Job Awareness, Apply Responsibly (Part 2)

by Yvonne Dagan

Part one of this article appeared on the IH Journal blog earlier in July: 

As teachers, we might be answering our call to a higher vocational power but the people recruiting us are making business decisions against market-driven revenue and fixed costs, of which we are one. It is therefore essential to have some business acumen to be able to assess, query, challenge and negotiate the terms and conditions of job contracts in our global market. Being able to negotiate knowledgeably and confidently will never go against you. On the contrary, you will win nothing but respect if you demonstrate your ability to ask the right questions and make informed decisions when searching for your next post.

Be Salary Savvy

There are an inexhaustible number of ways in which teachers are paid dependant on contract types so here are a few to be aware of and some tips to help should you choose to accept them.

Salary X

Some schools put out adverts without a salary specified on it. There is no justifiable reason for this and you would be quite correct to question the wisdom of applying for a role with an organisation which isn’t telling you what you are worth to them. What else are they not telling you?

Less than Zero

Zero hour contracts minimise the organisation’s operating costs. If lessons don’t go ahead, there is no cost to carry as they don’t pay you, resulting in zero risk to their profit margin. If the lesson does go ahead, the teacher gets an hourly rate. The fact that the employee can rarely rely on a set number of hours works in the employer’s favour as it keeps teachers hungry and flexible for pay per hour work at the centre’s behest. Be very careful about signing a contract and agreeing to move country for one of these ‘contracts’.

Shades of Pay

This type of centre operates different rates of pay for different class types: exam teaching versus conversation classes or business English versus general English. Ask for the pay rates in writing before accepting the job and signing a contract and, once employed, keep a spreadsheet to calculate class types and hours to rates so you know what to expect come pay day. Any haziness on this breeds mistrust so transparency here is essential for this to work well.

The Bitter Pill

Here you need to look at contract versus contact hours. Some centres will specify a 25-hour contract week for example with 22 contact hours. The other three hours are classified as administration or training hours so it is important to check what rate these ring-fenced hours are paid at to better calculate whether the job works out for you against the living costs of that city. If these hours are classified as obligatory contract hours, then a centre cannot really oblige you to work them and accept lesser pay for them so argue your case for the teaching rate to be applied or for you to be freed up. You can always pick up private classes elsewhere for more money for those three hours.

Under the table

Here you tend to be offered a minimal contract, based on a ten-hour week at an administration rate of pay. The centre owner offers to pay you the difference on the pay rate and anything over the ten hours under the table so that you both avoid paying ‘unnecessary’ tax. Many people agree to this as they need more than ten hours and want to show their willingness and flexibility. What is not mentioned upfront is that these centres then also base your social security calculations and holiday pay onto the reduced rate and contract hours. Many teachers don’t realise this until they apply for paid leave or find themselves in a situation where they need to claim unemployment benefit. If you feel you have absolutely no choice but to agree to some kind of unorthodox payment method then at least secure the correct holiday pay for yourself. Just be aware of the very real threat of what would happen should the tax office investigate. Owners very rarely advise you on how to complete your tax return!

Depreciation vs Appreciation

Hiring business owners have their costs, revenue and gross margin firmly in mind so you need to too. A lack of materials, course syllabus, course books and resources signifies a school running on empty and making a buck off of your back. So always ask to see the materials and course syllabus to asses if they are fit for purpose for what you are being asked to do. Preparation time is an inevitable part of teaching; however, if your prep time is an hour against an hourly paid class, you just halved your own salary. If it takes even longer, you need to consider how much of that is your own learning curve or a lack of the correct tools to help you do your job. If you are genuinely expected to create a course from nothing, then you should be paid for materials creation, so negotiate that.

Pay cycles

It is a very good idea to align your salary payments to rent payments, leaving a contingency gap of five to eight working days as a margin of error as even the best schools with a payroll department can have a hiccup. For the smaller hand to mouth centres who rely on money in from students to pay your salary, be very clear about your pay date and specify, not ask, that the contract monthly amount you have agreed to be electronically transferred into your back account. This reduces the prospect of delays or missed payments as you will have an audit trail to go on. Also, check that the country you are in has no set limits on electronic transfers and payments. For example, Sicily’s anti-mafia laws dictated that a maximum of one thousand euros could be transferred at any one time which was very restrictive, especially when rents and living costs are high.

Practising your scales.

If you are working for one of the bigger organisations and are Delta and / or YL trained, there should be a small yet valuable increment on your salary as an appreciation of the enhanced skills you bring to the role. Some centres will not start paying this until the certificates are in your possession despite knowing that you have passed. In response, request the backdated increment upon receipt of the documentation. This is very difficult to say no to and will prevent you losing out and whilst a delay is annoying, it is better than a loss.

Other centres pay a length of service increment for the time you have spent within an organisation even if you have been working in other countries or on other sites, so be forearmed with this information and ensure it is explicitly stated within your contract and reflected in your pay.

Even if you work for a small, independent centre why not try negotiating these points into your contract if you can. Employers should understand that they are competing for you in a global marketplace and that experience equals better salaries. Know your own worth and do not be afraid to ask for the salary benefits you feel are appropriate.

 Bonus time

It really helps to know what a bonus actually is. A bonus is an additional payment of money that you have been awarded for being a committed, loyal employee or for hitting some kind of sales or customer satisfaction goal. It is not the holiday pay that you have legally accrued being held back to make sure you stay until the end of the school year, nor is it salary increments paid in bulk. It is also not a tax rebate that you are entitled to at the end of a ten-month contract, presented to you as a gift for committing to your tenure. If a contract states that there is a bonus, then they either give you a real bonus or that contractual employment right needs to be teased out of whatever wording it has been wrapped up in and put very firmly back under the title of ‘My basic rights as an employee’.

 Travel Costs

If you are being asked to travel off-site to give lessons, ensure that your travel expenses are refundable. Always check in detail exactly what is eligible as most centres expect you to take advantage of local multi-journey saver tickets or will refund a bus but not a taxi. If you use your own vehicle, ensure you claim mileage and not just petrol costs and if you use public transport, make sure you feel safe at all times.

You may decide to play hardball by requesting that actual travel time be paid for as the time spent on the way to class is eating into earning potential elsewhere. If employers don’t want to pay that, then politely decline the class, which means they need to find someone else or pay what you have asked if they desperately need you to do it. Finally, know what the monthly cut-off date is for submitting expenses, ensure you have the relevant forms and submit receipts with everything.

End of Part Two – Food for Thought

This article may be tough reading for some but it is not designed to dishearten or demotivate. It is here to prevent an abrupt loss of trust in an employer or the gutting loss of faith in the EFL industry that many teachers feel when they get caught out unawares by yet another contractual loophole. Teaching and travelling is a glorious occupation; however, you deserve to be able to look after yourself and ask the right questions at the right time from the outset.  Remember that self-respect and professionalism are more important than the job on offer and it is absolutely fine to walk away from a potential position if you feel compromised or negotiations don’t go your way.

Author’s Bio: Yvonne Dagan is a DELTA trained, Cambridge CELTA Teacher Trainer who switched career from management and contact centre work to EFL teaching ten years ago. Having skinned her knees several times, Yvonne feels it only fair to share what she’s learnt with others in the industry to help prevent episodes of wobbling and random disappearances down rabbit holes.