About 5 months ago, at the beginning of April, or late March 2014, I started TEFL Equity Advocates. I couldn’t quite imagine then how quickly it would grow and how much backing it would receive. It’s been a very interesting, at times slightly frustrating, but incredibly rewarding and time-consuming journey, and I would like to tell you a bit more about it, as well as about where the campaign might be heading in the next couple of months.
The idea for the website, or rather at the time the blog, was first conceived with Chris Holmes (now Teacher Trainer in BC Sofia) after and before our BELTA presentation: ‘Misconceptions that just won’t go away’. The talk we gave was our attempt to show the wider public the problems posed by the continued discrimination of Non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTs), and to encourage all teachers to speak out against it. The talk received quite encouraging feedback, so we started wondering how we could promote these ideas on the Internet. At the time, Chris had already set up Budapest nNNEST, a FB group for both NESTs (Native English Speaker Teachers) and NNESTs who support equal hiring policies in TEFL, but while it was very effective for discussions and certain other things, it didn’t work very well for publishing posts and articles. So TEFL Equity Advocates was born.
Having started on Blogspot, I quickly moved it to WordPress (thanks for advising this, James!). And from a simple blog, the thing started evolving and growing, with the ideas for new sections springing up every day quicker than I could actually write them down. It was a time of furious and endless writing, revising, deleting and writing it all over again until it sounded right, which it probably still doesn’t.
I also started contacting various people asking if they would like to write an article on the topic for the website, or share one they had already written. I quickly met (albeit some only virtually) fabulous ELT professionals, who – to my initial dismay – were very supportive and enthusiastic about the campaign. Many have written fantastic posts. Michael Griffin, Torn Halves, James Taylor, Nick Michelioudakis, Larissa Albano, Andrew Woodberry, Sherrie Lee and Sabrina de Vitta – thanks a lot for contributing.
Since the beginning, I’ve tried to make TEL Equity Advocates as open to different ideas about equity between NESTs and NNESTs as possible, and we’ve had some very productive disagreements and debates here. For example, James Taylor wished he was a non-native speaker in this post, but Michael Griffin – while wholeheartedly in favour of equity – pointed out some drawbacks of the approach James (and before him Peter Medgyes) had taken. Yet a different idea came from Torn Halves, who in this article suggested that unless there is a profound shift away from the post-colonial imperial order, equity cannot be achieved. Nick Michelioudakis showed how the halo effect might put NNESTs at an instant disadvantage, while most recently Andrew Woodberry argued in his post that students want classes with NESTs, because the industry has led them to believe that only a native speaker can teach ‘correct’ English, a misconception which I had tried to debunk in this article.
It also came as quite a big surprise that those at the top of the EFL ladder were also in favour of equal opportunities for their NNEST colleagues. Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings, Peter Medgyes, David Crystal, Christina Latham-Koenig and many more (thank you all!) have all expressed their support for this campaign, while James Taylor wrote a brilliant post encouraging and suggesting how the teaching community could get involved in advocating equal rights for all teachers. As a NNEST whose CV has been turned down on several occasions as a result fo my rather un-Englishly sounding name, it is incredibly uplifting that there is a profound desire within the industry to change things for the better.
Still, all is not well in the TEFL kingdom. Websites such as www.tefl.com, www.onestopenglish.com, or www.tefl.net continue publicising discriminatory job ads, and unfortunately many recruiters and language schools are completely impervious to any logical arguments, preferring to base their hiring practices entirely on prejudice. However, there is a glimmer of hope, a green light, which unlike for Gatsby, is perfectly attainable if we all choose to row together against the current.
Josef Essberg, the founder of www.tefl.net – in response to my email and an unpublished article (which will soon see the light of day here) – said that while due to an incredibly large number of job ads sent to them, it is very difficult to filter them all, they “will not from now on knowingly publish a job which specifies “native” or similar”. He also added that they are going to open a section in which NNESTs can ask for advice and help when looking for jobs through their site. To me, this is a very encouraging first step indeed. A promise that change is indeed possible.
It’s been then an incredibly interesting and fruitful 5 months, which lead to countless hours spend glued to the screen writing and posting on FB and Twitter, working hard to increase my myopia. More precisely, however, it’s led to 18 posts, 18 pages, over 21 000 page views, 377 comments, 102 followers, 270 FB fans, 3 interviews (with Peter Medgyes, David Crystal and the Academic Director of IH London, Varinder Unlu) and 2 awards: one for the best website of the month from www.tefl.net in August , and the other for the best blog post of the month from Teaching English British Council, whose team I’d also like to thank for their continuous support.
So what’s next?
In September together with James Beddington we’re presenting a talk entitled ‘All teachers are equal, but some more than others’ at IATEFL Poland, and in November with Robert McCaul at TESOL France with the hope that the movement can reach an even wider audience and that we can persuade a few more people to join and support the campaign. So if you’re in the vicinity, it would be great to see you there 🙂
There are also some good interviews with Teacher Trainers and Academic Directors coming up which will hopefully further help debunk some of the most common negative myths about NNESTs. Of course, there will also be more articles and – I hope – contributions from a variety of EFL professionals. I’d definitely like to hear some more teacher success stories, so if you are one, please let me know 🙂
I would also like to start working on the visual side of the campaign (e.g. the website design, logo, etc.). I’m already getting some valuable help and advice here, but if you think you could contribute, please do get in touch.
However things pan out in the future, though, there’s one thing I’m sure of.
With your help and contributions we will no doubt have created a brighter and a more equal one!
PS If you would like to contribute to the blog, or help in any other way, or if you would like to just say hi, please feel free to comment below or use the Contact section to email me. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.