One of the most difficult obstacles of being an EFL teacher is accepting, dealing with, and adjusting to the fact that EFL is more about business as education. Most positions are for private academies, trying to make money first, with the success of students more or less a secondary necessity of quality control, creating a shiny product more relevant than an effective one. As a result, teachers are often knowingly put into bad positions to accommodate filling rosters and selling more English.
It has taken me a long time to accept this fact: The optimal classroom—students of similar age, level, and culpability—is not only unrealistic but also in direct opposition to the optimal sales environment. Whereas classrooms are a delicate balance in which one out-of-place student (too advanced, too behind, too naughty) can change the entire dynamic, a salesperson will always be more concerned with the empty space in the maximum number of students allowed in the class. Whether or not the student “fits” has no effect on their commission or the company’s profits.
Essentially, as teachers, we must learn to expect our classes will be out of whack, unlike the easy-flowing oases of harmonious learning in which we once believed. Sometimes you must teach a nine-year-old with a four-year-old on your lap, help a group of adults who never do homework pass an exam, or teach two pages of material for three hours (or ten pages of material in one hour). Mismatched as they may be, keeping the clients docile and happy is priority number one. Truth be known, the more slowly they learn, the longer they can be milked, or the sooner they finish a book, the quicker they buy a new one from their local English experts.
This methodology, to varying degrees of unscrupulousness, has been the one constant of my teaching career, and though I’ve spent the last ten years bitching about it, though I don’t believe it’s a “necessary evil”, I’ve stopped hoping for anything different. Ethically, it’s a tough spot, one that often causes me to despise the company I’m contracted to represent and the curriculum that I follow. It’s a place all teachers find themselves. Even the US school system is suckling on the teat of standardized tests and following a government policy (surely by now we can say it) proven unsuccessful.
While quitting often seems the best option, and once a year I do, at least for a couple of months (someone wisely made that teacher MO years back), there’s still something about being in the classroom. Every teacher dreams of being that difference maker, the lady from Dangerous Minds or guy from Dead Poets Society, the fired-by-the-end-of-the-show rebel educator found in every teen TV series ever made. (They were always English teachers—ha, ha!) As a student, I never really gave two spliffs about what educational policy my institution was adhering to. Basically, I wanted my teacher fighting the system and keeping class cool.
Fact of the matter is I was once what is now my blight: A smart-mouthed punk who passed every class despite never doing homework, misbehaving constantly, and dragging the level of classroom decorum into the boys’ urinal trough. Then, as I’d bet most teachers did, I chose this career path because I liked the idea of summers off, not out of some philanthropic drive to brighten up the world. Then, I became an EFL teacher because it meant I could get paid to travel. Along the way, I figured to be one of those cool teachers students didn’t hate. Entrenched in my battle against the man, I sometimes lose sight of what once was obvious: None of us have ever liked school. Just get on with it.