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.
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.