May I

It’s May. May I, then, talk about the elephant in the room?

“Which one?” I hear you ask.

Right you are, because for a profession that deals with communication and education, we seem to sweep quite a few things under the rug. This topic in particular is such a big lump on that rug that we could almost go rock climbing on it: teacher working conditions.

Even if you narrow the topic down to teacher working conditions in language schools, the list of problems seems endless. All around Brazil you see teachers*:

  • being hired without a worker visa or permit (when foreign);
  • being hired as instructors or whatever, so the school can circumvent the Union or teacher rights;
  • losing a lot of groups from one semester to another as a way of forcing them to resign;
  • living in fear of being laid off for no apparent reason;
  • not being paid for planning time, meetings, training, breaks between groups, etc.;
  • being asked to teach early in the morning after closing the school the night before, spending less than 8h at home day after day;
  • doing a lot more than is in their job description and not being paid for the extra time they put in;
  • taking on new responsibilities, such as mentoring and coordinating, but not seeing the impact of that on their pay checks;
  • being coerced into coming back sooner from maternity or sick leaves;
  • having to sign on less than they make (and then getting a surprise pay cut when it suits their employer’s fancy);
  • working longer hours than legislation will allow;
  • being harassed by superiors and students;
  • not being paid their worker rights;
  • getting sick from all of it, in more ways than one.

And that’s just a few things I jotted down from memory, complaints I heard from colleagues in different schools or from great people whom I witnessed leave the field out of frustration. It’s always made me wonder, as if I were Dave after the dentist, “Is this real life?”

Unfortunately it is very real. To add insult to injury, we convince ourselves it’s not only real, but also OK, a fact of life. In fact, as a profession we fear speaking out against this might make us personae non gratae in many institutes, untouchable unemployable whining trouble-makers. So we just take it on the chin, feeling discouraged and strangely exhausted. After dreading the Fantastico theme song, we somehow find it in ourselves to put a smile on our faces on Monday morning. Sometimes we even convince ourselves it’s our fault, as if choosing this profession necessarily meant accepting all sorts of abuse that schools throw our way.

We can’t let this go on indefinitely. We must start talking about it, being more aware of our rights, picking our battles and fighting them, for us and for those who really can’t leave that terrible employer.

Do you want to participate in this conversation? Answer this 10-minute questionnaire developed by Robinson Moreira after a post on BrELT prompted a discussion about working conditions. And don’t stop there: please join us at TaW SIG Brazil, which is now only a Facebook group, but who knows where it can go from there. For now it’s a start, a way of sticking together, learning from one another, and finding strength in numbers.

What we can’t do is pretend this isn’t happening every day to many of our peers. Because this is real life, but it should never have been.


*There are, of course, schools that try and do the right thing, but this is not about them.

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Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

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