How to appraise teachers’ wages?


December 6, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

Like thousands of teachers out there, today I was thinking about my wages.

The thought suddenly moved to other teachers’ wages, followed by a very shallow comparison of what I do and what I think they do, and with the final balance resulting in of course that I should be earning more money for each hour I spend teaching.

Well, I think this is pretty normal, and that there are teachers who think what I do pretty phony and that I shouldn’t deserve all attention and fortune I’m given – or all they think I’m given.

Since this train of thought was gonna get me nowhere, I then started to think how I would like to be appraised in terms of wages. I also thought for awhile about my approach to wages when I was the boss. 

When I was the boss, meaning I was not the BOSS boss, but had power enough to hire and fire teachers, and to decide how much they should earn, my approach lacked a system. Initially, it was based on the market, since where I was, Brazil, EFL teachers with qualifications were very scarce. CELTA or equivalent? What? The Celta they know is a GM compact car who doesn’t run too well on the highway. Anyway, so initially it was market – let’s exemplify.

Managing director tells Willy, in two weeks we start five new groups, we need a teacher to spend 1 hour commuting to this company which is in a not so safe neighbourhood, and then to come back downtown, another hour on a stinky bus, to teach another lesson from 8 to 9pm. And yes, the client wants a native-speaker.

So that was pretty much the start of an agonizing recruitment process where I would see a bunch of gringos who hooked up to a Brazilian girl through a dating website and were now ready to teach after a successful career in supermarket management, real state, waiting tables, housewifing, psychotherapy, you name it.

What amuses me is that a great number of them after a short while became very good teachers. Very good on this scale meant the students telling me this teacher is very good!

Well, anyway, when there was this kind of demand, wages had to be increased; pretty much because it was better to pay a bit more then to lose the deal with the client.

What really bothered me at the time was that in theory I could afford to pay more when the situation was critical, even if it was to a person with no apparent qualities in comparison to the staff already in placement, while there were great teachers who just happened to be hired when the demand was lower and who just happened to be in a bulk where a lot of good people were trying to get the same job, which meant lower wages.

This is very simple stuff, you know, offer vs. demand. But why did it bother me when it happened in teacher recruitment?

As I said, this was “initially”, then I came up with a scale with about 5 variables (qualifications, experience in the field, experience abroad, native speakerism, etc…) and use this for a while until the market didn’t allow it anymore. In addition, I started to review, appraise and compensate teachers’ work in on a case by case basis, taking into account individual goals and offering individualized growth opportunities. This was a very good experience.

One thing I learned is that qualifications only serve to get you an interview. After that, it doesn’t matter much. So, if I improved the recruitment process, designed my own tests, spent more time with interviewees, and laid out a good professional development scheme, I wouldn’t need to give a lot of importance to formal qualifications. I would hire good persons, with potential to become good teachers. Well, at least in theory.

So, back to my wages chain of thought. I was wondering what a good approach is. I’ve seen many schools having a scale considering mainly formal qualifications, something like: if you do the DELTA, I’ll pay you 2 pounds more per hour, but if you take an MA I don’t care. And other schools with a more individualized approach, something like I did in the past for a very short time: show me why I should pay you more than others; or let’s set you some goals together and use them as a measuring tool.

I would really like to hear from you, teachers and managers, how wages are appraised in your institution and what you think about it.

I know it’s not common to talk in public about this, but that’s actually the problem: not talking about this in public – by not talking we tend to conform to what we have, leave it unquestioned, and static; all great ingredients for unhappiness at work. Anyway, if you’re not comfortable with talking about the current situation, talk about a past one.

Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that teachers already complain too much and that the purpose of this post is not to complain, or hear complaints, it is to share experience that may help other teachers think critically about their situation and hopefully to take action.



17 thoughts on “How to appraise teachers’ wages?

  1. […] Willy, too, asks on what criteria teachers’ pay scales should be based. […]

  2. Excellent thought provoking post, Willy about the ultimate teaching taboo, as you said.
    It does seem insane that a ‘Dipper’ gets more money, yet no recognition/renumeration is offered for MA.

    I would love for there to be payment scales based on accurate analysis of classroom performance….but how is that achieved sucessfully and objectively?……a REAL can of worms, that one.

    With that system, I imagine that every teacher on the planet would assume that they deserved more money. When budgets are taken into account though, there would have to be a balance, resulting in some getting better pay and some geting a drop in pay! Very demotivational for the losers in that scenario. However, it could result in an overall raising of standards across the industry – never a bad thing.

    Basically, I don’t have an answer to this conundrum, even though it plays on my mind quite regularly. I was even speaking about it with a teacher colleague here in Berlin last night….After late payment of monthly salaries for teachers, my friend had written to the financial director to ask (quite reasonably) for notification in future if salaries would be paid late, so as to budget accordingly. The reply basically said ‘Fuck you. Get a proper job with a fixed contract if you don’t like it’ (I’m paraphrasing, but accurately!) – hmmmm, doesn’t say much about his opinion of self-employed teachers and the services his school provides, does it?

    One thing I would say though is that a root and branch change across the industry is needed. Generally, language school office staff are paid more than teachers and also generally on fixed contracts with all the associated benefits. If 50% of school office staff go on holiday at the same time (even peak periods), schools can run perfectly adequately. If 50% of teachers went on holiday in the same week, most schools would run into a brick wall and have to close down for that period. Schools are NOTHING without their teachers. A reconstruction of salaries (with teachers being the beneficiaries) of school budgets is needed in a big way. Is it going to happen? Unlikely, but we can all hope for some revolutionary school owner to take the first step.

    • About office staff having contracts and perhaps making more than the teachers is a major issue and one that i’m not happy about either. However, when I once moved from teaching to managing I really felt I was working harder sometimes, also the pressure was way bigger. A teacher doesn’t need to worry much about the financial side of the school and the teachers’ day-to-day practice has nothing to do with it, which is great and probably one of the main reasons teaching appeals to so many of us. On the other hand, being in the office makes many of one’s academic decisions become commercial decisions, and this can be quite frustrating to a teacher whose still got some ideals. That said, I think there’s nothing wrong with office staff having a contract and all, what it unfavorable is the teaching side itself.

      But in the end, you’re right, schools are nothing without their teachers. One thing to keep in mind though is that it’s fairly easy to “find” teachers willing to work for less than what the one who’s complaining wants to work for. So, it’s a pretty disposable position for the average and below average teachers. For the above average ones, I think they have to offer more than the other two types and find a way to show that to their managers in order to become a valued member of the staff. In this sense, I think it’s the teacher’s responsibility to make his/her work visible if s/he thinks it really stands out.

  3. Ben Naismith says:

    Hi Willy,

    At the moment I’m in the kind of situation you used to be in – enough of a boss to hire, but not the owner. We also have a salary point system as you described, with points for qualificaitons (CELTA, MA TESOL, DELTA, etc) and experience (total experience and with our school).

    The system isn’t perfect in that some excellent teachers get paid less than other very experiened but totally unmotivated ones who have been hanging on for years. It does have it’s advantages though: by offering a pay rise if they take IHCYL or CPE (for non-native teachers) with us, we do encourage professional development in some way. Also, like a lot of places we offer a pay bump if teachers stay for more than one year, more than three years, etc.

    Still, I’d love to incorporate something a bit more personal and individual as you suggested but it seems it might get tricky or cause complaints of favouritism amongst staff if there’s no clear criteria. If anyone does use a system like that I’d love to hear about it.

    • Hi Ben

      I also used professional development as a way to increment wages. At the time CPE was one of them too, also the Cambridge TKT, these two were very good and some teachers enjoyed the push and the reward. But there were those who weren’t interested of course, lazy ones aside, it was partially because they didn’t see how passing a Cambridge test could make them better in the job. So, I came up with an alternative which was to let some teachers choose any topic they’d like to become an “expert” at and during 10 months they would research and develop something that could be called a ‘project’ or ‘product’, that could then be passed on to and used by others. During this period I was kinda coaching them, indicating resources and having short check-point meetings.

      There was only one teacher who completed this during the only year that I ran the initiative. She developed herself and a product in assessment of speaking skills for Business English.

      Amazing professional development! One of the best I’ve seen. She learned more than any series of workshops or Cambridge certificate could offer, that’s because it was her choice and responsibility all over, and her product!

      So, I can tell you that your concern about it getting tricky as you personalize, causing favoritism, is a valid one, but one that will always be. Clear criteria helps of course. But in the end it’s the teachers who will make it work out.

  4. When I was DoS at a local private language school and during the summer program here at UToronto, the starting wage per hour was fixed. The PLS was about half the wage of UT. What occurred over time then was that seniority + student reviews would result in a minimal increase at the PLS and returning teachers for a second/third year would be paid minimally more (at UT, the summer teachers only teach 8 weeks every summer).

    Beyond this discrepancy, I find that it’s also just relative to your context. For me, I’m paid a decent wage now as full-time instructor in a year-long program at UT, much higher than at either previous program. Still, two years in, I find myself complaining again about the wage and lack of benefits given the work we do.

    It seems to me that compensation is something that is rarely fair or just and always a topic for complaints.

    • Interesting that you mention seniority as a variable. Do you mean senior in ranking because of qualifications and performance, or senior because of a longer span of service?
      Regarding the latter, I have some doubts whether this is a good thing. My experience tells me it’s not.

      I think I haven’t met anyone who would say they didn’t want or need to have a higher salary, so yes, it’s always a topic for complaints. However, in terms of fairness I think a lot of people shouldn’t be complaining.

      • I was referring to seniority as in how long you’ve been employed there. I certainly don’t agree that it’s a valid method to determine compensation alone, but one could argue the whole ‘paid my dues’ thing.

  5. I left my last school (in Brazil) for a whole host of reasons, but one was the fact that with a Diploma and an MA it was impossible for me to earn more. This was one of the reasons that I found myself losing motivation. I now teach for myself and while I am not particularly better off I am enjoying myself more.

    Back to the point, I think experience and qualifications should place you at a certain point on the pay scale when you start, from which you cannot go down but you will only go up the pay scale if you achieve certain negotiated goals. Some teachers don’t need to do a CELTA, but would benefit from doing some action-research, while others wouild improve themselves if they took a language exam. At the same time, a school might have a need for netter trained young learner or business teachers. Your idea of negotiating the goals makes it flexible and allows teachers and schools to tailor their training to suit their needs.

    Stephen Greene

    • Hi Stephen

      I know teachers who left their schools (mine was one), because the schools didn’t acknowledge that they were as good as they claimed to be without the certificates and for that reason didn’t want to pay them more. So, the opposite of your profile but with a similar outcome. These teachers went on to teach privately and are better off as well. In conclusion, it’s impossible to please everyone, but it’s good to offer options. I like your idea of action-research and all, see my response to Ben above for an example of tailored professional development..

  6. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus says:

    Interesting post here Willy and judging by the number of comments, one that obviously strikes a chord. I like your idea of research projects, and am going to suggest that to our director in my annual appraisal next week.

    Also, I do think it is important to have some sort of scale for wages. Otherwise, it’s just unfair and de-motivating for teachers. For example, in the place where I work, I’m on the same wage as a no-experience newbie, whereas I’ve been teaching for 7 years and am currently doing the DELTA. A colleague of mine has been with the company for 9 years and had two 30€ raises in that time. I have a hard time seeing the fairness in this system and I think too many directors know that we take the quality of our work personally and exploit that. And as long as we continue to do the job well and the clients are happy, teacher happiness just gets dismissed.

    To get back to the original topic, I think teachers and directors need to define individual goals and ways of measuring them together, then base pay on that. Quality AND personal satisfaction will increase, and that can only be a good thing.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Christina!

    I also know teachers who have been at the same school for years and years with a very low increase in wages. In my experience, meaning when I worked side-by-side these teachers, it was often the case that they were also in their comfort zone for years and years; or that they didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and initiative to fight for something better, even if it means resigning.

    On the school’s side, the bottom line is it’s a business, and the teacher is like a supplier, which means as a school owner I’m happy with paying the less I can to get the standard I want to keep. In some cases, it’s very low, but well, if they’re making ends meet, it’s not a really bad business.

    If teachers saw what they do a bit more like ‘business’, perhaps they would be better off.

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  9. I’m working in Vietnam for a large International high school. Pay is at the higher end for ESL teachers, and increased each year if we hit our marks. Newbies come in at the bottom and progress over time. Some come in a little higher, but administration is risk-averse and very careful before offering more than minimum, without having seen appropriate performances.
    I’m quite satisfied with these conditions, and my own salary. I know of others who are not, but they are generally poor teachers who think they’re a lot better than they really are.

  10. I work at an independent school and currently all of our contracts are individually negotiated. They are discussing going to a salary structure, but for now each teacher can negotiate independently.

    In my mind there are two problems with the current structure:

    1) Most teachers have never negotiated a contract before and thus the school is at an advantage.

    2) Turnover in leadership can really change how this process works thus creating possible inequities amongst teachers.

  11. Hi Willy,

    I think all schools need a concerte pay structure that offers increases for experience, qualifications and time worked at the school.

    Bringing in something akin to performance related pay as you suggested could be very difficult to measure and damage morale at the school. Perhaps something like ‘teacher of the month’ could be implemented, based on student evaluations. The winning teacher could recieve a bonus that month.

    How many EFL schools actually care about this? There are some good schools out there that reward professional development with appropriate pay but I would say many just want to get away with paying as little as possible. It can be quite a cut-throat business and teachers are often at the sharp end. I know wages for TEFL teachers in the UK haven’t really gone up in over 10 years for instance. This could be that there are more people around with CELTA / Trinity certificates which has kept the wages low?

    Regards, Jon.

  12. ChristopherK says:

    Hey Willy, I’m new to blogs and to language teaching as well. I’m about to embark on a journey to Brasilia where I’ll hopefully have a positive teaching experience..

    One of the things that obviously concerns me is how to negotiate a fair wage. I’m a native speaker, with a university education, and TESL certification. I like the idea of a scale consisting of a specific set of variables in order to determine what to pay someone. Like you said though, often employers are looking to pay as little as they can get away with without sacrificing the standard too much.

    Reading through the comments is a little disheartening. It seems like there’s really no standardization anywhere, and it’s really luck of the draw as far as salaries go.. I definitely think that good qualifications need to be recognized -it’s the one variable that is least subjective. What about probation periods for teachers who are just starting out, or who are requesting a bump in pay? I mean, I’m not looking to get rich here, I just think (considering the great demands of the job) we deserve a fair and respectable income.

    Sometimes, as it has been mentioned, employers will negotiate different rates of pay for individual teachers. Not having been in this situation many times, do you have any advice for someone about to go and work in Brazil? I don’t mind working hard, but I don’t want to feel that I’m getting really taken advantage or ripped off either.

    Great blog -lots to learn! Cheers.

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