SLB member Tom Flaherty shares his thoughts on why he decided to join.
This article is part of a series of blog posts commissioned by SLB to have its members explain their reasoning behind joining the organisation. If you haven’t already done so, I urge and encourage you to read the previous posts in the series written by my fellow SLB colleagues, Alan, Ben, James, Laura, and Mandeep. In this article, though, I’d like to frame my own rationale behind joining SLB.
I’ve been an English teacher for approximately five years, with teaching posts in Tokyo, Berlin, Oxford, and now, Barcelona. In that time, I have had the privilege of working for some fantastic organisations, under some very inspiring DOSs, and with some incredibly talented teachers.
Despite being fortunate enough to have had contracts and substantial teaching hours, however, I found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned – and alarmed – not just with an ‘expecting-something-for-nothing’ attitude pervading language schools, but with my colleagues’ apparent belief that this was the status quo, and that we should resign ourselves to this fact. This left me posing questions that my peers were increasingly uncomfortable discussing, but that perhaps you too have found yourself asking:
- Why am I not being paid commensurately for my teaching and preparation time?
- Why is there no financial support to attend conferences or to study for additional teaching qualifications (especially when CPD sessions are few and far between)?
- Why am I at times being chastised for refusing to religiously follow a course book when it is glaringly obvious that the material doesn’t satisfy my students’ language learning objectives?
As a language teaching professional, I wanted answers to these questions. I wanted support. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to develop. I wanted to work within a teaching community that I respected and that respected me in return.
‘Taking the plunge’ and becoming a freelancer was the first step, especially as a I realised that studying part-time for an MA in Applied Linguistics whilst simultaneously working for academies on part-time contracts was not going to keep me financially afloat. The ambition to ‘go it alone’ as a freelancer in the city took hold, despite the fear in realising how little I knew about how to go about registering, or to start looking for clients.
It was after being introduced to SLB, and indeed meeting Neil and Myles at a conference last year, that I realised I didn’t have to ‘go it alone’ as a freelancer. I became quickly sold on their philosophy. Indeed, the more I read up and heard about SLB after the conference, the more I realised this was a teaching organisation that I wanted to be a part of, a teaching organisation that both actively encouraged discussing the questions that others had been keen to quickly dismiss, and tackled the issues that I believed all teaching organisations should be doing for their teachers.
We take a positive approach to how #ELT industry could improve, & are not afraid to criticise the precarious nature of a lot of what we do.
— Serveis Lingüístics (@SLBCoop) March 19, 2017
Tackling the CPD
Joining the cooperative has provided me with not just fantastic opportunities to benefit from working with – and learning from – teachers of an incredibly high calibre, but it has also introduced me to ideas of an increasingly innovative nature, ranging from developing an online materials database to designing tailor-made online language learning courses. Other exciting projects are also in the pipeline, stemming from new ideas put forward and discussed by all socios, which really lends itself towards all of us being able to take ownership of own own professional development.
Indeed, each month there have been training workshops focussing on an array of different topics, with Geoff Jordan last month delivering a fascinating talk on Task Based Learning & Teaching (an area in which I had been reading up on for some time) and even providing me with a platform from which to lead my own teaching workshop on gamification (a shameless plug – watch this space for the last weekend in May!)
Tackling the paperwork
Registering to become an ‘autonomo’ (or freelancer) in a foreign country and navigating a myriad of bureaucratic red tape can be a daunting experience for anyone. SLB (and Irene in particular), however, turned what I thought was going to be a nightmarish process into something that was straightforward and stress-free, and I am hugely indebted to both her and Neil for taking the time to effectively walk me through the entire process and offer a huge amount of practical assistance.
Moreover, there are workshops in which we are coached to fill out our tax returns correctly at the end of the financial year, there’s constant, unwavering support and advice when faced with various administrative obstacles (as can be attested to by some of our socios in the past month), and if you’re a member of the Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association Facebook group, you’ll have seen the wealth of information that the SLB provides in ensuring that all language teachers are well-informed about their rights here in Barcelona and how they can go about guaranteeing them in an appropriate manner.
Tackling the status quo
I didn’t claim to have any romantic notions of what being a member of the cooperative would entail. It was made very clear that there was no guarantee of teaching hours through the cooperative, and without doubt there is a certain amount of commitment required, both in terms of financial contributions and time donated voluntarily to the various projects in which SLB is involved.
Whilst my MA may prevent me at times from contributing as much as I would like to SLB’s work, I wholeheartedly believe in a cooperative that is incredibly vocal and active in both supporting teachers in their quest for fairer working conditions and helping them continue developing professionally. To Neil, Alan, Irene and all the other socios’ credit, since I made the decision to become a freelancer and apply to join SLB, I have felt not just incredibly well-supported, but also challenged and respected. In this regard, SLB is so much more than just a cooperative. It’s a teaching salon. An advice bureau. A safety net. A true community of teaching professionals for which I have the utmost respect for.