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Resolving School Disputes With EFL Judge

Maybe you’ve heard the one about the teacher who arrived “home” – to the flat the school had been renting as part of the employment package – to find the locks changed. Maybe you got a call because a colleague had left in the middle of the night and you had to cover her class. Or maybe you know a teacher who has the worst schedule possible and says it’s because his boss has it in for him.

If you’ve been in EFL for a while, you’ve probably heard stories about teacher–school disputes. Hopefully they are not your own stories.

Sometimes the result is just hard feelings and awkward moments in the teachers’ room, but in worse cases it can mean a teacher leaves or breaks the contract, or a school doesn’t pay the final months’ salary, or sticks the teacher with some “bad classes” or not enough hours. Some teachers respond by lodging their complaint up on the web.

But it doesn’t have to be that way… does it?

Dave Sperling recently posted about a new web service called ESL Judge.

This website has a procedure set up where a teacher can lodge a complaint electronically; the school has a chance to respond, the teacher a chance to respond to that, and the school once more. Three arbitrators – a school owner, a manager and a teacher, who will reach a decision within three weeks. The idea is, of course, that the school and teacher both in advance agree to adhere to whatever decision the ESL Judge makes. What is the incentive to stick to it? Well, the same as any time anyone enters arbitration, I suppose. The presumption is that by entering into arbitration both sides do want a solution.. Schools can also show their good will to potential future teachers by signing up to voluntarily comply with the decision of ESL Judge.

You can also rate schools and others will be able to see the ratings (which is fine in theory but probably open to abuse); you can also volunteer to be an arbitrator with a commitment of only five hours per year.

My two cents:

  • The good: that such a site exists as a potential alternative to just quitting or slamming a school online. There is a need for something like this. I don’t know that this is the ultimate answer, but it’s a step in the right direction. As opposed to an in-person service, over time an online site could potentially serve loosely as some form of international “regulation”. The fact that it is international and not specific to one country could be seen as a disadvantage, but it could just be a reflection of the reality that EFL is an industry that already involves potential cross-cultural confusion (i.e. teachers signing contracts in languages they can’t read).
  • The challenge: I think if a school is willing to compromise, they won’t need an arbitrator to do it, because the school tends to be in a position of power anyway. I’m tempted to say that both sides’ faith in the neutrality of the site might not be strong because of the online angle – how do they really know who the arbitrators are? It would also be very hard for the arbitrators to be well-versed in legal systems of different countries As far as I understand arbitration, the point is to waive your right to pursue some other solution and accept the arbitration, but I’m not sure I believe that employers in a legal system that favors them or teachers who can just leave the country would actually adhere to their promise no matter what.

It takes a lot for a new EFL site to really take off these days, so it’s hard to discuss whether it will become a mechanism for resolving teacher-employee disputes worldwide. I suppose it is fair enough that Dave would like to provide an alternative to posting negative reports of schools on the boards.

Aside from the practical factor of getting traffic and so on – what do you think of the idea of EFL Judge?