Working for The Man

Working for The Man

This describes my brief experience at a (now infamous) language school in London. It would be great to hear from others who have had similar kinds of experiences.

I saw an advert on gumtree for a TEFL teaching position. Having been on the dole for a month or so, the desperation was already kicking in and the scummy wage now seemed sort of half reasonable. Within half an hour of sending my CV, I had a call back to arrange an interview. Realising they must be desperate for teachers, I made my husband apply too.

It was the weirdest interview I’ve ever had in my life. There was a dog in the room which was never mentioned, and they asked really confrontational questions. Why did I stop being a teaching assistant and was it because I hate children? Anyway, they told us both that they’d get in touch later that evening to let us know what their decision was.

Excuse me for a second while I blow my own trumpet - I have a damn-sweet-as-fuck qualification in teaching English, and shit-loads of teaching experience. My husband has less experience and a less distinguished qualification.

That evening, he received an email saying he had got a position starting on Monday. I checked my email. Nothing.

When he started the job, he asked them if it was likely I’d get any work. They told him that at the moment they had an Upper Intermediate class which he was better suited to, but that if a lower ability class opened up, it would suit me better.

I’m not sure what led them to believe I’d be better at lower levels and he’d be better higher levels. Except the presumption that men are better at the meaty grammar and women are more suited to teaching colours and the alphabet. Infuriating. Especially as it just so happens that I’m quite posh and have pretty “good” grammar, while my husband is an American who shows an utter disregard, contempt even, for grammatical convention. ‘I wish I would have…’ and the positive ‘anymore’.

A week later, they asked him to pass a message on to me. They needed a cover teacher for a beginner class. They didn’t feel the need to directly ask me (as if I might actually be a person in my own right), but instead let my husband tell his little auxiliary add-on that they might just trust her with beginners for a couple of weeks.

Once I started I realised, of a total of nine English teachers, I was one of three women. All the receptionists were young women. The whole IT department was men. Many of the sales and IT staff were former students, hand-picked by the managers. So the skewed gender balance couldn’t be due to the demographic of job applicants. It was due to the preferences of management. Their preferences were men.

I’m afraid my writing style (if I have one) is like a walk on a building site. So the next few paragraphs are like some poorly laid metaphorical bricks.

A female teacher requested some extra teaching hours. The response of management was ‘are you sure you’re ready to teach intermediate grammar?’ A male teacher with about the same amount of experience, without requesting it, was offered an advanced exam class (CAE) which is super heavy, dense (pretty useless) grammar.

In November, two teachers were hired. One was male, one was female. The male was given a paid class immediately, while the female was expected to do several months of unpaid lessons “to gain experience”.

All staff were expected to attend unpaid meetings, unpaid trainings and preparation time was basically unpaid. I’m sure most education workers can relate to this. It goes without saying that this has a disproportionately detrimental effect on women, whose responsibilities outside the workplace generally outweigh those of men. In my workplace this was certainly the case.

Because another teacher left, I was offered the Upper Intermediate class (the class I was apparently not suited to, what with my tiny lady-brain).

After a couple of weeks, a few more members of staff were hired. Well, not technically ‘hired’ but people halfway through doing their TEFL courses, or people who had just finished, were graciously given the ‘opportunity’ to work for free. While I was there, two men and one woman started their unpaid labour. The two men were offered paid classes within a couple of weeks. The woman still hasn’t been offered anything as far as I know.

During my time there, I witnessed a female receptionist being unfairly dismissed. Apparently, she hadn’t understood that receptionists are supposed to work as general all-round servants to the bosses, and was fired because she refused to submit to and accept their treatment of her. I later found out that she was at least the third member of staff who’d been fired without notice, the other two also being female.

After about 5 weeks working in this festering wank-flannel, I found a job elsewhere. The day after I handed in my notice I was told there was no need for me to come back as they already had a new teacher. My husband was fired 15 minutes later. (He’d been asking questions about new contracts management were trying to bring in.) Basically, it was too awkward to keep me on for my final week as I was just an extension of my trouble-making husband. They fired him and they didn’t want to keep one of his ribs.

Posted By

Angry Language ...
Jun 6 2014 17:31


Attached files


Jun 7 2014 16:31

What a bunch of dicks!

Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

Interesting, and I must admit despite the fact I should probably know better I'm quite shocked at the sexist attitudes. Which are pretty widespread, but I wouldn't have thought would have been that widely held in such a female-dominated (numerically speaking) industry as education.

But I suppose the more female-dominated element of it is the more "caring" part of it, like primary school teaching, as opposed to the "intellectual" areas like higher/further education…

Jun 15 2014 12:51

I work in a public library as a library assistant.
As library assistants we are rotataed around different parts of the library ie childrens library and adults library. The library assistants who are men are very rarely rotad to work in the childrens library.
We also run a lot of workshops for children, story telling, rhyme time, singing, craft, the men are never asked to do them and if there are no women available to do the sessions, then the men just refuse to do it and the sessions will get cancelled. The male managers and supervisors won't even step up and do it and would prefer to cancel and disappoint the children and their carers than work with the children.
It's really bloody frustrating. I enjoy working with kids but I have kids of my own and sometimes just don't feel up to reading storys to a group of 20 toddlers or dance around to old macdonald had a farm and the expectation that i should just do or that i'm naturally good at it coz i'm a woman, really ruins it for me. The work should be shared around but it isn't and the age-old stereotype of women as carers is further reinforced, perpetuated and passed down to a new gereration.
And of course the men get away from their childrearing responsiblities again.

Jun 17 2014 23:02

Marigold, I totally get your frustration and that is unfair. Now I'm not sure if this is what you are saying but I don't think it would be right to blame the male workers as such for not volunteering for additional duties, especially if they are not in your job description.

I have worked in a library previously, and if I would have been asked to run children's workshops, but not told I had to do it I certainly wouldn't!

What would be fairer is, if you are taking on additional responsibility, that those who do this should receive additional pay. So people could collectively refuse to do it unless you are adequately recompensed, for example (which might mean that some of the men would start volunteering to do it!)

fingers malone
Jun 18 2014 08:22

Reading the post it's not just a question of people volunteering or not for these duties, it's also who is being assigned them and Marigold is saying that women workers are being disproportionately assigned these duties.
Also expectations for men and women at work are often different, with an assumption that women will do these kinds of work, it sounds like men are not being expected to do it and women are. So it's not a question of who volunteers or doesn't volunteer.
There is also an ongoing threat of cutbacks and possible closure in the libraries in this specific borough which means people can feel under a lot of pressure to be seen to be working hard and doing activities which may encourage more people to use the library.

Jun 18 2014 08:33
fingers malone wrote:
Reading the post it's not just a question of people volunteering or not for these duties, it's also who is being assigned them and Marigold is saying that women workers are being disproportionately assigned these duties.

yes, re-reading that I see that is the case, although Marigold said if no women are available the male workers just refuse (with no mention of disciplinary action being taken against them for this, which makes me assume it is not part of their job description)

Also expectations for men and women at work are often different, with an assumption that women will do these kinds of work, it sounds like men are not being expected to do it and women are.

This is correct, I wasn't trying to suggest otherwise. I was trying to suggest a practical way of resolving the situation, which can normally only done by bringing different groups of workers (i.e. men and women in this case) together, rather than setting them against one another

So it's not a question of who volunteers or doesn't volunteer.

again, this is fair enough. It would have been better to use Marigold's terms and speaking terms of who refuses and who doesn't (but I was taking these as meaning essentially the same thing). As a general principle I have no issue with any worker refusing a task they don't want to do. However management only asking female workers to do it is unacceptable (TBH in my previous post I didn't really express any opinion on management actions, as normally I find this goes without saying, and is pointless. So what I normally focus on is what workers can do, collectively to make things better. Which I realise in the case above probably made it look like I didn't see what management were doing as a problem)

fingers malone
Jun 22 2014 10:35

The previous posters have identified some important features of "women's work". The way caring or emotional labour is seen as properly our responsibility, and natural, something we don't learn as a skill but just do, like plants photosynthesising, and that isn't valued as, like plants, we don't use any intelligence to do it, so this work is totally undervalued and low paid. And the way this caring work is expected and often imposed as unpaid additional responsibilities. I feel these characteristics also play out in the anarchist movement with regard to the gender division of labour and the value put on some tasks and not others.

Jun 22 2014 20:44

just to clarify it is part of normal duties to work in the childrens library and is part of all of our JDs to run or assist in the sessions with the children. The managers just never get the men to do it and like I said when theres no women around the sessions just get cancelled, even though it's quite an important part of our work. The workforce is majority female though and it only seems to be me who has a problem with it though. I have raised it before, but it's always sort of like well we don't want to force people to do things they don't want to do or aren't comfortable with especially when no-one else has a problem with it except you, crazy feminist.
The underlying notion is that women are better at it, enjoy it more and men working with children is wierd and socially awkward.