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A Rant: The Dark Side of English Teaching and Scalping

A Rant: The Dark Side of English Teaching and Scalping

Life Abroad, Teaching English

The biggest mistake English teachers make is fidelity to an institute. I think the industry has reached the tipping point, or maybe it’s just me not caring any longer. When I started my career as an English teacher it was with bright eyed bushy tailed innocence. 3 years, 4 institutes and 1 school later I am a different person.  The fact is that institutes no longer pay what they used to.  Furthermore, an increasing amount of people willing to go abroad and work for free is crowding out the teachers who have studied and made an effort to be a good teacher.  Most institutes will hire people without credentials.  You might even bring in the argument that “Oh, the institutes pay much more than the local average wage and the natives of that country are paid such small amounts.”  First of all you are not a local.  Second, you don’t have family that will give you a place to live for free.  And if you have to go live in a poor neighborhood you increase the likelihood of being a victim of crime.


1. The Rules Don’t Protect Teachers.
Every institute known to man requires that teachers work a certain amount of hours and don’t scalp the clients. Scalping is the act of converting clients into personal clients of the English teacher. These rules work against English teachers because they violate the competitiveness of free market capitalism. Also it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the institute to realistically asses and fulfill the level and needs of the client.  The only situation where I would probably consider not scalping clients is a situation where the institute pays for my visa, provides me housing and pays me enough to eat out once or twice a week and travel.  The whole point of going abroad is travel, and institutes who advertise that you can teach and travel are liars.  I have never worked at an institute that gave me enough time and money to travel aside from Holy Week.  If you found an institute that gives you both of these then congratulations, stick close to them and give them your loyalty.

Just don’t get arrested or involved in stuff that will compromise your ability to do a great job.

2. Everyone For Themselves
Life abroad is a dog-eat-dog world. There are thousands of English teachers who are living like poor college students right this minute due to a sense of ethics and honesty. They will eventually get frustrated and do one of two things. Either they will get burned out and go home or they will learn to survive.  Your life is your own.  If you are working a job where your personal time and habits are under scrutiny then you are selling yourself short. Way short.  Unless your personal habits, hygiene or issues are affecting your ability to do a good job, that is the exception.  Small towns might be an exception because everyone knows your business.  But again that depends on how much you care.  If you are going to visit a country, teach English for some side cash and party.  Then do it.  Just don’t get arrested or involved in stuff that will compromise your ability to do a great job.  During my stint in Brazil I got an email from one of my bosses about a party where I was smoking weed and drinking.  It was an issue, but then again they were employing me illegally, as in no work visa.  If you can’t even give me a legal work visa, I’m a tourist.  If you are working a job where your boss actually cares what you do on your free time, it’s a crappy job.

On the topic of scalping clients.  If you really like the institute, don’t scalp.  But DO pick up clients on the side if you are running short of cash, just be sure they are actually paying you enough to make it worthwhile.  I have heard too many stories of institutes who make their employees pay for their own visa, tell them they can’t scalp or have private students and then either don’t give the employee enough hours or enough pay or both.  It happened recently to a friend of mine.  The institute blew all this smoke up this persons ass, made her pay for her own visa,  got her 2 groups and then decided they were going to abandon further attempts to sell classes in that city.  Then they had the audacity to tell this person to move.  Now she is in debt to the institute, barely paying rent and clinging to the institute’s ethics who have abandoned her.  Not cool.

 The reality is that they are not around to do the world a favor by teaching the masses English.

4. How I Went Over To The Dark Side
While many institutes often threaten to can teachers who scalp, it still happens. Why? Because they lack respect for their employees. The reality is that they are not around to do the world a favor by teaching the masses English. They are all about the bottom line.  If the institute decides to suddenly change your schedule or have you work splits, they will do it without notice. This often sours what is supposed to be a fun and educational experience abroad. If you take a dance class, are learning an instrument, or you just want to get out and do things, shitty hours and change without notice will definitely bite.  Honestly I think there needs to be more fair competition between the institutes and their teachers.  If they allowed teachers to have their own private students then the institute needs to be competitive enough to cause people to desire that institute more than a private individual.  My opponents are probably saying right now: “Oh but if the institute allowed that they wouldn’t make any money.”  This is false because I have seen many institutes who failed to offer things that would have kept their students as theirs.  Plus there are enough people out there willing to pay an institute that a good salesperson will keep the company functioning.  I have even gone so far as to encourage beginner students to start at the institute and then come see me.  I’m not totally corrupt!

5. Let’s Recap
I have had my share of good experiences as an English teacher. But I have also learned how to swim.
– You rank on the same level as the maid who cleans the owners house. Don’t expect more.
– If your student or their mothers best friend like your teaching style enough to ask for private lessons, say yes. Surprisingly enough those rich students will usually have less ethics than you on your worst day.
– The gringos who are doing the best and are content usually have a couple students on the side.  These same gringos will often stay with the institute longer than the ones who play by the rules.
– Never assume that you are being taken care of by your employer. Don’t be naive like that.  This is an industry, they aren’t doing if for charity.

While there are exceptions, teaching is every bit as grueling and thankless as the regular job you left behind. They are more likely to use and abuse you than most jobs you can obtain abroad.  It’s part of the experience.  And sometimes miracles happen and you have an amazing experience.  My best experience as a teacher was working for Cultura Inglesia in Brazil.  I enjoyed the students.  The institute used good quality materials AND they even paid transport (for certain events and locations) AND free classes to get better teaching certifications.  The WORST institute I ever worked for “invented” their own curriculum, made copies of copyrighted books (which they sell to their students), failed to offer good conversation club options, involved teachers in office politics and failed to pay a livable wage.  The world of English teaching is fiercely competitive but also rewarding.  Obviously the best situation is to obtain your own private students. This is great if you aren’t on a tourist visa, and if you are on a tourist visa you run the risk of deportation, inconsistent work or worse.  Use your head.  Have a backup plan.  And don’t be afraid to decide for yourself what ethics you will live by.

About the author

English Teacher, Freelancer, Chocolate Entrepreneur and Traveler!!

1 Comment

  1. Mary
    April 13, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    I have watched this happening over the past several years, good article Erin.

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