Alex Case on Paula Reynolds

You almost certainly haven’t heard of Paula Reynolds, partly because until she retired she was, to most people, just another of those hard working female teachers busy cutting up packs of cards on coloured paper and occasionally getting bolshy about standards while her male colleagues were out getting drunk, pulling their students, but also because she worked in a time where there was a singular lack of opportunities for female TEFLers.

Paula and I think remembering that situation can both show us how far we've come in making She central to ELT and remind us of the dangers that still lurk if we take equal opportunities for granted.

Here are some of the indignities she endured over 35 years and three continents:

  • Schools in Thailand having uniforms just for the female staff
  • Having to wear a skirt of a precisely determined length in China
  • Schools asking for a younger photo to put in the school brochure
  • Being offered kids’ classes “because the parents prefer a woman”, “to bring a woman’s touch” or even “to make up for having none of your own”
  • pouring teaSchools in Japan expecting female teachers to pour the tea and do photocopies for everyone
  • Housewife classes always being given to male teachers in Japan
  • Schools with predominantly housewife classes not recruiting female teachers in Japan
  • Being told to pretend she was married to her male flatmate in Turkey (to “stop the neighbours talking”)
  • Repeatedly being asked to give talks on teaching kids at conferences, despite never having taught them
  • Being a victim of London schools specifically trying to recruit straight male DoSs (in the brief ARELS positive discrimination days)
  • Staff Xmas parties in topless bars in Bangkok
  • Pirelli calendars in staff rooms all over the world
  • Being told “Yes, I can imagine why a woman of your age would teach in Bali”

  • Michael Lewis’s letter in the ELTJ saying that her criticism of The English Verb was “a clear case of PMT speaking in the place of logic”
  • Publishers suggesting that she’d get work more easily if she was in a TEFL writing couple
  • A gay teacher proposing a sham marriage for that purpose (she says you’d be surprised how many famous TEFL “couples” actually started this way)
  • Asked to wear a fake beard to teach a class of mainly middle eastern males in London

As Paula herself says, most of these things could never happen nowadays... but in 20 years’ time, there'll plenty of things that do happen today and we'll look back on them with just as much surprise that they ever could have.

Alex Case, blogger, is unfortunately He in ELT, but has worked with and dated female teachers, students, customer service staff and ELT editors in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea and the UK.

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3 Responses to “Alex Case on Paula Reynolds”

  • Jason Renshaw says:
    September 10, 2009

    Great post, Alex, and a real eye-opener about gender discrimination in TEFL.

    Very well-written too, if I may say so. You've outdone yourself (+ great laugh reading your She-in-ELT credentials, and lovely pic of the new She-in-ELT!)

    ~ J

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    September 14, 2009

    Wow. Speechless.

    Curious: Are the beard, children-only, girl-look, topless bar etc. scenarios history or present-day adventures a she in ELT will still need to expect?

    Anecdotes, anyone?

  • The TEFL Tradesman says:
    September 21, 2009

    Yes, it all looks rather 1950s-ish, doesn't it. Maks me wonder why she didn't just give up and get a 'proper' job!


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