My time on the Metro: TEFL teaching in Paris

My time on the Metro: TEFL teaching in Paris

A short blog reflecting on working as a travelling TEFL teacher in Paris and, in particular, the stress of daily unpaid travel time.

After publishing our last piece on unpaid work in language schools, we were contacted by a TEFL teacher who'd spent the better part of a year working at Inlingua Paris.

Like so many of us, this worker eventually got fed up and quit - the inconsistent scheduling, split shifts, and grinding, unpaid travel time simply got to be too much. But, this person still wanted to share their story. Because simply sharing our stories can build the connections and solidarity that make it easier to fight back the next time around.

There's another element we feel makes this account especially valuable, namely that it takes place in France, a country with a a reputation for being exceedingly "pro-worker". Yet, even in France, language schools find ways to shunt us on to the worst contracts with the least guarantee of hours and next to no job security.

It seems no matter where in the world we work, sub-par contracts define the TEFL experience for far too many of us. Schools may pay lip service to staff morale and student learning, but you don't have to work in the industry long to understand that the bottom line is their only real concern.

As always, if you have a story about a suffering under a crappy contract or fighting together with your workmates to secure a better one, please share.

The Angry Language Brigade can be reached via private message or by email on TEFLSolidarity (at) gmail.com

One experience I want to tell you about in particular was working at Inlingua Paris for nine months. This was definitely the worst TEFL job I've ever had.

A bit of background: Inlingua is an international language teaching chain, although each entity is independent. I was based at one centre and although I gave some sessions there, the majority of my teaching (approximately 80%) was at the client offices, sometimes close to the centre but others would be quite far (up to an hour on public transport). The clients were both public and private sector.

When I first got the job, I was promised lots of hours and that I wouldn't have to travel too much. I was given, like most of the 'trainers', a contract called a CDII; something originally intended only for seasonal workers. This meant the school only had to give me a yearly guarantee of hours – in my case, 700. Other trainers had higher guarantees because they made themselves more available. I put myself down for 9 to 5.30; others had themselves down for 8 to 8! I wasn't willing to do that.

One thing to mention is that this only reflected contact hours with the students ("participants") so planning, admin, travel time etc were not included. Included in our hourly wage - or so they said - was sick pay, holiday pay etc. This meant that if we were ill, took a holiday or if the school was closed due to public holidays we didn't get paid!

May was a pretty hard month as there are a lot of public holidays and many students took time off around them. In busy periods I had up to 30 hours but some weeks I had 15 or so. I think the average was around 20.

We received our provisional schedules one week in advance but they were rarely accurate, as sessions could be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance. If this happened we wouldn't get paid for that lesson. Sometimes clients did cancel within the 24 hours, but teachers would only get half-pay despite the fact that the school was still paid in full. The only exception to the half-pay rule was if we actually travelled to a business to find the session cancelled - and even then we had to do paperwork to claim it.

I mentioned the travel before, this was the worst aspect of it. Some days I spent over three hours travelling on the metro - all unpaid of course! Quite often I would start at 9 (or earlier) for a hour and half session, have a long gap, then another session, then another long gap etc. Some days I worked from 9 to 5.30 and only got paid for three hours. As I lived in the suburbs it was quite difficult for me to go home so I would have to hang around in the city waiting for my next session.

It was pretty exhausting and after 9 months, I'd had enough. I quit and came back to England. When I decided to leave, I had to give two months' notice, the requirement under French law. The school responded by cutting my hours right down! In my last month I think I only did 40 or so. I had to travel one hour each way just to get paid for one session!

I wish I could say that we successfully fought back, but we didn't.

The way the office was organised meant I didn't have much contact with my co-workers. This caused conflict as we shared the same students but had no time to get each other up to speed or clarify any issues or problems. This meant there was next to no solidarity and people talked behind each others backs' all the time.

I tried to initiate some conversations but it never went anywhere. From my understanding, most language centres in Paris have similar conditions. Consequently, my workmates were mostly resigned to the situation. A lot of them viewed TEFL teaching as a stop-gap and as soon as they found something better they moved on. The turnover was incredibly high; even though I was only there for 9 months over half the staff changed in that time.

Posted By

Angry Language ...
Sep 25 2014 18:13

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  • Quite often I would start at 9 (or earlier) for a hour and half session, have a long gap, then another session, then another long gap etc. Some days I worked from 9 to 5.30 and only got paid for three hours.

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Comments

Steven.
Sep 25 2014 22:18

Thanks to the author for taking the time to write down their experiences!

paulio
Sep 25 2014 23:43

Hi there,

This is a similar situation to many other European (and world-wide) cities where language 'academies' exploit working teachers. They are very aware that teacher 'talk' to each other about poor working conditions so often do everything in their power to prevent any communication between teachers.

Check out how we have been organising in Berlin:

http://decentralisedteachingandlearning.com/2014/09/22/marker-pens-and-kryptonite/

cheers

paul

Kureigo-San
Sep 27 2014 14:13

During my time in Madrid I was on the metro for about 2.5 hours 5 days a week which is 12.5 hours per week spent on unpaid travel. The first morning train was the worst because every face was sullen and tired, all of us crammed in like sardines and inwardly wishing to be back in bed, or at the very least, not riding an underground tin can. The experience is made worse by the occasional amputee or what have you boarding the train to beg for change because they can't afford this or that medical treatment. And the metro is only the introductory chapter of the day's tribulations