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Fair Trade Teaching

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I’m not going to take credit for this analogy, but it bears some thinking about. When asking – from a consumer’s point of view – how much one is prepared to pay for something, there are various levels that we can think about.

Let’s consider coffee. How much does the coffee in one cup cost as a commodity? Apparently it’s about 3p, traded on the stock exchange. At the point of sale, the lowest we are all used to paying is about 99p at the local Macdonalds.  We can go up market a tad and stop in at our local Costa, Nero or Starbucks and they heft the price to between £1.50 and £2.40 depending. Next we could go to a slightly more sophisticated experience and order a coffee after dinner at a Michelin star establishment which may knock us back £6 -7. Apparently having coffee in Monte Carlo is a bit more pricey and then in St Mark’s Square Venice, it gets to about 14 euro. This is the same coffee that costs about 3p on the stock exchange floor. So what are we paying for? I’ll leave that to you, but I imagine, it is the quality of the experience that we are paying for, and how being able to enjoy that quality experience makes us feel in some way that we have succeeded, that we are somehow better than when we started out.

And now the point of this. What about the coffee grower? How much does he get for the gruelling work he does to get that coffee to us, for us to have that experience? And would we be prepared to pay more so that he gets adequately compensated for his work? Would we be prepared to pay the grower for his essential role in our experience? I say, yes.

And what of EFL teaching? Yes, there are those organisations that tender for 4,000 hours of lessons and sell to the lowest bidder, but that isn’t what we are talking about here. Let those who want to drink Macdonalds coffee be happy with their choice. We are looking at those students who want to change their lives, who want to benefit, qualitatively, from learning  English, those students who want to progress in their careers through the learning of English.  If we deliver that kind of quality, the kind of teaching that makes our clients feel better about themselves, which allows them to see themselves as having succeeded, would they not be prepared to make sure the person who partially engineered that experience be fairly compensated? I moot, yes. 

Who then is stopping us from benefitting from Fair Trade teaching? Who is standing in the way of ethical pay scales? Who is responsible for us not earning what we are worth? Is it us – the teachers – for undervaluing ourselves and our skills? Or is it market forces? I don’t believe it is market forces. If a trainer, teaching telephone skills is paid double what an English teacher is paid to teach the same skills IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE (so arguably teaching TWO skills), it cannot be market forces that are keeping EFL teachers in penury. If language schools are charging students anything from £40 – £90 for a one-to-one lesson, it is clear that students are prepared to pay for a quality learning experience. But if the teacher, who takes the responsibility for delivering that quality experience, who has trained and prepared and sweated to ensure that the client leaves having had an experience that leaves them feeling better than when they arrived,  is getting – at best – £15 of those pounds, where is the rest going?

And where should it be going? And why isn’t it?


4 responses »

  1. Indeed! These days I am pretty well-paid for what I do, for as long as the department has work for me, but in my first job on returning to the UK in 2006 I was working for ten pounds an hour net, and teaching 30 hours a week to make it livable. (Colchester English Study Centre – just in case anyone’s thinking of going there.) I have 30 years experience, CTEFLA, Dip TEFLA and am approved as a DELTA trainer by Cambridge ESOL. I don’t know of any other profession where experience and qualification count for so little.

    • I think it is appalling – I was a little taken aback when flushed with pride and clutching my DELTA, having done it along with running a department, preparing for a BC inspection, gearing up for a summer school and teaching, I wasn’t given even a teensy raise. Not being a bear of great courage, I carefully put my hard-won certificate away and dogged on with the job in hand. So maybe it IS out fault for not being more demanding and insisting on a decent salary. But at the end of the day, if I had left in a huff, I can’t think of anywhere that would have said, “Yes, do please join our happy throng and we’ll pay you what you’re worth.”

  2. Hi Candy, my twitter is @DavidWarr It would be great to chat sometime.


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