Let’s talk about those hourly teaching rates

A school vice principal I once reported to told me of his younger days teaching 60-hour weeks at Berlitz school. It was exhausting, he said, but at least with the Berlitz method, all he had to do was walk into the classroom and follow the script. There was no lesson planning, no grading, no syllabus or evaluations to write.

The Berlitz method is gone, and good riddance, but how should the hours of part-time ESL instructors be calculated in an age when teaching involves so much more than walking in and following the script? Many ESL teachers are employed on an hours-per-week basis, which invariably refers to the number of hours spent in class teaching students. Many programs in their turn – and this includes university IEPs, non-profit organizations, and English language schools – advertise their rate on a per-hour basis, which also refers to hours spent in class. At the upper end, this could be $60 – $80 per hour in some university programs. At the lower end, it could be as low as $15 or $20 per hour, especially in some non-profits and private language schools. As all ESL teachers know, these are not the true hourly rates, because teaching requires preparation and grading, in addition to required meetings, office hours, evaluation writing, and other activities. According to the federal government, actual hours worked should be calculated as time in class x 2.25. That is, for each hour spent in class, it is reasonable to assume that instructors spend another 1.25 hours working outside the class. Additional required activities should be compensated additional to this.

Many ESL teachers will tell you that 2.25 hours is too conservative, and that they spend longer on lesson planning and grading. Others may find it over-generous. But for the sake of argument, let’s take this number as a reasonable expectation. It doesn’t take advanced math skills to work out that a “15-hours-per-week” (not untypical for part-time ESL teaching) assignment is almost a full work week. Add those additional duties and you easily have a full-time job. Further, that $20 “hourly wage” is well below minimum wage in most states. Even that higher paying $80 per hour teaching gig is actually $35.50.

Everyone in the field knows about this. Part-time teachers tend not to complain because they enjoy the work and it’s the best they can do. University administrators and business owners know that advertising actual pay rates might be embarrassing and paying more would reduce margins. Accreditation standards for intensive English programs don’t mandate salaries or impose specific workload requirements. Associations such as TESOL and EnglishUSA either have little will or power to address salaries and teaching loads for part-timers.

It is way past time for a conversation about this, to include teachers, administrators, business owners and managers, accreditors, and associations. A start could be made at the national TESOL convention or the NAFSA conference. Can the field overcome its inertia and finally address part-time teaching salaries?