ELT’s Race To The Bottom

I remember so long, long ago reading Clayton Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilema and his ideas about disruption. Later with Web 2.0 and the internet ballooning – I had dreams of a chicken in every teachers pot and a car in each of their driveways as teachers became “edupreneurs” and in control of their own labor, their own income and work life.

Flash forward to mid-pandemic 2020 and I’m not so sure how this is all working out. The teacher as “contractor” and as the Youtube star and self-supporting freelancing tutor. Actually, I’m sure how this is working out and for the majority of English language teachers – it isn’t pretty. It’s a race to the bottom and for many, the bottom has fallen out.

Where did it all go wrong? We were all told that the money would be rolling in and we’d work less hours and bring our laptops to the beach and just be having fun as we taught the world a language we loved. Is the model broke?

Insight into a teacher’s life. 1 in 4 US teachers have 2 jobs.

This article on the “fast language industry” gives a good rundown of how things have been unfolding in the ed-tech world and how labor is being cheapened and teachers are being paid a pittance for their services with no health care, no social support, nada extra. Or read of this teacher’s recent attempts to find a job that might support herself.

English language teaching has always suffered from precarity. A more temporary workforce, lower pay, less benefits, problems with equity and rights and so on … Still, I see the new push to full on online/remote teaching as inflaming the situation. Lots of teachers out there hurting and not getting the work they need to survive.

If you follow the online tutor market, you find wages dropping. And what’s being advertised is usually “top” end and most teachers make 60% of that. Plus, not full hours. Teachers are struggling out there. Add onto that an industry now hiring Filipino teachers as online tutors at a $1 a lesson and you have trouble in the industry. It’s a race to the bottom.

All this as so much of language teaching is transitioning online and brick and mortar schools are closing literally like there will be no tomorrow. It’s messy and it is getting worse. The gig economy is here to stay and I’m really wondering where it is all heading for teachers – the digital disruption.

It would be great if you could comment about your own situation and add some perspective to the “uberization” of language teaching. It’s a slow process but in a world where ELT was already so marginalized in terms of pay, positions, a stable financial future – it could be here sooner than you think – a world where the only bottom is the one we walk upon and teach upon.


Also published on Medium.

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