“As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.”
– Donald Trump
Yes, well, that’s easy for him to say – let’s face it, Donald Trump has never been an EFL teacher. Thinking big for many EFL teachers often simply amounts to begging their employers for a new photocopier, for EFLers are, for the most part, simple, noble souls, without the ruthless drive and nasty comb-over which apparently characterise the successful entrepreneur, but able to take joy in seeing a student’s face light up as he suddenly gets the difference between Present Simple and Continuous.
Though an odd hair-do might not actually be a compulsory element in explaining the success of high-profile business-people, some sort of compulsion to make money just has to be a vital component in the mind-set of those whose job is, well, making money, and that magic ingredient would seem to missing in many of us teachers.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, TEFLer?
If you actually chose your chosen profession – to teach English to foreign language speakers – it’s probably safe to say that becoming fabulously rich was probably never uppermost in your mind, as EFL teaching has never been an obvious association with Scrooge McDuck piles of glistening gold. Unless, of course, you didn’t dream of being an EFL teacher all through your childhood, and you just sort of stumbled into it. And then couldn’t get out. Although such a thing is doubtlessly a rare occurrence, with the vast majority of us most probably having spent our school and university days and nights feverishly trying to figure out how to break into TEFL, it could just be that a few of us EFL teachers actually had, at some point, a burning desire to make some money.
If you were one of those who, when still a child, had envisioned a future life of wealth, power and fame, then the harsh reality of TEFLing must be a tad hard to digest at times. Truth be told, not just the earnings, but the general the working conditions of many EFL teachers have been known to be, to put it mildly, pretty dire.
To add salt to the wound, trade unions are not an option in a profession which, by its very nature, has those who do it constantly on the move from contract to contract, from nation to nation. In order to create an organisation like a trade union, one has to be able to discuss, debate, confer, agree, collaborate and act with others, and in order to do that, one really ought to be in the same place as at least some of the same people for sufficient time to actually develop ideas and take action.
And most importantly, it would be very helpful if all the members of the profession were actually governed by the same national legislation, and not by dozens of different ones. Furthermore, it would be immensely helpful if your members were all in nations in which trade unions were actually permitted by law. Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – none of these nations permit trade union activity. On the bright side, it has to be said that, if you ever did have the urge to become a modern-day Tolpuddle Martyr, finding a destination undesirable enough to transport an errant, bolshy EFL teacher off to might prove to be challenging. Australia? You wish. Ironically – or perhaps not – some of the least appealing places on the planet are key EFL locations.
Every TEFLer For Himself
It’s probably safe to say that the profession has ended up being one of the least regulated in the entire universe, and it’s very much a case of every TEFLer for him or herself. So, we’ve already established that there aren’t too many life-jackets on the good ship TEFLdom, and many of us get left hanging on for dear life as decisions are made by others apparently with the sole intent of destabilizing even further, and based on a logic which totally escapes us.
The Big Money Picture
Although we teachers will alternate panic attacks with bouts of scoffing over what appear to be utterly nonsensical policies, we usually fail to see the wood for the trees. And by ‘wood’ and ‘trees’, naturally I mean ‘profits’ and ‘education’. Which also goes some way to explaining why there’s a substantial number of EFL managers and entrepreneurs who haven’t worked their way up from actual EFL teaching; you will very often find yourself governed by business-people, many of whom don’t actually know a great deal about EFL teaching, or any sort of teaching for that matter, and even a good few who know very little English.
However, during those industrial-scale eye-rolling and eyebrow-raising moments we indulge in when the latest anti-educational decision filters down from above, consoling ourselves with the thought that we could do so much better, a lot of the time we’re actually wrong. Much more often than we, the teachers, would care to admit, they know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re doing it rather well.
The TEFL Gold-Mine
So, what is the appeal of TEFL for those not involved in the ‘T’ bit of it? That war is good business is a generally accepted fact, however unsavoury the implication of such a statement might be; education seen principally as a mega-business, and not as a contribution to the evolution and development of Mankind, is another concept which might be slightly hard to wrap your ethical brain around, but which is not one relegated to the realm of merely abstract.
According to the GSV EDU Education Sector Factbook 2012 English Language Learning (ELL) accounted for a whopping $63 billion slice of the overall global education-business pie in 2012. Which goes some way to explaining why even those not dedicated to EFL teaching per se have found themselves irresistibly attracted to the business of English Language teaching. In other words, English is not only the language of global business, it is a global business. And it’s one of the healthy ones – it’s forecast to reach the mind-boggling sum of over $193 billion by the year 2017.
Doing The ‘Dirty’ Work
Are you reeling? I know I am. That’s an awful lot of money, however, those who do the teaching are not going to be pocketing anything other than a teeny proportion of that figure. Which is pretty hard to digest, when you think about it, since we’re the ones in the front-line, trying to cram many years’ worth of grammar and vocabulary into a year of foundation programs, create lessons which, miraculously, exclude neither the couple of students who are highly fluent, or the handful who appear to know absolutely no English whatsoever, but who have been put in the same class, or who have to put together activities which are demonstrably effective from an academic point of view, yet are amusing enough to engage a rowdy crowd of kids or teens in a summer camp. Just as well we love teaching, right?
So, where’s The Money, Honey?
So, if it isn’t the actual teaching which makes the money, which aspects of ELL are the cash-cows? Well, although the situation varies from region to region – for example, high taxes in European countries can make owning a independent language school not much more profitable than teaching in one – the main money-spinners in the ELL market are:
ELL publishing (market leaders include Pearson, Oxford University Press, Macmillan)
International educational providers (such as EF or Kaplan)
Testing / assessment (Ielts, Toefl, PET, FCE, etc.,)
Assessment preparation (big guns, such as British Council, and countless independent bodies globally)
Study-holiday providers (EF, Bell English, English UK, etc.,)
Course providers, both on- and offline (Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, Linguaphone)
Language schools and centres (British Council, International House, and many, many smaller players)
App and program creators/sellers (FluentU, Busuu, Nearpod, etc.,)
EFL/ESL teaching certification (CELTA and TESOL being the most obvious)
The Online Teaching Meat Market
A special mention apart has to be made of the blooming online English language teaching market. Doing away with the need to transport actual flesh-and-blood teachers to actual schools, there’s a proliferation of bodies which either offer online courses with ‘their’ teachers, or which offer platforms to freelancers, on which you get the opportunity to undercut the competition by lowering your pay-per-hour to levels which, post-tax, won’t cover the cost of your dinner. If we want a very clear example of what the commodification and globalization of ELL can do, in terms of just how far the teaching profession can be devalued, then this market sector just has to be the winner. Of course, for those who own the platforms and virtual schools, the limited outlays and running costs make this a very profitable field.
Now, realistically, as individuals, being worthy rivals of the Big Boys, such as Kaplan, isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Nor would launching a rival EFL/ESL teaching certification be the brightest idea in your ‘make-a-Tefl-fortune mind-map, so cross it off right now. Keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground, let’s ponder which areas can we reasonably focus on, should we wish to participate a bit more substantially in that 193 billion dollar growth foreseen for ELL over the next year or so.
A Piece Of The Pie
Although material writing and opening your own private English school still remain as options to teachers wishing to branch out professionally to fields outside the classroom, it should be kept in mind that a huge chunk of the ELL mega-growth is forecast to lie in the digital realm, so if you happen to have a buddy who happens to be an IT whizz-kid, you might want to stay chummy with him, because great ideas which take ELL on-line in effective, user-friendly and engaging ways are potentially superb money-makers for those able to come up with ideas and for who make them happen. An IT expert may or may not also have expertise in the ELL sector, but it’s more likely that he or she doesn’t – likewise, a brilliant, creative English teacher may also dabble very effectively in IT, but it’s not awfully likely that they possess the sort of top-notch coding skills required to create apps and programs. Conclusion? A collaboration for the mutual benefit of both parties makes perfect sense.
Back to the online teaching malarkey for a moment – nothing wrong with cutting your teeth in someone else’s online ‘school’, however, there are platforms out there that you, as an individual, can use to set up your own virtual classroom. Zoom.us is just one example (the choice lies greatly in cost – some platforms are really rather expensive if you’re just starting out, but Zoom.us lets you have unlimited teaching sessions free of charge, if you keep each one to a maximum of 40 minutes), but there are many more out there, such as WizIQ, which you would probably want to take into consideration only after you had built up a bit of a user base due to its starting price of $33 a month.
Union Makes Strength
Of course, it’s always easier said than done, and coming up with brilliant and innovative ideas can’t be that simple, otherwise we’d all be doing it all of the time. It also has to be said that contemplating what can amount to a career-shift, if not an actual full-blown career change, is a decidedly daunting prospect, however, exploring one’s options carries no financial costs, and, if the aim is empower yourself as a professional in order to get a little bit more of what you deserve, it’s definitely worth the mental-energy investment required.
There’s a great deal more to be said on the topic, and we’ll certainly go back to it in future, however, in the meantime, if you do have any great entrepreneurial ideas, why not share them with a trusted colleague? It shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the reasons teachers get shunted off the money-making playing field of their own profession is that many of the aspects of TEFLing – the short-term contracts, the high-mobility of colleagues, the trans-continental moves – do not facilitate cooperation and collaboration among peers. Perhaps, ultimately, partnerships with fellow teachers, mutually supporting and encouraging one another, is the way to go – after all, it is the digital age, and collaboration across distances really shouldn’t be an issue.
All the best!