The closure of LanLearn in Limerick City will be a test case for learner protection reforms introduced in October 2015. Despite the ELT owners’ eagerness to claim through their lobbying organisations and literature that there is room to expand the industry, there is no discussion as to the precise relationship between employees and customers. I’m using these terms as I have heard and seen various attempts to redefine the role of English language teachers. Learners and students are in effect customers, regardless of how they see the teacher-student relationship in the classroom. Essentially that is what will unfold in the coming weeks as the reforms are tested.
Already the insurance companies have enacted “contingency plans” for the relocation and refunding of students. Owners have recourse under company law to try and cut their losses by a number of measures, one of them being insolvency procedures. The discourse will then shift to regulatory jargon regarding existing or proposed standards “going forward”. One thing is for certain, the teachers left unpaid and out of work will not feature as a main part of the discourse, and this is unacceptable.
Teachers’ rights and protections are absent from the narrative. No insurance company will be rushing to find adequate ELT providers to relocate teachers, however, their students are protected under the regulations and should be relocated as soon as possible. It’s hard to imagine an educational sector with such blatant disregard for the welfare of its employees. This situation seen in the example of LanLearn can happen again and we need to be prepared to assert our role as custodians of an incredibly important educational sector.
We must press ahead with actions and discourse that places teacher’s rights on a par with that of students and owners. Our job title has become synonymous with precariousness and instability, and is in danger of becoming disgustingly cliché. Yet, our role as educators runs parallel with our duty as educational professionals to enact and enforce standards that protect students and employers. Who then protects the teachers?
As ELT professionals we must eliminate all elements within the industry that seek to relegate our role to that of an expendable, interchangeable element of the business model. We must meet the propaganda of the owners as the living fuel that sustains their industry. This year with the upcoming QQI bill we will have the opportunity to establish these standards, and ELT Advocacy and ELT Unite encourage all teachers to analyse and critique the legislation, as well as push for amendments that secure our livelihoods.
Our work already enriches the insurance companies, sales and marketing teams not to mention the countless complimentary industries that survive from the intake of students and their purchasing behaviour. The final product is always the class taught hours, often promised along a chain of marketing deceit, but delivered earnestly and professionally under a variety of often difficult circumstances. There are no schools without teachers and if we don’t assert our rights then our role will forever be ignored and its precarious nature will eventually undermine the industry itself.