Reflexión: lecciones aprendidas después de dos años contratando profesores de inglés no nativos

[note from the editor: this post was translated into Spanish from this article also published on the blog by Andrew Davison by Marina Escalada]

Mi experiencia en cuanto a trabajar con profesores de inglés no nativos (NNESTS en sus siglas en inglés), comenzó hace poco más de 2 años, cuando empecé mi negocio, Learn English Budapest. No somos una escuela de idiomas al uso, sino una agencia que pone en contacto a profesores de inglés con estudiantes de toda la ciudad. Cuando comencé, la meta era ofrecer una alternativa moda a los folletos y a anunciarse en foros de expatriados.

Durante los primeros meses, yo, al igual que otras muchas escuelas tristemente aún siguen haciendo, tenía una opinión negativa de los profesores no nativos. Asumía que los profesores nativos eran, simplemente, mejores a la hora de enseñar el idioma.

No fue hasta que fui contactado por Marek Kiczkowiak, fundador de TEFL Equity Advocates (Defensores de la Igualdad en TEFL), que realmente tuve la oportunidad de cuestionar mi opinión sobre el tema.

Lo que empezó como un intercambio de correos sobre el tema de nativos y no nativos (NESTS/NNESTS*) se convirtió en un experimento por mi parte. Decidí empezar a aceptar a NNESTS en mi equipo para ver que resultados obtenía y tan sólo unas pocas semanas después, me di cuenta de que había estado cometiendo un error al no contratarlos.

En aquel entonces, compartí un sumario de mis conclusiones en una entrevista. Hoy, vuelvo a estar aquí y me complace anunciar el lanzamiento de mi nuevo sitio web, Teacher Finder. Es el mismo concepto, excepto que esta vez pondremos a personas en contacto con profesores de idiomas en más de una docena de ciudades alrededor del mundo. También nos expandiremos incluyendo nuevos idiomas: Español, Italiano, Francés, Húngaro, Arabe y Alemán, entre otros. Por supuesto, los profesores no nativos son bienvenidos.

Para todos aquellos que se dedican a la gestión de agencias o escuelas de idiomas y que tengan dudas sobre trabajar con NNESTS, comparto aquí algunos de los resultados observados durante los últimos 2 años.

LA MAYORÍA DE ESTUDIANTES VALORAN LA EXPERIENCIA MÁS QUE LA LENGUA MATERNA

Cuando se trata de enseñar, es obvio que las requisitos más importantes son, la habilidad del profesor a la hora de explicar el tema y, obviamente, enseñar. Esto es particularmente cierto en cuanto a profesores de idiomas. En un mundo donde la lengua franca internacional es el inglés y el número de hablantes no nativos empieza a sobrepasar el de nativos, es ridículo pensar que los no nativos no pueden ser tan buenos profesores como los “elegidos”, que han nacido en un ambiente donde se habla inglés.

LOS ESTUDIANTES NO EXIGIRÁN UN PROFESOR NATIVO SI NO LES DAS LA OPCIÓN

Por supuesto, “nativo” sigue estando imbuido de un cierto estereotipo y, dada la opción, la mayoría de personas aún optan por un nativo. De hecho, solía haber una casilla en el formulario online de Learn English Budapest donde se leía: “¿Quieres un profesor nativo? Si/No. No es de sorprender que la mayoría de personas marcasen la casilla “nativo” o lo dejasen en blanco.

Decidí quitar esta casilla y reemplazarla con la siguiente pregunta dirigida a los estudiantes: “Describe como sería tu profesor perfecto”. Durante los siguientes meses, resultó evidente que los estudiantes no buscaban a alguien que fuera nativo. Estaban más interesados en encontrar a un profesor que compartiera sus intereses y pudiera explicar ampliamente el tópico en el que están interesados.

A partir de ese momento, no me ha contactado ningún estudiante para quejarse de haberle sido asignado un profesor no nativo de inglés. La mayoría están encantados al ver que los NNESTS pueden explicar gramática complicada (a menudo, mejor que los hablantes nativos) y establecer analogías con sus idiomas nativos.

LOS NNESTS PUEDEN SER MÁS DINÁMICOS

Uno de los factores que más favorece a los NNESTS es que tienen experiencia propia de haber aprendido el idioma. Poseen una gran comprensión de lo que los estudiantes están pasando y de cuáles pueden ser los mayores obstáculos para alcanzar la fluidez.

Su propia experiencia del aprendizaje del idioma, ha menudo les ha enseñado algunas técnicas innovadoras sobre cómo explicar mejor y entender inglés. Cuando pregunté a mis profesores cuales eran los consejos y trucos que les son de más ayuda a la hora de enseñar inglés, en seguida vi que los NNESTS eran los que sabían mucho más acerca de la manera de mejorar sus habilidades lingüísticas, (y las de sus alumnos).

LOS NNESTS TIENDEN A TENER MEJORES RECURSOS PARA LA ENSEÑANZA

De nuevo, ya que los NNESTS han pasado por la inmensa tarea de llegar a hablar otro idioma con fluidez, han explorado las posibilidades, dentro del panorama de recursos de aprendizaje de idiomas, para encontrar los mejores. Mientras que los NESTS cuentan con el lujo de poder contar siempre con el recurso de ser hablantes nativos y poder elaborar “recursos” improvisados, los NNESTS normalmente, cubren ese espacio preparándose mejor las lecciones.

También son los que comparten con los estudiantes más métodos de aprendizaje alternativos a los libros y les ayudan a mejorar más rápidamente el manejo del idioma. También he observado que, por norma general, también hacen más esfuerzo en crear sus propios recursos y combinar estrategias diferentes para encontrar la mejor manera de enseñar a cada alumno.

CUANDO SE TRATA DE ENSEÑAR A NIÑOS, LOS NNESTS, A MENUDO LO HACEN MEJOR

Cuando rememoro mis días en la escuela y las clases de idiomas que nos daban, no puedo acordarme de, ni tan siquiera, un profesor de idiomas nativo. Cuando se trata de principiantes y niños, la habilidad de explicar el idioma en su idioma nativo y limitar la presión que el estudiante siente, es irreemplazable.

Cuando era joven y estudiaba mis primeras lecciones en español, no hubiera podido sobrevivir frente a una persona española oyéndome imitar su idioma; por lo que he aprendido de los comentarios que recibo de los estudiantes, a menudo, estos se sienten igual cuando están empezando. Los más avanzados puede que se sientan cómodos siendo expuestos a más presión, pero los niños no suelen progresar en ese entorno.

CONCLUSIÓN: MIENTRAS QUE LOS ESTEREOTIPOS LIGADOS A LOS PROFESORES NATIVOS CONTINÚAN, LOS NNESTS ESTÁN, A MENUDO, MEJOR PREPARADOS PARA ENSEÑAR INGLÉS.

Incluso en Teacher Finder aún tenemos gente pidiendo profesores de inglés nativos pero, muy a menudo, no presionan sobre el tema. También hemos conseguido explicar con éxito los beneficios inherentes en el aprendizaje con profesores no nativos de inglés.

Diría que una de las ventajas de tener a un NNEST enseñándote, es que entiende perfectamente por lo que estás pasando como estudiante del idioma. Al haber pasado por el mismo esfuerzo frente a las cuestiones gramaticales, entiende lo que se necesita para poder explicar claramente las normas. Esto es particularmente importante con los niños, quienes pueden desanimarse si tienen a un profesor nativo.

A pesar de que, desafortunadamente, me tomó un tiempo llegar a darme cuenta, ahora se que los NNESTS pueden estar mejor equipados y preparados para enseñar que los profesores nativos. Al final, lo que realmente les importa a los estudiantes es encontrar a alguien con quien puedan conectar y que haga del aprendizaje del idioma algo ameno, indistintamente de si son nativos o no nativos.

andrew5041Andrew Davison es el fundador de Teacher Finder y también disfruta escribiendo y viajando en su tiempo libre. Vive entre Londres y Budapest.

*NEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) Nativo(s) de Inglés.

NNEST(S): siglas en inglés de “Non-Native English Teacher-s”. En español, Profesor(es) No-Nativo(s) de Inglés.

Recording of my Innovate ELT 2016 plenary

This is the video recording of my 10 minute plenary at Innovate ELT 2016 in Barcelona. Some parts of the original did not record properly, unfortunately, so I had to rerecord them at home. Still, I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear your comments. Below the video, you can read the transcript of the plenary.

If you’re interested in getting involved in TEFL Equity Advocates campaign, take a look at this page for ideas on how you can help.

Plenary transcript

How many of you in the audience are NNS?

And how many are NS?

And how many of you are English teachers?

This is precisely the point I’d like to make today. We’re all English teachers. And if we want to empower ourselves, it can only be done together. As English teachers.

So I have a very simple dream. A dream that one day we’ll all simply be seen as English teachers. That this artificial divide that seems to separate us, will disappear. Become irrelevant.

So my dream is very simple indeed. It’s a dream that soon we will be valued based on what we do best: teach English; and not based on an accident of birth. Because we are all English teachers. And what defines us is our professionalism. Our ability to teach a language that we all love.

So when I look around today, what I see is English teachers. Not NS and NNS. Simply English teachers. I want you to take a good look around you too. We’re a diverse group. We speak different languages. Come from different countries. But there’s one important thing that unites us: we’re all English teachers.

Can you see that?

We’re all English teachers.

And together we’re stronger. Together we have the power to change ELT. To bring professionalism back into our industry.

And change is possible. It is actually taking place right now. This conference is a sign of change. The topics discussed here are a sign of change. And I, you, we, as English teachers, we can become the driving force of change in ELT.

The story I want to tell you will hopefully show you that change in ELT is possible. No matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem. And all of you there have the power to change things.

There was a time when I didn’t think of myself as a NNS. I thought of myself as an English teacher. Call it naivete or innocence. That time is unfortunately gone. It was a happy time when you thought of yourself as an English teacher. But it all changed back in 2011.

I was teaching in IH San Sebastian. The IH transfer list came out and I applied for work at IH Lisbon. What I didn’t know back then was that I was a NNS. And NNS weren’t welcome in IH Lisbon. I received an email that said my CV wouldn’t be considered and I should try another IH school.

I was furious. My CV won’t be considered because I’m Polish?! This was utter nonsense. I was a qualified and experienced teacher who was proficient in English. What else do you want? Well, clearly, they weren’t that interested in qualifications or experience or proficiency. They simply wanted a native speaker.

I was furious. But thanks to an English colleague, rather than smash the computer screen, sulk, or even worse: give up; I vented my anger into an article. Mind you, I’d never written an article in my life. But I couldn’t just sit silently. I had to speak out. IH Lisbon wasn’t going to get away with it. I wanted to go after them.

I entitled the article ‘Nativity scenes’. I sent it off to several newspapers and magazines, and EL Gazette replied saying they’d publish it. Of course with changes. And there were a lot of them. Remember I didn’t have a clue about writing articles. I was just a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury.

The article must have created a bit of an impact, though, because the CEO of IH World wrote an official reply which was published below the article. And in the reply she promised IH would change their hiring policies. Which as far as I know they did. At least officially.

What does this story show you? That if you’re a young English teacher from Poland venting his fury into an article, even a giant like IH will not be safe.

But jokes aside, what I think it shows is that you also have the power to change things in ELT. We all do. As English teachers, we are ELT.

But change also takes time. It takes a lot of determination. It takes commitment. It takes grit. With IH it might have been a stroke of luck. To really change ELT, it will take time.

But it is possible.

Two years ago I started TEFL Equity Advocates campaigning for equal professional opportunities for NS and NNS teachers in ELT. The basic premise was and still is that we’re all English teachers. And we should be valued for that, for our teaching skills. Not for the language we unwittingly picked up as kids. And the stereotypes, the prejudices, they make us all weaker. They divide us when we should be united.

And equal employment and professional opportunities should be important to all of us. Because the current ELT recruitment model disregards professionalism. It disregards us as English teachers. It is based on a false assumption that the mother tongue of the teacher should be the most important criteria.

Since I started TEFL Equity, one of the most frequent challenges I’ve faced is people saying that things will never change. That I’m fighting a lost cause. There’s a certain defeatism among many ELTers. But remember, we, as English teachers, are ELT. And we have the power to change it. To shape its future.

So the most beautiful moments since starting TEFL Equity have been to hear from teachers:

Thanks, now I know I’m not on my own.

You’ve given me the tools and the courage to fight for my rights.

I used to accept this discrimination as a given, but now I know I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

This is what I call empowerment. And a call to action. If we want change, we need to act. We need to make it happen

So if the issue of inequality between NS and NNS in ELT concerns you, do something about it. Write an article. Talk to your DoS. Propose or give a workshop in your school on the topic. Give a conference talk. Or a webinar. Talk to your local teaching association. When you see a job ad that’s discriminatory, comment on it. Write to the employer.

And last by not least, talk to your students. Discuss this issue with them. As I’ll try to show later today in my session with the learners, it’s a great topic for debate. And as teachers we have the obligation to educate our students. To empower them.

English has changed. It doesn’t belong to the English any more. Nor does it belong to the US, the Irish or the Australians. It belongs to all of us, all those who teach it. Who study it. Who use it. It is an international language. A beautifully diverse one.

Let’s embrace this diversity. Let’s speak out for greater equality in ELT. For greater professionalism. For empowerment.

Let’s speak out for us, English teachers.

We are all english teachers

'The N factor': spreading equality in your workplace – by Sarah Priestley

After watching Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary ‘ The native factor, the haves and have-nots’ this April I immediately asked myself what I could do to raise awareness of some of the issues Silvana highlighted.  Through meeting Marek on Twitter we started chatting about my ideas.  So, this post is to share with you the activities I have recently done to help my teaching colleagues and customer service staff be more aware of ‘The N factor’.  I hope I might inspire you to do something similar in your organization!1In May 2016, to get the ball rolling, I presented a slot in our monthly teacher 15 minute forum (a CPD event for teachers where teachers have 5 minutes to summarize a teaching idea, an article or an area of interest) on ‘The N factor’. 10 teachers came and for most of them it was the first time they had heard about this area of hot debate.   I highlighted some key facts and figures from Silvana Richardson’s plenary and commented on how our own staffroom was made up of both NS and NNS and that we should all be proud of who we are.  I reiterated this point by quoting Peter Medgyes, who I was lucky enough to hear speak at the EICE Valencia conference this May.

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To spread the word to all teaching staff I shared my 15 minute forum slides in an email and wrote a short summary of my 15 minute slot in our weekly teacher newsletter. I also continued to talk about the topic over the next few days and weeks with anyone who would listen to me!

Afterwards, I also realized that our customer service staff might be interested in hearing what I had to say.  After all, they deal with the public every day and a frequent comment they hear is ‘Of course, I presume that all your teachers are mother-tongue speakers.’  I wondered how confident my customer service colleagues were in handling this scenario and how knowledgeable they were of the advantages that both NS and NNS teachers can bring to the classroom.

Our Director and Customer Service Manager were very keen and enthusiastic about my suggestion so in June I organized 2 briefing sessions.  Chatting with a fellow teacher Ania Krzyzosiak, we decided to prepare and run the customer service sessions together (you can download the handout here).  That way, there would be both a NS and NNS delivering the session and 2 brains and pairs of hands are always better than one!  16 colleagues attended and our 30 minute briefing generated a lot of healthy discussion and comments.  I think the Venn diagram activity, where they had to think about the qualities that NS and NNS can bring to the classroom, was particularly thought-provoking and made my non-teaching colleagues consider advantages that they had never really thought about til then.

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The exit tickets we collected at the end of the 2 customer service sessions included comments such as ‘More convincing arguments for answering the basic question.’ and ‘Non-NEST teachers can teach as accurately as NEST teachers.’

IATEFL 2016 may be over but Silvana Richardson brought to the foreground very important issues and there is still plenty to be done on tackling discrimination and misconceptions in many organisations and at many levels in the ELT world.  I work for the British Council and we have a global policy of equal opportunity for recruitment.  That said, I still feel it is important to discuss ‘The N factor’ in my workplace.  I hope my small contribution will go some way to continuing this debate and that after reading this blog you might be thinking of how you, too, can spread the NSNNS word!

If you’d like to see some lesson materials for adult students connected to the NS NNS topic then click here.  If you have any ideas or comments about this blog then post them below and/or tweet them to me at @Sarah_TTrainer .

About the author

sarah priestleySarah’s teaching and teacher training career over the last 20 years has taken her to Eastern Europe, the Far East and Europe, where she currently works at the British Council.  A Cambridge CELTA and Young Learner extension tutor, she has trained both teachers working in the state sector and in ELT.  She is currently Coordinator of the Bilingual Education Consultancy Service British Council Italy and teaches adults and young learners.  You can follow her on Twitter @Sarah_TTrainer

 

TESOL Spain position statement against discrimination

Recently, TESOL Spain has issued a position statement against discrimination in ELT, opposing job ads that require the candidate to be a ‘native speaker’, have ‘native-like’ fluency, or speak with ‘standard’ English. I had a chance to talk to the current president of TESOL Spain, Annie Altamirano, to find out a bit more about the statement and why it was issued. We also had a chat about how TESOL Spain is planning to put the statement into practice, promoting equality in Spanish ELT and supporting both their ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ members. We finished off by talking about ELT in Spain and what still needs to be done so that teachers are recruited and valued based on their skills, rather than their first language.

In compliance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, TESOL-SPAIN stands in opposition to discrimination against teachers on the basis of their national, ethnic or linguistic background, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, in terms of hiring, promotion, recruitment for jobs, or employment conditions.

With respect to the common, long-standing notion, unsupported by research, that a certain ethnicity, accent, or national background gives a person an advantage as a teacher of English, TESOL-SPAIN firmly believes that all teachers should be evaluated and valued solely on the basis of their teaching competence, teaching experience, formal education and linguistic expertise. Therefore, TESOL-SPAIN does not condone job announcements that list “native English,” “native command of English,” “native-like fluency,” “standard accented English,” or similar, as required or desirable qualities.

The statement is available on TESOL Spain website here.

"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.

Designed by @tekhnologicblog

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.

Thanks,

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.

 

'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.

'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.

'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

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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.