Screening out the chaff? by Nick Michelioudakis

This happened a few years ago. I had just completed my military service and I had found a job with a local EL school, but I thought I would also apply to the BC for part-time exam invigilation work. Exams have always been big business in Greece, but back then exam-related jobs were also quite well paid…

So I went to the British Council (BC) HQ in Athens and I asked for an application form. The administrative staff were all Greek and they were very friendly and efficient. They promptly gave me the form and they were generally very helpful. And then I thought I would ask for something else as well.

The thing is, I had a colleague who worked at the BC and she had told me that at the time they were recruiting Oral Examiners (OE) for the Cambridge ESOL exams. So I politely asked whether I could fill out one of these forms as well. The attitude of the staff changed immediately – and it showed in their facial expressions which alternated between shock, horror and extreme incredulity (‘What??!? A NNEST (non-Native English Speaker Teacher) wanting to become a Cambridge ESOL OE? What next??’). Please bear in mind that all the staff were Greek!

Image from: https://flic.kr/p/fzEGc7 Changes mine.

Image from: https://flic.kr/p/fzEGc7 Changes mine.

There were mumblings, hesitations, half-hearted excuses of the ‘I think the deadline has elapsed’ or ‘I believe they have enough candidates already’ kind, but in the end they reluctantly gave me the form and I duly filled it out. To say that I was completely taken aback by this sudden change would be an understatement. I knew that the requirements were some years of teaching experience and the RSA DELTA and my CV was perfectly ok in this regard.

When I got home, I called my colleague and told her what had happened. ‘Well’ she said, ‘how they feel is neither here nor there, as now it is all up to the Senior Team Leader. Nevertheless, just to make sure that he hears of your application, why don’t you photocopy your CV and qualification and send everything to him by post? Just to be on the safe side, you understand…’ (Thank you Rania!)

So I did that and I was really pleased when I was invited for an interview a few days later… There followed the training; there were about 20 of us as far as I can remember, and I think we were told that they would only hire 10. Needless to say I was thrilled to hear that I was one of them (being a Cambridge OE was an extremely prestigious post back then and it always amazed me to see how it functioned as a ‘heuristic’ in future interviews… Once people saw that on the CV, they never looked any further (‘If you are good enough for Cambridge ESOL, you are good enough for us’ [never mind that you might be hopeless as a teacher…]).

Looking back, I think this experience taught me two things: a) in many cases it is NNESs (non-Native English Speakers) who perpetuate these ‘double standards’ against NNESTs and b) although I have never witnessed any incident of overt, deliberate unfair treatment of NNESTs, I firmly believe that there is something very much akin to what in other cases might be called ‘institutional discrimination’. You don’t see that many black CEOs and in the same way you don’t see that many NNEST Team Leaders. Some things are simply ‘not done’. I mean, when was the last time you saw a woman smoking a pipe?!?

nick michelioudakisNick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece). In his years of active involvement in the field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can visit his site at www.michelioudakis.org.

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