Is your Time Being Fully Compensated as an ESL/LINC Teacher?

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How much work are you doing for free? Five minutes here and there, hours of PBLA prep time? The employees at our settlement company decided by a vote of 70% that we were going to unionize. I joined the collective bargaining team and found the experience quite an eye opener.

As we first put our complaints in writing, the amount of “extra” work we were all doing without pay surprised me. Of course, at the top of the list is prep for PBLA. How is the meager 25 minutes of prep time – that management often commandeers for meetings regarding administrative changes, or policy issues – ever going to cover the time needed to prepare 32 assessments, plan modules, and write summaries for end of term, etc.…?

  • There is also preparation time for the day to day planning that never gets mentioned in the same sentence as paid work, but it is also time consuming.
  • When management can’t find a supply to cover a class the students are not excused, another teacher is expected to incorporate the class into their own without a moment of preparation and receives no additional compensation for this difficult task. Our management puts this money into “slippage” an accounting term that means money that can be put toward other things at their discretion.
  • Our PBLA teacher trainers were also working gratis, although IRCC’s PBLA “Guidelines” say otherwise. The term “Guidelines” is very slippery as it gives management the right to implement or not implement IRCCs suggestions. How is it legal for IRCC to demand a job, but only suggest a wage?
  • Management also requires us to produce monthly reports, completed on our time, that describe our classroom activities.

During the course of collective bargaining we managed to rectify a lot of these issues (but not PBLA, of course). With the grievance process now in place because of the union, we hope to resolve more issues in the future as we continue to fight for fairness in the workplace.

Not all settlement organizations are the same, and many prorams may have already resolved some of these issues through unionizing or with management.  However, for those of you who find yourself in a similar position, I can honestly say that through unionizing, we are much better off today than we were at this time last year. More money, less unpaid work, and some additional benefits. The tendency of IRCC and Management to load ESL/LINC teachers up with unpaid work must stop. If we don’t say anything about it, the pattern will continue. Sometimes we have to fight for respect – what are you doing about it?


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26 thoughts on “Is your Time Being Fully Compensated as an ESL/LINC Teacher?”

  1. This was a great article. I get told constantly from one of my employers that I should be lucky I’m given time to prepare modules and module reports because IRCC apperently doesn’t fund/allocate time for prep in our budget. It’s so unfair. I work 3 jobs (LINC/ELT/Citizenship) with no benefits either because most positions are now contract based. TESL Ontario needs a union. We need something.

  2. Sukh, I agree with you. Working 3 jobs is exhausting. why is it that prep time isn’t included in the budget? It’s ridiculous as it’s such a fundamental part of teaching.

  3. Is my time being fully compensated? Only in my dreams!
    We too in Windsor have recently unionized in part due to these unrealistic (and sometimes undefined) demands. This is a job that has always followed teachers home – now more than ever.
    If IRCC actually cared about our clients, they would listen to us. This isn’t working. It has never worked. It needs to stop.

    1. Well said Sarah, it’s not longer just following us home but taking control of our lives since the implementation of PBLA. And yes, why is it that IRCC won’t interact with us directly? It seems that it is a very autocratic department that won’t listen to reason.

      1. Reasons why PBLA doesn’t work:
        • waste of Canadian taxpayers money
        • ineffective methodology of the language assessment
        • time consuming
        • in fact, decreases the language acqusition
        • creates an unhelthy and stressful work /school environment for both learners and educators
        • completly useless in a content based classes ( eg. Citizenship Preparation Program)
        • makes LINC and ESL classes less interesting
        • demotivates students from being active learners and teachers/instructors from being student-centred
        • increases layers of bureaucracy
        • toxic in all aspects (theory and practice)

        1. Hi Leszek,

          You’ve summed it up quite well. Perhaps one day, our thoughts on the matter will be heard by IRCC.

        2. I agree with all your points.
          In addition PBLA does not work because:

          * it was created for a POLITICAL (not pedagogical) agenda of standardized panCanadian system of language delivery and measurement.
          * it was was not based on solid research and was launched without expert planning and preparation
          *it is not a valid SLA approach (never peer reviewed by a completely independent party).
          * it “twists” approaches (to sound expert?) e.g. AFL is a low stakes approach. The “Inventory Lists” Real World Task Assessments (which are claimed as AFL) are a series of high stakes summative tests.
          * the “implementation” disrespects adult newcomers prior knowledge and experience (“I feel like I am in Kindergarten”)
          * it perpetuates colonial attitudes and discrimination towards newcomers from different cultures (“The portfolios will teach them to be organized”. )
          * it is a cruel method that further penalizes those who have not had formal education, or have suffered trauma, or are full anxieties about immigrating. “My student is leaving because of the tests.”
          * it can prevent newcomers from applying for citizenship for long periods of time: (“Please, please Claudie. I have been here ten years. I have good job. I want to visit my family in US. But I have no passport. I need Listening 4” ) Workers have to leave jobs to attend classes to be eligible to apply for citizenship (DAFT!)
          *it discriminates against newcomers who do not have the money to pay for the CELPIP or IELTS General tests (or for private coaching) for citizenship application.
          *it disrespects teachers’ expertise, voice, autonomy, intelligence, rights, need for job satisfaction.
          *it turns teachers’ focus from the learners’ real needs (academic and human) to fulfilling requirements for “the Binder”. (Yuliya Desyatova’s slides of newcomer perception of PBLA at her presentation at BCTEAL were astounding).

          There are more reasons why PBLA does not work..
          When we ask unions to focus only on trying to get a little more money out of administration and do not address the questions of the effectiveness, practicality, professionalism, fairness, validity, ethics of the protocol we make ourselves complicit in the toxic flawed experiment. (Myself included. Being in this dilemma is very stressful)

          1. Adding to my example of the learner who “needed listening 4. “ He meant he “needed Listening 4 artefacts “in his binder..

            I was just supplying night school. He was told by his regular teacher it would take a year (more);to collect artefacts.

            Part of the problem with a “Listening ” artefact is the test is usually based on writing answers to written questions.

            Could the teacher not assess like the YMCA? Verbal questions. IRCC /CCLB might say “do this”.

            Possible.? Yes.
            Realistic? No. More onus on the teacher.
            And there would still be the long wait time.

            Another reason why PBLA does not work is the huge disconnect between the assumptions of the policy analysts and managers at IRCC, and the consultants and writers at CCLB, and the facts in the field.

          2. Claudie, you have brought up some great points and so eloquently stated. It got me thinking intensely about the PBLA and the effect it has on our students. i have an idea burbling around in my head at the moment but it needs a bit more watering and fertilizing before it blossoms. The more we keep talking about it, the more likely we are to see loopholes that we can leverage against IRCC.

  4. Stacey,
    Kudos to you for expressing your thoughts and feeling on this important subject! I have stopped working for unpaid hours as requested by my union. We devalue our time and hurt others(colleagues and students) when we continue to prepare lessons, rubrics, modules, etc. on our own time. It’s taking some creativity but I find time to mark and plan during working hours/ class time. My students are learning to work more independently as a result.

    1. We just signed our first contract with a union in May, and are just starting to feel the many benefits. Our union has told us the same thing, stop working for free!

    2. 👍Well said, Stacey
      …. just a thought:
      Province-wide LINC/ESL Union, under CUPE (all LINC & ESL teachers in Ontario … power & fairness in numbers)
      Go for it, Stacey!!!!

    3. Wish I could do like you.
      Promise myself in September I will try.
      I teach 5/6 though. Two levels. Enormous amount of work.

  5. Thank you for addressing this. My colleagues and I are inspired by this message and are working on unionizing ourselves.

  6. Stacey,
    Thank you for speaking truth to power.
    Your courage in speaking out against injustice is inspiring others.

    There is a disconnect between what CCLB says and claims on language.ca – and what happens in the field. They say they only present the “Guidelines” and are not responsible for the excesses of administration, and the egregious behaviour of “RCs” and Trainers” (now transmogrified to (Team) Leads. ) But make no mistake. They know that for those (stupid) binders to be filled with pages and pages of (invalid) SUMMATIVE tests “aligned” to the “Benchmarks (also invalid, never backed by research) 2,000 plus teachers across Canada are forced to give hundreds of thousands of uncompensated work hours, under humiliating, painful and stressful conditions . If they are lucky they are allowed to “fudge” under slightly less stressful conditions – but still sacrifice personal time.

    I don’t know how those folks at CCLB and IRCC (generally, but specifically the Department of Integration that cooked up PBLA) sleep at night. They are well compensated for their work but demand teachers contribute their time, talents, and intellectual property for free to try to make the scam/hoax/fraud that is PBLA “real”.

    Personally I think all that unions can do is put bandaids on the cancer.

    Sadly a huge union (CUPE4400) is using members’ money to
    cofund “PBLA” online training for TDSB Supply Teachers.. What does that tell you about coercion? The union knows that requirements are in place that only “PBLA” certified (snort – as if) teachers will get jobs. Catch 22. Unions should be advocating against exploitation instead of aiding and abetting it. I guess they have no real choice.

    Me too. If I want to keep my job – which I do, not just for the money – I too have to aid and abet by complying and creating (invalid, but beautifully aligned) tasks (umpteen unpaid hours) so the learners can fill “Inventory lists” to prove that “have acquired language competency” in this or that fabricated Benchmark. This is TESL? I think not. It is selling out. Newcomers deserve better.

    1. Wow, it never occured to me that the union would fund PBLA training. I understand the difficult position they are in. If supply teachers want a job, they need the training which once again is seldom funded and so the union steps in and pays for it. It does seem like a sell out though. They should be researching ways to file grievances against PBLA, not funding it.

      That’s what we need to do is find a way it contravenes Ontario labour laws (or any other law) and start grieving (for those who are unionized). If one school finds some leverage, share it and we can all grieve the same issue. Let’s work together to find a solution.

  7. I understand the issues around more work with the PBLA though the concept seems great in theory at least to me. Certainly fits in with a need to put the learner at the centre of the stage and help the learner work towards identified goals. While teaching overseas, the courses that I enjoyed the most were the language courses that prepared students for specific occupations.
    As a supply teacher that had to take care of personal issues at home at the time PBLA was introduced, I never had an opportunity to do the PBLA training. I wish online PBLA training was made available to all OCELT teachers so that they feel they are getting good value for their membership fees. The wider we spread the net, the greater would be the chances of finding teachers ready to imbue the spirit of PBLA.

  8. The funders were aware of problems associated with implementing PBLA even at the research stage, yet chose to go forward with it. This suggests the idea is not theoretically sound but politically beneficial in some way.

    I would personally be very upset if TESL offered free training for PBLA to its members, as it would imply that TESL was giving its stamp of approval to such an odious system.

  9. Stacey – TESLOntario depends on funding from government. When IRCC says “Jump”, TESLON says “How high?” TESLOntario “leadership” serves on the CCLB Board.
    “Witheld by Request”,
    Sadly I understand why you feel you need anonymity.
    Before you enthusiastically endorse the Canadian government experiment that is PBLA I think you should find out more about it – the pros AND the cons.
    PBLA has created two divergent camps within the ESL community: those that embraced (or themselves created) the government line and promote it vigorously, labelling those that question it “laggards and resisters”
    https://teslcanadajournal.ca/index.php/tesl/article/download/1220/1039/
    and those that question the effectiveness of the approach for SLA and
    try to give feedback, open a dialogue, point out the flaws, feel that it is an example of a huge wasteful government blunder:
    https://joyofesl.blogspot.com/2019/01/new-reader-has-lots-to-contribute.html
    Online PBLA training? That’s scary. I endured the whole long “no questions allowed” prescriptive “training” – the PBLA catechism It barely showed how to “assemble” a module and a “Real World Assessment Tasks” “aligned to the Canadian Language Benchmarks” (notice I said nothing about how to teach or whether the assessment tasks are valid, reliable, consistent.) I had to supplement this with many many workshops at conferences over the past four years (and even an online course on AFL with Dylan William. That’s when I first realized PBLA has no relation to AFL. The “Inventory lists” upon which promotion is based are a series of summative tests. There is no validity, reliability. consistency in the “tests” we create. What CCLB says PBLA is does not jive with reality.

  10. Well said Claudie, we now work in an assessment factory, pumping out 32 tests per 250 hours. What else would you expect from CCLB?

    Not only are we not allowed to question IRCC, but newcomers are subjected to a regime that no other adult education program demands. It is unfair and needs to stop.

  11. Hi, you assume that unionized employees get more prep toward the time required for PBLA. We are in a union, and we still get extremely limited paid preptime. We aren’t viewed equal to elementary or highschool teachers who get daily prep periods. Fortunately, up until now, management has shown some flexibility in not absolutely requiring us to do the number of assessment tasks that other teachers mention doing in their “horror stories” of being policed over PBLA (although the PBLA trainers encourage a minimum number of assessments, it isn’t being enforced yet. Similarly, it’s up to the teacher to have students fill in inventory lists or not). New teachers can get so caught up in the concern for the number of assessments in the PBLA binder; privately, I tell them it’s not about constantly testing for the sake of testing. But I will do enough assessments to back up my decision about a student’s assigned benchmark at the end of a term since PBLA has made students pushier about their benchmarks. (For some students, it has motivated them and given them clarity to understand what they must do to improve a benchmark. For others, PBLA just makes them look for a way to argue for increasing a benchmark & be competitive with others even when they aren’t ready for the next benchmark.) In some ways, PBLA has sharpened me as a teacher in making me more aware of what I teach, assess and why. But it leaves out a lot of interesting things that could be taught, it leaves gaps in students’ foundational knowledge of English, and it definitely adds a lot of unpaid workload stress for teachers.

  12. I think your manager must be a wonderful persons, to see and acknowledge that the number of artifacts required in such a short time is ridiculous and allowing you to do less. She obviously has the courage to disagree with IRCC. Your manager also allows you to use the inventory lists or not as the teacher sees fit. This is a manager that every attune to the needs of her staff. Most program administrators don’t offer this options and and force staff to struggle with a big weight load of unpaid work, without a minutes concern for their wellbeing.

    The unions can help with issues of unpaid work, they can even issue a complaint on your behalf, that on its own would accomplish nothing but when sent by a union rep carries more importance. We have seen many such benefits in the short time since we signed our first contract.

    Thanks for your input, you expressed it very well. Let us all know if your manager is looking for another position. many of us would like to have her here.
    Stacey

    1. Hi Stacey,
      Our group is also fed up with the amount of work required to follow PBLA. After work-to -rule, we are all on high alert as to how much time and effort we don’t get paid for. We currently demanded a new job description since we haven’t had one since 2011 prior to PBLA. Could you please give me a few details as to the benefit you receive. We are going to be negotiating and would like some fire power. A union for ESL teachers is a fantastic idea!

      1. Hi Christine,

        I’m sorry you are feeling fed up with PBLA, but as you can see you are not alone. During our first contract negotiation, which was in ratified in May of this year, we received 35 minutes of prep time per day. At our organization, we work a 5 hour day, Monday to Friday. The new prep time means that we now work 4 hours and 25 minutes teaching + 35 minutes of prep time per day. Although this is not enough to cover all the demands of PBLA, we felt it was a start. We also negotiated a $2 per hour premium for our PBLA lead teacher who was not receiving any additional money but was expected to do a lot for free. These are the two items that we got that are directly related to the PBLA. In more general terms, through our union, we now have the right to grieve for unpaid time and other issues, which we didn’t have in the past. I hope you do well in your negotiations, let us know how you do!

        Stacey

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