Per Aspera ad Astra by Lina Gordyshevskaya

I did not really plan to be an English teacher. As most things in my life, it happened by accident rather than according to some plan.

I was fresh out of the university (Edinburgh) holding an MA in Scandinavian Studies, and I had no idea what to do with my life. There was an offer from a university in Sweden for a master’s programme in the same field, but I had been postponing making a decision whether I should accept it or not. I did not want to study for two more years and write another thesis, you see.

Finally, I made up my mind: I would go to Japan and continue learning Japanese, my recent hobby. Meanwhile, I would teach English since I had already been doing it for some time but voluntarily, and enjoyed it. The future finally seemed bright, and I could not think of any potential problems to face. How naïve I was…

To equip myself with some methodological knowledge and to raise my employability, I took a TEFL course in my hometown in Russia. In Japan, I started with a kid entertainer job (chatting to kids in English while they were waiting in the queue for the activity), which I did not like and escaped as soon as I felt I just could not take it anymore.

Finding a teaching job was tough: most schools seemed so cool with their websites filled with pictures of people in business suits laughing together; I was simply afraid, I did not feel qualified enough. And Kobe itself just did not have many opportunities.

I managed to become a substitute teacher at some small eikaiwa teaching a couple of days per month (if I was lucky). In April, I started a second job, with guaranteed hours. I was promised to get 15-16 hours, and I was really happy. However, I only got 6. When I asked why, I was told that many parents were not satisfied with me being new and young, so they signed their kids up for other teachers’ classes. Nothing was said of my non-nativeness – yet.

While teaching those 6 hours a week, I realised that teaching young learners was not really my thing. It was ok, but it did not inspire me. I decided to take a break – and CELTA. It blew my mind. Literally. It gave me that self-confidence I lacked before. I moved to Kanto and started looking for a job that would be suitable for my post-CELTA teaching experience. It appeared that the problem was not finding a suitable job but me being suitable for teaching English.

‘Native English speaker’.

‘Must hold a passport from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand’.

‘Seeking for a native English instructor’.

‘Only preferable candidates will be contacted after our initial screening’. I was not preferable. I did not have the ‘right’ passport.

I could not understand why.

Why does having a Russian passport supposedly make me worse teacher than any native teacher?

Why does being born in a non-English-speaking country make me less employable?

Why does having a degree from a university in the UK and two teaching qualifications mean nothing if English is my second language (by the way, I have been learning it since I was 4)?

I felt humiliated. I felt desperate. I cried on my husband’s shoulder asking him all these questions interrupted with sobs after every other word. He tried his best to support me, and eventually, after getting a headache and blocked nose, I would tell to myself ‘OK, I’ll try once again and take it easy’.

I tried to apply for universities as well since they hire non-natives but lacked teaching experience at the university level and did not hold a relevant degree, and did not have publications.

Finally, I got an offer from a big chain eikaiwa, the only one among many that hired non-natives quite actively. And yet, almost all non-natives I met there were on part-time contracts while 90% of full-time-contract instructors were from the countries where English is the first language. Despite anything, I was grateful to be there. I was grateful to them for hiring me, a non-native teacher. Only now, I think how twisted it is to be grateful for something that is (should be!) natural.

I did not give up on getting a university job. The thing is that I wanted to teach groups of young adults using a communicative approach, and it was hardly possible in the eikaiwa. I also did not like being constantly reminded that we are selling a product. I do not sell a product. I teach. T-E-A-C-H. So I tried and tried again and again.

And I got it.

I was lucky, I guess. It was the only university that required neither specific teaching experience (just general would do) nor publications. I had to prove during model teaching that I was able to teach communicative lessons, and I did.

When I got a job offer, my heart froze and then started beating crazily. I could not believe my own eyes. I could not breathe. I was ecstatic. I did it. I won this battle.

I know I will face discrimination in the ELT field again – we simply cannot change things just in the blink of an eye. However, next time I will choose not to feel humiliated but proud of who I am.

Teaching is a profession, and, as in any other profession, skills matter more than nationality. I have met amazing and inspiring teachers from all over the world, and it is not their nativeness – or non-nativeness – that makes them amazing and inspiring. It is their passion for teaching and developing as professionals. I think these two should be the minimum requirements instead of that one you can find in every single teaching job ad.

linaLina graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies in 2015. She obtained TEFL in 2015 and CELTA in 2016. This August, she was invited to teach demonstration lessons for a CELTA course in St Petersburg. Lina has taught YL, teenagers, and adults of various levels both in groups and privately. Currently, she teaches EAP (discussion) at a university in Japan and loves her job. She blogs regularly for https://eltbylinablog.wordpress.com/.

The Beauty and Horror of Explaining Mixed Conditionals (Among Other Grammar Points) by Madeline Castillo

One of the most misused grammar forms is the mixed conditionals, and this is not really much of a surprise. The use of one verb tense in a sentence is already difficult, so imagine having to put together two verb tenses in one sentence — it’s almost a nightmare!

For most ESL teachers, myself included, a mixed conditional sentence is a classroom conundrum. I have seen how it transforms into a total horror show as you try to explain not only how the sentence is constructed, but also what it means. I have watched as my students’ faces scrunch up in confusion when I mention how these situations or conditions (mostly imaginary) affect results (either in the past or the present). I have looked for signs of me second-guessing myself as doubt sets in.

The last bit, perhaps, is the worst. More than the form or function of any grammar point, the biggest challenge for a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher is the fact that any explanation you give can easily be trumped by a ‘native speaker’ teacher’s “That’s just how it is.” Even though some tend to have a less structured ESL background, ‘native speakers’ are usually preferred to non-native English speakers. In the ESL industry, there are many instances when one’s value as a teacher is primarily determined by ethnicity, and not knowledge, experience or skill. The privilege of having been born in a ‘native English-speaking’ country has long been a standard and not having the ‘right’ nationality, a stigma. As a result, gifted and proficient teachers are sidelined for less experienced and less effective ‘native’ individuals.

However, ‘non-native speaker’ teachers know mixed conditionals well, not just because we studied them in school or because we teach them in class. We know this lesson topic well because we have learned to live with a few conditional questions ourselves: Would I be more credible if I had been born and raised by parents whose primary language was English? If that company I applied for saw me as a native English speaker, would I have gotten that teaching job? Had I been born in the US or the UK, would I be a better English teacher?

Almost a year ago, I joined Learntalk, an ESL startup, and was tasked to create a written grammar exam for our teachers. As it is a way for us to check our overall proficiency is as a company, everyone had to take the test. Most were pretty happy with the results – save for my boss. Born and raised in the UK, he thought that he’d be one of the few who’d ace the test. When he got the results, they were pretty mediocre, with some of our teachers scoring higher than he did! What’s remarkable is that we are all Filipino ESL teachers: all ‘non-native’, different backgrounds, same passion. That incident was one of the many instances that prove that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a ‘native English speaker’ or not. Knowledge has never been just skin deep, and never will be.

I’ve been teaching English for more than six years now, and mixed conditionals are still a pain to teach. Students still get confused occasionally and at times I still doubt my own understanding. However, there is comfort in knowing that my grasp of conditionals and English grammar is just as good as my understanding and acceptance of my own self as a teacher.

madelineMadeline Castillo is an ESL teacher, lifestyle writer and dancer from the Philippines. She has been teaching English to both children and adults for more than six years now. In 2016, she joined Learntalk, an EdTech startup that harnesses technology to give students a fully immersive language learning experience without the need to travel and live in a distant country, while at the same time providing all the grammatical rigor of a classroom setting. The company operates in three segments, providing language training to individuals, corporates and education institutions around the world.

The long and winding road to success by Tatiana Njegovan

On the 31 October 1991 my ten-year old dream came true – I became an English teacher.

I was born in Belgrade, the capital of former Yugoslavia, today Serbia. I successfully passed my State Certification Exam there too. I worked not only as a teacher in a high-school but also as a Sworn Court Interpreter. I had an excellent score on TOEFL 620/700 and I obtained Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English. In other words, things were going great.

In 2002 my husband got a new job in the aeronautics and we moved to Toulouse in southern France. There, I was told that I had to redo my last two years of graduate studies if I wanted to work again as a teacher. Which I did.

touluse

I first did 3 years of French at the university obtaining the C2 level in French and the Certificate of Teaching French as a Foreign Language. Afterwards, I studied English at the French university for two years together with students who were almost half my age. I passed all my exams and went to teach in collèges (higher grades of elementary schools in France) and in Lycées (grammar schools).

The atmosphere was such that I very soon realised that I must hide the fact that I was from Serbia. I let the students for a long time believe that I was from Russia, since my name is Tatiana. I did not say it myself, but I never denied when they when they concluded (wrongly) that I am Russian.

Yet, how stupid and unnecessary seemed to me to have to do that. I do not like lying and I felt humiliated having to lie about my origin. I knew I was a good teacher of English and I never stopped believing in that. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of the ‘long and winding road’ (the name of one of Beatles’ songs).

I could not stand any longer having to lie to teenagers and found a job in a private school of foreign languages.  I felt like an ugly duckling there. Some of the students and fellow teachers were treating me badly because of my origin –  I was neither a native speaker of English nor a French teaching English. This lasted for a year and finally I decided to take some time off; otherwise, I felt I was going to burst.

So I quit and started doing private tutorial classes and giving volunteering teaching lessons to the groups of adults who were very kind and appreciated very much both my work and my personality. I kept on applying for teaching jobs. However, every time I met the school manager the first question I was asked was always “Where do you come from?”.

My friends told me to lie, to invent British parents, phony Anglosaxon name (a common phenomenon –  when I worked in a collège I met an excellent teacher of English who was French, so good that she objectively did not need to lie about her origin, but who spoke French with a false English accent all the time), but lying my way through life was never my idea of living. So, many times the conversation with my potential employer was finished after just one question.

And then, suddenly, when I almost gave up hope, one employer did not ask me anything about my origin. One of the things he asked me at the job interview was to speak English and I got the job. From that moment on my life changed completely.

to-acomplish-great-things

I became a self-employed teacher of English working full time and often overtime. I do ‘prépa concours’ courses preparing young French students for very complex and difficult entrance exams for Les Grandes Ecoles (Private Elite Universities). I also prepare students for IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT (verbal part), ACT, SAT, TOEIC, BULATS and other English language exams.

The proof that I am a good teacher is that my students pass their exams. I never hide from them where I am from. If they insist, I sometimes tell them my little life story and they find it inspiring because they are learners of English themselves.

In addition, with regard to the level of preparation of a teacher of a foreign language I can say that I have a C2 level of French and the Teaching Degree, but can I teach French to a C level student? I don’t know. I  can definitely teach  levels A1 – A2, I might help somebody  who is a B1 level or B2 maximum.

However, never, never in my whole life has it happened to me to come to my lesson unprepared. Never. I am proud of myself and do not feel that my origin is a handicap, but a  source of strength because a native English teacher  wouldn’t know what it is like to learn English.

I am the member of TESOL France and I admire and respect a lot both my NNEST and NEST colleagues. They are my role models and my inspiration. They are my teachers and I will never stop learning from them. They are dedicated, serious and enthusiastic about their job just like me. We teachers understand that we must never stop developing ourselves professionally, learning from the best among us and modernising our teaching methods.

So this is my story with a happy-end. I think that I was very, very lucky. The important thing, though, is to never stop trying, to keep on searching – somehow at the end the pains will prove to be worth it. However, I am not sure that all similar stories have a happy ending like mine.

To sum up, I would like to emphasise that the quality of teaching does not necessarily come from being a NEST. It is simply based on doing our best, on loving our job and believing that we have become the teachers of English, the first world language today, in order to build bridges, connections and communication between people of different origins, thus diminishing any prejudice, discrimination and bias that degrades  our human and professional dignity

tatianaTatiana Njegovan, originally from Serbia is a self-employed tacher of English in Toulouse, France

'Becoming a successful Business English teacher in Italy' by Chiara Bruzzano

It is all quite funny if I think about it now, with a pile of Business English books to choose from on one side, a pile of email to respond to, and a pile of thoughts to put in order at some point.

I had just come back home and got called in for an interview by what sounded like a great potential employer of Business English teachers in Milan. Milan is known to be the city of business in Italy, so no wonder they’d be in dire need of qualified, competent Business English teacher, right? Little did I know that apparently, what Milan is in dire need of is native speakers of English who also coincidentally can teach Business English. And as I sat through an almost two-hour-long interview, discussing all sorts of fascinating methodological aspects of teaching with an equally fascinating, interesting teacher, I certainly did not expect it to end with a polite and incredibly disappointing “I think you’re a great teacher, but I cannot hire you because of your name and nationality. I would not be able to sell you to my clients”.

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/aKug2K

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/aKug2K

As I try to describe this while sounding as little bitter as possible – and yes, failing miserably – I think back to what brought me to that interview. A semester in London, three years at one of the top Interpreting and Translation Schools in Europe, a year working at Google as a language specialist, a Master’s Degree in TESOL and Translation in England, and a really exciting, however short, career in teaching: a year as a teacher of EAP and IELTS at Aston University, a summer teaching in summer schools in England, a semester teaching in a language school in Spain, and a few months of Business English and online teaching in Milan.

While I did acknowledge that I was quite inexperienced (and I still am now), I would have just loved it if the employer of the interview had rejected me because of my lack of experience. I did not and I still do not, however, accept it on the grounds of my nativeness, or lack thereof: the one single piece of information I did not think I should use (the scholarship reserved to native speakers I got at Aston University) turned out to be the decisive factor I should have probably used.

Coming back to Italy, which is the place in which I was born, raised, schooled and fed pasta (no, it’s not a stereotype, it’s the happy truth), was a turning point for me. I had already noticed a fair degree of discrimination in job ads asking for native speakers, but it got me thinking: was it right for me to pretend to be one, just because people never noticed I was not one? How would this affect me, my personality and the way in which all of this normally has repercussions on one’s teaching?

I gave a talk at TESOL Italy in Rome in November 2015, where I met a bunch of great, like-minded teachers and Marek. He made me reflect on how this type of discrimination is in fact unfair and how it should end.

I have therefore come up with two lists that might not be the best idea (if a potential of former employer of mine is reading, please scroll down to the bottom, where I plan to describe how brilliantly I am doing at the moment), but for the sake of the cause: reasons why I should be hired and reasons why I shouldn’t.

Reasons why I should be hired:

  • I am reliable
  • I am trustworthy (unless you trust me with your chocolate or something)
  • I am active and energetic in my classes
  • I am thorough in my class preparation
  • I have a background in L2 acquisition, not only teaching, which gives me a great insight into learners’ difficulties

Reasons why I shouldn’t be hired:

  • I become easily stressed
  • I have frequent headaches which can sometimes jeopardise my performance
  • I have a tendency to remember very small details and sometimes forget absolutely crucial things
  • I cannot draw and sometimes use the board in very questionable ways
  • I am incredibly clumsy, which I believe can make me look less professional, especially in a Business English environment

I suppose you will have noticed that none of these reasons are related to me not being a native speaker. I know quite a few native speakers who are incredibly skilled teachers of English. I have always respected them and asked for their advice not because of their nativeness, but because of their commitment, personality, background and creativity. By the same token, I do not appreciate a native speaker who will not put any thought into planning a class just like I do not appreciate a non-native teacher doing the same.

To conclude what would probably go on to be a sad attempt to make one of my hidden dreams come true (yes, I would have absolutely loved to be a lawyer, and a wordy one at that), let me describe what I’m doing at the moment. I have worked as a Business English Teacher in Milan for almost a year, complementing it with my interpreting, translation and online teaching work. I recently got hired by a management consulting firm who has trusted me with organising and managing all their Business English courses. I have thus gone full freelance, I have tested and grouped the students, and I will start my own courses, with my own materials and syllabus, next week (good luck messages are more than welcome).

I do not believe I have achieved a lot and I know that I still need to study and work hard to learn how to be a good teacher; I do however believe that I have achieved what I would not have thought possible had I stopped at that first “no”.

success_bigger

If you are reading this and you have had similar experiences, I would like to recommend a couple of things. Firstly, study, study, study: from my perspective, this is what ultimately makes the difference. Secondly, when they tell you no because “you’re not a native speaker”, don’t stop searching and don’t stop believing in yourself. Try to get as many internationally recognised qualifications as possible (CELTA, DELTA, CELTA for YL, MA TESOL, etc.). Brand yourself: Linkedin, local websites for teachers and your own website (which you can create easily and for free on Weebly or WordPress) can take you a longer way than you might think. Keep up to date, develop in your profession, take care of your students, obtain good references from your employers: just like with most other jobs, you are the asset and you can in no way let your nationality of “mother tongue” prevent you from becoming who you want to be. That is, an excellent teacher – or at least one who can’t be trusted with chocolate like me but will still put all the effort into being professional and passionate, and making the difference in the students’ lives.

chiaraChiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts. She’s now the course manager and Business English teacher at a management consulting firm in Milan.

'Living and succeeding as a NNS freelance teacher in Berlin' by Katerina Lanickova

When I was asked to say a few words about my experience as a NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher), I was thrilled. So far I’d mostly been talking to my friends and family who are not in the ELT industry and while they’re amazing listeners it does make a difference to be able to speak directly to the readers who might be confronted with some NNEST issues themselves.

My name’s Katerina Lanickova, I was born in the Czech Republic and I’m currently living in Berlin, Germany. My main line of work is giving one-to-one and group in company English training, both general and business English. When I’m interviewed by the companies and I’m asked why I think I’m the right person for the job I tell them that (next to the usual things) my being a non-native speaker of English has made me well aware of what it takes to learn the English language and that I can empathize and help with all sorts of foreign language learning issues. After I decided to turn my non-nativeness into a strength and make it a selling strategy, I have seen that this approach actually gets the best results (see this infographic for NNEST strengths).

Of course I didn’t always have such a positive attitude to all this.

The first years of my teaching life were still relatively easy – I was teaching for a language school in the Czech town Brno and while there were native speakers working and living there of course, there weren’t too many of them and the ELT business was booming so I never felt that I had to compete with them for teaching jobs.

I had doubts of my own whether the students would be happy to have me as a teacher when some other students had native speakers. When I was asked to co-teach a B2 class with a native speaker, I did feel nervous but I decided that the best thing would be to just go ahead with it and do my best. Halfway through the semester I found out that the class preferred my teaching style much more, and this was really the push I needed to feel confident about the whole issue. Apart from this, it never really made my classes full of Czech adult learners unhappy or surprised to have a Czech teacher.

Photo: Katerina Lanickova

Photo: Katerina Lanickova

But things really changed for the worse when I moved to Berlin in 2010. This was the time when I started having my abilities questioned simply because I was a  NNEST. Having a university teaching degree and CELTA, as well as a few years’ teaching experience prior to my move, I felt like I was suddenly back at the beginning.

Without sounding too dramatic, it was virtually impossible to get a teaching position at any of the language schools here. For the first time in my life I was getting emails which specifically stated NNEST as the reason for not hiring me. One school actually wrote to me that they promised native English teachers (NESTs) in the contracts that they had with their clients (NB: this practice is illegal in the EU as you can read here).  The policy of hiring only native speakers seemed to be just one of the things that there were to accept about living and working in a new country, along with other rules and regulations that I was learning about. In retrospect, I wish I’d informed myself better about this issue because that might have given me more confidence and power.

Eventually, after more than half a year, I did get an offer. I was so overjoyed when a small language centre outside Berlin asked me to teach for them that a two-hour commute (one-way) seemed like a small price to pay. After this, things really began to improve and the more people I got to know and teach, the easier everything got.

Nowadays, I get more teaching inquiries than I can take on and I’ve certainly gained more confidence about the whole self-employed teaching lifestyle. I negotiate direct contracts with companies and individuals who’d like to improve their English and by a mixture of luck and hard work I ended up giving training in top management and even politics. I have met the most amazing teachers, both NESTs and NNESTs, and what I have learned is really that the whole issue of nativeness is irrelevant and should be non-existent really. It is not a factor that makes one teacher better than another one. I know brilliant NEST teachers as well as bad NNEST teachers, and vice versa.

The non-native “problem” I went through was completely unnecessary and based on no hard evidence whatsoever. I ask myself what it’ll take to get rid of the perceived NNEST/NEST difference in teaching quality and instead draw the attention to the more usual job selection criteria like teaching qualifications, experience, you name it. Good luck!

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

Kateriina Lanickova

Katerina is a teacher of business and general English courses and her specialty lies in teaching English for Tax Professionals. She has worked with learners from all walks of life and has experience with creating online-based video learning material. Katerina holds a BA degree in Teaching English, a graduate degree in American studies, CELTA and she’s currently pursuing Delta. Born in the Czech Republic she has been a resident of Berlin since 2010 and loves teaching multicultural classes. When not in class, she’s training for long-distance running events. Her website can be found here and her LinkedIn profile here.

'ELT hiring policies in Spain: learning Spanish ways the hard way' by Agnieszka Kruszyńska

Málaga, Spain

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/aWYWRK

I arrived in Málaga, Spain on the 3rd October 2011. Not a perfect time for job hunting, therefore I was over the moon when, just two days later, I got hired in one of  local language schools.

As a matter of fact, we had a teacher scheduled for this academic year, but she just disappeared. Was supposed to start classes three days ago and never showed up. Her phone is off, so there´s just no way of contacting her. She was Turkish, came here after her Spanish boyfriend, so maybe they broke up and she went back to her country. Oh, and you´re going to be Agnes around here. I don´t think the students should ask you where you´re from, but if they do, don´t say you´re Polish.

Why was there no alarm going off in my head? I should have known from the beginning the school was a funny business. Soon I realized my employer was a real con artist, who made me work overtime promising extra pay, which, of course, I never laid my eyes (or hands) on. At least it was pretty clear why the previous teacher suddenly vanished into thin air. Looking at the labour market situation in Spain at that time (not that it got any better) and the fact we were in the middle of the school year, my chances of changing the employer were really slim, so I decided to endure it and start another job hunt in May.

That’s when a real nightmare began.

Since I was going door to door offering my CV around, it wasn’t until much later that I learned almost all languages schools had the following information on their webpages – profesores nativos con titulación – and by titulación they usually meant TEFL or CELTA, which they would often specify in the ‘work with us’ section. Apart from that, a lot of those websites were available in Spanish only, so to apply, you would actually need to know Spanish or have someone translate the offer to you. I keep wondering why they didn’t even bother to put the info in English, since they were looking for native speakers.

The heat was growing stronger, my contract was close to expire, and the things I was being told at the schools were getting more and more bizarre. School by school, everyone was turning me down because of their natives-only policy. Yet, there were also other cases.

To tell you the truth, we normally accept only native speakers, considering our clients’ demands, and even if got the job, you musn’t tell anyone where you’re from. They won’t notice.

– said the school head who didn’t even speak English herself (I’m sorry, what?).

Design @teflninja

Design @teflninja

Same thing happened in a few more places.

Coast in high season, tourists in high spirits, temperatures were also high, obviously. The only thing that wasn’t high, was the demand for non-native speakers. I was trying my best to make the ends meet, but still, if it wasn’t for the unemployment benefit, I wouldn’t have made it through the summer. I did find some part-time jobs, eventually. Not in language schools per se, but in two centers offering tutoring mainly in school subjects, one of them being English, that children had failed and needed to pass in September. What is essential to mention, is that in one of them I was explicitly told to teach English in Spanish. Yes, exactly.

You can’t speak English to them, because they won’t understand you. What they need is the knowledge of grammar sufficient to make it to the next grade. That’s why it must be explained in Spanish.

I got mixed abilities classes of 7-11 and 12-17 year olds, some of the latter preparing for the baccalaureate. The only thing I could, and was required to do, was to give them tests and grammar exercises adjusted to their level, while explaining topics on the board. First, for two front rows, while the others were working on some revision, then for the two following ones, and so on. Never have I felt worse as a teacher. It all seemed pointless and somewhat humiliating. No wonder they couldn’t get a native speaker to do it.

That summer I began asking myself a lot of questions about my life choices. What was the use of studying to become an English teacher if you weren’t a native? OK, so you could work in your own country, but that’s not what I had been told during my university years. English is spoken and learned worldwide, which means an English teacher can work anywhere. Wrong. Have they lied to me? Should I have chosen a different career path?

I was on the edge of giving up. I searched the web for start-up assistance and grants possibilities for establishing my own school, started taking up some professional courses to retrain, and was even considering going back to Poland. Finally, my degree in education came to the rescue, as at the very end of July, I was offered a lower primary form tutor position in a private international school. No one questioned my qualifications just because I wasn’t a native speaker. Even though I had no experience apart from practicum period during my studies, the mere fact I had a master in primary education with early English teaching, was enough to hire me.

As we all know, every cloud has a silver lining and the fact I was somehow forced to take up primary school teaching, opened a whole new world for me, with lots of exciting possibilities. I discovered CLIL, bilingual teaching and the pride of being a form tutor. All this inevitably inspired me to share my new experience and all the overwhelming things I had learnt about YL classroom management. Soon came the IATEFL, conferences, workshops, my own presentations and publications, meeting other teachers from all over the world, and a huge appetite for further development. Nowadays, I still collaborate with some language schools in Poland from time to time and meet more and more NNST working outside of their countries.

Yet, a recent look at Spanish labour market has only proven that the situation hasn’t changed much since my last job interview there. Hopefully, the non-discriminatory employment policy will finally reach also this part of Europe, and no one will have to use a false name or lie to their students.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

agnieszka kruszynskaAgnieszka Kruszyńska graduated from Primary Education with Early English Teaching (Pedagogy) and Iberian Studies at Warsaw University. After six years of working in language schools with various age groups and levels, she became a lower primary form tutor at Colegio Internacional Torrequebrada in Benalmádena, south of Spain, and has since worked in international or bilingual schools. Currently based in Warsaw, a proud primary years (1-3) teacher, with a bunch of wonderful kids from various countries under her wings.

"Ain't no mountain high enough" by Ratna Ragunathan

image

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/fCGPcr Changes mine

The Beginnings

Let me introduce myself. My name’s Ratna and I’m currently working as a teacher at the British Council, Malaysia. I’ve been teaching English for the past 9 years and it’s been a great journey this far. I’m truly grateful for the many people who’ve been a part of my teaching journey, shaping me into the teacher I am today.

ratnavathy 2Have I always been a teacher? No and I’m sure it does not come as a surprise to you. After 5 years of working in the IT industry (and trying really hard to be good at it), there came a day when I decided to call it quits. I told my dad that I could NOT do it any longer. Logic, systems and numerical coding just wasn’t my forte! My father’s words still rings in my ears until this day – “Start new if you need to and if it makes you happy!” I took up night classes to obtain my certificate in TESOL and was fortunate enough to be offered a job in International House, Malaysia. Of course, there was a considerable plunge in salary which I was more than willing to take.

Starting out as a teacher was certainly not a piece of cake. It was intimidating and overwhelming. Let’s just say that I’m not exactly proud of my lesson plans then. My biggest breakthrough came when I got a chance to observe my colleague, Vahid Javadi, in action. Vahid was such a creative teacher! It was the best English class I’ve observed and he opened up my mind many folds. I was also deeply inspired by another colleague, Lindsay, who was so creative in her classes which added on to my development as a teacher. I asked for more observations and receiving lots of feedback that helped me along my path. My former boss, Grant Duncan, was exceptional at what he did – he inspired and motivated me a lot, encouraging me to conducts in-house workshops for teachers based on lessons that worked for me which then, led to me conducting 2 sessions of online workshops for IH World.

The defining moment

And then there came the day when my husband got a posting to South Korea. Little did I know that this was going to change my life forever, shattering the little bubble I was living in. I started working on my resume (thanks to my friend Lindsay) and was quite pleased with the end results. I also got my Korean students to write me up a recommendation in Korean language (which they willingly did) on how they enjoyed my classes. Equipped with my postgraduate degree in TEFL, TESOL certificate and a 5 year experience of teaching multilingual adults learners, I quit my job in IH Malaysia, packed my bags and left to Korea with my husband. I was so confident that I’d land a job easily in Korea.

ratnavathy 1How wrong I was! In my 1st 3 months in Korea, I religiously applied for every single job I laid my eyes on and every reply I got, basically, summed up as ‘You’ve got really good credentials, but I’m afraid you won’t get a job – your passport is Malaysian’. It was so frustrating and upsetting I felt myself gradually losing hope. I remember a time when I was so upset with the unfairness of the ELT world when my husband asked me “Are you teaching for the money or the passion? Start a blog. Update it because of your passion for teaching. Diversify yourself. Do not expect immediate returns but it will eventually all fall into place!” How right he was!

As one door closed, lots more opened. Somehow through my searches on the internet, I stumbled upon blogs of teachers settled in Korea. I made friends with Mike Griffin who then introduced me to Josette Le Blanc. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was writing for the International Teacher Development Institute (http://itdi.pro) and starting up my own blog (which sadly needs to be updated). I also managed expand my network among the lovely Korean people (one of them being a teacher), who went on to introduce me to people who wanted to learn English. Of course, I didn’t have a legal teaching permit but people were, generally, more than willing to have me teaching at their homes, providing the best possible support they could. I started teaching young learners, teenagers and adults at the district’s cultural centre. During my free time, I continued developing myself – updating my teaching blog, being involved with ITDI, doing lots of reading, conducting and moderating online ELT workshops. It was truly wonderful how my mind opened up on many levels. Of course, everything went down on my resume.

When I returned home a year later, I’d say it was quite easy finding for a job – my profile was not that of a regular ELT teacher in Malaysia. Being a freelancer, I successfully landed into teaching jobs in almost all places I applied to. I further expanded my experience into teaching Business English, Academic Writing and English for Health Sciences. I then got my CELTA done ( minimum BC requirement) applied to the British Council and successfully landed myself a teaching job there.

And now

I’d say that BC provides great teacher support and opportunities for professional development, eg. building up my skills with young learners (I gladly accepted a YL mentor who I’ve been working with for the past year). I continued presenting several local and international conferences (funding myself), sharing my ideas whenever I could.

ratnavathy 3In one way, I appreciate being a NNEST because it helps me value myself better as a teacher.  Wouldn’t you, if you had to work really hard to get where you are now vs. to having the right passport and landing any ELT job with much ease? The hard work makes it even more precious, at least to me and this value (among others) makes me feel whole as a person.

My advice to all NNEST teachers – it’s crucial for us to diversify our skills as much as we can, working towards being globally skilful as a language teacher and expanding our network in the ELT world. Keep learning, keep reading, keep sharing. Pro-bono. Remember, it’s also about being at the right place at the right time. Yes, the truth does remain that the ELT world is rather unfair. But, I can assure you that ripples of change have already started to emerge. It may not come as soon as we want it to. But it will. Remember, the world is opening up and so should we.

Teacher success stories: interview with Erica Olah

The interview was conducted by Andrew Davison, founder of Learn English Budapest and Learn English Prague, both of which have been included in the Hall of Fame for their commitment to give equal employment opportunities to both native and non-native English teachers. You can read the interview with the founder of Learn English Budapest here. Erica’s bio can be found below the interview.

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/fCGPcr Changes mine

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/fCGPcr Changes mine

  1. How long have you been an English teacher and how did you start?

I have been teaching English for more than 20 years now. Originally I was an elementary school teacher. Once I was asked by a company to teach the management and the employees on an evening course and then I realized that adults are for me. Right at the beginning the feedback from my students was so positive that it encouraged me to further develop my skills.

  1. Why did you want to become a teacher of English?

For two reasons I think. On the one hand because teaching is my hobby, yes I am really lucky, and I love the language. On the other hand because being a self-employed teacher gives me the freedom to manage my own time and meet lots of different people.

  1. How easy has it been to find private students?

At the beginning it was much easier because there were few teachers in the market. There were some years when it was enough to put an advertisement out in the village where I live and my whole year got scheduled in advance in a week or so. In general like every business I have had my ups and downs but it never discouraged me.

  1. How have language schools treated you as a non-native teacher? Do they take you as seriously as native teacher?

I do believe that the teacher’s expertise is the most important so I do not care about schools which discriminate teachers by their birth. For example, I have never been able to get a summer job in Spain. Their loss! J At the beginning and unfortunately for quite a long time I felt that nativeness is the pre-requisite of being a good English teaching professional but now I am confident about the usefulness I do.

  1. Do you think students treat you differently because you are a non-native teacher?

No I don’t. If I felt that I would get rid of them.

  1. How do you react to people that have the opinion that native speakers make better English teachers than non-natives?

I simply tell them that the choice is theirs but in my opinion in many ways  I am as good as a native teacher. I have gone through what they are going through now and in a lot of respects I can help them pass their exams more quickly. Anyway, I have had students who chose to learn with me after a native teacher. Not every native teacher is qualified as we all know.

erica olahErica is an experienced teacher, MA graduated in English language and literature at ELTE University Budapest. She holds the CELTA, the QTS to secondary schools in the UK. She has also been an oral examiner at state accredited exams for ten years.

She’s taught teenagers and adults in Hungary and in the UK and is currently working for Learn English Budapest, which recently opened up in Prague. She’s taught the Prime Minister’s Office and in several banks in Budapest.

She’s a great animal lover and volunteers to translate for charities. She likes dancing, travelling,reading running, learning languages and getting to know different cultures and gastronomy.

'Teaching English in Japan as a nNEST' by Nicholas Susatyo

Nicholas susatyo 2My name is Nick Susatyo and I’m a Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (nNEST) currently working in Japan. I was born in Indonesia, but I haven’t lived there for the past 8 years (a third of my life). I really just consider it my Passport Country. It’s been a long journey and I’ve been through a lot to get where I am today. I’ll share my story with you in this article.

Before I even entered the TEFL industry, I could sense there was some prejudice against nNESTs. I researched all the information available on the Cambridge Certificate for English Language Teaching for Adults (CELTA) for a year before actually enrolling into the course, and one day I visited the International House in my city, which at that time was Sydney. During my chat with the school director, I asked her as straightforward as I could: If I obtained a CELTA (and my BSc degree), what are my chances of getting a job, since I’m a non-native speaker of English? “At least in Australia, you’re protected by the equal employment rights. It means it is unlawful for employers to hire someone based on their race,” said the school director.

But do schools really abide by the law?, I wondered. And what about other countries where such laws do not exist? I didn’t ask, but my gut feeling, which turned out later to be true, was that many nNESTs would be at a disadvantage when competing for a job even with a less qualified and less experienced NEST.

At that same time, my decision to become an English teacher seemed to have left my family and friends somewhat bewildered. Isn’t it a job for a native English speaker? Can you even teach a language that is not your own?, they asked. And my usual response to those questions ever since has been: Yes, maybe it would be seen as a strange fact 40 years ago, but not today, in 2014, when English has gone global, when non-native speakers outnumber natives 6 to 1. And the world is blessed with hundreds of English accents; I don’t believe English teaching profession is only for native speakers from the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. English is the international language for a reason.

When I was looking for a job in Japan, about 80% of the job ads said, “You must currently reside in Japan.” So I decided to go to Japan with a tourist visa (90-days). I thought that this increased my odds of getting a job by showing commitment and willingness to live in that country. I contacted a good friend of mine who lived in a rural town in the Kochi prefecture and stayed with him whilst looking for a job, which is also what a lot of foreigners do while job-hunting.

Why Japan? Well, I have studied Japanese before, and my friend was willing to put me up and help me with my job search, so I basically just walked through the door that was already opened.

 The teaching positions available

The main English teaching jobs in Japan are divided into two categories: English conversation schools (“eikaiwa”) and Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). My job belongs to the latter. Eikaiwa is easy to explain: it’s pretty much like other language schools in other parts of the world – it’s a conversation class, often attended by students who are planning to take TOEIC exams (Test of English for International Communication).

On the other hand, ALTs don’t work in language schools; they work in public schools (Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High School, Senior High School), and are obliged to teach alongside a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) or a homeroom teacher, who tend to translate everything into Japanese.

The basic requirement for both jobs is to have a university degree in any discipline. When it comes to more specific requirements, eikaiwa schools are pickier than ALT jobs. Often they require CELTA, DELTA or an equivalent, and they often prefer teachers with experience in a specific area (e.g. teaching young learners or business English).

I had zero teaching experience but CELTA helped me get hired since many ALTs do not have any teaching qualifications and are hired solely on the grounds of being a native speaker. In addition, since ALTs also work as “cultural ambassadors” – often schools like to hear perspectives not only from native English speaking countries, but also European or other Asian countries, for example. But then again, we are talking about a minority; I imagine less than 10% of all ALTs in Japan.

In ALT jobs, you are required to be able to speak at least basic Japanese. It is true that a lot of ALT job ads do not mention this, but there are some very good reasons why they should. Firstly, you can’t expect the teachers of other subjects in public schools in Japan to be able to speak English to you (after all, it’s Japan). I don’t know about other ALTs, but I do want to get along with my colleagues. Secondly, if you want to get to know your students, knowing Japanese might help.

How tough was it for a nNEST like me to get a teaching job in Japan?

Halloween spirit! :)

Halloween spirit! 🙂

Very tough. In fact, I was on the verge of packing and catching a flight back home a few times. I often cried in desperation, and I also cried in celebration when I officially got my first real teaching job. I still had to pack, but for a much better reason: to move to my allocated city.

I think one of the main reasons it was tough is because, in the job application system in Japan, you are obliged to state your nationality and attach your photo. This can lead to a situation when applications are filtered out based on their ‘nativeness’ and looks (preferably white). As a result, most nNESTs will be rejected out-of-hand, regardless of their qualifications and experience. In my case, from over a hundred applications I had sent, I received only 3 replies.

I tried to keep my optimism at this stage, and I thought, if the school is judging applicants based on their race, I probably don’t want to work for them anyway.

What definitely did help me was my academic background. I was educated in Australia, and I had lived there for quite a long time. Holding the CELTA didn’t hurt, either.

My students’ and colleagues reactions to having a nNEST

How did the students (and other teachers) react to having a nNEST as their English teacher? I didn’t get any direct feedback from schools or students about this, but I feel that everyone welcomed me and looked forward to having classes with me. My presence in the classrooms definitely changed the mood of the class and diverted students’ attention from the grammar-centred teaching applied by most JTEs, to something more communicative. I also want to think that with my Asian look, I could inspire them: they may think, “this person looks similar to me. If this person can speak English well, then I should be able to do it too.”

It is important to note that all my students (aged 6-15) are not yet aware of different accents in English. In other words, although I have a tinge of foreign accents, to them I just sound like a “native speaker” to them – at that age, they probably think that there is only one “native speaker accent” in English. It is true that I’m a nNEST, but at the end of the day, I think what is most important to them is that they want to have a good teacher, who motivates them and brings the class alive.

My message to fellow nNESTs out there:

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in teaching English, just do it. I know it won’t be easy and will be challenging, but think about the impact you will make on others: your students and fellow educators. I know I’m only in the first year of this long journey – but I also realise that I’m making an impact by, for example, sharing my story with friends who are too afraid to take risks in life. With the work in this blog, and all its contributors, I believe we are moving in the right direction. When I started in 2013, this blog didn’t exist (or, I hadn’t discovered anything similar). But today, there is a supportive community and like-minded people who hopefully will help you move forward.

“What is your dream for the future?”

This is the favourite question at school, something that I often ask my students, and something they often ask. When I told them, “I love my job as a teacher and I’ve achieved my dream” – they don’t seem to be satisfied with that answer. And they somehow reminded me that it’s important to always have a dream for the future. Something that I’m currently enjoying is reading children’s book – and I hope to write a 2nd success story somewhere, after I have become a children book’s author!

Nicholas susatyo 1Nick Susatyo: I was born in Indonesia, I called Australia home for a long time, and I’m now residing in the countryside of Japan. At the moment, I’m teaching young learners in the Elementary and Junior High Schools. I’m living my life to the fullest, and am looking forward to wake up each morning to see my students in the school.

For more teacher success stories, click here.

Does it matter to students whether their teacher is a nNEST? by Bella Ruth Reichard

This is not a success story about employment, but about my own perception of myself as a non-native English speaking teacher. I teach EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to mainly Asian students with IELTS 5.5-8, based at a UK university.

Starting out

I first came into contact with EAP as an international student at Durham University, where I took in-sessional classes. A year or so later, when I wasn’t sure what to do with my life, my in-sessional teacher suggested that I do a CELTA and become an EAP teacher. My immediate response was: How can I teach English, my English is nowhere near good enough! (Only IELTS 8 plus a year of academic writing at Masters level.) Rubbish, she said. So I went ahead. During my CELTA, I was further encouraged by my fellow trainees, who made a big deal of having very little language awareness and kept saying how much of an advantage it is for me to have learned English as a foreign language. Still, I was always a bit self-conscious, especially when teaching German students – what would they say if they came to the UK to learn English, only to be taught by a German? But they never really said anything.

Employers and colleagues…

…never had a problem with my first language. On the contrary, I have always worked alongside other non-native English speakers; colleagues enjoy speaking German to me or ask me questions about Germany; team members and leaders see it as valuable to have an ex-EAP student on board. So no discrimination but lots of encouragement. Take that as the first success – I didn’t have to fight for it, which I’m sure can be seen as a success in itself.

How about the students?

students11

Still, I was conscious about the students. I always secretly played the game of “how long does it take them to find out”, which usually was “never”, because neither my name nor my accent is a clear giveaway, at least not to overseas students. I got concerned when I first taught a group of very high level students, some of whom were actually native speakers of some English variety and accordingly did not see why they had to study English as part of their programme in the first place. What would they say if they knew that their teacher was not a native English speaker, and therefore arguably was inferior to them at the subject? Would my effort of convincing them that EAP is different from just English have to include that I can still be better at EAP than they are?

I never lied outright about my nationality or my first language, but never cleared up any “where are you from if you’re not British”-questions. Partly, this was a game for me, but partly it was an attempt to protect my authority.

Coming out

When I taught my current course for the second time, I was chatting to two native English speaker students, about halfway through the 9-month course. I accidentally said in some context that my children are bilingual, one question led to another, and the students were very surprised and found it hard to believe (and accept?) that I’m German. From then on, I perceived a change in attitude among the higher-level students. Did they query me more often? Were they more skeptical of corrections that I made?

Really, they were not, it just felt like it at the time. A few months after the end of the course, I spoke to one of the two students who found out first, and he was surprised to learn of my concern. He assured me that none of the students in the group really cared what my first language was. They simply respected me as an experienced academic who has more expertise in academic English than they had.

Moving on

Currently, I am teaching two groups, one high-level group and a group with roughly IELTS 5.5. Somehow, students in the lower-level group found out that I’m German – a colleague might have told them. A few weeks into the course, one student approached me to ask how my English got so good – which reminded me of the view of a non-native English teacher as a role model. Around the same time, Marek, who runs this website, commented on a post on my own blog, strongly encouraging me not to hide my identity.

students25

These two prompts made me grow in confidence, and I told my high-level group much more openly that I’m not British and that my first language is not English. It doesn’t seem to make any difference for my students, but I feel much more comfortable now.

I hope that this experience can encourage other self-conscious doubters to believe that they are right: students care about the teacher’s expertise, in teaching and in the subject, but less about the language with which the teacher happened to be raised.

Bella RuthBella came to the UK from Germany as an international student. In 2010, she did a CELTA and worked part-time as a teacher of English and German. In 2012, she started teaching EAP, and in 2013 she completed an MA in Applied Language Studies for TESOL. Since then, Bella has been teaching at a UK university on pre-sessional, in-sessional and pathway programmes. Currently, she is EAP Tutor and Module Leader on the International Diploma in Business.