We’ve all heard the pitch. “Work from anywhere”, “earn a superior wage”, “make your own schedule” … The promises are abundant, but the real story behind online teaching is one of social injustice, broken promises, and disposable heroes. Let’s look into the ugly truth behind online teaching… and how to fix it.
Let’s start with a clear understanding that it’s not all bad in the online teaching realm. There are certainly some great advantages to working in this sector. Whether you are looking to procure income while exploring the planet, or just want to pick up a few extra bucks from the comfort of your home office, teaching online may very well be something worth looking into. The work can be quite rewarding, both in terms of financial compensation and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from helping young minds prosper.
So, what are these problems I speak of? What could possibly be bad about a job that allows you to work from your bedroom, a hotel room in Cancun or the back of your RV in Yosemite? Let’s explore just a few things that can leave online teachers with a bad taste in their mouth, and possibly a hole in their wallet.
It happens to the best of us. Whether we miss a class due to an internet failure or are a few seconds late because we just had to wrap up that last point with the previous student. There are endless reasons that a teacher can be a bit late or miss a class altogether. While this is, of course, a no-no, parents and students generally understand and are willing to work with a teacher to make sure these rare occurrences don’t destroy the student/teacher relationship.
Unfortunately, on many of the large teaching platforms a teacher can face stiff financial penalties, and even lose their job entirely, often for instances that are completely beyond their control.
Imagine that as a teacher, you enter the classroom just ONE SECOND after the planned start time of a lesson. Later that day, as you are filling out your daily reports, you realize that you have a message in your inbox informing you that you have lost half of your income from the lesson due to your tardiness (of 1 second). Want some icing for that cake? The student was late as well. They did not enter the classroom until 3 minutes in and are in no way even aware that you were late at all. Does it matter? Nope, that money just went directly into the pocket of the company you represent.
So, that sucked, but it’s all in the past now…. Or is it? Nope. The company also bases your per lesson rate on the number of lessons you taught the month prior. This is done on a point system, where you can earn and lose points for a plethora of reasons. Now you have come to discover that because of this late class, which was a total non-issue for everyone involved, you will have a lower rate next month, and will end up losing hundreds of dollars as a result.
There are tons of teacher penalties that vary drastically from one platform to another, but the one thing that is consistent is a lack of recourse for teachers. Many companies won’t listen to reason, even if it is staring them in the face. The only logic they cave to is the one that feeds their bottom line.
Let’s work on some idioms. “A dime a dozen”. That’s certainly a good one to describe online ESL teachers. If you are looking for a tutor you will have as many as you can handle battering down your door at the mere mention of a prospective client. The big platforms are aware of this and run their businesses accordingly.
Teachers constantly tiptoe across shards of broken glass when communicating with their employers. A company appointment setter or administrator can make or break a teacher in no time flat. To anger or annoy one of these folks is not wise, and a teacher can find himself with a fraction of the students he had yesterday simply for standing up for him/herself.
To the company this is no problem. There are literally THOUSANDS of teachers waiting in the wings to scoop up these students, who may be upset about losing a teacher they liked very much. Unfortunately, that productive student/teacher relationship has been destroyed and there is little chance of mending it. Why? Because that teacher had to move on. They had no choice but to close their schedule and focus on another platform, where they may very well face the same fate a few months down the road.
But why? Why would a company allow dedicated, qualified teachers to fall between the cracks? Wouldn’t it be better to nurture healthy relationships between company representatives, teachers, and students alike? Would it not benefit everyone to have a solid base of great teachers you can count on? Of course, the answer is yes, but for one minor detail. Yep, you guessed it…. That same bottom line.
There are qualified language teachers spread far and wide across the earth. They are passionate, capable, and ready to work. However, for many of these teachers, online teaching platforms are off-limits or limited in scope. Why? Well, for no other reason than they were born in the wrong country. “UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand”. If you have a passport from one of these 6 nations, you are in the door. However, if you hail from South Africa you may be left out in the cold. Never mind that you’re a native speaker of English, hold a doctorate in English philology, and have 25 years’ experience teaching. There’s just no place for you here. Teachers teach, and first, they learn to teach. Many of the best teachers I know are from countries that are “non-native speaker” nations.
It’s not only access to jobs, but there is also a lack of equality when it comes to pay scale as well. One of the “big companies” offer two separate courses for kids. One is a course catering to students in China, while the other to those in the Philippines. A “native speaker” on the Chinese course can potentially earn upwards of $20 per hour, while a Filipino teacher will earn around $2, for the EXACT SAME WORK. You even hear some teachers attempt to justify this by saying things like “oh, but the cost of living is so much lower there….”, but remember, the pay is based on where a teacher is from, not where they reside. So, if I am an American living in Vietnam, I am living high on the proverbial hog, but if I am a Vietnamese teacher living in America, I may very well be dramatically underpaid. Why? BINGO!!! Bottom line.
How to Fix It
Believe it or not, this may be the easy part. The answer is to put the power and profit in the hands of the teachers themselves, and in turn, back into their communities. By building teacher cooperatives this can become reality. When teachers have a vested interest in their company’s success and the profit comes back to them, as opposed to money-hungry investors, both teachers and students walk away winners.
The teacher cooperative revolution has begun with MyCoolClass.com. Take some time to read about their vision. Let them show you how to bring social justice and sanity back to online ESL teaching. All qualified teachers are welcome at MyCoolClass.com, regardless of where they happened to be born. Just… don’t be late!
Click here for more information about MyCoolClass.com and our teacher cooperative project.
What is your biggest complaint about teaching online?
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