Ethics in TEFL Teaching

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I’ve never attended a training session that helped me develop my character.

Teaching skills? Sure. Technical, training and interpersonal skills? Also yes. But in 15 years I’ve never seen a workshop on improving as a person, or ethical considerations within the TEFL industry.

At first, it appears unnecessary – most teachers genuinely care about their students, and their work. That’s why they’re teachers.

Development of character is personal, and ‘training’ a person how to be more ethical can be seen as patronising (and oxymoronic, arguably).

And yet.

We don’t work in a moral utopia. Many of us work in companies that have discriminatory hiring practices. Or that bend the rules to get sales. Or that ignore health and safety… or any number of other issues.

So what can we do about this?

We need to identify these ethical problems, agree on a standard, and push for change.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

- Marcus Aurelius.

Ethical Considerations in TEFL

One great example is the work being done by TEFL Equity Advocates, who are speaking out for equal opportunities in TEFL for ‘non-native’ speaking teachers. I’ve spoken about this topic on this podcast with the folks over at the TEFL Training Institute.

I’ve also started compiling a list of the collective ethical considerations that we all share, or are affected by. Here they are (in no particular order):

For Employers

Towards Students

  • Fairly represent what your products and services will do (marketing and sales, I’m looking at you).

  • Be aware of students as individuals, and not treat them as just another sale.

Towards Teachers

  • Practice non-discrimination in recruitment practices, as far as able to by local law.

  • To pay a fair, liveable wage and benefits.

  • Have a written contract, in English, which is representative of the job offered.

  • State total working hours in your contract, including extra-curricular duties.

  • Fulfil the terms of the employment contract.

  • Don’t withhold documents or pay if teachers end their contract early.

  • Ensure work environments (and living environments, if managing living accommodation) meets a minimum health and safety standard.

  • Offer regular professional development to staff.

  • Treat all staff with respect.

  • Offer pastoral support for foreign staff to get acclimatised to working in another country.

For Teachers

Towards Students

  • Provide a safe environment for learning. Allow no psychological or physical bullying, intimidation or harassment.

  • Deliver the best lessons we’re able, as consistently as we can.

  • Teach subject matter that is accurate and up-to-date.

  • Don’t push any agenda when teaching, be it cultural, religious, or similar.

Towards Other Teachers

  • Treat colleagues with respect.

  • Don’t engage in discriminatory behaviour.

  • Offer support outside of school, if and when needed.

  • Be aware of colleagues struggling with health issues (physical, mental, or emotional).

Towards Employers

  • Fulfil the terms of contract, as stated.


What have I missed? What’s the most important consideration in your teaching context? Tell me in the comments (or contact me), and I’ll update this list.