English after covid

Teaching English after Covid 

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The world of English teaching is changing fast

Maybe the world will get back to normal after the Covid pandemic; maybe Covid is going to remain with us for many years to come.  Yet whatever the future may bring, one thing is sure: in many ways, tomorrow's world will be very different to the world we knew up until the end of 2019 / start of 2020. The international world of English teaching has been particularly affected by recent events.
   It's not just Coronavirus that has changed lifestyles on a global scale; a new and urgent awareness of climate change is bringing with it a radical reassessment of the ways and the amount we travel. And in Britain, the folly of Brexit has caused havoc in what was once a major British service industry, the teaching of English as a foreign language.
  Outside the scope of many national education systems, the teaching of English as a foreign or second language is a global industry. Back in 2013, a British Council report estimated the total worldwide number of English teachers to be in the range of 12 million,  among them some quarter of a million native English speaking teachers working in countries around the world, 100,000 of them in China. Yet do the maths, and it is quite clear that the majority of those around the world who are teaching English are not themselves native English speakers, but men and women who have, like their own students, learned English from scratch as a second or foreign language.
 Yet while the pandemic has changed the nature of schools and teaching, the number of English learners continues to rise, as does the number of those who would love to learn English if only they had the opportunity to do so. Covid has done nothing to change this state of affairs. There was, before Covid, and there still will be after Covid, a global shortage of qualified English teachers, and in that respect too nothing has changed. For the foreseeable future there will continue to be plenty of work opportunities for qualified English teachers who are ready to go out and find them, and accept the terms and conditions; what has changed, and may change even further, are the career opportunities and prospects for native English speakers, whether at home or abroad.

Covid and Brexit

  The double whammy of Covid + Brexit has dealt a death blow to a considerable part of the UK's EFL sector.  Travel  restrictions, border closures, and forced shutdown led to the temporary - and in some cases permanent - collapse of English language schools and academies in the UK.  Then, since the start of 2021, the reality of Brexit has thrown up barriers for foreign students, notably European students, coming on short-term English courses in the UK. At the same time, the ending of Freedom of Movement for UK nationals in the European Union - a consequence of Brexit - has made it far harder for young and newly qualified English teachers to apply for jobs on the continent of Europe... just at a time when Covid had cut off many EFL employment opportunities in the UK.
  Many teachers have turned to online teaching, for which there are plenty of opportunities. A teacher based in the UK or the USA or Europe can teach online anywhere in the world... though long-distance online teaching is not for everyone. While employers will take care of the administrative hassle, the rates are not usually brilliant, and when they are quoted hourly, it is important to remember that they will probably not include holiday pay nor pension contributions. Besides, if you sign up for a live online teaching job in China, for example, you'll effectively be working night-shifts for the duration of your contract if you are resident in a European time zone.

Supply and demand

  In economic terms, the world of English teaching is going through strange times. Conventional economic theory supposes that rising demand leads to rising wages and salaries. In some areas of EFL this is the case; English teaching jobs in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia offer salaries of up to (stress "up to")  $4,000 per month tax free + health insurance and housing, and of course they attract plenty of candidates. In Spain, Morocco or Brazil, by contrast, English teaching contracts may offer little more than €1200 or $ 900 per month, which is enough to live on, notably in Morocco or Brazil, but not enough to get rich on. Unfortunately for many qualified English teachers from the UK or the USA or other English-speaking countries, salaries in many language schools do not take much account of global supply and demand, but reflect local economic realities, notably  what local schools can actually afford to pay, which tends to be related to what local students or their parents can afford to pay, not to the international jobs market.

Travel and culture

For a couple of generations of young graduates from the main English-speaking countries, teaching abroad for a year or two was a fabulous opportunity to explore the world, discover other cultures, and get paid into the bargain. In a world where international travel was getting constantly cheaper, faster and more comfortable, hopping off to teach English in the Far East or in Latin America, or even in Africa or India, was seen as being safe, mind-broadening, and a great cultural experience. If things went wrong, which can always happen when a person goes off to live and work in a far country, getting home again was no problem; distances were no object.
   Then Covid came along, leaving millions of people stranded in countries far from home; and although the opportunity to travel and teach still exists, and there are stll plenty of jobs to be found in exotic places, for some, working far from home lost some of its attraction.
   While the travel industry expects international travel to return eventually to pre-pandemic levels, it is far from sure that this will actually happen. Not only teachers, but also students, are likely to be travelling less in the new world after Covid, in which a new awareness of climate change has highlighted the fragility of systems based on international travel. Lots of teaching has moved online, and distance teaching, where real classrooms with real students are addressed interactively by a teacher who is not actually present in the room, are a new idea that is gaining traction. If current global carbon emission reduction targets are to be met within the next twenty years, international travel will not just be considerably reduced, it will also become much more expensive – with all that that implies for the international EFL jobs market.

Job security

In English teaching, as in any sector of employment, those with short-term perspectives will not be unduly worried by short-term contracts, hourly contracts, or other aspects of job precarity. For those who go into EFL or ESL as a long-term career, job precarity is likely to be a provisional state of affairs until such time as they can become part of a team or a school that is in it for the long term. Language schools - specially those that have seasonal activities - rely on a ready supply of short-term employees, but all language schools also need a stable team of permanent employees who are dependable, known, and competent.
   Young teachers setting out on a career in English teaching need to find a job in which they can both gain experience as teachers, and also learn  to run courses and classes; with teaching and administrative experience, they will then be in a better position to be promoted to a more permanent position in the school they are working in, or apply for a better job elsewhere.
   That being said, and in spite of the fact that there are global shortages of English teachers, the teaching jobs that offer the best job security and opportunities are either those proposed by large private language schools with international operations, or those in state educations systems. Jobs in state education systems may not offer brilliant salaries, but they tend to offer good job security, pensions, and school holidays – which are non-negligeable perks.  The big barriers to working in state education systems are however that some have nationality (or within the EU, European nationality) requirements, and in many countries it will be essential or highly recommended to speak the local language.

Qualifications

Gone are the days when an English speaker could just knock on the door of any language school in a distant country and say "Hi, I'm an English teacher, can you give me a job".  While the global shortage of qualified  English teachers ensures that there are still some language schools and even state schools that will offer a job to anyone who claims to be an English teacher, qualified or not, for any serious English teaching job in today's world, candidates must have both a university degree and an English teaching certificate.  University degrees generally mean at least three years' study, English teaching certificates can be obtained in a few months.
    The "gold standard" among EFL teaching certificates is the CELTA, run by Cambridge English, which is an exam board attached to Cambridge University.   A CELTA course typically lasts four to five weeks, includes practical training and in-person assessment, and can be taken in multiple approved centres around the world.
    A number of other reputed TEFL or TESOL organisations in the UK and the USA issue English teaching qualifications which are generally recognised worldwide. However prospective teachers are advised to steer clear of some of self-publicising online websites offering cheap TEFL qualifications which may not be worth the paper they are printed on.


   In the new world order after Covid, there are still plenty of opportunities for new and experienced English teachers, and as long as there continues to be a shortage of qualified English teachers on a global level, this will remain true. The situation has changed most for UK nationals who now have less opportunities both at home and in the European Union on account of Brexit. But for English teachers worldwide, whether native speakers or not, opportunities for online teaching are likely to continue to grow, while those for classroom teaching may be less attractive and more demanding than before, due to new economic and geopolitical realities.  For those who want to make a career out of English teaching, good qualifications and acquired experience are likely to be even more important than in the past; for stable long-term jobs in English teaching, they remain essential.


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