September 2014
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EQUALITY IN TEFL
Marek Kiczkowiak, Polish Your Languages, Wageningen, Holland

It goes without saying that the EFL (or ESL) industry is dogged by discrimination and prejudice against nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs), or as Medgyes (2001) elegantly put it, an “unprofessional favoritism,” which often leads to discriminatory hiring policies. This is confirmed by several studies (e.g. Moussu, 2006 and Clark & Paran, 2007) and can be easily observed by visiting tefl.com – one of the most popular services for English job seeking teachers. On average, over 70% of all job ads advertised there are for native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs) only—yes, I did actually count them. This figure is even worse in some countries, e.g. Italy, South Korea, Spain, where it is almost impossible for a NNEST to be invited to an interview, let alone getting a job. For example, on Griffin’s (2014) blog, which focuses on English language teaching and teacher development, you can read his blog post about the appalling inequality suffered in Korea not only by NNESTs, but also by those NESTs who do not fit the profile

Such favouritism toward NESTs has been prevalent for decades, leading in turn to a situation where NNESTs have and are often a priori judged as not only linguistically, but also instructionally inferior to their NEST counterparts (Maum, 2003), despite the fact that some scholars suggested the abandonment of the notion of inherent superiority of the native speaker model a long time ago (e.g., Paikeday, 1985; Davies, 1991). Many qualified and experienced NNESTs are treated with clear disregard for their abilities. As Albano (2014) wrote:

“I was a bush-league teacher because NEST had conversation, vocabulary lessons whereas I had just to “press play” on a recorder. I had to give my students listening exercise worksheets and just press play and stop. I even had the keys of the exercises!”

Fortunately, the tide has been changing. It turns out that in many countries, hiring or advertising for a particular mother tongue is illegal. As I wrote in a previous article for the NNEST Newsletter: “a European Commission Communication from 11.12.2002 (COM (2002) 694 final) states that “advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.” (Kiczkowiak, 2014). Some important teaching organisations such as TESOL (2006) and The Association of British Columbia Teachers of English as an Additional Language (2014) have also decided to issue anti–discrimination statements condemning hiring practices based on mother tongue. Finally, many renowned ELT professionals have also decided to speak out against the discrimination of NNESTs. For example, Harmer wrote, “I wholeheartedly support the aims of [TEFL Equity Advocates] – the ending of discrimination against more than 96% of the teachers of English in the world. Or maybe 98%…..or more…”

So why does the problem persist?

Many recruiters quote the indestructible market demand. Still, I have yet to see a single study which would show that students have a clear preference for NESTs. On the other hand, there is abundant research (e.g., Benke & Medgyes, 2005; Lipovsky & Mahboob, 2010) which proves that students appreciate the qualities of both groups and have no clear preference for either. More specifically, Kelch and Santana-Willamson (2002) highlight that students put emphasis on clear and intelligible pronunciation. Mullock’s (2010) results highlighted pedagogical skills and language proficiency.

So if you are a recruiter and you are reading these words, I suggest asking your students about their preferences rather than jumping into unfounded and prejudiced conclusions.

If there is a “market demand,” I think it has been artificially—albeit perhaps not willingly—created by the industry itself. For years, the industry presented and advertised NESTs to students as the only and the ultimate panacea for all their language ills. Students had few opportunities to have classes with qualified and proficient NNESTs; having such classes, as Cheung (2002) and Moussu (2006) showed, makes students much more positive towards NNESTs. Clearly, being a NEST became tantamount to success and good teaching.

Consequently, I feel we all need to pluck up the courage to say we have misled our learners. Both NESTs and NNESTs can be equally good teachers.

With this in mind, in April this year I started a campaign to advocate equal professional rights for NESTs and NNESTs by setting up a website, TEFL Equity Advocates, and a Facebook page. Some of the main objectives of the campaign are sensitising the public to the problem of discrimination of NNESTs, encouraging recruiters to adopt a more egalitarian hiring model, encouraging the key players in the industry to get involved, and giving hope and support to all NNESTs and NESTs who have suffered discrimination.

While NNESTs (and indeed some NESTs) are still at a clear disadvantage when it comes to looking for a job (Clark & Paran, 2007), as pointed out above, there is a feeling within the industry that a more egalitarian hiring model should be adopted. This feeling was very well expressed by Taylor (2014):

"I have no desire to live in a world where nationality, size, race, sexuality and gender are the yardsticks by which our employability is measured. I would rather be judged by my ability, experience and qualifications equally against anyone else who wishes to apply for the same job."

I hope that TEFL Equity Advocates can encourage other NESTs, recruiters, and teaching associations to speak out for equity within the industry, and to support their NNEST colleagues.

So yes, I feel there is hope and that the future will be a more equal one. And I am convinced that all of us have the responsibility to speak out against the discrimination.

As a student—please judge your teachers by how well they teach you and how much you have learnt with them, not by their nationality. Be wary of schools who sell their courses by flaunting having only NESTs. Trust schools who value high qualifications of their teachers, regardless of where those teachers are from.

As a recruiter—please don’t let prejudice and stereotype take over your hiring policy. Rather than choosing the best candidate, you might actually be doing a disfavour to your business in by willingly depriving yourself of a vast number of qualified, experienced, motivated and proficient NNESTs.

As a NEST—please let your NNEST colleagues know you’re on their side. Support a more egalitarian teaching community where we are all judged by our teaching skills, not by prejudice.

And as a NNEST—please don’t let anyone bully you into thinking you’re inferior. As Taylor (2014) beautifully put it:

"The tide is turning, slowly, but it’s turning. In the future you will have more rights and be more respected by an industry in which you are the backbone. And this is the point that needs to be remembered - they are many, many more of you than there are of me. You have the power, so use it. I just wish more of you realised that."

Join the TEFL Equity Advocates campaign. Stand up and speak out for our teachers’ rights.

“Indignez-vous.”teachers!

References

Benke, E., & Medgyes, P. (2005). Differences in teaching behaviour between native and nonnative speaker teachers: As seen by the learners. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers: Perceptions, challenges, and contributions to the profession (pp. 195–216). New York, NY: Springer.

Cheung, Y. L. (2002). The attitude of university students in Hong Kong towards native and nonnative teachers of English. Unpublished master’s thesis, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Clark, E., & Paran, A. (2007). The employability of non‐native‐speaker teachers of EFL: A UK survey. System, 35(4), 407–430.

Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh UP.

Griffin, M. (2014). Tentative thoughts and more on race in hiring practices in Korea. Retrieved from eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/tentative-thoughts-and-more-on-race-in-hiring-practices-in-korea/

Kelch, K., & Santana-Williamson, E. (2002). ESL students' attitudes toward native- and nonnative-speaking instructors' accents. CATESOL Journal, 14(1), 57–72.

Kiczkowiak, M. (2014). Non-Nativity Scenes. Retrieved from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolnnest/issues/2014-03-11/6.html

Lipovsky, C., & Mahboob, A. (2010). Appraisal of native and non-native English speaking teachers. In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Non native English speakers in TESOL (pp. 154–179). Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Maum, R. (2003). A comparison of native-and nonnative-English-speaking teachers' beliefs about teaching English as a second language to adult English language learners. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Louisville.

Medgyes, P. (2001). When the teacher is a non‐native speaker. In M. Celce‐Murcia (Ed.),Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 429–442). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Moussu, L. (2006). Native and non-native English speaking English as a second language teachers: Student attitudes, teacher self perceptions, and intensive English program administrator beliefs and practices. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Purdue University. Retrieved from Dissertations and Theses database (AAT 3251666).

Mullock, B. (2010). Does a good language teacher have to be a native speaker? In A. Mahboob (Ed.), The NNEST lens: Non native English speakers in TESOL (pp. 87–113). Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Paikeday, T. (1985). The native speaker is dead! Toronto, Canada: Paikeday.

Taylor, J. (2014). Why I wish I was a non-native English speaker. Retrieved from: http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/05/20/why-i-wish-i-was-a-non-native-english-speaker-by-james-taylor/

TESOL International Association. (2006). Position statement against discrimination of nonnative speakers of English in the field of TESOL. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.tesol.org/s_tesol/bin.asp?CID=32&DID=5889&DOC=FILE.PDF.

Albano, L. (2014). nNEST: Bush league teachers? I don’t think so. http://teflequityadvocates.com/2014/05/26/nnest-bush-league-teachers-i-dont-think-so/

The Association of British Columbia Teachers of English as an Additional Language (2014). BC TEAL position statement against discrimination on the grounds of nationality, ethnicity or linguistic heritage. Retrieved from: https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/May-2014-Position-Statements.pdf


Since doing the CELTA in 2007 and then graduating with a BA in English philology, Marek has taught English in six different countries and is currently based in Wageningen, Holland, where he has set up his own language business: Polish Your Languages.
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