Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time Is Money, Really

A wise woman once told me, "Don't give yourself away for free." *

This is some tough advice to follow - especially in the ELT field. It's tough because this industry is filled with individuals who love their job. They spend hours creating activities, churning out tests, marking exams, meeting with unruly students, having a chat with the director, and quite often not a minute of that time is paid.

For a travailleur indépendant, the weight of time on one's shoulders grows heavier with additional billing, communication with administrators, late payments, the occasional mise en demeure and filing those rice-paper-thin receipts you get from the café next door.

As I say, you have to love this job.

Let's look at it this way:
  • The average "vacataire," or temporary teacher in France, at a university gets 33€ Net an hour (see my previous post on "speaking in Net").**
  • The average English class is 2 hours a week, so 66€ Net per week for one class.
  • The average class size is 20 students (give or take 5).
  • In addition to in-class time, the teacher is responsible for:
  1. Correcting homework
  2. Writing exams
  3. Correcting exams
  4. Informing the direction of any incidents
  5. Carrying out quality control with respect to the student attendance, behavior and participation
  6. Attending meetings with the administrators
Some would call this "giving yourself away for free." Others call it "part of the job."

Here are two examples:

Let's say you've just received a 200-word essay for homework from each of your 20 students.

2 hours of face-to-face time that week,
+ 10 minutes per essay (=200mn or 3h20) (incl. reading, corrections and comments on the mark)

66/5h20 = 12.38 per class, per week (or 6.19 / h)

Let's say you have an end-of-term exam coming up. You want to make sure the students are able to demonstrate what they have learned over the entire semester (e.g. ten weeks). Worse: the direction wants the exam to reflect the students' "level" in English.***

The exam takes 2h30 to write:
  • 30mn writing the grammar section (the harvest from past work and lessons)
  • 30mn writing the vocabulary section (ditto)
  • 60mn writing the reading section (choosing an article and writing comprehension questions)
  • 30mn writing the essay section (choosing a subject for which all the students can provide 200 words worth of content)
The final class of the week is devoted to an exam tutorial. = 2 hours.
Exam Day: Proctoring an exam at a public university is often unpaid. = 2 hours
4h30 for marking 20 exams:
  • grammar, vocabulary and reading section = 3mn 30sec per test = 1h10 for 20 tests.
  • +3h20 marking 20 essays (see example above)
The Final Tally
2h30 writing the exam
+2h final class (e.g. exam tutorial)
+2h Exam Day
+4h30 marking exams
11 hours

66€ / 11 hours = 6€ per class (or 3€ / h)

In this industry, it's very hard to take that wise woman's advice. Many don't have a choice. Or do they? Where can you fudge the numbers? Writing a shoddy exam? Marking homework without really reading it? Copying an easy-peasy exam from previous years even if it means it doesn't fit the content of the semester? How about not even giving homework assignments? Heck, just skip the exam, won't you?

If this is the case, then I guess we can safely say that you no longer love what you're doing and it is time for you to start considering other options.

*Ok, she should have said "free of charge" but let's not coupe les cheveux en quatre, OK?
**NB: Most public universities won't allow independents to bill them directly; thus the independent is treated like any other vacataire and paid six months after the work is completed (will be a future post, promise).
***This has to be one of the most misinterpreted, misused words in the English language. I have very strong views on language assessments. I agree with Bachman (1990) that there is no such thing as a perfect test that assesses a student's true language level.