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.