The Grammar of Precarious Work

Marc JonesThe Grammar of Precarious Work

Marc Jones


Countable and Uncountable Nouns 

Countable and uncountable nouns are the staples of English language teaching (ELT), as are “much” and “many.” For teachers, however, “not much/many” and “none” might in some cases be more apt.  

How many teachers have a permanent contract with guaranteed hours? 

How many teachers can claim sick pay? How many of your sick days are separate from paid holidays? 

How many of your colleagues have worked for the same organisation for more than ten years? 

How many of us have a pension and how much is it likely to be worth?

There has recently been a lot of talk about social justice in ELT. We stand up for marginalised groups and we champion the underdog, at least we usually do. However, when we ourselves are the underdogs, I feel there is a tendency for us to beg and then play dead. The only problem here is that it is much easier for employers to play dead by closing down schools and leaving teachers without wages. How many of us have precarious contracts? How many of us know the state of our employers’ accounts?

School chains have gone bankrupt in Japan before, causing teachers to be without wages for months at a time. It happened with alarming frequency in Ireland last year, resulting in Christmas time GoFundMe appeals to cover teachers’ incomes, made by the students. The fact that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions doesn’t seem to matter to fly-by-night language school operators. Probably the only actual benefit of the terrible gig-economy and zero-hour contracts we put up with is that it forces us to spread our risks across several employers. How many hours are you guaranteed to be paid for each week? How many hours of work do you actually do?  

Conditionals and Probability 

How long do you think you could survive if you lost your job, or one of your jobs? How long would you have to wait to be paid if your least reliable employer didn’t pay you on time? Some of us would certainly have problems within a couple of weeks. It would definitely be a problem for those with families to support.  

Who would more likely face hardship if your employer closed down, you or your students? It’s more likely to be you, with students out by a smaller amount of money per person. Long courses, particularly young learner courses, might be paid by credit card, which can be reimbursed by the card company. Who reimburses the itinerant teachers? How likely are teachers to know the legal avenues available to them? 

If teachers take legal action, is it likely to bring any benefit to them? It might be the case that any victory is strictly pyrrhic. Employers may have to pay back lost earnings for a set period. How likely is it that teachers with public social media accounts can avoid being de-facto blacklisted? Any search of your name that is connected with legal action against a past employer is unlikely to enamour human resources departments or hiring committees toward you.  

Reasons and Causes  

If unions have power in your context, it could be a good idea to join one because you can get legal information. Some teacher organisations shy away from labour issues so they can attract sponsorship from large companies. They claim to advocate for teachers but they cannot do this consistently unless they side against those who provide a lot of funding. In order to reduce this bias, is it better to work in smaller organisations? 

Marc Jones is a teacher at universities in Japan and, for the first year in a long time, isn’t employed precariously.

Working Conditions in Greece

Theodora PapapanagiotouWorking Conditions in Greece

Theodora Papapanagiotou


In my previous posts on this blog I talked about what it is like to learn and teach English in Greece. This time I would like to expand on what it is like to work as a teacher in my country

There are various categories of teachers and schools in Greece and it is a bit complicated.  

Let’s start with public schools (state schools). If you want to work at a public school over here, first of all, you have to have a BA in English literature, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a native or a non-native speaker of English. There are state exams taking place every 3-4 years, testing potential teachers in methodology, pedagogy, and language. If you pass this exam, you can get hired according to the needs of various areas in Greece, which means that you probably have to relocate. Although it is hard to pass this exam, then your job is secure, you can be sure to get a steady salary and you have steady hours. If a school cannot offer the required number of hours, then you have to work at another school in the nearby area to fulfill the required hours needed for a full-time position. 

Unfortunately, not all teachers who pass the state exam are hired, simply because there are not enough job openings. In that case, every year you can also apply to be a substitute teacher and then you will get teaching hours, again, according to the needs of the schools around the country. The difference is that most of the times you will have to work at several different schools during the week to have a decent amount of working hours, you will still have to relocate, and you get fired at the end of the school year. If you want to work as a substitute teacher again, you have to apply all over again and probably go to another school (if hired). 

There are also private schools where English teachers could find a job. You still have to have a BA in English literature, and some schools prefer to hire native speakers (fortunately, not all). In order to get a job in a private school you have to be on their list. You send a copy of your degree and your qualifications to the Ministry of Education department responsible for managing private schools. Then you will have the right to apply for a job opening and go through the traditional interviews. 

Working as an English teacher at a state school can be either a very positive or a very negative experience. A lot depends on the school: sometimes you might have to teach in very remote areas where there are no computers or even a CD player. It also depends on what kind of cooperation you have with the other teachers and the director of the school and if they are willing to participate in international projects or not, since not everybody is willing to put in extra time or do the paperwork. 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, Greek students usually attend classes in a private language school after their regular school hours, so that they can prepare themselves for language exams. Teachers employed by such schools usually work part-time and get paid by the actual teaching hours. Until a couple of years ago, teachers who wanted to get a teaching license for private language schools were required to have a BA in English literature, or have a language certificate of a C2 level, or be a native speaker of English and have a BA in anything. Now this law has changed and people with a C2 level certificate cannot get a license and work as teachers anymore.  

Depending on the school, the teacher has or does not have the freedom to choose materials. Some language schools have strict curriculum to follow and some don’t. What books to use, whether teachers and their students are going to be involved in project work or any other activities, what kind of exams the students will sit for at the end of the year – all of these choices also depend on the owner of the school.  

Finally, I would prefer not to talk about the salaries that teachers get… Greece is in the middle of a financial crisis, which in most cases means that the pay is not that good compared to what it used to be in the past. And yet, there are still wonderful teachers who love their profession and try to do their best, no matter what their working conditions are.

The Impossible Has Never Been Tunisian

Faten RomdhaniThe Impossible Has Never Been Tunisian

Faten Romdhani


Working conditions for teachers vary from one place to another. Like all developing countries, Tunisia aspires to provide better working conditions for its teachers. By this, I mean all variables that affect the quality of the work of the teacher, such as workload, schedule, working environment, classrooms, continuous professional development opportunities…

Yet, the question that pops up in my mind is this: Which is more important – the teacher, the quality of teaching, or the conditions the teacher is working in?

The answer would depend on the angle from which we are looking at the issue. For a better future for all (teachers, students, and the overall state of education), teacher quality, as well as working conditions are of equal importance. However, from a more personal perspective, teacher quality should be allotted much more importance and be the overriding concern of all stakeholders. Regular CPD opportunities such as exchange programs need to be available to every language teacher. Indeed, the major positive twist that could occur in the career of every professional could be possible through taking part in such programs and free courses for teachers (whether online or face-to-face) that could offer total immersion in English. At the same time, working conditions should also be given their due value, because teachers need to work at ease. Once they have alleviated schedules, connected classrooms, opportunities to upgrade their tech skills and to pursue learning, they will beat out all conundrums.

It’s all about leadership 

It should be pointed out that good working conditions are not directly related to whether the school is located in an urban or rural area. You can find very well-refurbished classrooms, perfect working conditions coupled with collaborative staff in a rural school in a remote place, as well as in the centre of a big city.

Among many factors, this can be true mainly due to the exceptional leadership skills the school principal has and the ease with which he/she manages the load of administrative work. Provided that he/she creates a stress-free environment for the teachers, the students, and the whole staff, he/she then smoothes the way towards a notable success.

It’s all about professionalism 

Teachers’ professional assets, such as knowledge, flexibility, and creativity, are by far much more impactful and substantially more important than the most basic infrastructure and primal equipment. A professional teacher is a teacher who defies the impossible and turns every difficulty into a possibility. This might seem like a utopian vision, however, it is something I do believe in. I think that teachers’ hidden (or unhidden) powers to propel positive change are beyond any measure. What a teacher needs is a growth mindset, a passionate character for teaching, a forward-looking and forward-thinking team to work with. I have witnessed many times how teachers come up trumps with far-reaching goals, just because they did not give in when they had every reason to give up.

Don’t tell me this kind of a “superhero” teacher does not exist! They exist, and they are making a huge difference not only in remote and underprivileged areas in my country, Tunisia, but also in crowded suburbs of many big towns.

Teachers are superheroes 

To be born to be a teacher is to be a superhero. Teachers do work, more work than the official schedules administered to them. They sacrifice their family gatherings, evenings, and holidays for the sake of planning, grading, and piling up resources. What is more, they do feel their work is undervalued by the vast majority of society. Teachers are envied for having long summer holidays, though these holidays are only a small part of the unnerving load of year-long work. And any human being needs some well-earned rest after toiling and draining all energy. Nevertheless, I know some teachers who do carry on planning and reading professionally during the summer break lest they feel stale.

The impossible has never been Tunisian 

Despite all constraints, teachers find it gratifying that they defy all challenges and succeed in making a difference in the schooling of their students. The day their students graduate is the day they feel that the seeds they have been planting are now in full bloom, they feel utterly proud to see the fruit of all their work. Not only this, but even those who do fail come back to their teachers to seek comfort and consolation. Teachers are change makers, visionaries, and their journey towards professionalism gains momentum, particularly if they are accompanied by far-sighted mentors. Such mentors are the ones who can help teachers attain much of their undiscovered potential.