Independent teachers and social responsibility

A couple of years ago, I started a contract with a student, M, who was looking for English lessons for professional purposes. On her needs analysis interview, she told me that reaching out for help was quite a struggle as her former teacher had unceremoniously stopped replying to her messages halfway through a course that aimed to prepare her for an institutional language test – one of the most important steps she’d been taking in her career so far. To her words, they hadn’t had any kind of argument that would explain such disappearance and her teacher kept instagramming public English related content. M remained in the dark in the middle of a career storm.

Going down any professional road also means dealing with the responsibilities that go along with it. A health professional who witnesses someone collapsing in public is morally obligated to provide assistance. A banker needs a mediator to conduct investment operations due to conflict of interest. An influencer might be asked to publicly apologize for a publication containing a controversial “opinion”. What should have been the teacher’s attitude in that scenario?

We can argue that private language teachers have a critical role in a country’s social development because of three factors combined: i) English has rapidly emerged as an international language of communication; ii) our educational system was not able to predict such emergence and timely supply students with sufficient language skills; and iii) some students (especially adults) struggle to adapt to environments and methods proposed by language institutes. More often than not, our students are those who depend on English to thrive, lacked the opportunities to learn it in the past, and now need a tailor-made syllabus that caters for their highly specific needs and overly busy schedule – this can be stressful for both parties.

We have no means to know for sure what led M’s teacher to stop responding. What we do know is that M ended up self-preparing to deal with her lifelong test anxiety and cultivated an outrage for private teachers, which she later made sure to pass on to friends and coworkers. M’s teacher lost a great opportunity to contribute to M’s success and, by extension, took the same opportunity away from several other teachers who could have actually been helpful. 

So, to navigate the universe of independent teaching responsibly, here are a few ideas that may help both you and your students to avoid stress and frustration:

  1. Be aware of the niche you feel most comfortable working with;
  2. In case you decide to broaden that niche, do it gradually and with the help of experienced professionals;
  3. Have a few peers of your trust to whom you can make referrals. This helps you strengthen relations with other teachers and increase your chances of getting more references within your comfort zone.
  4. Always reply. If you need to terminate a contract with a student, do so by offering alternatives. 

Those ideas may sound rather obvious, but every professional should keep them in mind, especially before making decisions that involve redirecting an action course. As for M, after two years working together, she summoned the courage to fly solo again and see how far she gets in corporate life, but I’ve been teaching several students she referred to my services and we keep in touch, always with an open door for any future possibilities that may come. 

Arthur Damião Médici

Arthur Médici has been in ELT since 2009, working as an independent teacher since 2013. With a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Psychology, he has a keen interest in English for Academic Purposes and professionalism for independent teachers.

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