teaching professional people english
It’s that time of year again. Do you know what your hours are for September? I don’t, although I do know that should have some. I’m not alone in this. Most TEFL professionals have absolutely no job security, but then, most teachers in institutional settings actually have a lot less than they would wish – or than the rest of the world imagines. As we all creep into middle age and our children grow into teenagers and are looking to go into higher education, job insecurity and the fluctuating income which goes with it become increasingly difficult to deal with. Some of the ups and downs are unavoidable. Some. Not all. If you are, or have been, in the throes of one of the latter situations, you know what I’m talking about. Why are we still in the position of looking for yet a job (or should I say ‘hours’ or ‘work’, since ‘job’ implies a proper contract and set times to stop and start?) or of worrying that the one we think we have we maybe don’t really?
Some of the instability is structural to the market in which we work. However, there is a high rate of discrimination and abuse of power also. This is not a youth thing – we may have asssumed that with time and experience ‘real’ jobs would inevitably follow, but we seem to have been misinformed. It is not a question of having dropped out of education too soon (although if you’re thinking of dropping out of education, read this. You’ll think again.) Not necessarily, at least, and it’s not a question of sexism necessarily either. Nor is it particularly a matter of living in a foreign country. I have seen male colleagues, natives, with all the right qualifications, all the right experience, socially competent, extremely efficient, appreciated by students and colleagues alike, subjected to the most appalling arbitrary pettiness. They have suffered as much unpredictability, as much income fluctuation (nearly), as much unfairness in their work as have I. I am an example of almost everything that’s supposed to lead to precarious employment. They, on the other hand are not.
When you approach yet another summer with a black cloud hanging over you, it’s tempting to succumb to the thought that there’s something wrong with you. How can there not be? You know the record … ‘What is it about me that gets in the way?’ Well, I think it’s time that we all faced facts. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with me either – not that bars me from employment, anyhow. But I could not figure out what it was that was going on in these situations until my career took a detour away from teaching/training, and into fostering.
For three years I fostered a very young child from a disturbed background. The pay was way better than now, the aggravations considerable. For family reasons I shall probably not be able to pursue it as an occupation ever again, but fostering was a passion for me, whereas teaching is merely interesting and enjoyable. We underwent some training during my second year and were fortunate to benefit from the input of some absolutely top class professionals from outside the agency which employed us. That’s where it gets interesting.
One of our practice review trainers was a psychoanalyst. You can stop rolling your eyes right about now. This lady was the real deal. We were sharing our frustration over the relationships we had with our case managers. (Mostly female social workers, generally younger than we were) We were invariably being subjected to negative feedback, our observations were not taken into consideration, we were obliged to tolerate rudeness of an astounding variety and magnitude…. and our employment could be jeopardised or terminated almost without justification on the whim of these other people. Sound familiar?
This lady psychoanalyst looked up from her notetaking and said ‘They are jealous of you’. Stunned silence. Trust me, as we looked around at each other it would have been difficult to imagine a less glamorous group of women. Not in the general population. Some of the children we were taking care of had been born to drug addicted or alcoholic mothers. Some were psychotic, some were just badly disturbed. None of us was getting eight hours sleep, and it showed. Big time. We blinked at her. She continued. ‘You have the child’. We still weren’t getting it. ‘You have the child. You have the relationship with the child.’ Someone made a comment about sleepless nights. ‘Yes, she said. And the child knows who he can trust. Who does he call ‘Maman’ or ‘Nounou’? Who does he go to for a hug when his visit has gone badly? Not the social worker. You. And they can’t forgive you for that. You get the hugs, and the drawings from school, and the affection. You’ve paid for it, earned it, by being there and dealing with the bad behaviour, the violence, the illnesses, and all that.’
Most readers of this blog don’t actually work with young children, but the principle still holds true. As pathetic and unreasonable as it may seem, as the teacher or the trainer, you have the relationship, and many people in management or sales just cannot forgive you for it. They suffer from relationship envy. You have the relationship with the student. With the group. With the parents of your pupils if you’re in a school setting, and they don’t and never can. Not like you. In the private sector this tends to be reinforced by the vague idea that you are in a position to ‘steal’ the client and go into business for yourself. This unseen, inadmissible reality is why some of the people you work for, or have worked for, treat you like shit. There is nothing wrong with you. There may not be much wrong with the person acting like a little Hitler either, but it’s very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end.
Nothing I have said justifies arbitrary or unreasonable behaviour on the part of managers. They do know what they are dong. They know the price of bread, petrol, and rents. They know you have children. They just sort of manage not to think about it, or to somehow separate that reality from the situation of their own families. You see plenty of that in social work too. Just so you know, presenting people with that dichotomy and asking them if they can justify it does absolutely no good at all. I would stay away from it as a strategy at your next pay review if I were you.
So, other than not taking it personally, what can you do? Keep your powder dry, live frugally, look for another job …. for some people joining a trades union may be an option. It isn’t for me. Considering a change of employment, or a ‘side-hustle’ (alternative income stream) may also be a possibility. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, if your situation is potentially catastrophic, don’t wait until September to deal with it. Get the lowdown on benefits or whatever NOW.
More than anything, however, take advantage of the summer break to re-connect with people. I know it can feel uncomfortable to only get in touch with folk when you’re between jobs, but you are NOT the only person who is very very busy for some parts of the year and under-occupied at others. Stockbrokers and rocket scientists have that too. Just say that you are making the most of the break to see / speak to friends. Connections can open doors, but it’s good to see friends anyway, and you never know, you may be able to help them out with something. Stranger things have happened….
Disclaimer : Social workers are dedicated, passionate professionals doing a difficult job. In the exercise of that difficult job, it just turns out that they aren’t perfect either.