SLB’s newest member James Venner shares his thoughts on why he decided to join.
Joining Cooperativa de Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona
To give you a more complete picture of why I joined the Cooperativa de Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona (SLB), perhaps it’s best to tag on a few more questions. First of all, let’s consider, why does anyone join a cooperative? Next, what was it about SLB that appealed to a freelance language professional like me? Lastly, and importantly, have my expectations been met and do I plan to remain a member?
I’ve met an inspiring and supportive bunch of language professionals, who are not only committed to self-development as teachers, trainers and translators, but are also concerned with some of the larger, overarching issues in the ELT world, such as discriminatory hiring practices, variable working conditions and the dominance of big publishers.
What are cooperatives and why do people join them?
Fundamentally, cooperatives are organisations involving some form of mutual assistance in working towards a common goal. Of course, they can vary greatly in terms of size, sector and philosophy. The way a given cooperative operates, the activities it performs and the members it attracts will all depend to a certain extent on the nature of its common goal. But, even then, an individual’s decision to sign up may be driven by any number and combination of social, political and economic motives.
The structure of a cooperative relies on and, in turn, promotes a high level of collectivism. Objectives are set as a group and decisions are made democratically. Personally, having worked in a range of environments over the years, from family-run businesses to larger corporations, this non-hierarchical set-up is a real positive. It fosters mutual respect among members and ensures that every member has a voice, while, at the same time, allowing for a greater degree of autonomy and ownership.
What was it about SLB that appealed to a freelance language professional like me?
I first heard about SLB via a friend and fellow language teacher who had attended an open information session. Initially, what sparked my interest was the prospect of training and the chance to meet other like-minded professionals. And a vague interest it remained until I completed my MA course and committed to staying in Barcelona and going it alone as a freelance teacher. I realised that taking the step to becoming autónomo – a decision met with the sympathetic and condoling faces of friends – could be made a lot smoother with a bit of local knowledge and bureaucratic guidance. The more I looked into it and the more I read about SLB, signing up, which had began as simply a nice idea, quickly became the necessary next move.
Were my expectations met and do I plan to remain a member?
When I joined it was made clear to me that SLB was not an agency and that I shouldn’t expect a regular flow of teaching hours via the cooperative right away. With an already fairly full schedule of online classes, but a plan to gradually diversify, this was absolutely fine for me. My main expectations were assistance with turning freelance and training. Now, three months on, I’ve received all the help I needed to successfully navigate the labyrinth of autónomo paperwork (tick!) and I’ve expanded my knowledge of topics such as Task Based Language Teaching and Process Oriented Syllabus (tick!). What’s more, I’ve met an inspiring and supportive bunch of language professionals, who are not only committed to self-development as teachers, trainers and translators, but are also concerned with some of the larger, overarching issues in the ELT world, such as discriminatory hiring practices, variable working conditions and the dominance of big publishers. And, besides this, I’ve received access to a wealth of resources, including teaching journals and our exciting, new Materials Bank.
Having said all this, as you’d expect in cooperative, there does exist a certain amount of give and take. There are also expectations of you as an SLB member. As well as a monthly membership fee, members are encouraged (though not obliged) to take on additional roles or tasks to help move things along. Though this may sound off-putting, just by sharing some useful teaching materials, attending info sessions or contributing with a blog post, a little can go a long way.
I hope that in this short article I’ve been able to answer the questions set out at the beginning and, without purporting an overly romanticised image of cooperative ideals, get across why joining SLB was the right move for me.
To find out more about getting involved, please see benefits and rights of cooperative members.