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Bullying in TEFL and needing advice… how to reignite my TEFL career?

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  • Jamie
    29 October, 2017 at 2:53
    • Total posts: 1

    Hey, TEFL world!

    I’m looking for some advice about EFL teaching and workplace bullying.

    My situation in brief…

    I used to work for an EFL organisation in Lopburi, Thailand. I absolutely loved the teaching part of things and always went above and beyond requirements because I wanted to create great learning opportunities for my learners. However, I was regularly bullied by the British DOS and the teaching and office staff. I’m an outgoing person and have always had no trouble making friends and striking up conversation with strangers, but for whatever reason my face did not fit, and no matter how hard I tried to ‘fit in’ it only made matters worse, e.g. staff looking at one another and giggling when I tried to converse, the DOS telling me in front of everybody that I had to pass an observation-based exam to remain with the company (and secure a Thai work permit) which was a lie that I discovered on the morning of the ‘exam’, the self-imposed ‘head teacher’ / ‘office leader’ ridiculing me in front of my peers because I asked for additional support when planning new activities aligned with the company’s mandated lesson plans. I could go on, but I prefer not to elaborate further. I’m sure anyone who has ever worked in such a hostile environment can relate to the types of feelings it evokes. The unfortunate side of humanity, I guess.

    The bullying goes so much deeper, but I shall not say more because I wish the company and individuals concerned to remain anonymous. That said, the ‘ring leader’ and most despicable of staff members is now in an EFL managerial position at a world renowned language school chain based in Europe. I often wonder how she treats her current staff. Who knows?

    Anyway, since that time I have achieved highly relevant qualifications, including an MA. However, I find myself in a state of classroom avoidance because of that unfortunate period, and irrespective of my understanding of research perspectives in L2 learning and classroom pedagogy, I freeze when given the chance to teach; my mind simply draws a blank. Consequently, this has had a huge detrimental impact on my ability to keep jobs.

    That period is the one and only time I can ever recall being the victim of bullying, so the experience remains unique and vivid. I have not spoken about it before now, so I guess I’m asking:

    1. Have any of you experienced bullying in similar EFL contexts? If so, how did it affect you? How did you overcome its negative impact?

    2. How do I approach getting back in the classroom? (I feel I need a bit of initial support from an employer, but try explaining the reasons why at an interview! Most employers would probably think I’m mentally weak (an assertion I would completely reject!).

    Anyway it would be great to get some feedback.


    P.S. I did post this in a Thai FB forum; however, a few of the responses bordered on trolling. So if one does offer criticism, please do back it up with a solution. Many thanks!

    31 October, 2017 at 20:45
    • Total posts: 52

    Start with private classes or volunteer teaching

    Hi Jamie,

    First off, welcome to the forum!

    I’m sorry you went through what you did. Sadly, being back in a school setting gives rise to playground bullying – sometimes it’s like being back at high school! Which brings me to your first question…

    Yes, I have experienced workplace bullying. In one job I was bullied/ridiculed/ostracised both by colleagues and the boss. As I was fairly new teacher, I felt that walking out of the job was have a negative impact on my career, and so I stuck it out. I dealt with it in the only way I knew how – avoidance. I would come to work shortly before my first class, teach my lessons, and leave (often running the ten mins to the metro to avoid the colleagues who were all travelling in the same direction). There was no better day than the very last one in June when I walked out the door for the last time knowing I’d never see a single one of them again.

    Now, several years older and wiser, I refuse to get drawn into other people’s bullsh*t. If they don’t like me, so be it. There will always be people you don’t click with, or who you don’t like (or vice versa) – the trick is to focus on what you’re there for and not waste time or energy on people like them. It’s all projection anyway. If they were genuinely happy people, they wouldn’t feel the need to try and bring others down.

    But onto the more important part – getting back into the classroom. There are a few things you could try. One such option is giving private classes. As well as giving you recent classroom experience (yes, teaching one-to-one counts), it would help build confidence as you wouldn’t be answerable to anyone. You could also try voluntary teaching, e.g., with a refugee group. Teachers who’ve taught refugees have typically found them to be an absolute pleasure to teach. They tend to be very motivated, and very grateful for the help they’re getting, which again would give you confidence in your abilities to teach. Another option is asking local language schools if you can observe a couple of lessons, and, having done so, perhaps you could even teach the students you’ve met. I did that as part of a job interview where I had to do a demo lesson. Meeting the students first and seeing how they interacted really helped me when it was my turn to teach.

    Having tried one (or all) of the above, you could seek out a short contract and see how you go. I started my teaching career with a three-month contract in Vietnam. I told myself that I would definitely stick out the contract, but that if I hated it, I gave myself permission to walk away from teaching for good. Seven and a half years and five countries later and I’m still at it (despite the negative experience in my third year). :)

    Hope that helps, and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


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