Like most people on a zero hours contract, at the beginning of the pandemic I panicked. I was working at a language school AND a restaurant, because we all know that if you’re working in TEFL, you need a side hustle. Unfortunately they’re both professions that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Day by day the restaurant and the school were getting emptier and emptier, the government refusing to officially close them but telling people to stay away.
Before the introduction of furlough I was freaking out. How on Earth are you supposed to pay rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world without work? I was anticipating mass redundancies and destitution. So I did what a lot of other TEFL teachers did… I looked for work online.
“Working online is great,” they said.
“You can work from home,” they said.
“It’s really flexible,” they said.
What they didn’t say was that it’s low-paid, under-resourced and soul destroying.
I applied for a job at Education First (EF). They’re one of the biggest language schools in the World, employing over 52,000 staff across 116 countries. They’re one of the most profitable too, grossing millions in the UK alone in 2019.
The application process was simple enough, CV and cover letter. Of course, as is industry standard, the minimum pre-requisite was a degree and a CELTA qualification. During the interview, the recruiter told me that business was booming as students wanted to take advantage of more time at home to study, and they needed a lot more teachers to start as soon as possible. I was promptly offered a job.
Then came the contract. A paltry £8.75 per hour, and no paid prep time. With minimum wage at £8.72, I think we can safely call this a minimum wage job. So, a first class degree, a teaching qualification and 4 years experience get you… £8.75/h?! Not only that, but due to the way classes are organised, you don’t know which level you’re teaching until you start the class. You’re expected to prepare five different classes for beginner all the way up to advanced, without knowing what you’ll actually be teaching until you open up the class. Even more ridiculous is that you never teach the same class twice. It’s a constantly moving conveyor belt of introductions and new faces. Well, I would say faces but you never actually see any of your students.
After a week of this, I was offered work doing social media for a charity, and so quit. I was lucky that I found an alternative. Others are not. The current global situation has forced many to accept work that is underpaid with high expectations of professionalism. Expecting highly qualified teachers to work for minimum wage is appalling. Even worse, EF have announced mass redundancies across the UK while continuing to hire teachers online. Knowing that teachers in brick and mortar schools would likely refuse to take a hefty pay cut, they instead make them redundant and replace them with low-paid workers who have little choice but to accept poor contracts with substandard conditions.