I was asked to write something for this blog after being involved in a few informal discussions and chats that took place between talks and workshops at IATEFL this year – discussions about the absurdity of labelling the overwhelming majority of the qualified, experienced English teachers who exist in today’s world with the prefix ‘non’. I’m not going to write about injustices I’ve seen or brilliant ‘non-native’ teachers who I’ve observed. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that I’m already preaching to the converted. Others on the site can express things much more effectively than me. I’m just going to share what I’ve learnt after some recent experiences of trying to speak up about this subject – and being told things like ‘change the record’, ‘get off your soap box’ or ‘get real’.
Every time I see an advertisement for a ‘native teacher’ I feel an urge to comment and draw attention to the ad. But I’ve learnt (the hard way) that criticism is much more effective if it’s done more subtly and respectfully so my tip number 1 is a ‘don’t’. Lots of us belong to social media groups of ELT professionals. I belong to teacher groups, teacher trainer groups, author groups, ELT research groups and others. Being inside such groups gives us opportunities to discuss issues that directly affect us as professionals in different ways but unless you want to upset people within your groups, think before you post an angry comment.
1. Be nice!
Don’t be aggressive or rude when you want to draw attention to a discriminatory post or advert. Don’t assume that the person who has shared the post is even aware of the wider issues. See it as an opportunity to raise awareness. Naming and shaming is not a good way to change a person’s point of view and can end up causing more harm than good. If you speak sense, calmly, you’ll have a better chance of changing minds. This is tried and tested. Over the past six months I’ve had two successful experiences in convincing language school owners that they should consider removing ‘native teacher’ from their job ads. After chatting online and sharing opinions, they have agreed to give it a go. The real result will come when we see a rise in the number of ‘non-native’ teachers working side-by-side with ‘natives’.
This is a job advert from a teachers’ group I belong to. I have removed the school’s name and contact details. The job ad has now been revised and the offending N word removed. The language school teacher and I have even become FB friends.
We are looking for a good native English teacher to teach in an English Immersion course next week.
Our courses are for professional adults in small groups of 2-6. Check us out at www.xxx.com
We pay quite well, all meals and accommodation included. The course runs from Sunday afternoon to Friday afternoon. If interested email your CV to me at email@example.com
2. Praise good practice
Make a point of applauding those adverts that make a point of not excluding teachers because of their nationality. This is something that I’ve got into the habit of doing and now notice, within some of my groups, that very often somebody else has got in before me and posted a comment along the lines of, ‘Great to see a fair, non-discriminatory advert. Well done (name of school)’.
3. Send a message
Send a polite message to the person who has posted (or shared) the advert, suggesting that they might consider the wording so as not to cause offence. Sometimes the advert is sent out by a school year after year, with just dates and small details being tweaked. It can be a good idea to include a link to a blog post or website with an article about the issue so that they can get a better understanding of where you are coming from.
Here’s an example of the kind of message I send.
I was thinking of posting a comment below the job advert that you posted but thought it might be more polite to send you a message. I don’t know whether you are aware of the current debate about using terminology such as ‘non-native’ in a job advert. There have been several discussions on this page and I’m confident that most of us agree that it is discriminatory to refuse work opportunities to teachers simply on the basis of their nationality. I’m sure you will agree that there is no room for discrimination of any kind on our profession. You might be interested to know that job adverts that don’t mention any nationality requirements but ask instead for experience or qualifications are usually praised and supported.
4. Talk about the issues
Start a discussion on social media about the unfairness of discrimination against ‘non-native’ teachers (and, indeed about all discrimination). A good time to do this is just after somebody has written an appropriate (or inappropriate!) blog post about the subject or just after a teachers’ conference has taken place when the issue will inevitably be spoken about in plenaries, talks and workshops.
5. Share the facts
Bring the subject up in your own teaching contexts and with your PLNs and staff room colleagues. Sharing opinions and talking about experiences are the best way to spread the good word. This word needs to reach not only language school owners and teachers but also students and parents of younger students. Read up on statistics, watch related webinars and read articles and blog posts so that you are up-to-date with what is happening regarding TEFL Equity (see the Reading list and Videos sections for articles and videos on the topic). That way you can argue your case effectively and help to change the world we work in.
Not everybody wants to wave a banner around on behalf of a good cause but from what I see there are lots of people who would like to do their bit to support a campaign calling for an end to discrimination of non-native speakers. You don’t really have to do much at all, just get informed, keep your eyes open for discriminatory advertising and speak up when you see an injustice. We don’t want to change the record just yet.
Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. She develops materials for the British Council and the BBC and several ELT publishers and regularly contributes to the Learnenglish and TeachingEnglish websites. She co-curates the Facebook page Free and Fair ELT and has just published a new book called How to Write Primary Materials with the ELT Teacher2Writer group. When Katherine isn’t writing, she is gardening or lying on the sofa reading a book. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.