Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Does One's Work Ethic Become Unethical?

Today is day seven I've spent at home recovering from pneumonia.  Now, I do take some responsibility for being ill.  In a week, Santa will be bringing me some proper snow boots, I'm sure.

But last week, for two days, I taught in two university classrooms with no heat.  Nada.  Zip.  Nie. The radiators were cold to the touch.  What's a teacher to do in this case?

Naturally, I feel most teachers have a very strong work ethic.  We will battle it out, grin and bear it.  But should we consider setting some limits, especially when our health is at stake?  Because two days of bullet biting in an icy classroom has resulted in five days of missed classes and hundreds of euros of lost income.  I ask you, should I have refused to teach under those conditions?  Chances are, I wasn't the only victim that day.  Chances are some of my students also fell ill. 

With the current ELT discussions about what are the bare necessities of a language classroom (e.g. anti-material Dogme arguments, technology, etc), I ask: what are the bare necessities for staying healthy in the language classroom?  In my experience, three things: proper heating, ventilation and availability of fresh water.  Without these things, can we say it's unethical to teach and even learn in that kind of an environment?  In a country that is labeled as having one of the best health care systems in the world, I don't think it's too much to ask.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Flash Memories at the IATEFL Poland Conference, Bydgoszcz

First, I would like to thank those of you who made an honest attempt to kidnap me so that I could stay in Poland. Despite my efforts to remain in that wonderful country, I still had to return to Paris on September 20th just after the IATEFL Poland Bydgoszcz conference.

It was a spectacular event. All IATEFL Poland conferences are. What I appreciate most is the enthusiasm for veteran speakers (e.g. IATEFL Global President, Herbert Puchta) but also an openness to accept newer speakers who are just beginning to get their “conference sea legs.” Conferences shouldn’t be just talent shows, but environments where anyone can share information in their own style of communication.  That’s what I witnessed this year.  I would like to send a special thank you to those who supported my friend and colleague Vice President of TESOL France, Debbie West.  She hadn’t spoken in front of an audience for 16 years and chose your conference to get back in the habit of public speaking. Un grand merci a vous tous!

What IATEFL Poland conferences reveal is that its members all have such a passion for their trade as English teachers. They all work so incredibly hard! We are all on a relentless quest for satisfaction in our classes. I often say that I have 150 children – adults included – who I help explore and excavate the English language. I’m sure you all have your “kids” too. And it’s thanks to conferences and associations like IATEFL Poland that help you provide the highest quality of guidance and instruction. Moreover, Anna Rogalewicz-Gałucka has got to be the best conference planner on the planet. And the hard work of the dedicated volunteers leaves me awestruck. As the volunteer president of TESOL France, I can say I receive as much as I give being on the Executive Committee: the friendships, the personal and professional growth, the input, the fine-tuning of communication skills, all of which I put back into my classes. I truly feel all teachers should try being on an association committee at least once.  The rewards are countless.

Quelle histoire d’amour!
The town tour of Bydgoszcz was most interesting and revealed the enchanted history of the city. What a fantastic idea! Who knew that the history of Bydgoszcz is jam-packed with: lovers! And all sorts of love stories both humorous and tragic. Our guide donned a traditional costume and took us back in time to the medieval adventures of the citizens. The tour revealed the shear beauty of the Venice of Poland.

Pecha Kuchas and Tweets
I found dozing in the train back home impossible because the memory flashes kept bubbling up to the surface like voda gazovana. Especially when I thought of the fun we all had during the Pecha Kuchas.  Lindsay Clandfield introduced a fantastic, if not slightly lunatic, lineup (Jamie Keddie, Geoff Tranter and myself).  From crazy teacher inventions to Polish tongue twisters, the standing-room-only event is one I’m sure you will see again at future IATEFL Poland conferences.  A special thank you to Magda Klys, Jarosław Kawałek and Peter Whiley for your help with Chrząszcz (pronounced: Hshon'shch).

And finally IATEFL Poland has been introduced to Twitter! The tweets and tweeting during the conference made it easier to get the juice out of more talks (e.g. I was tweeting during David. A. Hill’s talk while Lindsay Clandfield tweeted during Vicki Hollet’s and all our followers online got to read about the best of both).  And there are now more “tweeps” after this conference. Consider following those who were there: Peter Whiley of IATEFL Poland (@iateflPoland); Jamie Keddie (@cheimi10); Vicki Hollett (@vickihollet) Paul Maglione (@paulmaglione); Lindsay Clandfield (@lclandfield); Veronika Salandyk (@weronika_sal) Marta Mrozik (@martulmj); Klaudia Skutela (@kskutela); Ron Mukerji (@Englodysiac) and me: @bethcagnol

Welcome Home
Did you know that Poland looks just like my native Virginia, USA? I feel at home in Poland with the added linguistic gymnastics Polish has to offer. My experience hearing Polish is a bit like listening to a recorded message backwards. From time to time, a word or phrase that’s slightly comprehensible jumps out at me. The language is so musical and seems to dance off the lips. It’s a language I can enjoy not understanding. It’s a language one must smile to speak. The covered vowels, the kissed consonants pull me onto the dance floor. Envious, I can only stand there and watch.

But dance I did this time.  I learned so much. I can only sink into an infatuated state when two people start a rapid-fire conversation in Polish next to me, or when a TLK train rolls into the station or when I listen to a Chopin nocturne.  Poland, you are my muse.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Prepare for the Worst and Get Paid

They are out there: the language schools that subcontract you and test your patience by innocently forgetting to pay you or outright ignoring your demands for payment.  You could have shown up on time, worked 35-contact-hour work weeks, signed those presence sheets, sent those invoices but the money just doesn't appear in your bank account.  A language school that is late on their payments does deserve a good, long, contemplative chin rub. They could be delaying your payment because the trainees' company hasn't paid them. Or they could also be in serious financial trouble. But in the end, language establishment directors who are late on payments should be hung by their baby toes.

In this post, I've provided three letters, in French, that go from "poor sad me I need the money" to the more firm: "remember, stupid, I haven't been paid" to the nasty "I'm going to sue if you don't pay me."  Hopefully, they will help you prepare for the worst and save you a few cents on rope for the occasional baby-toe hanging.

Letter 1) Poor Sad Me I Need the Money
Your logo, Your address, name, company, Number, SIRET, etc.

Rappel Concernant les Factures
no (list of unpaid invoices)

Client No :
Adresse de facturation :
(address of your client)

Au (date), nous n'avons pas reçu le paiement :
● de la facture (invoice number) du (date on the invoice) pour un montant de (total on the invoice) TTC,
● de la facture (invoice number) du (date on the invoice) pour un montant de (total on the invoice) TTC,
● de la facture (invoice number) du (date on the invoice) pour un montant de (total on the invoice) TTC,

Nous nous permettons de vous adresser une copie de ces factures et vous serions très reconnaissants si vous pouviez régler ces factures par retour, par virement ou par cheque libellé à l’ordre de (your name). Si vous avez réglé ces factures très récemment, merci de ne pas tenir compte de ce courrier.

More firm letter 2) Remember, Stupid, I Haven't Been Paid (NB: This one is sent registered)
Your Address
Their address
(City), le (Date)
Objet : défaut de paiement
Monsieur ________________,
Je me permets de vous écrire concernant le défaut de paiement de (number of hours) heures de travaux dirigés dispensées du (start date) au (end date) aux étudiants de (title of the students or stagiaires).

A ce jour je n’ai pas été payée pour ces enseignements.

Je comprends que les procédures administratives puissent prendre du temps. Toutefois, le délai de paiement me paraît singulièrement long. Depuis plusieurs mois (or weeks), j’essaie de comprendre pourquoi ces heures n’ont pas été mises en paiement.

(if you've received an email that seems fishy) Le (date), (name of person who told you you wouldn’t be paid) m’a envoyé un e‐mail dont le texte est (copy and paste the email or letter). Cet e‐mail n’explique en rien les raisons du retard. En outre, loin de s’en excuser, il me semble que la mise en paiement elle‐même est maintenant remise en cause puisque « (quote from letter that gives impression they don’t know when you will be paid) ».

J’estime que cette manière d’agir est contraire aux bonnes pratiques des affaires.

(if you choose to threaten to quit) Dans ces conditions, j’ai informé (name of department or director) que je renonçais désormais à collaborer avec eux. Je le regrette vivement. Par la présente, je vous demande de bien vouloir ordonner la mise en paiement des (number of hours) heures que j’ai dispensées dans votre établissement.

J’attire votre attention sur le fait que la situation perdure depuis plus d’un an (or number of months or weeks) et que ce courrier est une ultime action amiable avant l’engagement d’une action contentieuse.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur (name) l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
(Your Name)
(Your Title)
P.J. : Copie de l’état récapitulatif du service prévisionnel (copy of the contract or signatures of your classes)

Nasty Letter 3) I'm Going to Sue if You Don't Pay Me. (NB: it's also sent registered)
Your Address
Their address
(City), le (date)

Monsieur __________,
J’ai dispensé (number) heures de travaux dirigés dispensées du (start date) au (end date) aux étudiants de (title of the class, or students or « stagiaires »).

Le (date you asked for payment) courant, je vous ai écrit pour vous faire part de ces éléments et vous demander d’ordonner la mise en paiement.

A ce jour je n’ai toujours pas été payée pour ces enseignements.

Par la présente, je suis au regret de devoir vous mettre en demeure de me faire parvenir la somme de (how much they owe you) euros (write out the number lexically in French) sous (number of days) jours, faut de quoi j’agirai par voie de droit pour obtenir le paiement de la créance et le remboursement des frais engagés.

Comptant sur votre diligence, je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur le Président, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
(Your name)
(Your title)

P.J. : Copie du courrier du (date of the first and second letters you sent)

I was brought up to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  This applies to your life and your home. As a professional it applies to your job, your presentations and your projects. As a teacher, it applies to your classes. As a freelance teacher, it applies to your clients, your taxes and most importantly...your paycheck.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Is Your Professional Image Wearing Thin?

1)  Assigned as an English teacher at a luxury accessory store in Paris, I was sent to the head quarters in the chic 14th district. Immediately greeting me at the door, the head of human resources looked me up and down and said, curtly, "Oh...I expected somebody older."

2) Later, at another school, upon seeing all the female teachers working there, a prospective, adult male student asked me, "Gosh, are all the teachers who work here pretty?" Without missing a beat, I replied, touching my hair, "Why yes, Monsieur, we are." 

3)  Not too long ago, I was standing in a Parisian commuter train on my way to class when an ad for a successful home-tutoring service caught my eye.  A beautiful, young woman with wavy brown locks sits at her cafe table with an esperesso tasse, pensively looking at the sky. The ad reads that she's a teacher - hoping she's been all she can be.  But what jumps out, or rather pops out, is her plunging neckline.  I had to smile, wondering if fathers would call up the school asking for a tutor "just like that one!"  

The above examples got me thinking. What is an English teacher in the 21st Century supposed to look like? Do clients expect they'll be getting the present perfect with Juliette Binoche?  Honestly, today, clients are getting scarcer and pickier, and with that the expectations for professionalism and perfectionism are getting higher.

I'm not saying we should all go get face lifts and hair plugs. But teachers, especially independents who bounce from the classroom to the human resources office and back again, need to be aware of their professional image. 

We've already acknowledged that the job is difficult and the conditions are harsh. But as ugly as this may sound, I do believe learners prefer a teacher who is pleasantly put together.   We teachers need to start thinking about the nonverbal messages we send to our learners if we come into class looking like, well, we've been run over by that commuter train.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Now: Staying on top of your game

Times are tough and tense. And teachers are going to need to stay on top of their game.  Every sector has its ups and downs.  It's just what we decide to do during those downs is what counts. 

This time last year I was in tears - with exhaustion.  In the taxi, on the way to what should have been a relaxing weekend,  the tear ducts burst open.  I came to the realization that I had pushed myself too far physically and mentally and had to cut back.  Little did I know that the job of cutting back would be done for me.  Fellow teachers who were in the same boat last year (bawling from burnout) are, this year, wondering how they are going to make ends meet until September.  Companies are opting out of language teaching (at least face to face), clients are stalling on payments, and schools are suspending hours. This leaves the teacher looking at her nails wondering which one to bite first.  

With that said, there are still things teachers can do to stay on top of their game.  Below, I've provided a list of actions one can take, in order of cost.  I'd like to stress that it's now we need to look at the cost of our professional development as an investment.  What, among the not-so-free items on this list, will pay for themselves in 1 month, 5 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?  Ask yourself that as you browse and consider each suggestion thoroughly. 
  • Join Twitter - great for networking with other teachers around the world.  Be the first to know about anything and everything ELT related.  Sure it takes time to touch base, but now you've got it.
  • Join the SEETA Online Community (South Eastern Europe Teachers Association). They run free online webinars with the stars and more of ELT.  
  • Join the TESOL France Jobs List.   It's free and you receive the latest job ads for France (and a few abroad too).
  • Join IATEFL Email Discussion Lists.  It's free to join, and you can stay up to date with the latest buzz in the ELT sectors that you enjoy the most.  My faves are the BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group)  LAM SIG (Leadership and Management SIG), and Testing and Assessment (TEASIG) discussion lists.  
€  Join TESOL France.  For the same price as a learner's dictionary, you can attend all of their events for an entire year.  Unlimited networking opportunities, workshops,  conferences, Teaching Times magazine and you can meet ELT experts face to face. 

€  Write articles for newsletters, journals, online forms, etc. Even if you think everybody's heard it all before, write it anyway.  Get your name out there. It will also speed up your typing skills (which is a huge time-is-money eater, in the end)  The key € here is time, not cash. 

€€  Attend (better yet, speak at!) international conferences.  The cost will include the registration fee (e.g. 60-100€), travel (60-200€) and accommodation (depends).  But believe me, it's totally worth it.  As an independent, you can even charge this as a business expense (within reason and provided you include proof of attendance along with your receipts) And quickly, like now, get over your fear of speaking in front of your colleagues. You speak in public as a profession every day for Pete's sake! 

 €€€   Do an MA. Nothing boosts your credentials like a good, solid MA in TEFL.  The good news is there are quite a few distance and semi-distance programs you can look into.  Google it.  Today! 

€€€  Move to where the work is.  This may not be an option for many, but I know a few who are considering it.  In the 1970s, France was the promised land for English teachers.  Work was a plenty.  Well the wrath of the grapes has arrived and finding ELT work is getting harder and harder.  But don't move until you are sure you 1) have the experience and credentials worthy of the place you're going to and 2) have a solid, trustworthy contract under your arm.  

In brief:  don't burn your bridges.  Au contraire.  Diversify diversify diversify. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Independents' Day: Part II

March 20th, 2010
2:00pm to 5:00pm

Venue: Telecom ParisTech

Presented by TESOL France President, Bethany Cagnol and Executive Committee member, Elaine Henry.
TESOL France President, Bethany Cagnol, and fellow Executive Committee member, Elaine Henry, team up for "Independents' Day Part 2". This 3-hour workshop is for independents and non-independents.
Elaine and Bethany will be speaking about:
  • Getting and maintaining clients,
  • Time management,
  • Late-payment issues,
  • Paperwork,
  • Using Excel,
  • Autonomously managing one's accounts.
Since this workshop is Part 2 in the series, the speakers won't go into too much detail on how to become a travailleur independant. But for highlights from Part 1 on how to go freelance, I recommend you read the articles from the blog before coming to this workshop. Get your questions in now, by posting them here. The speakers will then try to incorporate them into the workshop.
Join us in what promises to be a very informative and lively discussion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Consider Jobs in ELT publishing - by author Lindsay Clandfield

Since independents in France can dip into a number of different areas of ELT,  I thought I would direct your attention to this excellent blog post by author Lindsay Clandfield. "Feeling tired of teaching? Fancy a change but don’t want to abandon ELT altogether? Many people I know who have felt this way have been drawn to the world of ELT publishing. Publishers are often on the lookout for good teachers for a variety of jobs" (Clandfield, 2010).

Better yet, if you are paid from an institution outside of France, then that income is considered "export," therefore it doesn't count toward your 30,000EUR cap before paying VAT!  Three cheers for that!

Read on:  Six jobs in ELT publishing - Lindsay's "Six Things" blog

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seminar on Falling Prices and Salaries

If you're an independent, this seminar is not to be missed.  There is a registration fee, but you can charge it as a business expense.  It's definitely worth going to see.  

Falling salaries and prices, increasing competition from web 2.0 technologies and low cost distance learning, a major reform of training law under way: what future for face to face language trainers in France.

Presented by Andrew Wickham

March 6th, 2010

1:00pm to 5:00pm
Venue: Telecom ParisTech

Register here:
To cover speaker and event costs, there is an exceptional entrance fee for members and non-members: €25

The rise of distance learning and the Blended revolution are having an increasing impact on the traditional language training industry in France, which could be on the eve of a major transformation. Today, face to face training with teachers based in France accounts for 80 to 90% of language training, but if the current trends persist, will distance learning by telephone or visioconference, using "offshore" trainers working in countries where salary costs are much lower, replace face to face training in the coming years? Is e-learning, thanks to Web 2.0 technology and broadband access, finally coming into its own? What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of distance learning over face to face training? How are traditional training organizations coping? Is the market going to concentrate? What do face to face trainers need to do to stay competitive? With prices and salaries under even greater pressure from the economic crisis, and worsening work conditions, what incentives are there for providing the high level, personalised professional training that many clients say they want today? How will the current reform of training law impact the market in 2010 ? Will the trends currently developing in France spread throughout Europe in the coming years? These are some of the questions that the Linguaid market study set out to find answers to in early 2008. Nearly 2 years later, Andrew Wickham, the writer of the market study report, which was published in Spring 2009, will present the study, which has been updated for 2010, and discuss some of the findings that directly concern trainers. The workshop will be as interactive as possible. This will be followed by an open discussion with participants.

Andrew Wickham began as a language trainer then moved to training management, set up and ran a training company, then moved to project management of industrial blended learning systems. He currently works as a consultant. His specialties include: Designing, building and running large-scale integrated training systems, strategic consultancy, managing language and communication training projects, cross-cultural training for business communication, and communication coaching.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Keep That Envelope!

Another title for this post could be "Excuse me for my lateness Part 2."  On February 9th, I received the first out of the four annual bills I get from the health insurance collector for independents.  The letter was dated 18 January.  Funny.  I looked at the envelope and sure enough, it was sent on February 5th.  Now here's the nutcracker:  the deadline for payment was also February 5th! A check for 225EUR and an angry post-it note later, I sent off my payment hoping they wouldn't charge me any late fees.  But just to be sure, I am keeping that February 5th postmarked envelope in case I have to prove my innocence.  One more little piece of paper to add to my collection of the mistakes made by collectors.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Independents' Day Workshop: March 20th

In March I'll be organizing a second workshop on Going Independent.  With the help of fellow freelancer and partner in crime at TESOL France, Elaine Henry,  we will be speaking about gaining and keeping clients, paperwork and billing issues.

This three-hour workshop will be held at:
Télécom ParisTech
49 rue Vergniaud
75013 Paris

March 20th, 2pm - 5pm.

It will be free of charge to TESOL France members, and cost about 10EUR for non-members.
More information on the workshop will follow in future posts.  Come along if you're free!