Improving working conditions – isn’t that in the remit of teacher associations?

The title paraphrases a somewhat incredulous question from a teacher attending the open forum on working conditions at the TESOL France colloquium last Saturday (18 November 2017). She assumed that TESOL France like its sister organisation in the US are already pushing teachers concerns over the conditions of their work. I think she asked this after I mentioned TaWSIG (Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group,

And that is precisely what the founders of TaWSIG tried to advance with IATEFL to no success. Teacher associations such as IATEFL & TESOL France do sterling work in many areas. And regarding the issue of working conditions, TESOL France supported the survey conducted in 2014 that reported in numbers the cold reality of some aspects of private language school conditions. The survey showed teachers “typically had multiple employers, limited or no job security, limited sick pay and holiday pay, very little training and low hourly rates that were deteriorating”. (

The open forum showed how such frustrations reproduces in other parts of Europe using interviews with a co-operative from Spain (, a teacher’s advocacy group from Ireland ( and a working conditions information network from the UK (

See the presentation slides with audio:

The attendees wrote down some of their frustrations:

The discussion got lively enough that there was what one attendee described as a stage invasion.

One of the outcomes we wanted with the forum was to get a mini-committee together to meet regularly, we hope this will pan out in the coming weeks.

Unfortunately the hour was not enough time to discuss more ideas to address working condition frustrations though I think people appreciated the role of imagination in this area. This was illustrated in the slides via the example from ELT Advocacy Ireland – from a very simple idea of mapping schools in Dublin to the writing of an underground teacher fanzine.

On the topic of imagination in tactics here is a delightful example from US organiser Saul Alinksy describing an idea that was related to organising a black community against the Eastman Kodak company, in Rochester, New York:

Another idea I had that almost came to fruition was directed at the Rochester Philharmonic, which was the establishment’s — and Kodak’s — cultural jewel. I suggested we pick a night when the music would be relatively quiet and buy 100 seats. The 100 blacks scheduled to attend the concert would then be treated to a preshow banquet in the community consisting of nothing but huge portions of baked beans. Can you imagine the inevitable consequences within the symphony hall? The concert would be over before the first movement — another Freudian slip — and Rochester would be immortalized as the site of the world’s first fart-in. (

Note the above was never carried only imagined. But this is the sort of imaginative tactics needed.

Lastly much appreciation and gratitude to all the volunteers who made the TESOL France 2017 Colloquium happen. See you next year!