Top complaints about TEFL

It might just be the posts I am attracted to, but something I’ve noticed when reviewing blogs for my reanimated blogroll is people who’ve totally had it with the whole TEFL world, such as this and this.

Here are some of the most common complaints I’ve seen in such blog posts and forum threads over the seven or so years I’ve been (semi)active online:

  • Incompetent management
  • Decisions based on pseudo-science (at best)
  • Jumping on the latest bandwagon
  • Not being given enough time to do your job properly
  • Having to do unpaid overtime to do your job properly
  • Controlled more by marketing than real product standards
  • Relying for our profits on people who don’t really need or even really want our products
  • Technology is making our jobs and working conditions worse
  • Globalization isn’t working out as well for us as we might have supposed it might
  • You can’t afford to live in London doing it, let alone enjoy life there
  • Doing it in the UK is depressing
  • Job insecurity is increasing
  • You are more and more expected to take charge of and even pay for your own career and personal development
  • You sometimes feel your customers aren’t getting what they paid for and/ or what they had every right to expect for their money
  • Some idiots without the necessary skills, attitudes, qualifications etc get paid the same or even more than you do
  • You increasingly need an MA or PhD to get a half decent job, even though: getting one might never pay the costs back, it hardly impacts on how you do your job at all, and might mean years of actually doing your job more badly while you struggle to work and study
  • There’s no work-life balance
  • You have to move to the Middle East to save enough to retire and/ or to send your kids through a half decent university
  • Even if you move to the Middle East, you might never save enough to retire and/ or send your kids through a half decent university
  • The people who make the real money are mostly shysters
  • The easiest way to get into management is through sucking up, having a good haircut and/ or having a nice suit
  • We are underappreciated/ don’t get the respect we deserve
  • The only thing worse than working in the private sector is working in the public sector
  • Our industry desperately needs government standards and supervision, but when they do get involved they just make things worse
  • Interference with decisions you’d be much better off making on your own
  • Being forced to make decisions you don’t feel qualified to make
  • The job market is flooded

Reminds me of this cartoon about the world of English teaching.

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12 Responses to Top complaints about TEFL

  1. Matthew says:

    Alex, your Dilbert link goes to the main page, not to a specific comic. I got all excited, then disappointed! ;P

  2. Raymond says:

    I hear these arguments from many TEFL practitioners. However, they might want to consider the difference between teaching in private language schools and teaching in state school systems as certified teachers. I think there needs to be a deeper discussion of the term “teacher.” TEFL’ers complain about their pay and work conditions. Would these conditions improve if they obtained their degree in pedagogy and entered a state system? In such a system the English teacher would be paid the same as a Math or History teacher.

  3. dingtonia says:

    Hey ho, Alex and thank you for the link. Being in the same sentence as the SecretDoS is high praise indeed! The list you proffer is telling and SHOULD shame the shysters who perpetrate and perpetuate it, but – and these are two things I KNOW to be true – NOTHING but bankruptcy and damnation will stop them; and there will ALWAYS be the backpack CELTAs who’ll do it for next to nothing. Quality, professionalism, dedication, experience and knowledge are NOT what the industry is looking for – and that might have been our mistake all along.

  4. It is certainly the case that school teachers in the UK are paid more and have more benefits than EFL teachers in the UK or abroad.

    BUT – they complain about most of the above too and the workload and stress levels can be far higher – plus you are apt to be living/teaching in some hellish part of the UK rather than enjoying life in some exotic place you chose.

    I tend to think EFL is as good as most jobs that allow a measure of freedom and independence. If you sign you life away for 40 years to be a company stooge then you deserve pay increments, pensions, sick pay and all the other benefits the neocons running the world have made it their mission in life to erode.

    I have complained about all the items in Alex’s list – but I try not too. I made my bed and am happy to lie in it.

  5. Raymond says:

    What about math teachers, history teachers, science teachers? Is it only the language teachers in the public system that suffer. Who taught all of us to read and write? School teachers. There are many teachers that do not live in hellish parts of the UK (since all parts of the UK are certainly NOT hellish) and the world extends beyond the UK. There are many horrible state schools and many wonderful ones….so…..

  6. alexcase says:

    The idea of those complaints is that they all occur in almost every field, hence the link to all of the Dilbert cartoons, which refer almost as well to our industry as they do to any other. We do have at least a little more reason to complain than light bulb salesmen, say, seeing as we are in education, but I’m really not sure how much more we can complain – especially given how the public sector often offers even worse education than the private sector.

  7. I said ‘apt to be living in a hellish part of the UK’. It takes time to get a job teaching in the nicer parts and a teacher’s salary alone wouldn’t cover your rent in some of the nicer ones (or if it did not leave much left over).

    I am a qualified Maths teacher – so could theoretically return to the UK and do that. But I don’t think I ever would. At least in EFL I enjoy what I do and have some control over my hours, lesson plans and so on.

  8. Raymond says:

    Alex: Dos the public sector really often offer worse education than the private sector? Shoud we even compare the two? Are there TEFL equivalents of math teachers, history teachers, chemistry teachers, and the whole gamut of school subjects. I shudder at the broadness of that statement. While one can look at School test scores and see how low they can be, many wonderful test scores have and continue to come out of the state school system. I sometimes, rather often, get the feeling that TEFL’ers think that their experience is the ultimate teaching experience. Many state schools all over the world provide a decent education to a rather large number of students. Many state schools provide a level of English instruction which allows people to work in the professional realm. I walk past the Bank of Internation Settlements everyday and know many of the people who work there—–they all speak three or four languages and learned them in their secondary school institutions, and never played a single grammar game

  9. alexcase says:

    Do TEFLers generally make great claims for their methodologies and profession? If so, why do they talk about “proper teachers” (meaning not them) and complain about all the things above when many of them are just as bad or even worse in other industries and the public sector? I think most of us simply see how badly served by school English lessons our students have been and try to make up for those shortfalls and find slightly more efficient ways of teaching, such as, sometimes, grammar games. I don’t think a few elite students learning successfully through school English lessons proves much – they would have learnt just as much through any other method, e.g. ours, and anyway probably did most of their learning outside the classroom by reading and listening to English. Japanese students spend at least 7 years in school learning English and tend to come out Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate in even the reading skills, writing skills and grammar knowledge that their classes tend to focus on. If they’d spent exactly as many hours in private language schools instead, I can’t see how they could have done much worse.

    Getting back to the topic of being a teacher in both sectors, if we complain about mixed level classes in private language schools (due to students automatically going up etc), then try teaching in the vast majority of Japanese schools where there is no streaming at all. Ditto for complaining about New New Headway or Let’s Go and then trying to use locally produced government approved school textbooks, or about feeling powerless to make meaningful changes in your classes and cursing the people who do (sometimes idiot private language school management, alway idiotic education ministries). So, I would never want to be a full-time state school teacher in Japan. Which is lucky really, because like in many other countries (e.g. France), it is virtually impossible for foreign people to get such positions.

  10. It’s not possible to make sweeping generalizations (though that seldom stops me trying) but I for one do think that TEFL has some of the best teaching methodologies and most able teachers in the world. They may not be the majority – in fact I’d say we are a tiny minority – but the best of the EFL teachers are at a very high level of teaching skill.

    There are plenty of good teachers in state schools – but the environment is not conducive to good teaching methods. State secondary schools in the UK as elsewhere are not places where much if any teaching goes on in fact. They are not meant to be. As for people learning languages in their state secondary schools – I don’t think many do. I was the best by far in my year at French but couldn’t use what I’d learned in practice. It did help a decade later when I started learning French again so was not a total waste of time.

    People learn out of school – by doing homework, with private tutors or in cram schools. My parents taught me in the evenings when it became clear the school had given up on me. Older brothers and sisters do the same for many kids and this is formalized and the norm in most Asian countries.

    Many people working in jobs using multiple languages learned them at university or while living and studying abroad.

    Bottom line – anyone who has worked or even been to a state school in the UK or most countries for that matter knows they are rubbish, failing institutions. I don’t blame the teachers. Some are shiftless or broken in spirit or just nasty pieces of work – but for the most part they want or wanted to do a good job and were never given a chance.

    In TEFL I have in general been able to do a decent job even in less than ideal circumstances. But I never had to take the very worst jobs.

  11. alexcase says:

    More on my ambiguous thoughts on the private and public sectors in TEFL:

  12. alexcase says:

    Going back to the cartoon disappointment, if you really do want cartoons about TEFL there are of course always the Langwich Scool ones by Jon Marks:

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