Reflections on Teaching LINC in Toronto & Vancouver (under PBLA)

I taught LINC full-time at a LINC centre in Toronto for just under two years. Now that I’ve moved to Vancouver, I have also taught as a supply teacher here. In Toronto, I earned $30 dollars an hour at one centre and $40 at another. In Vancouver, I earned $33 dollars an hour.

My conclusion: Due to the implementation of PBLA, the wage provided by LINC schools does not justify the effort, which is to say, the job is no longer (financially) worth doing. (This is probably not a shocking conclusion to anyone trained in PBLA.)

Let me explain. Firstly, I’ll start with something positive.

The Benefits of Being a LINC Instructor

The main benefit is the students. In two cities, I taught a mix of students from Iran, China, Korea, India, Pakistan, and some other countries. The students were almost always motivated to learn and very appreciative of receiving free language instruction. In short, they were lovely. Also, as their teacher, you get such a rewarding feeling when you see one of your students improve their skills through the course and land a job in their field. That is ultimately one of the goals of the program and it happened from time to time.

An additional benefit is that you’re not only teaching language, you’re also teaching culture, geography, politics, history, and more. You’ll get to share valuable tips with your class about social etiquette, the rules of hockey, political parties, and discuss current Canadian issues together. As the instructor, you feel valued as a resource and you also come to love your country more as your students express their appreciation for Canada and its values.

The Main Drawback: Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA)

An arguably funnier definition: Pointless Bureaucratization of Language Acquisition, though that definition is not completely accurate since PBLA is not pointless. In fact, it’s helpful for the students. PBLA is essentially a teaching and assessment framework that is being introduced to LINC centres nationwide. My two most recent centres had fully implemented PBLA.

PBLA Fundamentals

  • Regular Needs Assessments (a document identifying students’ language needs) to ensure lessons are based on the needs of the students
  • Assessment as Learning: Regular assessments of each skill (roughly four per thematic unit)
  • Regular Learner Reflections (another document to collect feedback) so students can reflect on their progress and communicate their needs to the teacher
  • Task-Based Learning — e.g. teaching job interview skills instead of a lesson on grammar without a real-world task to contextualize it
  • Student-centered learning
  • Action-oriented feedback on assessments

These are all great principles that benefit the student, and anyone who has done a TESL program in the past decade will already be proponents of task-based learning and communicative student-centered lessons.

Ultimately, nation-wide standards for teaching LINC were needed to ensure that instructors and LINC centres were providing useful instruction in return for the funding the government provided. Teaching has changed a lot since the 1980s, and there are (or were) plenty of teachers who either do not use the communicative method or do not create lessons centred on a real-world task. The complaints of students who had visited non-PBLA schools included the following: a) “there’s no structure and we just read the newspaper all morning”, b) “it’s just like a cooking class …. we talk about food and do free conversation”, or c) “there are never any assessments; we just do worksheets.”

To solve this, I speculate that PBLA was created.

The Main PBLA Pitfall: Workload has Doubled (Tripled?) but Wage has Frozen

Wages have not increased since the implementation of PBLA, though there are some centres who offer an additional hour of pay per week to cover PBLA time (which is grossly inadequate).

Let’s imagine your school has a four month session. With PBLA, students need to pass a minimum of eight assessments per skill to increase in their benchmarks (CLB level). To provide them this opportunity after a two sessions, instructors are asked to give roughly 4 assessments of each skill per theme, and themes generally last from two weeks to a month.

Therefore, instead of giving four exit tests of each skill under the old system in one session, a teacher is now tasked to deliver 16 assessments (4 listening, 4 speaking, 4 writing, 4 reading) per session. This is a a 400% increase in work for a 0% increase in wage. These assessments, of course, must be designed for each unit and tailored to the students needs, delivered, and marked with action-oriented feedback.

My Statistical Break Down

If you taught full-time (20 hours a week) at $33/hour (this is the high end of the spectrum in Vancouver), you’d take in $660 a week before taxes.

Under PBLA, my lesson planning was roughly 3 hours a day per day for four days (LINC instructors usually only teach four days a week oddly), which equals 12 hours of prep/marking per week.

= $660 in earnings / 32 hours of total labour = $20.63 an hour.

One caveat is that prep time will go down after a year or so of teaching since you can reuse assessments and themes, of course. This can make the job more profitable. Another drawback, however, is that you will likely be on contract forever since LINC centres are awarded their funding from the IRCC on a contract basis, so this contractual nature is passed onto the teacher.

My Conclusion

If you value your time, you can work fewer hours (teaching and preparation-wise) at a local visa school (e.g. ILAC/ILSC) and make more cash per hour, though the weekly take-home pay will be lower.

If you value more money and can do the extra hours of prep/marking (e.g. you do not have a children/hobbies), then LINC could be viable, though that is not my situation.

At the end of the day, PBLA is a good system and beneficial for students. Teaching LINC is also incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. Nevertheless, requiring teachers implement an onerous new teaching/assessment model without providing additional compensation is unfair and even shameful. Being that LINC belongs to teacher-saturated ESL industry, however, people will be willing to do it for much less (I’ve seen ads for $23/hr) and the show will go on.

Two Possible Solutions

  1. Sharing PBLA resources – Either nationally or centre-specifically, a database of shared PBLA assessments/modules/lessons would cut down on teacher labour and make the wage worthwhile. Many centres are already doing this.
  2. Paying instructors more for doing more work – The most obvious solution.

I tried to negotiate a raise in my previous centre, and though my arguments were understood, there wasn’t money in the budget to add to teachers’ wages. So, at present, I feel that abstaining from the system is the best solution for my life.

 

These are my thoughts. Please feel free to comment below with your views.

– Ron Jenkins  / Contributor to Englishcurrent.com

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