Tuesday, 22 January 2008

finding directions.

I'm still trying to find my feet with this journal, and identifying precisely what it is for. In part, this reflects my own doubts about my career: Is this what I really want to do till I retire? Or is it just the vague thrill I get from standing up in front of a load of people and making them believe in me? If that's the case, why not go on stage, do stand up, or get in a pulpit or on a soapbox? After all, it's all the same skill: making someone else believe in what you are saying, or confirming their beliefs.
Besides, I might get paid better.
It's a strange fact, and a sad one, but TEFLers are some of the most creative teachers, and the ones most willing to embrace new ideas, theories and technologies, although you'd be hard pressed to believe the latter if you saw my place of work. One teacher's idea of trying to understand the intricacies of logging on and reading his emails is to write everything down on grey pieces of cardboard cannibalized from cereal packets, and store it in a filing system in the bottom of a rather smelly, damp holdall. For all the TEFLer's enthusiasm however, we are amongst the poorest paid of teachers. An absolute top wage, for someone with a doctorate, is likely to be in the region of £40,000; In FE, you'd be lucky, after several years, to break the £30 k barrier; And the entry wages are shocking. In the private sector, things are even worse - I've heard of people earning as little as £7 per hour in London, even those with a diploma or higher. There's also the public persona of a typical TEFL teacher - lecherous, drunk student backpackers, or alcoholic runaways from the law, and the attitude of colleagues who teach other disciplines - namely, we are not seen as 'proper teachers'.
Is any of this fair? well, from the perspective of a long-term teacher with 15 years' experience, clearly not, but when you look at the TEFL certificate mills, there is justification. A four-week programme of study simply cannot prepare someone to teach. A lot of would-be teachers do the course as a way of paying for a year or two abroad, or to escape home for various reasons, then they go abroad, dragging their metaphysical baggage with them, and live up to the stereotypes. The rate of attrition in language schools is high - less, maybe, than it used to be, but still high. But still the TEFL mills continue to churn out neophytes clutching their TEFL Certs. The last time I bothered looking at the statistics, there were some million and a half TEFL Cert-ified teachers knocking about. Most of those do not last longer than a school year or two. It's no wonder, with such a glut of native speaker instructors knocking about, that schools feel they can get away with offering peanuts.

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