The ABC of ELT

So Long and Thanks for All the Lessons

Just over two week ago I finished teaching my last class and then went and signed a contract for a non-teaching job. Technically this is the first job contract and that’s relevant as you’ll see later. I wanted to write one last post here partially as a goodbye but also as an explanation for my decision.

It’s not really about the money…but it kind of is

I try to not be obsessed with money and things. I’ve tried to focus on living simply and enjoying the small pleasures rather than needing grand expenses, this was partially out of necessity but also a conscious decision. That’s why the pay of my jobs has not been an issue in the past and I’ve not gone to a country where the pay is high for the profession. However, there are other factors in teaching that some other writers have been discussing recently.

The problems with teaching

1. Lack of stability

In my opinion this trumps the issues connected to low pay, it’s the unstable work environments. In Poland it has become the norm to give teachers a contract where they aren’t technically employed by the school, but instead set up their own self-employed business which and then provide your services for that school. This means you pay your national security and taxes.

The “benefits” of this as a teacher is your more flexible and can take work elsewhere. You don’t have to work 30 contact hours you can work 5 if you like. The problem is that you probably won’t get as many hours as you like (thanks to the nature of English teacher, certain hours are more popular than others) and if you turn down hours or are on holiday for longer stretches than on paper, you probably will be given even less work next year.

So the benefits actually harm you more. Perhaps this is great for the traveler who wants to earn a couple of bucks to keep them going, but it’s terrible for the professional with a family.

2. Afternoon and evening focus.

Teaching English as a foreign language focuses on afternoon and evenings. It’s very hard to have a timetable that is more like a nine to five. Business classes and university students/house spouses can help fill your timetable as a nine to five but there are usually fewer of these classes, they also aren’t all across the day, they may require travel and often are allocated to experience teachers first.

The summary is that it is possible to work only/mostly mornings and afternoons but it’s really difficult. If you want to do something in an evening you can probably get yourself one evening free a week.

If you have a set number of hours in a contract then this requires negotiating, if you are freelance then it means taking the hit in pay.

3. Bye bye free time

Oh and don’t even mention free time. You’re never off when you’re a teacher, there’s always something else to do and thinking about lessons is always going on in the background. So many tasks have to be done at the last minute and take up a lot of time, like filling in report spreadsheets.

To make matters worse, in a drive to increase customer satisfaction and deliver higher quality teaching there is a constant addition of new requirements and additions. Each year “something” new must be done so that we’re not resting on our laurels. This something maybe a great idea and really important but it is added on to your workload. The obvious answer is to either drop some other requirement or reduce contact hours for the same amount of pay. Of course neither happen and so instead the teacher apologizes to their spouses for another late arrival home.

4. limits to progression OR not settling down

I got to a point where there aren’t any obvious immediate career advancement opportunities. Schools seem to fall into either being

  • transit schools (the vast majority of teachers are there for only a year or two)
  • lifetime schools (most teachers have been there for 10+ years)

Transit schools have opportunities as no one stays but in a lifetime school you have to wait for someone to move, someone to quit or a new position to be added. Depending on the school you/I could be waiting for many years. The way around this is to look at schools in different cities/countries but that’s means no stability.

Settling down

When I started teaching, the idea of changing country every couple of years didn’t seem so bad, but after doing so three times I no longer felt the desire to do so. You make friends, establish links and then have to say your sad awkward goodbyes again.

I have friends in three countries I barely see now and I hate that fact. Not to mention my wife and I are expecting our first baby. The idea of moving to a whole new country doesn’t appeal to me so much any more and the fact that I might have to for a half-decent job is infuriating.

I don’t want to become a grumpy old teacher

I remember realizing that many grumpy teachers were once enthusiastic teachers who were slowly ground down into the cynics they are today. The idea that I could end up as someone who just went through the motions scared me.

I wanted to give my all to whatever work I did and I wanted to provide the best classes I could. Becoming a grumpy teacher would be bad for everyone involved. This actually made me feel like it was an inevitability (it’s not) and it really pushed me to make sure I enjoyed teaching as much as I could.

I tried bringing other interests into teaching so that I would be motivated by them too. However I think this also meant I overlooked certain aspects of teaching to try and justify why I was staying in the job.

Personally wishes

But the other side of this whole equation has nothing to do with teaching. It was a completely personal decision to push myself in a different direction and grow. I knew that if I didn’t take this opportunity, I’d regret it.

I probably could have been in the “perfect” teaching job and I’d still have wanted to take this opportunity. Maybe it was simply the fact that I’d been “doing the same job for eight years” (though as every teacher knows, each year is different and even every day contains variety and changes) but I doubt it.

Imposter syndrome

I won’t spend too much time on this topic as I’ve written about it before and many other people have written better things. Imposter syndrome is where you feel like you are an imposter at the job you are doing and any minute you’ll be found out. It typically grows as you get better at your job as you obtain a higher rank and so feel less qualified than you actually are.

This has been true for me.

I’m grateful for it all

I am grateful for the past eight years. As I sit on the train back to my home in Wieliczka, Poland I know that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t taken the crazy risk of signing up for a Celta, leaving for Ukraine with barely any knowledge of the place I was going to.

There have been ups and downs, good friends and nightmare parents but I’m a better person today thanks to all of this.

I’m also grateful to all of you who’ve read this site and encourage me (even those “helpful” people who told me I couldn’t teach English as you noticed some mistakes in a blog post. Well you were wrong, I was right and I’m leaving on my terms not yours. Next time maybe you could try and help someone rather than get them to quit.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

2 Replies

  1. Hi Chris,
    Thank you for writing this. It really reflects the realities of teaching in the private language school field. I’m lucky to have been in the right place for various career opportunities and to be on a contract now, but I know this is rare.
    Congratulations on the baby, and I hope the job move goes well.
    Good luck!

  2. You’ve definitely highlighted issues many teachers face. Best of luck on your new path, Chris. Congrats on the growing family also.

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