way of facilitating this for the good of its pool of teachers.

    Here in Jakarta, because most teachers only join events for the sake of progression and don’t actually care about developing as teachers, institutions don’t see the point of making an effort to provide valuable training. And so the cycle continues. In fact, most often, teachers assess the value of such events based on the food provided during the lunch break rather than the content or the quality of the trainers (read: speakers).

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