Don't forget about non-teaching language workers!

See DoS.  See DoS run.  Run DoS run.
See DoS. See DoS run. Run DoS run.

The bosses try to divide us by job - don't buy that sh*t. A re-print from Photocopy This, a paper-only newsletter for TEFL workers in and around Dublin which advocates for the unionization of language workers.

Submitted by Angry Language… on August 3, 2015

English teachers are beginning to make those all-important first steps to getting organised at work. I'd like to think the organisation I'm part of - the Angry Language Brigade – can be part of the momentum that will be needed to build a better TEFL industry, one that puts staff and students at the heart of English teaching.

To achieve this, it's imperative we make solidarity the defining aspect of our attitude and actions at work. With that in mind, I'd like to offer a small piece of advice to my fellow teachers: don't forget about non-teaching staff!

When we think about tackling issues collectively at work, often our first impulse is to focus on our fellow teachers. After all, these are the people with whom we work most closely and who experience the same problems, successes, and stresses in the classroom.

But, if we really want to change the industry, we need to reach out to all those who work alongside us: admin staff, cleaners, sales staff, tech staff. They share an employer with us and, chances are, if we have problems at work, so do they. It only makes sense that they too be be included in the discussions we have and the actions we take to improve our working lives.

Which brings me to the “p word”: professionalism. English teachers – indeed all language teachers – work hard. We deserve a good wage, good working conditions, and respect from our managers. It's easy to call these things “professionalism”. But don't all our workmates deserve the same?

My worry is that demanding to be treated as professionals plays into a false dichotomy between teaching and non-teaching staff which, like any division between staff, ultimately benefits management.

Our first task, it seems to me, if we want to improve our conditions is to find small, winnable fights that tackle practical problems at work. Besides improving our lives in the here and now, those victories will build the confidence to take on larger issues across the industry. In our experience as the Angry Language Brigade we've discovered these types of fights don't always come from teachers.

Take Marta, a receptionist in a London language school. She was unfairly sacked and illegally denied notice pay. She contacted us and we met with her and some workmates. We then organised a dozen supporters to accompany Marta to her old bosses' office with a demand letter that she be paid – which management unwisely ignored. As a next step, we chose a 24-hour period and invited all of Marta's friends and supporters to bombard the school's Facebook page. The page was quickly taken down and Marta had her money the next day! From there, a teacher from the same school approached us and, in a similar-style campaign, we won her thousands in back-pay for unpaid holiday accrual. Solidarity works!

So where do we go from here? Chances are you're already friendly with non-teaching staff at your school but, if not, get to know them, find out what problems they may be having at work and invite them out to social activities. Most importantly, if you're having a meeting about fighting back on the job, invite out all your trustworthy workmates, not just the teachers.

Have a problem at work and want support? Have a comment about this article or a story about fighting back on the job? The author of this piece can be reached at the email address of the Angry Language Brigade: [email protected]