ESL Teachers Getting Short End of the Stick

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. esl class 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.pie

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.business savvy people 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.unionization

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.

 

About James 66 Articles
Since finishing Graduate school in 2007, I have been teaching ESL and adjuncting as a political science instructor. I taught English in Japan for four years and I have traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, I spend most of my time customizing Wordpress themes, blogging and understanding SEO. My next goal in life is to become a successful entrepreneur. I recently have started a teacher placement agency, Beyond Borders ESL Jobs, and I am looking for investors to start-up an online language school with an innovative twist.

5 Comments

  1. John, that was a great reply. You are right when you say, “that too many teachers see themselves as somehow above the job they are at and only there temporarily.”
    The sad part is that ILI is one of the better schools in the industry as far as benefits. They at least provide affordable and decent healthcare and some other incentives. But most of the larger companies that charge students much higher rates are trying their best to supress wages and have cut healtchcare benefits completely. I would like to see all these large, corporate ESL schools dismantled and allow for smaller schools to open.

  2. Good post. It’s unfortunate that more teachers in ESL don’t take any actions to stand up for themselves at work. Public school teachers have unions and they can’t just be fired without reason. If you’re working at some shady, fly-by- night school management sees the teachers as expendable and will fire you on a whim. I agree that most ESL teachers aren’t very business savvy at all. Too many teachers also see themselves as somehow above the job they are at and only there temporarily. This attitude and the transient nature of ESL teachers makes it difficult to have any real steady force at work to negotiate and have leverage with management.

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