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Power to the Teacher

With the iELT conference just a month away (Barcelona May 6th and 7th) find out what the Innovate ELT Team think of teacher power and take our Jedi Power Quiz to find out if the force is really with you.

What teacher wouldn’t want some more power? But what do we mean by power and what forms can it take? The title of this year’s Innovate ELT conference has created some controversy. The themes we listed in the original announcement (intended as examples, not an exhaustive list) included gender equality, the “non-native” teacher question, workers’ rights and entrepreneurship.

Duncan Foord decided to talk to a few teachers about when and how they have felt power (or the lack of it) in their teaching lives. He interviewed three teachers in Barcelona, all Cert TESOL/CELTA qualified with four years or more of experience.

The question he asked them was “When have you felt powerful as a teacher and when not?”

They talked of feeling power when they became qualified: the sense that they were deemed competent gave them confidence. In the classroom they felt power from the satisfaction of feeling that they had a positive impact on the lives of their students. Power also came from a sense of autonomy: being able to control what happens in the classroom and see the results, having power conferred on them by students.


When did they feel disempowered?

One teacher said she felt disempowered just after starting teaching. Being in schools with no support and being given tough assignments and feeling exploited, said another.  Lower pay and long trips around the city for rookie teachers was also mentioned.

A “non-native” teacher he spoke to had experienced 100 percent rejections for her CV mail out at one point. It was hard for her not to make the connection between the rejections and her name and place of birth, even though she could not know for sure. That was obviously demoralizing. Finally she did get an interview with a woman who was herself a non-native teacher! She also said that in class she sometimes felt as if her authority on the language was being challenged by students, though was never sure if that was her paranoia.

Another teacher who was working giving private classes around the city felt low on power dealing with the business side of work: negotiating hourly rates, dealing with irregular incomes and cancelled classes and not always feeling confident about asking students to commit to regular monthly payments.

Another talked about the sense of insecurity from temporary contracts, the precarious nature of TEFL and a sense of mistrust in some schools where contracts and rights and responsibilities were not always clear.  In one case, the support from being able to consult a union in these questions helped boost confidence. Pay was also mentioned as a power factor. Feeling powerful was more difficult, if you felt you earned less than you needed or deserved.

One teacher mentioned that in one school they had worked in female teachers were typically allocated young learner classes and men exam classes. Was this an example of gender bias or a coincidence?


Is the force with you?

If you (and your colleagues) would like to do a bit more reflecting on power, try this 6 question quiz, add up your score and find out if you are a master or slave of the TEFL galaxy! For each statement give yourself a score between 5 (agree completely) and 0 (disagree completely)

  1. My students respect me and have confidence in me as a teacher
  2. My colleagues/school respect me and have confidence in me as a teacher
  3. I get paid what I deserve
  4. I have a good balance of autonomy and direction in my work
  5. My values and priorities are in line with the school where I work or the students I teach


Key to your score

25-30. The force is with you! Keep your sabre charged and use it to light the way for the rest of us.

15-24. The force is mostly with you. Some work still to be done young Jedi.

0-14.  An empowered Jedi you be not. Seek counsel from Yoda or change your planet.



See you at the conference…

The Innovate ELT Team

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