As part of the admin team for a professional TEFL Facebook group hosting more than eight thousand members, we have recently faced the task of managing the many job ads which are posted on our page.
Needless to say, many of them feature discriminatory language such as ludicrous age ranges (25 – 45), gender and of course the ever-popular ‘native speakers only’.
As a small admin team we tend to get along pretty well and yet we couldn’t all agree on how to work out a sensible way to handle these ads.
Should we simply ban them? That would do a distinct disservice to our membership since many use our pages to find work.
Delete those that use objectionable terms? Much as above and we would be accused of censorship.
Warn and then delete? What about those who don’t have the freedom which some of enjoy? In some parts of the world, advertisers have literally no choice, they are bound by law.
Eventually, after much discussion we agreed to post this friendly advisory:
“Just to clarify, recruiters and school folks… Ads which specify ‘Native Speaker Teacher only’ should be avoided, as noted in the group description. That means we prefer that you don’t post them as we believe that Non-Native Speakers should be treated just as Native Speakers. If you do post such an ad and somebody reports it, we will delete it.”
And then the storm hit!
First we were told quite aggressively that we would be wasting the time of non-native applicants who would apply and then not succeed. We were asked if we would apply the same criteria to age discrimination. We were informed in no uncertain terms that our post demonstrated a “tone-deaf misunderstanding of the diverse cultures around the world”.
Under this rapid onslaught, we gathered our troops to counter-attack but had trouble getting a word in edgewise! We pointed out that our group description clearly states that we are against all kinds of discrimination but that the NS/NNS debate had surfaced and needed to be dealt with. Obviously I was then told that it was unrealistic to expect people to read the group descriptions!
In amongst all this to-ing and fro-ing, we were told that we should have consulted the group (of 8k members), can you imagine? And in fact we really were consulting since we were open to comments and actively asking for suggestions.
I have to say that there were very few active supporters of our position whether not wishing to stand in the line of fire or genuinely not supportive I can’t say, though my guess is the former. It’s pretty unpleasant to find yourself trying to support a clear anti-discrimination stance and being vilified for doing so – and all because one is working as an unpaid admin to help make services and ideas available to members!
Anyway, we drifted, like an overblown rubber dinghy into hackneyed waters where a somewhat bizarre discussion ensued about how students pick up non-native accents from non-native teachers – as though students actually pick up the accent of their teacher not to mention the self evident fact that many non-native speakers have excellent accents. Oh dear, we did toss and turn on that particular bit of ocean with claims of research on how learners would adopt their teachers’ erroneous accent – of course appropriate references never did appear because they don’t exist.
But then we got hit by another current and off we went in our flabby, by now somewhat tattered boat, off to the waters of what terminology might take the place of native speaker: native-like, near-native and so on. Levels of language were also mentioned with some wondering if the industry could insist on recognised language levels for teachers, C1, C2 and so on and then naturally we should apply the same criteria to native speakers shouldn’t we? Of course we should. All of these sometimes interesting and sometimes ridiculous topics interspersed with snipes at the admins for taking any sort of line at all on this!
And then, as is usually the case in these long, ill-tempered threads, someone writes ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ because they’re typing on a phone with a 3 inch screen and somebody else jumps on it because it’s evidence that non-natives shouldn’t be teachers!
It was around this time that several members became ex members, not through any admin intervention, you understand but because our position was so ‘absurd’, ‘unrealistic’ and ‘would change nothing’ oh, and one of my favourites: ‘perhaps you are unfit to lead this group’! Cheerio then.
Also around this point, we began to receive a little more support but that didn’t last long!
I don’t want to repeat myself but suffice to say, the argument went round and round for some time with some native speakers clinging to their rollocks (yes, back to the dinghy) in the vain hope of not sinking in what is rapidly becoming inevitable: the realisation that native speakers don’t own the language, don’t automatically make better teachers, can’t automatically speak better English and that non-native speakers should not suffer discrimination in our profession.
As for our group, we agreed eventually to post this notice when ads cross the line: “We understand that it is normal to specify native speakers in certain parts of the world. However, we strongly disapprove as it is blatantly discriminatory and based on the completely incorrect premise that only “native speakers” make good teachers. Kindly pass that message on, please.
The more we say it, the more likely people are to begin to understand and change this way of thinking. Thank you.”
In addition, when the ad is within the EU, we post an additional notice to the effect that stipulating native speaker in ad is illegal according to article 21.
So that’s how we resolved it, I use the term ‘resolved’ loosely, you understand since every so often, someone launches themselves at either the ad poster or our standard comment, so we can’t really win.
With an educational career spanning more than 40 years, Steve Hirschhorn has worked as a teacher, DoS, trainer, Senior Lecturer, Principal and Vice President in the ELT industry. Steve has lectured and delivered workshops all over the world and continues to do so. He has published numerous articles in professional magazines and journals and contributed a book chapter in 2014. In the 1980s Steve trained as a teacher in Silent Way and Suggestopedia in order to understand better how the Humanistic Approaches might inform current methodology. He is currently working on Informed Eclecticism as well as continuing to engage with teachers all over the world as part of their own professional development. He has been External Examiner to three UK universities’ TESOL and English language related programmes and was nominated for the prestigious National Teaching Fellowship Scheme in 2004. Steve has been at the forefront of ELT innovation for many years and his long experience and insistence on quality combine to create a passionate and demanding professional who continues to contribute to the sum of knowledge in the industry.