Anyone that has taught English as a second language at a for profit school understands that the ESL industry in the United States is highly unregulated, unfair and cutthroat in regards to the treatment of teachers. Despite a bear economy, ESL schools, such as Kaplan, Intrax, Berlitz not only remain profitable, but continue to grow. In fact, the ESL industry in the United States has been booming during the past couple of decades. Each year thousands of students from around the globe pour into the United States to study at ESL institutes with the hope of increasing their own job prospects back home or getting accepted into an American university.
Unfortunately, ESL teachers throughout the United States are seeing their wages stay the same or even decrease in many instances despite a record number of students and growth in the ESL industry. The vast majority of ESL teachers working at private institutes are technically employed as ‘part-time’ workers with hourly wages that have stayed the same since the early 2000’s. In addition, it is rare for an ESL institute to offer its teachers health insurance and job security is shaky at best. Check out this article on teachers that tried to unionize at Kaplan last year.
Why do ESL teachers get such a short end of the stick? There are a few reasons. First, ESL giants like Kaplan, Intrax, Berlitz and ELS are taking advantage of a sluggish economy that is producing fewer and fewer full-time positions with benefits. These institutions are fully aware that most teachers would rather ‘work and survive’ rather than become jobless. Second, teachers are not BUSINESS PEOPLE, but people that enjoy GIVING to others. The typical teacher just doesn’t have the mentality of the top executives of these schools and these same executives more than understand the psychological advantage that they hold over the teachers.
Another reason is that ESL institutes are great at strategically hiring middle management and lower management staff that are promised bonuses if they can cut corners and increase profit. Well, it is easy to figure out that the easiest way to increase profit in any industry is to cut worker’s pay and deny benefits, such as healthcare. However, what makes this more frustrating for ESL teachers is the FACT THAT THE TEACHERS MAKE AN ESL SCHOOL PROFITABLE! Yet, the teachers have seen their share of the pie diminish to a tiny sliver. (I’m starving over here!!!!!!!)
Lets be honest, PART OF THE BLAME IS WITH THE ESL TEACHERS THEMSELVES! Again, ESL teachers or any teacher is typically not business savvy. The average ESL teacher has probably spent some time backpacking in exotic lands, experimenting with a drug at one point in life and would most likely prefer to read a book on philosophy rather than Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom!
The bottom line is that things need to change! Large schools like Kaplan, ELS, Intrax, Berlitz and so on need to be EXPOSED to the public. That public should also include the STUDENTS WHO STUDY AT THESE SCHOOLS. If the students were aware they would more likely opt out for a different school. Maybe a smaller school with better conditions and the promise to treat their employees with respect and dignity. When I worked at the International Language Institute, the pay could have been better, but at least they provided affordable healthcare and other incentives. Large schools like Kaplan are setting the standard in the industry and they need to be confronted, exposed and taken down.
If you are a fellow ESL teacher, please contact me. My mission is to organize and discuss with other teachers about ways to create positive change in the ESL industry. If I can secure the right to sponsor student visas, my ultimate mission is to one day open an ESL institute in the United States. While I would like to earn a good income, I also want to create a school where teachers are given fair pay, healthcare and a paid vacation! It time for people start speaking out against the unfairness in the ESL industry.