« Industry Events - Third International Congress on English Grammar | Main | Surfing with English-Blog on Location »

January 10, 2006

Being Compensated Fairly for English Teaching

"Education costs money, but then so does ignorance." - Sir Claus Moser

Are you being paid enough to teach English? Most of us would probably stand up in unison to yell a resounding "no" if asked en masse . . .

. . . In a recent article [here] at Policy Review Online, author Frederick M. Hess claims that with regards to U.S. schools:

. . . it is time to end the fiction that schools should pay English, social studies, and physical education teachers the same amount that they pay science or math teachers. After all, there are many more competent candidates for English and social studies jobs than for math or science positions . . .

He goes on to say that:

. . . School districts frequently provide piecemeal stipends for coaching or teaching English as a second language, yet they don’t reward those teachers who mentor colleagues, critique lesson plans, or otherwise work to make the school successful . . .

Language Teaching Colleagues,

Is it really true that English teachers are less valued in countries where English is primarily a first language? (thereby explaining the apparent rift in salaries?)

Hess implies:

. . . If [U.S.] districts were paying $80,000 to 33-year-old math teachers who were doing an effective job in troubled schools, and recapturing the cost by paying $40,000 to history or English teachers in comfortable schools, we would find it miraculously easier to find and keep the teachers we need . . .

In an article by Eric Hanushek called "The Truth About Teacher Salaries and Student Achievement" [found here] the argument is made that discussions which compare the salaries of teachers in different fields "are frequently linked to arguments about the necessity of having quality teachers."

English Teaching Payscale.gif

Hanushek is against policies that raise the salaries - for say, English teachers - on the whole because "[a]n increase in salaries induces all current teachers to stay in teaching, regardless of how good they are. He seems to feel that policy that everyone needs a raise is unfair because, presently, "quality is not a determinant of salaries. Teachers salaries are determined by experience, degree level, and coaching abilities but not by their impact on student learning."

How would you feel about a system that began to raise your pay based on your effectiveness (if this is something that can even be qualitatively measured)?

Another aspect of policies that pay teachers according to experience can be seen in the example of this school in San Joaquin. Here, according to an article by Jennifer Torres called "Inequality in Class," schools with smaller budgets tend to hire teachers with less experience so that the money stretches farther.

Speaking from my own experience, I personally know of several ESL schools overseas who use a similar policy as a mater of routine, that being, continually hiring inexperienced teachers to justify extremely below-the-bar salaries. Teachers who begin to complain about their salaries after a few years typcially got canned. Clearly, experience or quality was not valued at institutions such as these.

When it comes to teaching English overseas, there also seems to be a ceiling, according to Michelle over on ESL-Lesson-Plan (see article here).

She says that, "If you're like many ESL teachers, you simply accept the salary that an ESL school is offering, and then promise yourself that next year, you'll ask for a raise, or look for a position that pays better."

So, are the salaries for English teaching currently (or becoming) too low?

In a post from July on Scott Sommers' Taiwan Blog called "What's Happening to Teacher's Salaries?," Sommers addresses an assertion by Michael Turton that the flood of ESL teachers into the market is/has/will drive the average salary down to unacceptable levels.

Sommers uses his experience in Taiwan as his example for trends in 2005 to say:

. . . there are now a wide variety of positions available in the market in terms of responsibilities and compensation. These range from teaching full-time at a university with paid vacation time to positions with companies or with company teaching contractors that pay substantial hourly rates. The top teaching jobs now available are competitive with positions available in the ex-pat business community . . .

There are tons of commentaries such as these on the web and the subject is definitely becoming a hot issue.

How much is too much and how much is not enough? Can we discuss this subject in terms of ratios and percentages rather than numbers alone (since actual salaries will naturally differ from region to region)?

I'm interested to hear what your opinions are, the folks actually out there in the field both at home and abroad.

Please drop a line or two in the comment box or point our readers to an informative article or two on the subject if you know of any.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you,


Posted by lhobbs at January 10, 2006 11:56 PM

Readers' Comments:


I have found the only way I have been able to be fairly compensated is by working independently.

Everybody I have taught has said the same thing: "You are a very good teacher."

I've had many say:"You are the best. We've tried many and without a doubt, you are the absolute best."

I am able to get a top rate when I sell my services direct to a company, yet when I ask a language school who is contracting me to demand a higher price for my services, they refuse saying it's not fair to the other teachers or they simply say: "I can't get that price."

Well I say: "If I can get it for my services, why can't you?"

As far as the value of English teachers being lower in countries where English is the first language: I got a better rate in Canada in my first year of teaching from language schools than I am offered in Hungary today from a language school. The Hungarian market is unrealistically low. They pay less for a native-speaking English teacher than they do for German.

I think the problem may be there are too many North Americans here who have passive incomes from investments or family and are willing to work for pocket money.

Quite frankly, I think we need a union



Note from Lee:

Alison, I couldn't agree more with you about unionization. I'm fortunate to work at an institution where the instructors do have a union; I can't imagine going back to a non-union situation. But, this is the way much of the world is. What movements have been tried to unionize overseas ELT, EFL, and ESL teachers? It will be interesting to see what happens in the "new" parts of the EU.

Posted by: AMB at January 11, 2006 02:29 AM


Well! Who knows where one's name might turn up?

Scott's assertion that top English tops are competitive with those in the expat business community is absurd (I've held those jobs!).

In 99% of cases the high hourly rates are only for a few prime hours a week -- there is no highly stratified market (does Sommers have any experience teaching in Bushibans? Don't think so).

The vast majority of English teaching is carried on in cram schools, always has been, always will be. Sure there are cushy hours out there -- just try getting them forty hours a week!

My original article is here.

So are salaries too low? No. Because the truth is that a great many ESL teachers here from foreign countries are untrained and are poor teachers. They are basically migrant workers, unskilled.

The only skilled labor is in the universities, and in a few other jobs where formal ESL training is required. An English teacher's purpose isn't to teach English, but to validate the English being taught by being white. The key is Whiteness, and thus any Caucasian can be hired....so basically, how much do you think whiteness is worth? Whatever the market will bear, that's the answer....


Posted by: Michael Turton at January 11, 2006 09:48 AM


This topic of ESL/teacher pay is one of those eternal areas of discussion.

I'd like to look at it from two points of view so that, even though the issue may not be "resolved" at least, I think, we can look at it a bit with a bit more perspective.

First, the bottom line is that, to a degree at least, it doesn't matter how much ESL (or any) teachers get paid - it essentially only matters how much YOU get paid. This is where articles on negotiation strategies become valuable. In short, how can you, as a teacher, warrant the payment you believe you deserve. If you can make a convincing case to yourself, you can probably convince your employer.

Second, the basics of Supply & Demand enter in. If you want to teach ESL, say in Paris, how many other teachers (especially young & single) also want to and would be willing to compromise salary just for the experience?

But, if you are willing to teach in, let's say, Mongolia - with a two year contract - how many other teachers would compete for that same position?

I would recommend that, if a higher salary is the object, an ESL teacher should cultivate other areas - language expertise in more than one tongue, computer knowledge, medical background, interest in using music or willingness to work with children are only a few areas that might add some value to the standard ESL degree.



Posted by: Morf at January 11, 2006 12:48 PM


Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my site! It provoked me to come here and read my post and I am scandalised by the TYPOS!! I think I was asleep when I wrote that post, so I have edited it and reposted it here!

(Where is a red-faced smiley when you need one?)

[Corrected Remark Inserted Above -- ed.]

Posted by: AMB at January 11, 2006 03:42 PM


Is it really fair to compare teaching salaries abroad with wages in the west?

In Hungary I made $200 per month at a teacher training college, but they paid for housing and the cost of living was very low. I was able to afford dental work. In the United States fifty percent of my income went for rent alone. My job provided no health benefits and I could only afford a sleezy dive in an urban slum.

In Korea I cleared $1,000 and paid no rent. I was able to save money for travel and had plenty of time to write a book. In the United States I was killing myself with two jobs. I seldom had energy for anything other than reading a book.

In Thailand my salary was only $500, but I lived like a king. I had a nice home beside the river, beautiful sunsets every night, and exotic animals scurrying around my yard. I experienced tropical climate instead of cold winter storms. These are are things that I could never afford at home.

Sure our salaries are low, but we are compensated with unique overseas adventures. We have more buying power with what we do earn - often getting paid much higer salaries than local counterparts. The only problem is that savings vanish quickly if we ever return home.

Teaching English abroad is worth it. My quality of life is much better even in these developing countries. However, one thing that should change is salary increases according to experience. There is no difference between a backpacking "cowboy" teacher and a seasoned professional at Thailand's government schools. The salary is usually the same. There needs to be a tier in which English teachers can get salary increases each year while in country. That way the school can retain more qualified instructors.


Posted by: Ken May at January 12, 2006 12:43 AM

Note from Lee:

Ken, your comments are certainly valid. I think I meant to talk about career choices in terms of percentages and ratios in comparison to other fields and occupations. Obviously, teaching English at home [for certified teaching native speakers] generally makes more income than it does overseas, but it also doesn't allow for a certain "type" of lifestyle. It's barely a middle class existence at best, from my experience. Earnings from teaching English abroad pay less but - sometimes - puts the worker in an economic class "above" and beyond other teaching fields in the same country, e.g. teaching Russian as a Second Language or Physical Education.

At the same time, it is very true what you've noted: in some places, at least, there doesn't seem to be a way to clearly distinguish in monetary terms the person who'd like to do this professionally and for the long term [and who is indeed a trained professional] and the travelling cowboy/yahoo with absolutely no real teaching credentials [or recently purchased ones] or real interest in the profession, whatsoever. For schools with minimal standards, both applicants end up on the same pay level. Somehow, it just doesn't seem fair to those who try; but, what else is new?

Posted by: Lee at January 12, 2006 01:02 AM


I couldn't disagree more with the idea that the only "skilled" English teachers are those in universities or those with formal ESL training. To me that smacks sorely of ivory tower elitism.

I must have seen a hundred different schools in Taiwan, and I've met students from even more. In my experience not a single one of the programs in which the students make the best progress was in a collegiate or any public school system.

In my experience, very few of the best teachers had ESL experience prior to coming to Taiwan. As a former linguistics major at a top western school, I can say without a doubt that what is taught in those classes doesn't even begin to cover what it takes to be an effective teacher. (It would be advantageous for curriculum writers to have some background, though.)

I've written about some of the more demanding and higher-paying schools in Taiwan. At most of the better schools, the pay is $2K USD/month during training, over $3K after finishing training, and over $5k/month starting in the third year. There are even managerial and/or franchising opportunities at these kinds of schools. I have a couple of former co-workers who, after about 5 years of teaching at the same school, are earning in excess of $10,000USD a month.

I should say, though, that to get these kinds of jobs you have to be responsible enough to stay until your students graduate, and you have to be able to speak Chinese. Both requirements are uncommon at big-chain buxibans and the latter is uncommon even at universities, but both are no-brainers.


Note from Lee:

Just out of curiosity Mark, where did you get your degree in linguistics?

Thanks for your input.

Posted by: Mark at January 12, 2006 05:31 PM


I studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder (world rank- 34th). As a linguistics major, I took introductory courses in morphology, phonology and syntax, as well as a "language and culture" class. I also did some work with the International English Center students under a program through the university's TEASL program.

However, I did NOT get a degree in linguistics. I changed majors and graduated with a degree in Japanese language and literature. I'm still very interested in linguistics, though. Eventually, I may go to a Chinese university for a graduate degree in linguistics much like John, of sinoplice.com, is doing.

Despite my background and interest in linguistics, I can't really say that it's the most important thing in being a good ESL teacher. In my opinion, presence, motivational abilities, perspicuity and energy are all more important. Based on what I've seen, those with general education, public speaking, or even sales backgrounds tend to achieve better results than those who come to Taiwan right after getting an MA or even PHD in ESL education.


Posted by: Mark at January 13, 2006 10:25 AM

Note from Lee:

Thanks Mark for your remarks about UC at Boulder and IEC's TEASL program. At nearly 10 grand per month, it sounds like you or your friends are making a prosperous career for yourself in Taiwan. I have many colleagues that work in the ESL line in Taiwan but they've never let on to me that this was the kind of pay they earned. Now I'll have some ammo.

Let us know how your academic studies - at the Chinese (mainland?)university John attends - are going once you are enrolled. Are universities there ranked too?

Since many of my readers are indeed lit majors, I'd be interested to learn if you've found the Japanese Language/Lit degree beneficial for your work in Taiwan. For example, what prompted you to choose employment in Taiwan as opposed to Japan?

Best wishes!

Posted by: Lee at January 13, 2006 01:54 PM


Chinese universities are also listed in the same rankings, but none fall into the top 100 ranks. The top rankings lean heavily towards the US and the UK.

I chose Taiwan primarily because I wanted to learn another language. Being the most spoken language on the planet, I thought Mandarin would be a good choice. I also mistakenly believed that having acquired pretty decent Japanese skills, I could learn Chinese pretty quickly. As I've written in my blog, it has been MUCH more difficult for me than Japanese was.

Still, I think learning Japanese well enough to mostly understand movies and the news was a huge advantage. It gives me an idea of what my own students have to go through to learn English, and it also prevented me from falling into the same pattern as many foreigners here. Without my experience as a Japanese major, I easily could have convinced myself that languages like Chinese are basically "unlearnable" and just given up.

I should mention that 10k a month is way at the high end, and it's only possible for teachers who have been at a school long enough to receive profit-sharing bonuses. I'm currently only making about 4k a month. I've described the job market for elite buxibans on my blog.

Thanks for the friendly comments. It's a nice blog here!


Posted by: Mark at January 13, 2006 03:24 PM


I posted a reply last night to Michelle's post Could ESL Teachers Be Earning More? regarding this topic. I completely agree with Ken. See, I'm currently working in a small town in Russia, where I receive $200/mo, plus free room and board. I'm obviously neither making a fortune nor saving money, but I have plenty of money to live comfortably, and I'm having a fantastic time.

Money isn't everything; I'd take peace of mind over wealth any day.


Posted by: Jane Keeler at January 14, 2006 06:48 AM


Several points:

1. US teachers have made it very clear that they will not tolerate performance pay. Any suggestion that teacher's pay should be tied to student outcomes has come not from teachers or their unions but from school management. In a sense, one could say that despite the complaining, the sonority system that exists is the one that classroom teachers prefer.

2. Many foreign English teachers in Japan are unionized. While this has made a difference, it has not made the profound difference that many first thought it would. Market forces for foreign teachers in Japan have had a much, much more powerful effect on working conditions and wages.

3. Michael Turton is an extremely knowledgeable source on Taiwan, but he is quite wrong about the wages of top English teachers. Some of this may stem from the fact that lives in one of the smaller major cities of our island, but regardless, he is simply wrong when he says that these wages are not comparable with what expat businessmen make. In Taipei, a top teacher can pull in well over 100,000/mnth. More than 150,000 in a month is not unimaginable. While this will not compare with the CEO of Citibank, there are tens of thousands of foreign businessmen working here. This would include the dairy rep for New Zealand food or the overseas hired teachers at international schools that play on my rugby team. And I can assure you that they make nothing like this. Perhaps Michael is just trying to keep the secret to himself.


Posted by: Scott Sommers at January 19, 2006 10:00 PM

Note from Lee:

Scott, thanks for that data. I take it you and Michael don't see eye to eye on this issue then?

Also, I thought I'd direct readers to the latest post by Patricia Dean over on the ESL-School blog. Patricia says:

This entire compensation issue for teachers is highly complex. Given that English language schools are so widely scattered across the world, it is impossible to apply any salary benchmarks for the profession as a whole.

Pay is subject to local conditions, with the best-paid opportunities existing in western Europe, the Middle east, the USA and Australia. In Asia, Japan and Taiwan seem to offer the best prospects. However, the cost of living in these countries can be high too, so a higher salary does not always lead to more disposable income. How then can a school set a fair compensation package that will attract and keep good teachers without putting undue strain on the budget?

Much depends on the system of academic management. One model I have seen that works . . .

To read the rest of this entry, please click here.

Posted by: Lee at January 19, 2006 11:36 PM


My personal view on this matter is that anyone can get a teaching degree, but that doesn't mean that they are good teachers. Since when does society value a piece of paper more than a sincere hardworking individual who has talent? My Grandmother never graduated from College and she was a top-rate first grade teacher. Every child that came out of her classroom, including me could read at the third grade level, and do aithmetic that a 3rd grader now would have difficulty with. The point being that though she may not have been qualified, she was certainly a top-notch teacher. Did she get paid well? No, but she still enjoyed her job, and I think that is what is most important. Good teachers like teaching no matter what.What makes a good teacher? The natural ability to reach other people, and to be able to cultivate interest even among those who really would rather be somewhere else. Do they deserve better salaries? Yes, but so do other professionals, like janitors who work in jobs that the rest of us would refuse to even consider as an employment option. I think that we should be compensated more for our contributions to society than what type of job we are working in.


Posted by: Carolyn at January 26, 2006 12:20 AM


Well, I see this thread has evolved...Lee brought up the subject of a union over on ESL-Jobs-Forum, and I wrote a long post there about this matter, and brought it over here to add to this thread.

It is posted at the end of these opening remarks.

I don't think we need a union to standardise pay, I think we need a global union to standarize accreditation and with that accreditation, grant a kind of global citizen status that will facilitate moving from country to country, while permitting the accredited teacher to pay taxes, health care, social services, pension etc. in their 'native' country.

From what I've experienced in Hungary, and what I've read about Korea, and what I understand about the situation the world over, (please enlighten me if I'm off base) is that one of the biggest problems of exploitation relates to the work permit, and another - and this rankles me the most - relates to paying tax and social tax in a country where I have no long-term vested interest. What happens to my Canada pension while I pay into Korea's pension plan?

In some situations, there is a bilateral agreement that permits funds paid into one country's system, to be redirected to the country where you eventually draw your pension.

Now here is what I posted over in ESLemployment's forum:

This matter is a multi-headed monster.

Well, I for one think we need an international body that negotiates with countries on a global level.

I've been thinking about this ever since I got into ESL. My first overseas job was with a really bad - and I mean REALLY BAD - British summer school. So bad, the accomodations flunked the British Council inspection while the teachers were applauded for being able to live in the bad situation and deliver such high quality lessons.

The DOS at that school was fantastic!

That was followed - thankfully - by a great experience with an adults only immersion style school in Cambridge.

Then I came to Hungary and started to experience abuse and exploitation of native speaker teachers in a way that drove me out of the schools into working independently. This had not been my ambition when I got into ESL. I had hoped to enter into a new career where there would be collaboration with colleagues, the sharing of ideas, and opprtunities for professional growth and development.

In Canada, I had had good experiences with the schools I worked with. I felt valued and respected, and treated with respect.

I started my career in Budapest working for no less than 7 schools simultaneusly and left one after another. At one interview early in the game, the woman who interviewed told me that there used to be alot of native speaker teachers in Hungary but they had all left and she didn't know why...


When I discussed the situation with other native speaker teachers who had set up their own schools here, I found a general malaise.

One of the things I found most demoralising when working for schools was that I was always being asked to 'pay my dues' over and over - as if I were perpetually 20 years old and fresh out of school. My life experience and maturity seemed of little value in that regard, yet when I was in the teaching situation, those were the things my students valued most about me.


Is it a wonder I eventually gave up on all the schools?

But there are a myriad of problems that an independent teacher encounters as well....

I believe we need some kind of global body that will standardize accreditation, and negotiate with countries to recognise an accredited native speaker as a type of global citizen, and thereby permit that person to work in signed countries and pay taxes in their home, or 'native' country.

If large multi-national corporations - who benefit from the language skills we develop in the individuals they eventually hire - can have a kind of global citizen status - we should be able to as well.

I invite you to consider the words of that great linguist Noam Chomsky.

From "Fight the Power" interviewed by Ian Rappel, in the Socialist Review, July, 2005:

[quote] There is a technical meaning of globalisation. It means international integration. This can take all sorts of forms. In fact, if we use globalisation in this neutral technical sense of international integration, then the leading proponents of globalisation historically have been the workers’ movements and the labour movement. That’s why every union is called an International. Of course they aren’t Internationals but that’s what they strove to be. There were several failed attempts to develop Internationals through history, but the idea of international integration at the level of people - that’s the ideal of the left and the workers’ movements from their origin.

Interestingly now, for the first time in years, there are actual seeds of what could be the first meaningful globalisation in history - namely the World Social Forum and its regional and local offshoots, and the various local and regional movements that partially integrate themselves in that framework - I mean, that’s real globalisation. It brings together people from many different countries, mostly the South, where most of the activism and vitality is, but increasingly the North as well - working people, environmentalists, feminists, the anti-war movement - a wide range of interests and a broad variety of people. [/quote]

Another person who is putting forward related ideas is Canadian politician Lloyd Axworthy. I recently heard him speak in Hungary and one of the things he touched on in his talk "The Responsibility to Protect" was the kind of citzenless status that migrant people arrive at, and the need to protect their rights in an increasingly globalised world. This citizenless status is in many ways what happens to the most migrant of native speaker English teachers.

What do you think about organising to present our case at the next World Social Forum which will be held January, 2006 in India?


Posted by: amb at February 2, 2006 10:31 AM

Hi Lee,

I found your blog via Google by accident and have to admit that you've a really interesting blog :-)

Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day :)


Posted by: Florian at January 28, 2007 06:33 PM

My Blog

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved. 2006.