The haves and the have-nots

silvana slideMany years ago, I encountered a participant on the IDLTM who had, shall we say, interesting views. She was the owner-director of a fairly successful language school in Germany, and had lots of fairly strong opinions about how management should work. I could tell a number of fairly shocking stories about her “unusual” views, but for this blog post I will just share the one which was possibly the most shocking – the one which left the rest of the group most open mouthed. This was when, during a discussion on recruitment, she revealed that she didn’t hire black teachers. I think she was taken aback by the collective gasp on this announcement, and she defended herself saying that her customers wouldn’t be happy with a black teacher. After picking my jaw off the floor, I jumped in and asked her how she knew that, and she announced that she was sure it was true, that German business people would not want a black teacher (this was an LTO which primarily worked with business English).  Now, obviously I was not in a position to claim a greater knowledge of that market and those customers (even though I found this claim hard to believe). So, instead I told her that even if what she said about attitudes were the case, that we have a duty to take a stand and make it clear that such attitudes have no basis in reality, and if there were customers that had such racist views, then it was up to us, language school managers, to educate them and not pander to that kind of thinking.

I have no idea if my words (and the support and agreement with my arguments from all of her classmates) had any effect.  Honestly I suspect not. And with hindsight I wonder if I could handled it better – by perhaps reporting her in some way (I’m quite sure such hiring discrimination is entirely illegal in Germany). But it is an incident that I suspect I will never forget.

So, why am I telling this story now? Well, I was reminded of this event very vividly last week during Silvana Richardson’s fantastic plenary about the continuing existence of prejudice against English teachers who have a language other than English as their first language (as Silvana pointed out, “Non-native English speaking teacher” is not a terribly positive description). The plenary was passionate, inspiring, and still also backed up with solid and strong research and great use of the literature to support the arguments made. It could have just been about passion and anger, but it never was, and instead was a thorough debunking of all the various reasons that are given and held such that native speakers get advantages in ELT.

I won’t review and comment on all of it, because I could not possibly do it justice, and anyway, I really think everyone should watch it for themselves, but one of the main sections of her talk is on overcoming the myth that “This is what students want”, and as I listened I was taken back to that experience mentioned above, when a similar argument was given to me for engaging in another discriminatory hiring practice.  From an academic managers perspective, then, I think it is our responsibility to get past this belief that students want native speakers.  Partly because it’s unlikely to be true (watch Silvana’s talk for the research data) but partly because even if it is true, we have the duty to change people’s perceptions – and we do that by changing our hiring practices. Fromteflequity this point forward, if anybody who has responsibility for recruitment says in one of my sessions “We have to hire native speakers, because the students expect/want it”, I will respond as I did back then, that even if that is 100% true it’s not a good enough answer.  I am also going to see how I, in my various strands of work, can support TEFL Equity Advocates. If you haven’t seen Silvana’s plenary, and you have any form of bias towards hiring native speaker teachers (as opposed to simply the best teachers), for whatever reason, conscious or unconscious, I urge you to watch the video. It takes an hour, but it’ll be one of the more important professional hours you spend this year. I guarantee that.

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Growing Pains (1)

Evolution of a young plant(This is the first part of a two part post)

One of the issues that I often come across when speaking with managers of language schools is the problem of managing the transition from a small organic organisation to one that is larger and more mechanistic.

To explain a little more: Many language schools grow from small beginnings, perhaps with one or two teachers. In these schools, everyone does everything – the owner teaches, answers the phone, manages the business and cleans the classroom.  Aside from the business management side of things, the teachers probably do much the same. The business is small and everyone knows what is going on. It can feel like being part of a family. Slowly the business grows, and more people are hired, more teachers, more office staff, and so on.  But still the same ethos exists, and the staff feel that they are part of something. They feel recognised, appreciated, and free to be creative in their work

At a certain point though, a tension starts to appear. A tension between this close-knit family of employees and the needs of the business to have a bit more formality. The parent of a student comes in and ask to speak to someone about a certain matter – and no-one is quite sure who they should talk to.  Some students are offered payment plans which are unusual and they tell their classmates (or they stop paying and nobody notices). Teachers complain that students who passed the previous level don’t know what they expect them to know. A part time teacher who said she only wanted ten hours teaching a week, is annoyed when a newer member of staff is given a full time contract. And so on. The list of possible signs of this tension coming into play is probably endless.

It becomes increasingly clear – to everyone – that there needs to be formalisation, some more rules and procedures. That people’s job descriptions and responsibilities have to made more explicit. And while everyone can see this need, there is of course resistance to such a change. “Will we lose the feeling of togetherness that brought us here?” “The reason I love working for this school is the freedom and creativity I have here” “We don’t need rules, we just need to make sure we keep communicating”

The transition that at some point needs to be negotiated from a small young informal organisation to one that it is larger and more formal is a very tricky one to handle. Sometimes the tension materialises slowly and is worked out slowly. It might take a few years between recognising the need to change and actually changing. Sometimes the change is more or less instant – usually in the case when a small LTO is bought by a large chain. It can be a process which is painful, sometimes with staff leaving, or it can be a relatively smooth shift.

Carter McNamara’s organisational life cycles model (which is quoted in From Teacher to Manager, and which can also be found here) shows how organisations typically develop

Birth Youth Midlife Maturity
Size small medium large very large
Bureaucratic nonbureaucratic prebureaucratic bureaucratic very bureaucratic
Division of labor overlapping tasks some departments many departments extensive, with small jobs and many descriptions
Centralization one-person rule two leaders rule two department heads top-management heavy
Formalization no written rules few rules policy and procedures manuals extensive
Administrative intensity secretary, no professional staff increasing clerical and maintenance increasing professional and staff support large– multiple departments
Internal systems nonexistent crude budget and information system control systems in place; budget, performance, reports, etc.. extensive — planning, financial, and personnel added
Lateral teams, tasks forces for coordination none top leaders only some use of integrators and task forces frequent at lower levels to break down bureaucracy

In the second part of this post, I’ll take a model of trying to best facilitate this transition  and try to apply it to the language school context