For the most part, ESL teaching is surprisingly stress-free and a great way to live a fantastic lifestyle in a foreign country. But there are times when the black dog pays us all a visit.
This is often brought on when the daily challenges that create a positive amount of stress all accumulate at once, and the pressure becomes too much. There are days when many ESL teachers just want to scream and explode in a fit of rage due to the pent up frustrations of a long day where nothing just seem to go the way it should. This article will examine some of the leading problems in the ESL workplace and try to find a solution.
ESL Teacher's Meltdown: Problems & Solutions
Problem - Low salaries
Always in the number one spot for ESL teaching gripes. Some schools offer appalling salaries to decent teachers who always put the effort into classes. Unfortunately, ESL teaching isn’t one of the highest-paid professions out there, but in many cases, the wages do not suit the job. Simply compare the different wages throughout different countries. A first-time ESL teacher at a language centre in Jakarta, Indonesia makes around US$750 a month, a teacher in Korea would be on over US$2000. Additionally, with most jobs out there, the rate of pay will go up with inflation; not in ESL teaching. After a little snooping around, teachers will generally find that the wages have been the same for almost eight years in many cases. This is a cause of great concern to many teachers.
Solution - Asides from Prozac and living frugally, one of the best ways to deal with the low pay is to get out there and find some extra teaching work. Pick up a few privates here and there, or look into teaching on the internet. But do it on the sly, and don’t let your employer find out as there may be harsh contractual implications for any outside work.
Problem – Low teacher’s room morale
Yup, we’ve all been there. The harmonious nature of the staff room that was present when you first arrived at the school has all but fizzled out. It started with one person, then a few weeks there were three people whinging and moaning. All of a sudden, a month later the entire staff room is infected with it and there just seems no way out. This low morale has an impact on everything, the way that staff members view their job, their employer, and even the country that they have grown to love has turned into a cesspool of bitter hatred.
Solution – Discreetly bring the matter up with your academic manager or HR go-to person. They have been working in ESL teaching long enough, and sure enough, the low-morale issue is a common occurrence that probably happens at even the best of language centres. Your HR manager or Academic Coordinator should provide you with some good advice, while acting on your concerns by putting an end to the bad vibes in the staff room. Once you begin to notice the negativity beginning to show, try to separate yourself from it and do your lesson planning in a classroom or simply go outside and take a walk. Falling victim to the low morale is something that can easily happen to us all.
Problem – Management
Always another chief complaint from teachers that often arises is the issue of management. The reason for this is management are ultimately the ones who are in charge. Whether or not they’re right or wrong, the management are the ones who have the power to make the decisions. In many cases, language centre management has their eyes firmly fixated on one thing – the almighty dollar. This is true in most cases, and often this immense focus on money will have an impact on you directly. For example, a student wants to study IELTS. They can barely string a sentence together, but they are insistent on doing an IELTS course and will not settle for any other course. You are the lucky chosen one who is dealt this cruel hand of teaching this stubborn student for 60 hours when she can’t answer the question ‘how are you?’ Other areas which management have a controlling hand over are contract negotiations, marketing and course material.
Solution - Take it easy, it isn’t your problem. Give the student what they want, that’s what they paid for. Be honest with the student and tell them they are not suited for the class, and maybe, just maybe the student will listen to you. But otherwise, just sit back, dish out the work, and don’t let the right or wrong decisions of others get to you.
Problem – Lazy Students
This one doesn’t usually bother me, but seems to bother some teachers immensely. Lazy students can become a real pain in the backside, especially after you have gone through the painstaking effort to plan a class that is fun, while educational at the same time. Nothing can be more frustrating than this, especially when it takes places on the busiest day of the week, a Sunday.
Solution - Two solutions, the first – let them be, it will be their own demise. The second, bargain with them. Take away certain privileges for laziness, while rewarding them with activities and other treats for completing the work.
Problem - Arrogant fellow-teachers
Sure, we’ve all worked with them. They are the type of people who speak in he Queen’s English and proper British accent, who talk to their colleagues in an identical manner as they would address a misbehaving student. You must look out for these people, as generally they walk around with an inflated sense of self-importance. These are the people who discipline a teacher because a student left a paper in the room. These are the worst people to deal with in ESL teaching that can really make your blood boil, especially when they talk to you in a condescending manner as if you were a child.
Solution - Take a note of each of the encounters and think of the reasons why you personally felt it was offensive, for example, he spoke in a way that showed total disrespect, or he lectured you in front of a student. Make a note of when the incidents occurred and some details, and pass it on to the Academic Coordinator. It is their job to address your concerns directly with the arrogant sod, taking his ego down a few notches.
Problem – Schedules
Ah, it’s the time of the week when everyone crowds around as if it were the lottery. There’s a certain sense of dread and excitement at the same time. After having a number of classes finished this week, you know that either the classes will be immediately replaced with more, or you could, by some stroke of luck, have a relatively easy week where you can slip off early and catch a film. But, you know what? It’s a lot worse than that. A teacher’s contract has finished, and it’s your job to teach a morning class from 9am to 11am, and a new evening class as well! A split shift! Jeez, I’m a teacher, not a bloody chef!
Solution - The golden rule... If you signed the contract that states that you would work those hours, there’s more chance of that dream wedding with Britney Spears than getting the schedules changed. But, if your weekly hours exceed the contracted hours, make sure that you are adequately compensated for the additional work.
Problem - Textbooks not being returned
A favourite complaint by ESL teachers from over 160 countries, across five continents throughout the world. There is nothing more annoying than looking for your ‘Introduction to Academic Book Volume 3’, only to discover that the serial hoarder has stashed it away with 17 other of the schools frequently used textbooks. And the worst part, he’s not around to unlock his freakin’ locker.
Solution - Make your life easier and photocopy the books yourself. That way you can draw in the books, fill in the answers, draw funny little moustaches on the people - whatever, really! The second option is to discretely bring the better to the Academic Manager who will quickly bring about an end to the hoarder’s textbook stash.
After a tough day at the office, many ESL teachers think that they would rather be doing anything else than teaching.
However, after the end of a day like this, a new day will bring a completely new set of challenges, some good, and some bad. Teaching isn’t the only career that boasts stresses, but every job in every field has their its benefits and disadvantages – while many are a lot worse than teaching.