We’ve all been there, underappreciated, overworked, badly managed, lions being lead by sheep. It can be dreadful on the mind but here are some of the truly worst traits that a Language School can possess, If you see any of them… RUN!
1). Too much time for not enough pay
This old chestnut again. Think of all the hours of unpaid planning you have done, the hours spent correcting, planning in your sleep and the helpless feeling of drowning in paperwork, all while being unpaid for your endeavors. I worked 40hrs at a school in Oxford, on contract, and received £1500 a month for my time. I spent 6 hours a day teaching and my gross hourly rate was £9.37, excluding the fact that I wasn’t paid for lunch. After tax, I received the handsome hourly rate of about £7.81 an hour. Many teachers, including myself, just gave up on planning outside of work as an 8 45 to 5 30 shift at the education mill can leave you too exhausted to plan. Some broke, crying in the staff room, refusing to come into work and others came in on Saturday or Sunday to plan. All quite ridiculous really, and this is, of course, in the UK. Other countries don’t even get this luxury, and we could easily descend into a chaotic 4 Yorkshiremen sketch of who has it worst. Any school that doesn’t value its teachers enough to pay them properly for time worked is simply exploitative, greedy and not worth your time. Until we start working together and not undercutting/ selling ourselves to these people, nothing will change.
2). No investment in teachers
Unsurprisingly, we want to get better as teachers, improve our quality and use that to improve our classes. It is a heinous trait to not want to invest in your own teachers and flies in the face of modern company policy. Many companies invest huge amounts in CPD’s with the hope of training their work force into an efficient and well qualified unit. Many language schools fall far behind the ethos of modern companies and a school that doesn’t invest in its teachers, doesn’t deserve to be invested in by you!
3). Large classes
I’ve taught in schools with as little as 5 students per class, and what a joy it was. I have taught in schools with a minimum of 17 per class, to maximize profit, and it was demoralizing and exploitative. Smaller classes work better: you can personalize, focus and really build relationships with students which increases satisfaction and ultimately leads to more referrals, especially through word of mouth. I worked in a school in Oxford where we were told we had to try our best to keep the class levels at 17, there was to be no moving students down, even if they are badly misplaced and no moving up a level, unless they can be replaced. All very poor show from a school that marketed itself as one with ‘small’ classroom settings and ultimately it diminished the time I could spend working with students who may have needed my help.
4). Bad Facilities
This not only applies to the teaching facilities but also the students’ facilities as well. Walls with paint hanging off, broken chairs, leaky ceilings are all big warning signs. No investment in technology also shows a lack of interest in the student and their experience, and for bigger schools there really is no excuse.
It’s not only the teachers who can suffer from bad facilities it is, overall, the students who are mostly affected. Some schools use host families to look after students and pay them a pittance to do so, ending up with students eating microwave meals every night or having to pay for Wi-Fi or to use the washing machine (one student I know was being charged £5 to wash their clothes and £5 to dry them). Others find themselves crammed into rooms, sharing with 4 other students and paying a hefty price for the luxury. Bad classrooms and bad student facilities create a bad atmosphere and I’ve heard some real horror stories and would like to hear yours too.
5). Poor Management
This trait is a real bugbear of mine; I cannot understand why the teacher who has been there the longest or the one with a DELTA becomes the Director of Studies. It is a managerial position whether they treat it like such or not. They are no longer managing students in the classroom, they are managing employees and it is simply not the same. Bad management can be make or break for an otherwise good school. It can lead to more or less all the problems already raised, as well as, just to name a few, a hostile environment, unnecessary stress/ burn-out, micro-managing, undermining of teachers, cronyism and just pure incompetence. For me this is really the worst trait of a bad Language school and can cause lasting damage to the health of teachers, the schools image and the student experience.
It is unusual to find an industry where the standards are often so low for such important things and if you see any of the above traits in your school you will know just how hard it can be to get up every day and go and work. We often are lions led by sheep and I hope that for all the bad schools there are 10 good ones and 100 people trying to do the right thing.