Experiences of an English Language Teacher

How To Make English Teachers Happy

In my last post/video, I shared my grievances and negative experiences with an online English company, iTutorGroup. However, in this post, I would like to consider what is required to make English teachers happy – whether they are teaching remotely or within a physical school.

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In this post, I outline three points which will improve the happiness of all teachers and is reaction to a TED Talk that I had watched a few days previously.

Michael Bush: “This is what makes employees happy”

Idea 1: Respect and Trust

The first idea that Michael Bush suggests which would improve overall staff happiness would be respect and trust for employees. Within the English teaching industry, respect needs to gained towards practitioners that have invested their own money and time towards achieving qualifications, continued their professional development as well as the experience that individuals develop over time while teaching a range of students. One such example that (online) language schools could demonstrate their respect to teachers is by offering a remuneration which is comparable to the qualifications and experience that they could offer and an open dialogue needs to occur.

Michael Bush also highlights the fact that within ‘trust’, that employees should feel that they know best and that organisations/companies should support their employees, or teachers in this case, to decide what is best for their customers. Furthermore, with regards to organisations which are not based in the home country of the language teacher, or if an online English company is recruiting teachers outside of their territory, then these organisations must place trust within these remote teachers rather than micro-managing these online English teachers. Experienced and suitably qualified (online) English teachers will know best on how to teach, how to support their learners and what method works best for their students. Thus, the likes of iTutorGroup or other online-based educators should trust and support their teachers.

Idea 2: Fairness

The second idea that Michael Bush highlights as an area to improve employee happiness is associated with ‘fairness’. Fairness needs to applied regardless the rank of the employee or the length of service. All (online) English teachers should be treated fairly when working for an online educational organisation. Unfortunately, the scheduling of some online educational institutes abroad prefer less expensive tutors and reduce the scheduling of teachers that are more costly – irrespective of the student’s expectation as all students pay the same regardless of the teacher. This is wholly unfair and teachers need to be scheduled fairly and an open dialogue needs to occur between the company and the teacher.

As we have seen with how iTutorGroup offer updated contracts to online teachers, regardless their qualifications or length of service, with a pay decrease and unethically reducing scheduled classes if the contract update is not signed, is unfair for all employed on a freelance basis with this company. So greater transparency regarding rates of remuneration needs to be available for all online teachers.

Idea 3: Listening

The final idea that Michael Bush suggests in his TED Talk to improve overall employee happiness is the act of listening. Organisations need to listen to their employees with areas of their business. If language schools listen to their staff, students or other stakeholders, then it would help them improve where it is required.

Unfortunately, now iTutorGroup has decided to reduce the opportunity for teachers to communicate with company representatives (by making administration staff redundant), with more reliance by the company to develop AI technology to deal with their remote teachers. This does not help teachers solve technical issues, raise student issues or the like. Thus, the supporting of teachers when an issue arises is not being dealt with in a fair and appropriate manner. It tacitly suggests that any issues are all due to the teacher’s incompetence. Online language providers need to open channels of communication with their teachers, students and support them when things need improving rather than blaming certain individuals when things go wrong.

What would make you happy if you were teaching for a language school or educational provider, remotely or not? Are there any experiences where some of the ideas suggested by Michael Bush has decreased staff happiness with previous employers?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Kim Ooi

    Please allow me to enlighten you and your readers about the TEFL situation in China. As most of us teach abroad, I think the realities of teaching in Asian countries like China would be relevant to this topic.

    Whilst the points you mention are no doubt relevant to the TEFL industry, I fear that they are only the tip of the iceberg. My wish list in China include:

    1. More respect for English. To put it bluntly, very few people in China have any need to know English. The students learn it only because passing the College English Test is a mandatory condition that they need to satisfy in order to graduate. And they hate that. Oral English classes are so unimportant (or dare I say, irrelevant) that even football training or drama rehearsals are deemed more important. And that is soul-destroying for any passionate teacher. I would be happier if English was given the respect it deserves as the international language, the language of science and the language of diplomatic relations between countries.

    2. Limiting the power that students have. As a teacher in China, I was once ordered to inflate my grades because my students weren’t happy with them. A teacher’s vocational future also hangs on feedback from students. The successful teacher is not necessarily the one who teaches well but the one who is most popular with the students. In my opinion, this is why students should NEVER have the power to rate their teachers – because they are not the real customers and because it would be a conflict of interest – a student who is punished by a teacher is hardly going to give that teacher a good rating. The real customers are the employers who will hire these students in the future.

    3. Reducing class sizes. In China’s public schools and universities, a class of 40 is normal. In fact, it would not be unusual for a teacher to have 50 – 60 students in a class. It would be nice if the class size could be reduced to below 30.

    4. Decent accommodation. In China, I’ve lived in apartments where the water was electrified, the stove was temperamental and where there was no refrigerator. In one school, I was even required to share an apartment with another teacher.

    5. More open feedback. In Chinese culture, direct confrontations are not encouraged. If a student has any questions or problems, s/he may feel unable to discuss this with the teacher. So, the students are instead invited to secret meetings with the school authorities. Meanwhile, the poor teacher plods merrily along, assuming that everything is going well only to be told at the end of the year that their contract won’t be renewed.

    6. More discretion to make professional decisions. Some Chinese schools are very bureaucratic. In the name of “standardization”, they might tell teachers what to teach and how to teach. Teachers are then unable to vary their teaching styles to cater to different learning styles, interests and ability levels.

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