Sunday, October 16, 2011

The drudgery of teaching

I love teaching. I love it so much that I often do it for free. I'm happy to spend hours planning lessons, and I feel energized at the end of a class. But I'm definitely in the minority, especially among teachers of English here in China.

I don't really understand the dissatisfaction. Is it the low salary that teachers get? Is it the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture? Is it the loneliness of being away from friends and family? Or could it be that many English teachers abroad are not really teachers at heart?

Teaching English overseas is seen by many as a time filler, a layover on the way to some other more prestigious career. As a result, morale is low, turnover is high, and institutions are reluctant to invest in professional development since the teachers will be gone in a year anyway.

I recently came across this post addressing the issue of disgrunt among EFL teachers, in which the author suggests improving an otherwise horrible day at work by going to ESL/EFL conferences and reading up on the industry - essentially by engaging in professional development.

Perhaps teachers feel unprepared to do a job they thought would be easy-peasy. Perhaps if these overseas institutions stepped in at the beginning and invested more time and energy in professional development for teachers, they would understand their jobs better and thus be more likely to enjoy it, and maybe even stay a bit longer.

Are there any other ESL/EFL teachers out there? Is the attitude the same among English teachers the world over?


  1. Nancy,

    How disheartening to learn of low morale of EFL teachers. I've considered working for one year teaching in Asia (I've been a professional college instructor for 10 years). So, I'm wondering if part of the reason for the low EFL teacher morale is because the employers do not treat the expat teachers well? Is it equivalent to working in an education "factory" where the value is in the employee's output but not professional contribution?


  2. Perhaps some companies do focus more on the bottom line than on the teacher's experience. But it is what you make it. If you love teaching, you can transcend the BS (which comes with any job, really) and focus on the great things about teaching overseas.

    One of the things I love about teaching abroad is that I get paid to learn about another culture. I spend all day talking with students, asking them questions about how and why they do things, explaining my own culture to them when they ask me questions. It's really a great job, and I can take charge of my own professional development.

  3. hi,
    I am not a language teacher, but I also find that professional development helps enhance my morale. Specially if I have time to regularly browse the internet looking for information sources. It is a way of self-enrichment that might compensate less satisfactory aspects.
    Nacho Giraldez

  4. I know that it was hard when I taught in Israeli schools. Teachers were not respected, salaries were low and while I loved what I was doing, it was not here permanently. I was offered a job but anyone who spoke English would get that offer.
    I didn't stay beyond my year and I think that it would have been a tough fight.
    I'm so glad Nancy that you are taking up the challenge. I wonder, is it hard to teach in a non-democratic country? Do you feel that?

  5. Bonnie, I find teaching in a non-democratic country fascinating. The culture is so different on this side of the globe, and the conversations I have with students are real eye openers. The experience has made me much more aware of the idiosyncracies of my own culture and way of thinking. I highly recommend it.

  6. Hi Nancy,
    I enjoyed your post. I taught Classical Western Music History in China in 2010. I found all of the teachers at the Chinese school where I taught to be underwhelming to say the least. This includes the transplants from other countries and the native Chinese teachers. It was quite a culture shock for me since, for the most part, all of my colleagues in the U.S. are dynamic and engaging professors. The overwhelming impression I left with is that everyone would have rather been somewhere else. Sad indeed!! :-(