Lesson Plan on Trade Unions in Ireland


There’s nothing better than a ready-made lesson plan. All you need to do is have a quick scan of it, decide on the bits to keep in and take out, print it off or set up the overhead projector and away you go. You might actually get to eat your lunch instead of planning if that’s the case!

This lesson plan is designed for teachers of strong intermediate/ upper-intermediate to advanced level students of English. It is set decidedly in the Irish context, but it could easily be used by teachers in other countries by comparing and contrasting. The focus is on trade unions. The crux of the lesson is three reading texts adapted from news articles on three separate trade union issues in Ireland; Dunnes Stores workers, Luas workers and English language teachers. Please feel free to edit the documents into any format you think is appropriate for your class. Similarly, feedback on this lesson plan is very welcome. What discussions emerged? What insights were made and what questions were asked? Would more lesson plans be useful for you and your class? Get in touch and let us know.

Language teaching is inherently political, unfortunately. There’s no getting away from it. We can’t divorce ourselves from the fact that English as a global language has an extremely troubling history. Even today, the issue of English as a gatekeeping device (thinking particularly about the exorbitant cost of IELTS preparation and exams, university and job requirements, or as an indicator of social status) is one which all language teachers should be aware of and draw attention to in our classes. Asking why, always. Giving a voice to injustice is a powerful thing for a teacher to do. Paulo Freire considered the only goal of education to be raise one’s consciousness, to understand the relationship between oppressed and oppressor.

“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption”                                                                                              Freire, 1970

As a teacher, you need to spend time on the language of power so that your students are given time to take in, reflect, discuss, tease out, argue, debate, consider and shape their understanding of issues of power.

Start with this lesson plan, and see where it takes you and your students. Note down any reflections you have on the lesson and share it with your colleagues. Write to us and let us know so we can share it. Use your voice to amplify others’.

The lesson plans are below in shareable Google Drive files. Student worksheets and teacher notes are included below.

Student Worksheets:


Teacher’s Notes:




Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. p. 54


by Aileen Bowe









Teacher trainers: it’s time to talk to your trainees about unions


As colleagues around Ireland return from IATEFL in Brighton talking about the brave/ insightful/ overdue talk by this presenter or another, ELT Advocacy remembers Silvana Richardson’s brave, insightful, overdue talk about non-native English speaking teachers in 2016. Her talk inspired this article originally published in The Teacher Trainer Journal in the Spring of 2017 re-published here with the permission of the Journal. Its conclusions seem worth repeating in the shadow of the closure of our fellow teachers’ school in Limerick this month. It is aimed specifically at teacher trainers and observers on CELT, CELTA and CertTESOL courses.

At the 2016 IATEFL conference held in Birmingham, UK  Silvana Richardson’s plenary brought to light a neglected part of the ELT conversation. Instead of discussing how to help your students get wrong answers right, she asked us to think about the rights and wrongs being done to our colleagues when discriminated against by employers. In doing so she demonstrated that it is safe, and even necessary, to begin coming out about our responsibilities to each other as fellow professionals.

The talk was about employment rights: specifically, the right to be considered for a teaching job without discrimination as to your nationality. Richardson’s discussion commendably recognized the need for local, organisation-level observations and actions. It was perhaps this that made me sit up and pay close attention. This was a very different IATEFL plenary.

Though a ‘native’ speaker of English myself, the content of Richardson’s talk reflected my own experience, having played many roles in ELT in Ireland apart from ownership of a school. In management, in the classroom, and in working with the school’s promotions and activities and training teams, I noticed a constant favouritism towards English native speakers, from which of course I passively benefitted.

Richardson took the opportunity to engage her fellow professionals using European ELT’s biggest platform to advocate for our colleagues who often face discrimination. She framed ELT as work within the context of workplace rights. She talked about professional rights, by discussing the legal, practical and ethical basis of those rights. She also advocated the expectation of professionalism from management as well as respect from paying students. It rightfully earned its place in the history books as a seminal talk.

For those who could not attend the 2015 conference, IATEFL debated a request on their Facebook page to create a Special Interest Group (SIG) on ELT professionals as ‘workers’. That 2015 ‘Teachers as Workers SIG’ discussion has continued in a Google+ group ‘TAWSIG’ where TEFL Equity Advocates organiser Marek Kiczkowiak contributes, along with ELT people from around the world. His work, like Richardson’s plenary, aims to mark a change in global ELT culture.

Dublin college closures reveal schools’ relationship with teaching staff

Students are disappointed standing in front of their closed ELT school

A large well-known city centre school in Dublin shuts down unexpectedly. Students are disappointed. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

From 2014 to 2015 Dublin, Ireland saw 15 ELT school owners bow ungraciously out of the Irish private education market. They abandoned students from all over the world, taking off with their tuition fees and avoiding prosecution. The exodus has halted for the most part. But the students are still out of pocket and will never have their fees refunded. Acrimony and public protest forced new national government regulations to put an end to this for students and owners… but what about the teachers?

Where did the staff end up afterwards? When the schools began to close there was support and pity for cheated students and there were questions for errant owners but for the teachers? Like the old whiteboards, they were out on the street, hoping someone else would pick them up. It was discouraging and de-humanising to see how useless one’s continuing professional development was, when for-profit ELT was free from oversight.

So what?

What is the connection between this string of business closures in Ireland and Silvana Richardson’s pioneering talk in England? It becomes clear when you realise that English language teachers are frontline workers yet are not considered stakeholders in the for-profit ELT sector. During the College Closure Crisis we learned that in our for-profit environment, novice and veteran teachers needed active protection in the form of an informed organization that represents their voice during negotiations. The DoSs and ADoSs were not informed or prepared on how to handle closures or spot the signs that the business might be in trouble. They were either unaware of what was happening or covering for the owners.

Who advocates for the English language teachers?

Part of the reason Irish ELT staff didn’t report their concerns to the authorities may have been fear for their jobs. In other words, their precarity* kept them from doing their jobs properly. Another reason may have been that they didn’t know who would listen or who would give safe advice. This was because local regulators, ACELS, a voluntary semi-governmental body, may have appeared to staff as biased by their very long and close relationship to established schools. The sector’s older schools had always lobbied for ‘self-regulation’ too. So these ‘optional regulators*’ may have seemed to be part of the problem.

Friends in other schools were not a safe option for advice as talking ‘across’ school walls was seen as treasonous from the owner and management’s point of view. ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ How about the top: the government? But government officials don’t have time to talk to every individual who had a suspicion that their employer was conducting business illegally or was about to suddenly close a school. So who represents the teachers in times of trouble or need? When the time came for government action, government ministers expected teachers to be represented as a group at the table. They expected them to be organized… like ‘real’ teachers… in unions. Where were our unions? This was a government question to teachers when they approached their parliamentary representatives.

The big question

So, why weren’t the Irish teachers in unions?

There were many reasons why.

Sometimes it was because if the bosses found out, there was a legitimate fear that you would slowly be given fewer hours until suddenly you weren’t needed any more. Using your rights to union membership can increase your chances of discrimination in ELT. Open union membership or an attempt to unionise colleagues, perhaps even more than a ‘non-native’ passport or accent, can be a serious mark against you in most Irish ELT staffrooms, and I would bet the same can be said of the UK too.

So is our right to union membership in the UK and Ireland any less of a right than the right to equality in the hiring process which Silvana Richardson championed so gracefully and boldly and to so much applause in 2016? This is the question we need to discuss because increased professionalism, equality and better conditions will ultimately follow from widespread union membership.

Unions promote the equality Richardson and Kiczkowiak both talk about. Unions provide the expertise and standing under the law to address and advise on a lifelong career in ELT beyond the hiring phase. Unions representing ELT do exist: see TEFL Guild’s advice on unions for the UK, Ireland and Canada. And don’t forget the American Federation of Teachers, a union which was a major sponsor of the 2016 TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

 Join unite website banner11-33255

I’m a teacher trainer/ educator/ mentor. What can I do?

My request to those who work with teachers in a training capacity is this: please talk to these teachers about joining a union. In Ireland, ELT ADVOCACY have put in many hours informing unions about our sector and unions have won victories for ELT workers here.

Trainees often spend a year or so with a less than reputable school in an effort to gain experience in their first years of work, with little more to protect them than a smile and good will. ELT can’t just mean Exploiting Language Teachers, but change will only come when ELT workers take themselves, their profession and their colleagues seriously. Individual degrees and training gain entry but what will ELT professionals find when they get beyond the gateway to the field?

How trainers are key: a story of success

Here’s a parallel from another field. Archeologists working on building sites in Ireland were subject to contracts with pay below the living wage. The Living Wage in Ireland is €11.50 while minimum wage is €9.55. Site archeologists were earning slightly more than the minimum wage. These were archeologists who had Masters’ degrees and PhDs.

Why was their highly skilled work being paid so poorly? Why were the digger drivers on the sites being paid better? The answer was that the digger drivers were in unions. Getting enough archeologists into a union was a problem but it was resolved when the archaeology lecturers in the universities and trainers started playing their part as local advocates. When they encouraged their students to join a union, numbers swelled and union membership was normalized. The union was then able to use the courts on the archeologists’ behalf. The benefits were felt on all sides. The archeologists continued their professional practice for the good of our national heritage. The building site operators who planned for and hired the archeologists raised their rates commensurately. And the wonderful people who trained the archeologists anticipate a small rise in the number of course applicants because those would-be professional diggers can now say ‘yes’ to following their dream since the wages now match the level of commitment and training their profession requires. The same thing can happen in the English language teaching industry.


It’s time for trainers, educators and mentors to join a union. It’s time to talk to the teachers we work with and encourage them to use their legal rights to unionise too, to make ELT a safer place to work and develop in. It’s time for us all to join a union – just like public sector teachers – so that we can all have real contracts and wages.

ELT is good work. It should be respected. But it is up to us to earn that respect through organization. Continuing Professional Development won’t do it. PhDs don’t get better contracts – union members do. Consider the duty of care you have for the teachers you’re training. Take a page out of Silvana Richardson’s book and stand up for teachers as professionals.

As Philip Kerr said at IATEFL 2016, ‘Things are changing. Join a union.’


Irish Council of International Students webpage on the Irish College Closure Crisis
‘Welcome to the precariat: a new class born’ by Paul Gillespie in The Irish Times 8/11/2014
‘International students hold protest in Dublin city centre’ by Sorcha Pollack in The Irish Times 5/5/2015
 *Precarity is a precarious existence, lacking in predictability, job security, material or psychological welfare. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.
 *Optional Regulators
Here I am referring to ACELS, but also to MEI and IEM Providers QQI under the Department of Education and Skills.
MEI [See http://www.mei.ie/ ] promotes membership as a further mark of quality while working as a coordinating body for established school owners through which they can lobby government and coordinate efforts. It is thus not unlike a national union for local ELT organisation owners.
The Irish Department of Education and Skills operates QQI who set the International Education Mark which licenses schools to provide courses to students who will require visas. An inspection regime is in place to facilitate their work. But surprisingly, a school can still choose to operate outside all of these optional regulators as a small service provider for EU or resident students  customers. This leaves those students, and teachers, at risk.


Reprinted with the kind permission of The Teacher Trainer where this article originally appeared as ‘Time to talk about unions?‘ in Volume 31 Number 1, pages 20-21.

To the senior English language teachers of Ireland…

This one is for you, the ‘lucky’ English language teachers. You know who you are. You’re that teacher trainer that everyone on the CELT/A course admired and wanted to be like. You’ve got your DELTA, you’re highly active on social media with other teachers, talking about conferences and the latest research insights. To look through your Twitter feed, an outsider would assume that the ELT sector in Ireland is a wonderful place to work. You’re able to do research in your non-teaching time, indeed, you actually have ‘non-teaching time’ allotted in your schedule. Should you wish to go, your school will fund you to travel to a conference to discuss the results of your research. You’ve got a family and children that you can support. You took ma/paternity leave and your job was still there when you came back. You’re treated like a professional and you’re a shining example of ELT done right.

You love your job, as do most of us. But you know not everyone is as lucky as you and it’s something you try not to think about too much. Certainly not something you’re going to tweet about. But still, you can’t help but feel uneasy about the hundreds of thousands of euro that the school earns in CELT and CELTA fees every year. You see how hopeful the new teachers are at finding a ‘full time, permanent job in a good school like this’. It’s your job to buoy them, to get them through those gruelling four weeks and out the other side where they can become the newest members of the grand old Irish ELT conveyor belt complex. To be useful in the summer, discarded in the winter, over and over until maybe a full time job opens up. Unless someone else who’s a ‘better fit’ comes along and they’re shown the door again, “but do come back to us in the summer!” Yes, maybe the system is dysfunctional, and yes, admittedly, you do get extra money for teaching on the exploitative CELT/A course, but you need money too, right?

You used to be so friendly to the ‘summer teachers,’ showing them where Murphy’s Intermediate Grammar in Use was or pointing out a great past continuous activity from the old Reward books on the shelf, but you’ve grown tired of answering the same questions every June, July and August. How does the printer work, where’s the paper, where do the lesson plans go, how do you photocopy double-sided, how does the coffee machine work, what can I do to get full-time work here. There’s always so many of them, crowding up the already jam-packed staffroom. It’s easy to be irritated with them. Nameless and faceless, eager and determined, but ultimately doomed. They’ll all be gone by September and you won’t have to answer their annoying questions for another 9 months. Some will be back briefly for the substitution period in September/October when the permanent teachers go on holiday. Like little dogs on short leashes, if the Academic Manager calls them, they’ll show up, no matter how inconvenient or measly the hours are. They’re just so grateful and hopeful that they might have a chance to be like you and to have steady teaching hours. A foot in the door. A foot in the door. But then one Friday that’s it, and they wistfully leave, glancing back forlornly, saying goodbye to nobody in particular because what’s the point in being friends with the summer teachers anyway? While you pop to Fallon and Byrne for a salad, they’re going directly to the social welfare office. And you watch this happening to these people, year in and year out.

But what can you be expected to do about it? You don’t want to risk your job, or your favour with management. Maybe it’s not your fault because maybe you’ve been in a ‘safe’ job for so many years you don’t know what the reality of being a new ELT is like nowadays. From all accounts, it seems that the industry used to be much smaller, the pay was higher and relationships between teachers and school owners were nurtured as in other small business. Bonuses were given, career longevity was valued and financially rewarded. On the negative side, facilities weren’t of a high standard, computers didn’t really exist and continuous professional development wasn’t really a ‘thing’ because the industry was nowhere near as research-driven as it has become today. So when the industry exploded in the 2000s, it brought with it some great positive developments like TeachThis.com and online vocabulary test makers. But sadly, the lucrative nature of the industry opened the door to exploitative work practices and the devaluation of the teacher.

So maybe it’s not your fault. It can be hard to empathise with experiences that aren’t happening to you. And so when you see the press coverage about English language teachers demanding better employment conditions, you think to yourself that you might just keep your head down while members of ELT Advocacy and Unite the Union are out at organizing meetings, protest rallies and briefings with TDs and senators. You stay quiet when individual teachers are giving up their anonymity so that they can give voice to the horror stories of thousands of other teachers. Wait-and-see-how-this-plays-out.

Or maybe you feel sorry for the school owners and the DOSs. It’s understandable. The majority of DOSs and ADOSs are people just trying to get through the week like you. They’re not raking in the profits, certainly. They work long hours, they’re under huge stress in the summer, organizing a frightening amount of schedules and activities, being the point of call for thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, often working from 7 in the morning until well after 7 in the evening.

Perhaps you think the union’s methods are ineffective, that you would do something differently. Perhaps you think people just need to quieten down and get on with their jobs. Maybe you’re just the type of person who will never join a union anyway, and quietly scorn those who do. Maybe you’re the type of person to watch wordlessly as a devoted teacher is told on Friday that there’s no more work Monday. The type of person who is motionless when that same teacher asks for support in challenging their dismissal. The type of person who smiles indulgently at new teachers spending hours and hours on unpaid lesson plans and admin work at home. You’ve been doing this for so long it barely takes you five minutes. A knowing chuckle. It’ll get quicker! you reassure them. But their unpaid labour costs won’t improve. The basic work materials that they bring from home like scissors, glue, tape, paper clips, folders, notebooks will never be remunerated. The ACELS-required lesson plans, the end-of-course certificates and reports, having to create weekly tests and record results, correct tests and give feedback, set and correct homework daily, correct exam writing homework, having to do extra speaking practice with exam students, provide extra online resources for students, provide emotional support for your students in class – none of this, none of it, is properly paid work.  It’s just the way it is and if you question it, you’ll be denied, ignored or red-flagged. If you’re in a ‘better’ school you might be getting an insulting token payment of 16 euro extra per week for the 10 hours of the important administrative work you do on the bus/ the train/ at home/ in a library because the staff room has 2 computers from 1997 and over 50 teachers. Insert shrugging emoji.

What I’m trying to say is that I understand your position very clearly. If the situation were reversed and I was working in a school earning a good wage and being treated relatively well, I doubt I’d be too excited to rock the boat in aid of other people who might benefit from teachers collectively organising. But you should recognise that you are in a boat. And you need to look around you and look at your social, political and economic context. Don’t pretend that it’s not happening. There’s enough room in the boat for everyone, but only a select few are kept in the boat at all times. The owners choose which ones to keep in semi-permanently and which ones they’ll haul aboard when they need to power through the summer months, before flinging them back overboard again when costs are at an optimum level. It suits them to have us grasping, it’s amusing to them. And at any moment, they can tip the boat over and take everything away from you. Your comfortable position in that school will not transfer to another school. Your individually negotiated wage and employment conditions will not transfer to another school. There is no “teacher protection scheme.” You see them doing this to the unlucky ones every year. So why do you think you’re special? It might not happen to you today or next week but eventually, you will be tossed out of the boat too. We’re all disposable to them.

But that’s the nature of the private sector, you weakly murmur, and our hourly wage is higher than other sectors. Well, let’s have a look at that claim. In a soon to be released report, Michael Taft, economist, has provided a wage analysis on the actual hours worked by an English language teacher in Ireland, using figures published by Marketing English in Ireland (MEI). Hearing that English language teachers “typically earn €18 per hour” has for a long time skewed the reality of what we really make. Taft states that the actual typical wage of an English language teacher in Ireland is €448 per week, assuming that employers are paying PRSI and these teachers are on full-time hours (Taft notes that “the numbers above are broadly reflective of workers’ wages until Marketing English in Ireland clarifies further their data”). The weekly unpaid work of an English language teacher is estimated to be 7.5 hours per week. This amounts to 46.5 hours of work per week at €9.63 per hour; totalling just under €448.00 per week. Taft contrasts this with the weekly ‘living wage’ in Ireland which is currently €448.50.

To be considered for a position at an ACELS accredited language school, you need a minimum of a Level 7 degree and the investment of a four week training course which costs a minimum of €1,000. This level of investment is not reflected in an ELTs take-home pay, nor in the respect shown to them by the industry. Perhaps the most galling thing is that we are not even considered to be teachers by the government or The Teaching Council because the CELT/A is not a recognised teaching qualification. Students are sold courses taught by ‘world class’, ‘qualified’, ‘experienced’ teachers. But in terms of working rights or pay, nobody actually believes that we are anything other than nominally qualified puppets who satisfy basic requirements. The professionalisation of English language teaching is something that needs our urgent attention and it is not in the interest of language schools to lead the way. It has to be teacher-driven.

I’m writing this to you, the senior EL teachers, the ones in relatively secure jobs. I’m not writing it to you not because I’ve got an axe to grind or because I think you’re a lost cause. I think that it would take a particularly soulless person to honestly believe that ELT in Ireland is working for its teachers right now. I’m writing because you are instrumental to the union movement going forward and you have so much to give to the fight for decent employment conditions, if you choose to join it. But it will be a long and difficult fight. Have you asked yourself why you’re afraid to speak openly about radical change? Why do you feel that it’s dangerous to retweet links or to share articles about the myriad abuses in the ELT sector? Take courage from the great educator Paulo Freire and today, name your oppression and your oppressor.

However the reality is that if a lone senior teacher starts to speak up, they might lose some of the privileges they enjoy at work and they wouldn’t be the first, the second or even the third. Countless brave teachers have lost their jobs for asking questions that the DOS and owners will not tolerate. Richard Bruton recommends that we take up our grievances with the Workplace Relations Commission, like employees in other sectors do. How do you prove to the Workplace Relations Commission that you were unfairly dismissed when you didn’t have a contract? Or that the contract you did have wasn’t renewed because the owners suddenly didn’t like your questioning attitude at the unpaid staff meetings? Does Richard Bruton believe that by taking a case to the WRC, no matter how well-founded your complaint, that your employment prospects won’t be severely damaged? How do you prove that you’ve been blacklisted by language schools? We lack basic rights such as contracts, permanent contracts, pay for non-contact hours, parental or carer’s leave and holiday pay. Coming from a position of such weakness, we cannot hope to successfully win cases at the WRC. The school owners are in positions of power, we are not. And unfortunately, the current governing parties are not in favour of worker’s rights. Why did Richard Bruton meet with MEI and then refuse to meet with our union representatives? Well, because we’re just the nominally qualified puppets who satisfy basic requirements. Who cares what puppets have to say about the upcoming IEM legislation? Don’t delude yourself into believing that we are considered to be anything more than this by those in power.

You have successfully avoided confrontation in the ELT industry for a long time. But now it’s time for you to decide if you want to continue on with the way things are, or to start questioning everything from the bottom up. It’s time for collective action. Time to stand with your colleagues, the new teachers, the summer teachers, the part-timers, the teachers who have learned English as a second language, teachers in minority groups and insist that the DOS and owners answer those questions. Why are we not paid properly for administration work? Why should we do 10 hours of administration work that we are not being paid for? Why are some teachers discriminated against because of where they were born? Why was that teacher let go? Did you follow a disciplinary procedure? Is there even a disciplinary procedure in this school? How are you distributing the extra working hours among the teachers? Is it systematic or based on personality politics? Why don’t we have proper contracts? Why don’t we have sick pay? How are you choosing which teachers are kept on in winter and which aren’t? Why aren’t our staffrooms fit for purpose? Why aren’t there enough computers or printers? Why isn’t there an adequate amount of toilet facilities? Why should we have to pay for board markers and coloured paper and scissors and staplers and paper clips? How can you conscionably earn millions every year and treat your staff so despicably?

The union is the place for you to organize your staffroom so that the staff are in a position of power to ask these questions. Right now, it can be very dangerous. But it shouldn’t be. The government cannot celebrate James Connolly’s memory in one breath, and with the next, demonstrate a shocking indifference for the conditions of English language teachers and other precarious workers like childcare professionals. You don’t have to continue looking in at this movement from the outside, derisively, furtively, knowingly, curiously. You can join today. Nobody in your workplace needs to know you’ve joined. But you’ll know, and you’ll have that protection, and a new confidence that when something eventually happens, you have someone to support you and to fight for you. I can guarantee that you will feel a new anger at realising that you’ve put up with abusive treatment for far, far too long. Come to the meetings, decide on the direction of the fight. The concentrated effort that has been growing in recent years is not going away. Yes, it’s been done before, and with mixed success, but not on a scale like this. We have a union branch dedicated to English language teachers. That means an elected committee of fellow English language teachers who are beholden to the votes of the membership on every issue. This is no fly-by-night, career-advancing, tokenistic, virtue-signalling movement. It’s a difficult industry to organize because we’re spread out across the city and across the country and we don’t have many opportunities to meet. The union meetings are your physical spaces in which to organise concrete actions. ELT Advocacy is your space online. These blogs are to give voice to what’s been happening silently for years, and to stand for posterity when we look back in 20 years at how terrible things used to be before teachers decided enough was enough.

When there are good teachers who are afraid to go into work because if they say the wrong thing at break-time, their hours will be cut and they won’t be able to pay their bills this month – as a fellow worker, you cannot morally stay silent. If you’re a new-ish teacher, stop pretending this isn’t your fight because you will eventually benefit from union gains that others have fought for. If you’re a senior teacher, you know that only a grassroots movement of ELTs will ever create the change we desperately need. Turn away from the cave wall – you might like what you see – join today.

Aileen Bowe