You have the power to change the status quo

It’s been ages since I last wrote a post for TEA blog, which in a way is great, because it means that there have been more and more post from guest bloggers. The PhD that I’ve recently started is also taking up most of what I used to call ‘free time’, but now is more commonly dubbed ‘PhD time’. However, a recent experience I’ve had prompted me to write this article.

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

One of the most common myths (apart from my no. 2 favourite – most students prefer NESTs, but that will have to wait for another post) I’ve heard from people on social media or on the blog here in the last year and a half of TEA existence is that we can’t change the discriminatory status quo our profession is locked in. 75% of all ELT job ads are for NESTs only, that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing I, you, we, or anyone else can do about this. End of story. Stop moaning.

Let me start the rebuttal with this quote:

“racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural”. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 407)

There is no doubt in my mind that because native speakerism, i.e. the belief that a NS embodies the ideals of the English language, ELT methodology, and is thus a better teacher (see Holliday, 2006, for an extensive definition and discussion), has managed over several decades to infiltrate nearly all aspects of ELT, it has started to be viewed as an integral part of our profession. Part of the status quo. Omnipresent, yet invisible. Lurking in the background. But above all, disguised as common sense, completely natural and justifiable.

‘Dominant ideologies maintain their hegemonic positions not because they belong only to people in authority but rather because they are pervasive in much larger discourse formations located in a vast array of communicative practices’
(Shuck, 2006, p. 274)

To give just one example, many countries have strict visa restriction whereby only citizens of 7 countries are classified as NES: the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Such visa restrictions legitimize native speakerism and racism, giving the public and the ELT community an impression that discrimination is legal and thus acceptable. They also legitimize the false belief that English is primarily spoken in those 7 Inner Circle countries. That it is their English that NNES students and teachers should imitate. Mind you, there are over 50 countries where English is the official language, and the country with most English speakers in the world is not the US, but India. While on the other hand, only about 5% of South Africa’s population are NES.

Coming back to the notion that we are powerless against the forces of native speakerism that drive our profession, I’d like to remind you that only fifty years ago segregation was still legal in the US. And a century ago the idea that a woman should have the right to vote was laughed at by most people in the West. Fortunately, things do change. Not of their own accord, though. Nor because those who hold power decide to benevolently rid us of discrimination – of which more often than not they reap the benefits. Discriminatory practices change, because of collective and collaborative actions of individuals like you and me. For as Ruecker (2011) points out:

the inequality surrounding native and nonnative speaker, like the inequality surrounding racial categories, is not a deterministic facet of our existence but rather a discursively constructed practice (p. 413).

A couple of days ago I ended up on Spainwise site, which is an online jobs board for English teachers in Spain. The first few job ads that I looked clearly said that only NES need apply. I drafted a very quick email and sent it to the contact address given on the website. Here’s what I wrote:

I have noticed that many job ads that you publish on your website are for NS only. I wanted to inform you that such language in recruitment is illegal within the EU. On 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

“In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.”

Apart from the legal aspect, such ads also bar numerous highly qualified and experienced NNS professionals from applying for the job, putting into question the value of professionalism in ELT. As far as the market demand is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence in literature to suggest that the majority of students prefer any NS to any NNS regardless of everything else, e.g. qualifications. To the contrary, most studies show that students tend to evaluate their teachers based on how they perform in class, rather than on preconceived notions and stereotypes.

I also wanted to inform you that several teaching associations and online job boards, such as TESOL France, IATEFL World and TESOL International, have already taken steps to ensure the ads on their website are not discriminatory and that they comply with EU law.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Believe it or not, a few hours later I got a reply, and a very positive one too. In short, Aidan O’Toole from Spainwise explained that the registered recruiters can post ads on the website, and that it is difficult to monitor all of them. However, he also said:

I have reviewed all the opportunities currently being advertised and removed any which specify ‘native speaker’ as a requirement. I have also placed the following text at the top of the page so I will be notified of any further infringements by the site’s advertisers:

“All posts advertised on this page must be open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform the webmaster ( and the advertisement will be removed.”

I have e-mailed all the schools which are entitled to advertise on the site and informed them of their obligation to advertise positions for both native and non-native teachers. I have also the following message posted on both the Facebook page and Twitter:

“All posts advertised on Spainwise are open to native and non-native teachers of English. If you see an advertisement which requires that the applicants be native speakers, please inform us ( and the advertisement will be removed.” (Aidan O’Toole, personal correspondence)

It’s an important step forward, I think, and it only goes to show that it is possible to change the status quo. It is possible to change how recruiters advertise and hire teachers. While they might still covertly discriminate against NNES, what Spainwise did does send an important message to language schools: hiring teachers based on their mother tongue is neither legal nor acceptable. And we’ll have none of it.

If more [teachers] were to respond to specific schools articulating their qualifications but specifically stating that they will not support an institution that perpetuates such prejudice, they could send a message that these institutions may begin to listen to. In […] engaging in activist partnerships, and involving both NNESTs and NESTs in this project of change, there are great possibilities for more equitable hiring practices in the future. (Ruecker & Ives, 2014, p. 21).

Design: @Teflninja

Design: @Teflninja

I’ve sent similar emails many times. It’s true that sometimes you might not get a reply. But you would be surprised how often you actually do, and that most of the time it is quite a positive one. And there are more and more organisations and schools that have already decided to oppose discrimination in recruitment. The full list can be found in the Hall of Fame here. Some have also agreed to be interviewed, leaving a powerful message of support for more equality in ELT recruitment:

  • TESOL International – read their anti-discrimination statement and watch the interview with Rosa Aronson, the Executive director
  • TESOL France – read the interview with Bethany Cagnol, the former president here.
  • IATEFL – watch the interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, the current President.
  • MELTA – read the interview with Helen Strong, the current Chair.

I’m also convinced that:

NESs and NNESs need to work together to dismantle the hierarchy that permeates the ELT profession. [For] while there may be immediate loss for teachers and institutions from inner-circle countries that profit on maintaining their NES authority, there is much more to be gained in the long-term through raising the professionalism of ELT by highlighting the value of disciplinary knowledge and professional training over NES status. (Ruecker, 2011, p. 417)

What I’d like to encourage you to do is next time you see an ad that is for NES only, or in any other way discriminatory, email the recruiter (feel free to copy my email to save time!). Then comment below giving the name, city and country of the school you emailed, and what the response was. You can also highlight that if the school in question decides to revise their future recruitment policies to give equal opportunities to both NES and NNES, it will be placed in the Hall of Fame here.

Change is possible. And you can bring it about. So indignez-vous!



0 thoughts on “You have the power to change the status quo

  1. Dan learnercoachingelt says:

    I was wondering whether anyone has thought of speaking to larger recruitment agencies about their policies towards NS-only advertising. I’ve decided to try to contact LinkedIn, who send me lots of ads asking for NSs. Many are for language teaching, but there are many overseas jobs in marketing, etc, that also ask for natives.

    Now, I’m struggling a bit to speak to anyone in LinkedIn, so I’ve decided to write a blog post on the site.

    If anyone has more bright ideas about nudging the big boys towards fairer recruitment, please do let me know.

  2. Emma Gore-Lloyd says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and about the situation for teachers of English in general, and I wonder if discrimination against non-native speakers of English is actually just part of the story. A lot of us (I’m speaking as a native English speaking teacher in the UK) are treated appallingly, with terrible pay and conditions. Perhaps both this and discrimination against NNESTs are symptoms of a bigger problem: a lack of understanding of what’s involved in English language teaching. Native speakerness is prized so highly by recruiters (and often students too) that teaching qualifications and skills are overlooked, meaning NNESTs are passed over for jobs, and NESs get paid something similar to an unskilled position at Morrison’s but with less security (in the UK, at least). I think we should be taking action not only when we see discrimination against NNESTs, but also when teachers in general are not valued for their skills. How to do this is another matter! Any suggestions?

    • marekkiczkowiak says:

      Hi Emma,
      Thanks for your comment.
      You’re absolutely right. The focus on ‘nativeness’ in recruitment has no doubt diminished the value of professionalism in ELT. And it not only impacts NNESTs, but also those NESTs who are highly qualified, professional and experienced, as these characteristics are unfortunately not valued very highly.
      So there is definitely the larger problem of teachers working conditions. It can lead many teachers to leaving the profession in search of better paid options where their expertise would actually be valued. I’ve discussed this in this podcast: You might also want to check out Paul Walsh’s Teachers as Workers initiative. They’ve got a community on Google+:
      It’s a big issue, but something should certainly be done about it. And my own experience with TEFL Equity Advocates campaign is that it is possible to slowly change things that might at the beginning seem too deeply ingrained and widespread to ever change.
      What do you think?

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