"Five ways to speak out against the discrimination of ‘non native’ English teachers" by Katherine Bilsborough

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.

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Designed by @tekhnologicblog

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 xxx@xxx.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.

Hi (name),

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.

Designed by @teflninja
Designed by @teflninja

For more ideas how to get involved click here. You might also find this post written by james Taylor useful, as well as the discussion in this article interesting.

13112559_10154063940517429_1243802354_oKatherine 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.


10 thoughts on “"Five ways to speak out against the discrimination of ‘non native’ English teachers" by Katherine Bilsborough”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I have passed through really tough situations because of that. Not being a Native Speaker has not been easy in order to get a job as an English Teacher. If they hire you they do not pay the same rate per hour; which is very unfair. Not everyone or company is like that but it is not easy at all.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post, I still suffer from this situation and still hunted by the term “non” but I try to be positive and never give up.

  4. “Ana” says: “Not being a Native Speaker has not been easy in order to get a job as an English Teacher.” I’m afraid I don’t understand this sentence, Ana.

  5. Pingback: ‘Native speakers only’ ads and EU law – TEFL Equity Advocates

  6. Thank you very much for this article! I have been trying to apply for a couple of jobs in Saudi Arabia. The advertisers did not mention that they need a native speaker, but my application was turned down on the ground of my nationality (Russian) although I have MA in Eds from the British university and Cambridge CPE (native speaker level). How fair is that? Facts as such are very discouraging and diminish the efforts and investment made by me. Thanks again. Your advice is very useful!

  7. I too had similar experiences to the above. The article takes a different angle, in that it suggests alternative ways to deal with the issue. I have met many talented and highly qualified NN teachers and, like me, watched them struggle for positions simply because of their nationality.

  8. eriveltontiger@gmail.com

    Hello, fellows. I’m here because I’ve been attempting to collect some data about non-native English teachers who work in USA/England or who, at least, have tried to work in these countries. The idea came from a paper that I’ve read back in the day when I was still developing a research project for my final graduation work. It showcased some cases of non-native teachers who were afraid to lose their jobs in Arizona because there was a new law that did not allow these people to get hired or to remain as English teachers there. The reason behind it was the assumption that only natives could actually teach English for they are able to provide the “standard” English and that non-natives were just poor imitators, never being able to supply correct information in regards to pronunciation. So here is the problem: they say that the accent is what holds them back from hiring these teachers, yet they speak of bad pronunciation. One must know that bad pronunciation and accent have nothing to do with one another. So, the main purpose of this survey is to find out if it is the accent or the bad pronunciation that is damaging foreign English teacher’s credibility. If it is the accent, well there is nothing someone can possibly do about it but if it is the pronunciation, perhaps the non-native teachers can work on it and retrieve their employability. If you match the profile that I’m looking for, please answer the questions of this survey. I’ll be very thankful if some of you guys could cooperate with me. Follow the link:

  9. Thank you Katherine for raising this topic.
    I AM a native English teacher and I have had this discussion with people many times.
    Would you go up to the first native speaker you meet in a country and ask them to give you classes?
    Just because a person is a native speaker doesn’t make them a good teacher.
    Teaching is a profession that requires vocation, training and passion. It’s true that not all teachers have these qualities but maybe these are the requirements that should be emphasised when looking for a good English teacher, and not “native speaker”.
    In the age of internationalization, a perfect English speaking accent is not the greatest asset, what is invaluable is the art of communication, and this can be achieved by a great teacher regardless of whether they are a native speak or not.

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