In this guest post Marek Kiczkowiak from the blog TEFL Reflections and the TEFL Equity Advocates campaign explores the issue of prejudice against non-native English speaker teachers and issues a plea for a more egalitarian approach to hiring teachers, placing more emphasis on skills and qualifications than on mother tongue.
Seeing yet another job ad which explicitly states that only a native speaker should apply can be disheartening. As a non-Native English Speaker Teacher (nNEST) you are a priori classified, in the eyes of many recruiters, as inferior to any Native English Speaker Teacher (NEST), despite the fact that your qualifications might be much higher, or that you might be more experienced.
Unfortunately, the TEFL/TESOL industry is rife with this prejudice, although perhaps many would like “this issue to disappear […] asserting that this problem has already vanished!” (Nick Michelioudakis in this article). www.tefl.com, the biggest search engine for English teaching job-hunters, is a good case in point. Click on Search database, and put ‘Native speaker’ as the key search word to find out how many job ads are for native speakers only. The one below was retrieved on 10th August 2014 from www.tefl.com (underlining mine).
Whether you agree that NESTs and nNESTs are equal might actually be irrelevant in many cases as job ads like the one above are illegal in the EU. I wrote about this in this article. For example, a European Commission Communication from 12 November 2002 (COM (2002) 694 final) stresses that “advertisements requiring a particular language as a mother tongue are not acceptable.” In addition, responding to a question from German MEP Jo Leinen on 23 May 2003, the European Commission stated that: “The term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law”.
Nevertheless, recruiters if questioned about their policies will still ‘justify’ their actions by, for example, asserting that being a native speaker is a necessary qualification. This is an obvious oxymoron since according to www.oxforddictionaries, a qualification refers to “a pass of an examination or an official completion of a course”. And to be frank, I have not yet seen any degree in ‘nativeness’.
Yet, there are numerous language certifications, such as IELTS or CPE, which can be used to assess the proficiency of a prospective teacher in a fair and transparent way. For some, of course, even having an ‘A’ in CPE or 9 in IELTS is still not quite on par with native speaker level. This is despite the fact that those same schools will still persuade their students to pay through the nose for language courses and exams promising that one day they might indeed be completely fluent.
Probably the most common ‘argument’ that is repeated by recruiters like a mantra is that students want to be taught by a native speaker. The problem is: students have not actually been asked. Because if they have, they would know that students would rather be taught by a motivating, well–prepared, knowledgeable, respectful, and a hard-working teacher, regardless of their native language. This is proven by numerous studies, such as this one.
Students, unlike some recruiters, are not naturally prejudiced. Unless they have had a previous bad experience with a NEST or a nNEST, they are likely to appreciate the different qualities native and non–native speakers can bring into the classroom. And being a nNEST can have numerous advantages, such as serving as a model for successfully mastering a language. James Taylor even wishes he was a non-native speaker in this article.
However, the point is not: ‘Who is worth more?’ (as Peter Medgyes phrased it), but rather that both NESTs and nNESTs can make either great or terrible teachers, depending not on their skin colour, gender, race or mother tongue, but on their teaching abilities. Therefore, I believe that the industry needs to acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of English teachers are discriminated against, and take steps to eradicate this.
With this in mind, in April this year I set up a website TEFL Equity Advocates and a FB page. Some of its main aims are sensitising the industry and the parties involved to the problem, debunking the most common myths about NESTs and nNESTs, and encouraging recruiters to adopt more egalitarian recruitment policies.
So although seeing so many job ads for native speakers only can indeed be disheartening, I do feel there is hope. Some important EFL organisations, such as TESOL and TESOL France, have already taken steps condemning discrimination against nNESTs. Many respected EFL professionals, such as Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, have also expressed their support for more egalitarian hiring policies.
I do hope then that one day we will all be teaching in a world in which the teachers won’t be judged by their ‘nativeness’, but by the content of their CVs.
Originally from Poland, Marek has taught English in Latin America and Europe and is currently based in Holland, where he’s teaching freelance. He runs a blog about teaching and learning languages which you can read here (www.teflreflections.