TEFL 302A: Essay: “Summer can seem like slavery”

Would you willingly sign a contract that may say that you have to work an extra day per week during the peak summer season and/or teach a few extra hours a week – FOR NO MORE PAY?!

Speaking with the benefit of hindsight, I would say that it is utterly ludicrous for private language schools to insist that their teachers be made to do more for no more pay just because it happens to be the peak season when more students come to study. Yet there are plenty of expatriates who have signed a full-time contract which says – in effect – that they must do more work for no more plenty during the very time when one would think that teachers should receive more money for more teaching.

After all, summer is the peak time when private language schools generate more than enough revenue to satisfy even the greediest of investors – and yet the successes of summer schools are based mostly on the sweat, frustration, fatigue and tears of full-timers who have signed contracts which condemn them to work more for no more money (to a certain extent).

I had signed two 12-month contracts for a private school, a franchisee, in which signers were expected to work up to one more day per week (six instead of five) and teach up to five more real hours per week – for NO more money. Having been through the rigors of two summer schools, I used to hear bitter mutterings from my fellow teachers, who described the situation as “sheer slavery”. What, they asked themselves, possessed them to do something they never would have dreamed of doing in a million years back home? Yes, they realized that they had signed the contracts, and signing implies that they have read and understood the conditions, and that they therefore had to abide by those conditions.

Of course, these people, undoubtedly hungry to start or continue their TEFL career, had been recruited during the off-peak season, a time of relatively low teaching loads. Perhaps they thought that there was nothing to make a fuss about. “An extra five hours of teaching a week for no more pay? OK, so long as it’s just for a few weeks…” Maybe that was something that they didn’t fully understand at the time – yet, by the time they realized that they had to deal with more classes full of kids who don’t understand and don’t want to be there and don’t want to learn and who want just to talk and talk, it was far too late.

I can be thankful that I have, since February this year, gone over to the public sector, which means that I now have the benefit of a full summer’s vacation where, if I teach at a summer school, be it in the public or the private sector (and I have done both already this summer), I get PAID for EVERY lesson I do, and I mean EVERY. In one summer school lasting seven days, I earned the equivalent of a MONTH’S salary based on what I receive from my public school.

THIS is what we expatriates should be doing when we come to teach English in foreign countries. To me, the private schools, which want people to sign up as full-time teachers to do more work in the summer for no more money, are guilty of exploitation. I should know, because fellow colleagues used to tell me that they felt no better off than slaves. Yet, as I said, the conditions were laid out in the contracts – the summer work conditions came as no surprise to them, and so it was basically their own lookout, and they had therefore little choice but to swallow their annoyance.

This is one way of learning about the realities of teaching abroad for private language schools. Thank heaven I am no longer in this “mock-slavery” position now – if I want to do more, I get PAID – provided, of course, that the opportunities to do more work exist during your well-earned vacation (shop around!). So, fellow expatriates, if you feel a little disgruntled this summer because of this “more-work-and-no-more-pay” situation, take heart: your contract will eventually expire and you can seek other opportunities where you may not have to be in that situation again. I did, and I’m more than a little grateful for it.
It's hard to believe that they have the nerve to ask to work more for no extra money. Why would someone do that? Time is money and extra-time is extra-money.Emotion: money

I guess that when there wasn't any teacher who would do so, they had to pay for the extra time. Emotion: hmm
Molly said:

"I guess that when there wasn't any teacher who would do so, they had to pay for the extra time."

There was, unfortunately, no question of teachers at my school rebelling over these "more-work-and-no-more-pay" clauses in the contract. The school was a franchise, and the umbrella organisation issues the same contracts to all full-time expatriate teachers in China containing the same clauses. Hence, everybody was in the same boat, no matter where in China they taught for this organisation.

Contracts are, after all, legally binding and, if people sign them, they are agreeing to all the terms and conditions within the contract. As I said in my first post, many of the teachers over the two years I was there undoubtedly did not appreciate the enormity of the extra labour involved in teaching more kids' classes over the summer, and this was for every day for six days a week, not just at the weekend as in the off-peak season.

By the time I left the school after two years, I was the only foreign teacher to have stayed there for that length of time. Everybody else had got out - or else were planning to get out - after just one year there or even less (including four teachers during the SARS crisis last year, which had the school director proverbially tearing his hair out, because he was at a total loss as to what to do).

I think that they had learned what "peak season" really meant, and, like me, may have since then moved on to schools where, just maybe, they get paid for every extra lesson they do on top of their normal off-peak-season maximum.
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
So you were forced to teach because of the contract. It's not a nice contract. They should of mentioned a maximum of extra hours so you teachers would of known what "peak season" implied.

I'm glad you found a new job. [Emotion: party]