Saturday, 30 June 2018

Teaching English in France - a hiding to nowhere

There are many, many folks, young and older, teaching English as a second language around the world. It's an attractive idea if you want to keep employed, travel, and like teaching.
In order to be taken seriously when applying online for these teaching jobs you MUST do your homework on your preferred countries and have the following:
  • An undergraduate degree (preferably in an English-related field though some countries accept teachers with any kind of Bachelor degree. Masters is even better
  • An international TESOL certificate to prove you have seriously studied the pedagogy and done a residential course of at least 120 hours including substantial teaching practice. Online courses for this have limited value and are usually considered inferior or irrelevant.
  • A native speaker or equivalent
  • A clean driver license
  • A clean police record
  • Copies and originals of passport, degrees and certificates, Skype address 
  • And don't get old or you're screwed for most countries
You set up alerts on job sites like and build a profile. Make sure you have the legal right to teach in your chosen country. A country like France rarely advertises - at least its language schools rarely do as it's highly competitive and the pay is poor. If you are aged less than 30 you could try applying here
At best you might get a visa for a one-year stint otherwise if you are not an EU citizen you will be out of luck and will not be hired by anyone.

The best-paying jobs are those at French Universities but the rules and regulations block most of us because we are not 'fonctionnaires'; we are not from or in the French system and those privileged block those who aren't. It's a nasty little system which has no interest in how good a teacher you are. You win a post for one year as a lecteur or up to two years as a Maitre de Langue but you can never have this type of job again, anywhere. They are generally designed for Masters or PhD students to earn some money while completing their degree. It's very hard to break into this. Some teachers who are qualified and experienced like me get through a crack but it's rare. You will spend your life in a constant state of anxiety about how to find enough hours to live on and worrying if you will get paid.

If you are lucky enough to get one of these jobs you will be fed the crap jobs by the people who can never lose their cushy jobs. So often I spent my summer holidays planning for courses I was told I was taking only to find they had given the course to someone else less qualified or had changed or deleted the course without telling me.  All my courses were bespoke-designed by me, no matter if it was for Masters in Chemistry or Computers or Biotechnology, Sport or Business Administration, Translation of French Literature or Masters in Pharmacy, Water Technology or Marketing.

A pregnant teacher who had no qualifications or experience in communications was teaching a course on Intercultural Communication. I was asked to take it on while she was on maternity leave. I designed a new course with  research-based activities which the students loved. They loved it so much they asked the administration to keep me for the rest of the year. The administration was surprised by the student delegation (usually students have little good to say about their teachers) but agreed to that minus 4 hours of exams at the end as they 'weren't allowed' to give me the full set of hours. When the original teacher came back she had no idea how to mark the work as she had no idea of communications in the real world that wasn't in the crutch of an old text book she used. I was obliged to send her information and videos on basic topics so she could understand. I was heartbroken she got to keep the course and I didn't though the students weren't happy

The administration of university courses and teaching staff can be appallingly unprofessional. I'm speaking from experience. One of my Masters courses administrators told me I was now teaching at a distance, two late enrolment students were resident in Spain and I must adjust my evaluations and assignments for them accordingly. This was 5 weeks after my face-to-face course had started. Double the workload for me but no extra money.

Often the university would insist I evaluate students who had never attended the course nor done any assignments via a 30 minute interview. I fail to see how students can be assessed for the language course if they have never attended it but I had to pull my head in and let them pass to make the university look good. For me, this happened so often I have no respect for any French university degree. Students are allowed to pass a course they never attended. Extra unpaid work for the poor teacher.

Oh, and you will have to supply your own equipment if you want to teach remotely as expected in the 21st century. You will probably not have a whiteboard (blackboard only in most of my courses) so my clothes were ruined with chalk dust. NO laptop or video projector so I had to supply my own. No internet to log onto the web in the classrooms, the blackout curtains would be lying ripped and broken on the floor for years. I would have to lug a suitcase of stuff up and down stairs as there were no lifts or those there were frequently not working. This damaged my personal sensitive electronics.

Too often the university would run out of money for photocopying essential worksheets - remember there were no textbooks supplied so part time teachers must supply all student materials. France deserves third world status but the money had been creatively pilfered or 'mis-managed' by a previous president for her pet projects. The classroom walls and ceilings had sheets of paint cracked and breaking off, reinforcing rods in internal structural columns were exposed because the concrete was disintegrating. What would YOU think of that?

The teachers find themselves doing the sort of admin tasks you would expect of the course administrators. The teachers are expendable, the employers know they are expendable and treat them as such because they can get away with anything, including not paying the teachers, which brings us to the plight of the vacataire.
 A vacataire is a supply teacher, brought in to teach a course of a few hours during a semester. There is no job security or holiday pay etc. You can't apply for these jobs unless: you have a principal non-teaching job of 900 hours per year or a principal teaching job of 300 hours per year. These hours don't seem like much. That's because these jobs only pay for face-to-face class time, not exam setting and marking, assignment marking, nor lesson preparation. You also have to supply all the teaching resources yourself. You will only get paid, at best, at the end of each half-year semester.

Many of these jobs might only offer you 4 hours or less per week. You will not be paid for prep or what can be extensive commuter time and money whizzing from one pathetic little job to another. If you accept a job on a Tuesday from 10am -12pm during a semester you might not be required every Tuesday but your calendar is now committed to that time so you can't get work elsewhere to fill in the blanks. During my last year in France teaching at tertiary level and elsewhere I had to juggle 6 employers, all with their timetables, widely different locations, different forms of administration and online systems. I was travelling 25 hours per week, non-paid just for the privilege of working multiple tiny jobs. The red-tape with HR is truly horrifying. They have so many stupid rules to block people working and the rules change all the time.

To work in Paris 4 hours a week for just a few weeks at just one employer I had to drive 35 mins to a train, wait then tackle the one-hour train trip, mostly standing with my suitcase full of equipment, to Paris, disembark and walk to the Metro which is up and down considerable numbers of stairs to catch a line, change lines, then walk to the employer. 2.5 hours EACH way. Hardly profitable but this is the desperate situation for teachers like I was.

I have recently discovered that many educational institutions have a rule that they won't employ teachers who are teachers/teaching. You have to have some other occupation and not be currently teaching anywhere. It's madness. No wonder the French are the most crap at language learning.

Keep in mind you are unlikely to be paid for the three-month summer holidays as there are no courses over that time. You probably won't be paid if your students are suddenly sent to do something else on the timetabled session. You never know where you are. You are helpless. But there's another issue becoming more and more serious for vacataires and short contract teachers. Not being employed legally and not, sometimes never, being paid.

Universities and Grand Ecoles are doing this more and more. Complaints are becoming commonplace about even the most prestigious institutions known for turning out high level politicians and civil servants.

Here's what a few suffering teachers have to say in our recent teachers' forum:
The whole experience there was chaotic, stressful and unpleasant. I never got a security pass and had to always ask reception to let me and my students into class which started at 8am. I finally got my work email in week 11 and prior to that had no easy way of contacting my students (55 of them in total). I was given a job after a phone interview and was never given any course guidance until right at the end when I had to submit an exam paper which I did (3 versions). We agreed I would correct and grade these exams after the Xmas holidays. However on my return from Xmas holidays, I found out they had given my classes to another teacher who had not even contacted me about what I had taught my two groups.

Since vacataires in France do not, can not, will not organize, abuse of all sorts occurs. We are expendable and replaceable in the eyes of many administrators. 

We tried at *&^% and we tried at (*&^% and were met with little solidarity amongst our brethren and even less so from the salaried employees of these schools. There is really nowhere that I know of that you can take your grievances other than to the Prudhommes or a lawyer...Sorry to sound so glum but this has been my 18 year experience.
As a part-time or "adjunct" professor you're easily the last hired, most overworked, last paid. Totally unfair, of course. And it happens when you yourself, in a low-income pay bracket, may be in specially desperate need of your pay.  I've seen part-time people wait from six months to upwards of two years to be paid for their university work. Or never be paid at all.
Its HR department is an absolute shambles and you'll waste endless time and energy to get paid. I taught an M2 course in the first semester 2017-2018 (September - December 2017) and got paid end of May 2018 after...
- I had written a formal complaint to l’Académie de Paris;

- reported its administrative incompetence to the Ministry of Higher Education;

- threatened to go to the police and file a complaint.
In proper English this is called gross incompetence and vile disdain for hardworking teaching professionals. How come a university in a first country can't get its act together?
Let me simplify this: could you give me the name of ONE pastry shop in Paris that allows me to take away a tarte normande and possibly pay six months later? 

Some employers insist you must be self-employed as they refuse to pay the social charges part of your wage which a principal employer must do. They don't want the paperwork either. Unfortunately, becoming self-employed will not solve this problem as most employers require that you have had a certain level of income and paid taxes as an autoentrepreneur for the past THREE years.When the rules around employing vacataires became too impossible to work around I sought a position at an independent (not aligned to the STATE) language school on a CDII.

In theory it's a permanent position contract with zero hours. Whatever hours they promise to give you in the contract (yes, unlike the vacataires you have a contract) they have an automatic 'out' from delivering, citing reduced client demand if it suits. I thought I would be able to work almost full-time. They promised me as much work as I wanted in the areas of corporate work, language intensives for teenagers, training nurses in hospitals etc. It was all bullshit sugar-coated. If an adult student didn't turn up for their lesson I didn't get paid. My first week I worked 30 hours in front of the classes or individuals. Remember, I didn't get paid for the hundreds of hours spent planning or marking or doing admin. Those 30 hours never happened again. By the time I had to leave I was only getting 5 hours a week. Impossible to live like this despite the fact I'm very good at what I do. 

"Everything you guys have complained about is true.  I've worked in Higher Ed here in France & across Europe for many years and seen what you've described, and worse, first hand.   I've seen cases where it's taken one or two full years for people working as part-timers, as "vacataire université" or "chargé de cours", to get paid. A few times I've seen people put in a whole year of work and never get paid. Yes, and specifically within the Paris university system & often elsewhere -- part timers are incredibly exploited, chronically neglected."

So, thinking of teaching ESL or TESOL in France? You have been warned.
In addition you can check out this:

I would like to say that my time teaching 4 hours a week in the Faculté de Pharmacie at Paris-Sud was the best teaching experience I had. Lovely staff, professional and well-organised but the changing rules for employing non-permanent teachers are making finding quality teachers almost impossible. The State doesn't want outsiders and has been manouvring us out over recent years.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Building in NZ - The building consent process

You have decided to get a builder to build your house and take care of the process, rather than project manage it yourself. After learning about all the stuff that can go wrong during and after building I was happy to leave it to Landmark Homes. If you try to do things yourself you will have to:
  • Check quotes, suppliers' quantities and prices
  • get building consent forms (and resource forms if needed)
  • Order materials and create the construction programme
  • Arrange insurance against theft, fire etc
  • Provide necessary health and safety plan for the site
  • Ensure building compliance inspections are completed
  • Order materials and book sub-trades and ensure all is well timed
  • Check materials and return damaged goods, check correct colours
  • Apply for  Code Compliance Certificate on completion
  • Pay all accounts
  • Chase up sub trades for maintenance requirements
  • As the head contractor you will be liable for all building defects for the next 10 years. 
No way did I want that amount of stress, lacking the knowledge to do it anyway.

Your building consent info including detailed working drawings, drainage etc should comply with the council's building requirements otherwise you will need to apply for a resource consent. That will add time and money to your project so make sure space between your house and boundary fences comply, that your garage is the correct distance from the road, that recession plane requirements are met.  Two story homes add complications.

My neighbour is building a garage which is longer than the average and close to the sunny boundary for my house so required a resource consent. As part of that his builder was required to notify me and get my written approval before the consent process could continue. This slowed things down for them. at this stage avoid making any changes to walls or windows or you may need to start, expensively, again.

These days in Selwyn District your builder lodges the building consent electronically directly with the council. You, the owner, do nothing. Below are two links on the AlphaOne process. Your council should complete your lodging within 20 working days so long as you have supplied all necessary information. If council comes back to your builder requesting additional info the clock stops and then restarts once council receives that info. I really hope there will be no delays with my consent. It has already been delayed at the beginning by the engineering requirement for a soak pit more than 5m deep.

Selwyn are trialling a no deposit fee trial. No, it doesn't mean your consent is free, just that you can get on with the process before being hit with the bill. They say...

No Deposit Fee Trial From 1 January 2018 we will not be asking for a deposit fee at the time of lodging your building consent application. We are taking the opportunity to trial a ‘no deposit’ approach to streamline workflows.
What does this means for you?
  • No upfront cost when lodging the application.
  • Complete applications start the statutory clock straight away and are queued for processing (note – all applications will still be vetted for completeness).
  • One invoice for all associated fees upon issue of your building consent.
This new system should make things easier for my builder, I hope. On a wet Queen's Birthday weekend I am sitting around anxiously twiddling my thumbs, writing, dreaming impatiently for the right to start building 7 months after my first inquiries. As you can see, we're ready to go.