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/.

Do you trust your students when they smile in class? by Nicky Sekino

Your job may not be secure when your class is going well. Maybe, your students are making progress. Maybe, there are laughers in the class. Maybe, you have a higher academic degree. But all that will be of little value if you are a non-native speaker of English – at least in my case.

It was a company in Tokyo that dismissed me from an English education program for its employees. According to my employer, an educational institute, the company in Tokyo said, “It was about time to replace him with a new instructor, who is a native speaker of English.” I am certainly a non-native speaker of English. My mother tongue is Japanese. My employer, however, did little to protest this discriminatory dismissal. I am now of the impression that the commercial maxim of, “The customer is always right,” has worked.

My employer knows I have an M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University. I am, maybe, the longest-working teacher in the institute’s payroll.

The news devastated me because my class had been going well. When the course started a year ago, my students spoke less than survival English. If I said, “Who is he?” my students would say, “Yes.” When the students’ English comprehension was virtually zero, the progress of the class was very slow. I consulted with my employer and it suggested for a bilingual class. I asked my students if they wanted me to talk to them in Japanese when I give instructions and do the rest of the class in English. To my surprise, they said, “No.” They wanted me to do the class in English only: a nice surprise.

Something strange happened. The company in Tokyo complained about the “English-only” policy. Being surprised, I asked my students if they changed their mind. They said, “No.” They managed to hint, in a broken fashion, a fabricating act in the part of their employer.

So, I decided to do the class in English and speak very slowly. It was, however, painful to say, “Doo youu uundeerstaand?” One year later, I did not have to speak at a ridiculously slow speed.

My students were engineers. They wanted to study technical English, too. I happily accepted this wish. I asked them if they would prepare short speeches with some technical contents. I said this because I knew they wrote English reasonably well. My students said, “Yes.” Afterward, they prepared short speeches and presented them in each class. In fact, their speeches were good after some error correction.

The course came to an end in a year.  I asked my students if they wanted to continue the study. They said, “Yes,” – with a smile. I went home with a smile.

The following day, the company in Tokyo contacted my employer to say that it would renew the contract with one new condition. The condition was to replace “the instructor with someone else who is a native speaker of English.” My employer accepted the request.

Afterthoughts

This experience of mine with the company in Tokyo is not new. It is another case of many more incidents with similar developments, which reminds me that I live in the Japanese world of English education.

I no longer blame people openly for discrimination. If I did, it would just stun them because many people have no idea about racial discrimination – especially from the view of someone who is on the receiving end. They would think I am insane who is complaining about something that does not exist. As the readers may have suspected, the company in Tokyo did not know they had committed racial discrimination.

Besides racial discrimination, the Japanese world of English education has some other issues to tackle. Motivation is one. Many people think students will learn English more if the class is fun. This idea is generally true, but it is not so simple with business people who believe in the native speaker fallacy that native speakers of English would make better teachers.

I sometimes forget that Japanese is an implicit language. English, on the other hand, is a descriptive language. So, for instance, “Yes,” means “Yes,” in English. However, “Yes,” means “Yes,” or “Maybe yes,” or, “Yes, I have heard you,” in Japanese. It was maybe my naiveté to believe in my students when they requested for a monolingual class. Maybe they were saying, “Yes” to please me but, in fact, they were thinking, “No.” I do not know. A friendly warning for the readers is to be aware of the dichotomy of the Japanese language. Students are speaking English but they are possibly following a communication logic that is outside of the English language.


About the author:

nicky sekinoMr. Nicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He began teaching at American universities and Japanese vocational schools in the 1980’s. Since then, he has continued teaching and the number of his past students has exceeded 2000. His current teaching context is the business world and his students are business people. He has an MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Teachers College Columbia University.

'Drive for Quality Education of English in Japan' by Nicky Sekino

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Hello. My name is Nicky Sekino. I think you notice that my name consists of an English first name and a Japanese last name. You may think that I am from an English-speaking country with a Japanese ancestry. The fact is I am not from an English-speaking country but from Japan and with no foreign ancestry. If I may add this, my native language is Japanese. Do you want to know why a Japanese person has an English name? Well, here is the story of what has happened when I was young.

Nicky is actually a nickname, not a real name. My real name is Shinichi, but I use the English name for a reason. Someone gave the name to me when I was in the United States.

During the summer I lived in the country to study English, my school decided to stop its lunch service to shock all students. We had to find restaurants somewhere. My choice was a cafeteria of the University of Houston, which turned out to be a nice choice.

The cafeteria had a huge dining hall and a huge kitchen separated by a long counter table. There were food samples at the entrance. You choose one and ordered it to the kitchen staff. The kitchen staff cooked it and gave it to you. You placed the food and a drink on a tray and went to a cashier who rang up the price. You paid to the cashier, found an empty table, sat, and ate.

My cashier turned out to be a beautiful woman. She was also friendly and wanted to know my name. I said, “Shinichi.” She had a hard time pronouncing it because it could have been her first time to hear Japanese names. The next day I went to the same cafeteria, of course, to meet her again. She said, “You have a nickname.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “Nicky.”

Now, you know why I go by Nicky.

Names are a personal choice, but to educational institutes instructors’ names are more than a personal choice.

An old employer of mine once advertised a program with my name as Nicky to give the false impression that the class was taught by a native speaker of English. They apparently thought an instructor with an English name would attract more clients. The company knew the educational quality would be the same no matter the instructor is Nicky or Shinichi because they are the same person. Why did they decide to advertise the course using my English name then? Was it because of their blind faith in native speakers of English? If so, how about learners? Aren’t they also victims of the same idea? My answers are “yes” to the two questions.

Let me finish the story with three points. The first one is discrimination against non-native speakers of English. The second one is the game played in the English education world when it pursues more business success than educational success. The third one is the need for higher quality of English education.

pulling strings

To address the same three issues, I have established a private association and named it Drive for Quality Education of English or DQEE. DQEE is still new and had its second meeting in March 2015, when we discussed several issues concerning English language teaching in Japan.

Regarding the topic of discrimination against non-native speakers of English, the members’ opinions varied. The most neutral one came from a Japanese teacher of English who runs her own programs. Here is her account:

I run my own English programs and occasionally help other corporations. Some years ago, a company wanted to know if I would teach their children’s class. I said yes and sent in my resume, which clearly stated my Japanese nationality. I was concerned about the fact that I am Japanese because I knew the school wanted a native speaker of English, which was to meet the demand of parents who would send their children. The school interviewed me and invited some parents to witness the interview. Their decision was to hire  me and they offered the same conditions they offered to the previous teacher who was a native speaker of English. So, I have a neutral opinion on the issue of discrimination.

A big contrast to her account was the experience of another teacher who is also a non-native speaker of English. Here is his account.

I have applied to many universities and conversation schools for a   teaching position. Most of them have not replied to me but a few of them have replied to me with an invitation for an interview. During the interviews, I have answered all questions honestly and truthfully yet no employers have offered me a job. I have been thinking about the reason and I could only think that I was a threat to some teachers. I am not boasting by saying this, but I have a 30 plus years of teaching experience, which is longer than my interviewers’. If they think I knew more about English education than they did, they could have been afraid of me.

I do not know if they have rejected me because I am Japanese. It would rather be careless and possibly damaging for the school’s reputation to say, “We do not hire you because you are Japanese.” However, there is an exception to this rule. A Tokyo school has sent me an email letter by saying, “We do not hire Japanese persons.”

A DQEE member reported on a case when Japanese students refused to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands, based on their skin color and despite the fact that their mother tongue was English, which is a clear case of racial discrimination. According to Thio, prejudice is a feeling and discrimination is an act (1985). So, if someone is unhappy to see English teachers from the Caribbean islands, it is a case of prejudice. If someone refuses to learn English with teachers from the Caribbean islands it is a case of racial discrimination.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

Another DQEE member was walking in the premise of a Tokyo’s busy train station. An Asian looking man was talking to practically everybody who passed him by. His voice could not be heard because of the distance between the two men. As the DQEE member walked near him, he said, “Do you speak English?” The DQEE member said, “Yes, I do.” Relieved by this response, the man told his story. It turned out he was a teacher of English from an Asian country who had lost all teaching contracts.

He then begged for money for lunch. The DQEE member did not give him money but asked him if he wanted the telephone number of his company, so he could get a job and work again. He wanted money but not the telephone number and did not explain the reason.

When the DQEE member returned to his office, he told this story to his colleagues. His colleagues said he did the right thing and said, “If he was a native speaker of English, all he would have to do is to sit in Tokyo’s coffee shop and wait. People would have come up to him asking him to teach English.” This shows that to a large extent the Japanese are sometimes prejudicial and discriminatory towards non-native English speakers.

One DQEE member, who is a native speaker of English, thinks many Japanese students want non-challenging classes and do not want challenging ones. He also thinks local school authorities are supportive of this psychology. This is why he is “careful about doing a serious class and commenting on unnatural English expressions he heard used in his colleagues’ English classes.” His colleagues are Japanese and they do not seem to be happy to hear his comments. He thinks local governments treat native speakers of English as if they are an amusing addition to the classroom and would not listen to what they think.

Board but not Bored

In conclusion, non-native speakers are, on the whole, discriminated against in Japan. Whether the reason for this is the blind faith in native speakers of English, is a topic for further inquiry. However, if the Japanese respect people who speak English, they should also respect fellow Japanese who have acquired English to a very high level. Yet, in reality, it is the other way round. If someone refuses to take a class taught by a Japanese person simply because the teacher is a Japanese person, it is a case of racial discrimination and DQEE will address it.

nicky sekinoNicky Sekino is an experienced teacher of English. He started teaching the language in the 1980’s and during his 30 plus years of teaching experience he has taught more than 1,800 students. He realizes that many of his students suffer from some self-blame that their English skills are not enough. Therefore he wants to teach English well but also wants to support students who have lost their confidence in the language. He thinks he is lucky to be able to establish a quick rapport with his students and to be able to win students’ trust through his honesty when teaching English. He started Drive for Quality Education of English, or DQEE, whose website can be found here.

References:

  • Thio, A. (1986). Sociology: an introduction. New York: Harper & Row, Publications.

'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.