Being Squeezed Out

Supply and demand. The economic theory goes that when the supply of a certain product or service increases, its price, if all other things remain equal, decreases.
I received a message via WeChat from a Native English-Speaking Teacher (NEST) telling me how a lot of NESTs are being squeezed out by an influx of Eastern European teachers who were willing to work for lower rates. He said that it is becoming harder and harder to find decent paying part-time jobs, and to obtain visas; compared to how easy it is for some of these Eastern European teachers to obtain them. The only solutions he could think of for NESTs were to “get creative” and find other avenues to make money or accept less money for part-time work.

Personally, I saw the writing on the wall a few years ago when it came to teaching ESL in China and I got out, but there are still many ways to make a living doing this gig. Something I brought up years ago on a WeChat group was English teachers forming a co-op of sorts. A group of teachers could pool resources in order to obtain the correct paperwork to do things legally, help pay for rent, renovations/decorations, digital resources, local staffing, marketing, etc. For this to work, the teachers involved need to trust each other and be responsible, as the actions of one teacher can easily impact the others in the group. It would run very similarly to how training centers are currently run; the only difference being it would be owned and managed by the teachers themselves.

Teachers’ salaries have not kept up with inflation, so anyone who plans on teaching in China long-term, needs to get serious about the service they offer.

Whether teachers choose to do the above or not is their choice but one thing they definitely need to do is to differentiate themselves from other teachers. If parents/students no longer see a native English accent as essential when choosing an English teacher then NESTs need to “add value” another way (can you tell I also have a bachelor degree in economics & finance?). Adding value refers to adding an enhancement to what you are offering.

So, what are some things NESTs (or any other ESL teacher) can do to stand out from the crowd? One thing is to teach English for Special (Specific) Purposes (ESP). I wrote about doing this in a previous issue of HERE! so I will not go into it too much here, but this involves teaching English for specialized disciplines such as academic subjects, business English, tourism, etc.

Part-time teaching jobs can also be unstructured, so if you work on a leveled program and offer it to prospective students it will certainly help you stand out from a lot of teachers who just turn up for class and think to teach whatever topic pops into their heads on the day.

A student typically has English lessons once or twice a week at a training center or with a part-time teacher. This means that there are five or six other days where the student has minimal or no exposure to English. It is preferable, and more effective, to practice half an hour a day rather than doing two-hour blocks twice a week. Think of creative, fun and interesting things that students can do to engage them in English learning during non-face-to-face time but also do not eat into your own time either. There are many online websites and tools that teachers can now employ, but they shouldn’t limit themselves to just online platforms; use storybooks, toys and even recordings to supplement your teaching.

Visa requirements change all the time but from what I have observed since 2001 is that it is getting harder for non-qualified teachers to obtain any kind of visa to stay in China and work (illegally), and now it seems that they, and qualified English teachers, are facing more competition from non-native English teachers (most of whom are also teaching illegally). Additionally, teachers’ salaries have not kept up with inflation, so anyone who plans on teaching in China long-term, needs to get serious about the service they offer to students and start thinking about how to add value to the learning experience.