30 January 2009


I moved back from Vietnam last May. Even though I had started to apply for jobs here the previous February, nothing seemed to be available. And then family stuff kept me occupied until July, when I finally gave up on the Adult School, well-paid jobs, and took a one-month gig at a private English Language school. Pay was less than what I had received in Vietnam, but it was a job. When that ended, I again went to all the private institutions in the area and finally was hired.

At the time, I asked about the hourly pay and was not given a firm answer, but was assured that since I was so well qualified, I would get a higher rate than the teachers with a one month training course. My first paycheck arrived and I saw that I was at the starting rate. I let it go for a while. What can you do? It was an income. When I finally did ask my supervisor I was told that my pay grade could be reviewed in three months.

Last week I approached the head of the head of the institution. (There seem to be at least 7 admin types in this organization and I have yet to figure out what they all do.) I asked about their pay scale. Most educational establishments, be they public or private, base pay on qualifications and experience. I was told that “we have no pay scale”; “qualifications and experience mean nothing”; and that even letters of recommendations were of no value. As to my pay rate, it would be reviewed in a year.

Ok, so that means my numerous degrees and teaching certifications are of no value; my 20 or thirty years as an educator are useless. And I had to wonder what the department head at the Australian university, where I taught in Vietnam, would think to know that her recommendation was of no value. Or what about the USAID program director who I worked under in Egypt? Or the three directors who ran the British Council English Language Programs in various parts of the world – all their recommendations were meaningless?

Unfortunately, teaching the English Language has become a profession that anyone can embark upon provided they complete a one month course. I know of no other career where this has happened. Having said that, I also am aware that there is nothing I can do about it and am usually content with the salary offered, the option being going to work at Starbucks. But I am not content with being paid less than the above mentioned quick-certificate employees, nor being made to feel that if I even enquire about my salary, I will be terminated.

The worst is that all the rhetoric about “having to prove you are a qualified instructor”, coming from administrators who do not have a background in education and whose only priority is the bottom-line, not the quality of their programs.

I could rant about this for pages but the bottom-line for me is that I need a job. I do love teaching, and the students are wonderful. I feel a strong sense of commitment to their educational needs and put in all the extra hours developing the lessons and marking their papers, and all the additional little things one does as a professional teacher. I have found that it is simply better to not spend more than the necessary few minutes talking to all those directors in the downstairs office. I no longer even try to communicate with other teachers who gloat about the fact that they never prepare lessons and never assign any writing assignments or other homework that would require correcting.

One of my students returned to Korea last week. She gave me a card in which she talked about how much she had enjoyed my class, all the things she had learned, and that she will always remember me as the best English teacher she has ever had. This is more gratifying than any supervisor’s words. I know that I have made a positive contribution to at least one person in the world, and probably a whole lot more.

Don’t let the admins get you down! (my mantra for today and tomorrow and tomorrow…)