This is a post describing the return of the repressed. Last year myself and Nicola Prentis of Simple English blog put forward a proposal to IATEFL for a new SIG – Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group.
This came after a Twitter survey that showed the idea was popular with working teachers.
But the IATEFL leadership, in the form of the SIG co-ordinators and the IATEFL trustees, refused to support such a SIG.
Reasons for refusal
The reasons given were:
1) An IATEFL SIG would not be a suitable vehicle for furthering the aims expressed in the proposal.
Unfortunately, IATEFL has not chosen to tell us what would be an suitable vehicle for improving the working conditions of ELT/ ESL teachers.
And the working conditions of teachers are getting worse. After all, this is the 21st century, and precarious working is all around us. Open a newspaper or turn on the tv: zero hours contracts, mini jobs, in-work poverty.
A lot of us are fully-paid up members of The Precariat, a term first coined in a book by Guy Standing in 2011 to describe a new class that has little social protection, low or unsecured wages and no trade union representation. This precarious work leads to precarious life, with individuals unable to form stable occupational identities.
And when it comes to dealing with this – if not us, who?
2) The proposed Teachers as Workers SIG does not fall within the professional development domain.
This is a slightly stronger argument, but the question is who decides what the “professional development domain” is: the organisation or its members? This is a category so vague and broad that virtually anything related to education could go into it e.g. Whiteboard SIG: aiming to improve whiteboard standards and disseminate examples of good practice (formerly Chalkboard SIG).
Err, that’s a joke.
But working conditions doesn’t fall into this super-category.
Looking at other SIGs it’s also hard to see how they relate to professional development i.e. Literature, Media and Cultural Studies SIG, Global Issues SIG.
The Global issues SIG aims to ‘stimulate awareness and understanding of global issues to exchange ideas on integrating peace education, human rights education, development education, and environmental education’. These are noble aims – but what do they have to do with professional development?
Apologies to those in Global Issues SIG–but the criteria for whose SIG idea becomes a SIG reality is far from transparent.
Is it because a Teachers as Workers SIG would go against publishers’ and employers’ interests?
(Listen to the muffled footfall of the elephant in the room)
3) The name and the remit of the proposed SIG
might raise expectations that could not be met i.e. members would expect the SIG to intervene in local disputes.
This is a straw man argument – a false representation of our position. Naturally, a SIG could not get involved in local labour disputes as it wouldn’t have the expertise, time or jurisdiction. But as an umbrella organisation it could provide support and resources for local groups working to improve working conditions in their own contexts.
As we have proven with the Berlin GAS group, there are local groups concerned about working conditions, and working together can help to break down the isolation and insecurity felt by many. But it’s not easy to organise and run a group where members are overworked and with precious little time.
And this is the problem: how to break the vicious circle of LESS TIME – INCREASING WORKLOAD – LESS COMMITMENT. It’s not just our group who face this problem, many ELTAs struggle to attract people to fill key roles.
Surprisingly, at IATEFL conferences speakers often ask the same question year after year: ‘Why don’t more teachers do research?’ This year was no different, with the issue coming up in Patsy Lightbown’s talk.
None of these speakers seem to realise that it’s a time issue in a world of increasing precarity.
I could do action research tomorrow – if I stopped paying rent.
Joseph Joubet once said “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.”
Perhaps I’m the only one who thinks that pushing for the rights of ELT teachers in an era of precarity is a good idea.
Perhaps the incoming President of IATEFL Marjorie Rosenberg will sweep a new broom through the ELT Politburo.
Perhaps someone from IATEFL can answer my arguments.
Or perhaps we can go it alone?
If 200+ teachers sign up for the Teachers As Workers SIG then we’ll certainly think about it!
Sign up above, or with the following link: https://tinyletter.com/TeachersasWorkers (this is just a mailing list – you will not be spammed and can unsubscribe at any time)
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So come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls.
What do YOU think?