by Dan – Local 1
When I tell people I am an ESL teacher, I often get interesting responses. ESL is, of course, English as a Second Language, but some people don’t know that. When they find out what I do, they think it’s just my summer job, and wonder what I’m going to do in the future. Most people insist that I can teach in Japan, and offer me the example of their friend in Japan who is making a lot of money teaching there. However, people don’t seem to know much about teaching ESL in Canada. People don’t realize that ESL teachers are highly qualified professionals who change the lives of students every day. Unfortunately, the conditions at many schools are far from professional and rewarding.
My first job at an ESL school led me to believe that ESL schools were just moneymaking scoundrels that chewed up and spat out teachers. The large school I worked at charged each student over $1000 a month tuition, but paid me only $15 an hour to teach grammar, writing, listening and communication every day. I also had to keep detailed records for them, make and mark tests, do report cards, and all on top of making materials for each class. The school demanded professional and fun classes for the students, but required me to use their poorly made materials which were too hard for the students. That school promised me and other teachers year-round work, but fired us in October when student enrollment dropped. That school enjoys a very good reputation and continues to grow and open new campuses.
My next two jobs were unfortunately at low-paying unstable schools. I felt like the ESL industry was not worth my time. Then, a few months later I got called for an interview at my current school. It, like the first school I worked at, was large and successful both locally and internationally. The school is also very sought-after by teachers as a place to work. Teachers stay there because it is a professional environment and they are treated fairly. The conditions and pay are good, and the teachers are generally happy. One of the main reasons for the good conditions at my school is that my school became unionized many years ago. That guarantees us a strong collective voice, job protection and a system of seniority. Our teachers enjoy the benefits of being professionals and have established fair practices with management. Now I feel proud to be part of a growing industry where I can develop my skills and be compensated for my hard work. Teaching ESL became a great career for me and afforded me many opportunities in my life.
ESL is a respectable career choice and teachers who work so hard every day should know that. The rest of the world needs to know it as well. ESL is not a summer job or stepping-stone for many of us, it’s a career. It’s a career I am proud to say I work in. I think the best way to establish that we are professionals is by getting unionized and creating a strong unified voice for all ESL teachers.