There are moments in history when time stops, and for a moment, the Earth stands still on its axis. The profession of TEFL and Teaching, worldwide, finds itself in just such a moment. The Earth itself seems to be holding its breath, watching the mortals below, we who are Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, we who are Teachers.
The number one item on the political agendas of most nations in the world today is education. 21st century education, that is. Education which will ensure that the future of a nation is competitive, thriving, successful, bringing socioeconomic well-being for its citizens.
And in this respect, everyone feels that they are stakeholders. Consequently, they raise their voice, and not only call for change, demand change, but install change which they hope will bring the desired results they seek: now, not tomorrow, but today.
One voice, strangely absent, or if present, muted out somehow by other factors, is that of teachers. When this moment has passed us by, will we have answered the call of history, or not?
Righteous indignation, once an option, should no longer be availed of. Our silence is interpreted not as placing us morally above the current debates, the issues, the discussions. Instead, our silence is making us complicit.
While we could feel like this “silly” debate is nothing more than “Spam”, intellectual flotsam and jetsam , that is taking our energies, efforts, talents, skills, and abilities away from where they should be, in the service of education of those whom were placed under our sacred trust. In the meantime, indignity after indignity, injustice after injustice, is visited upon mine and your Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST) colleagues.
Hear them, for they cry out in the middle of the dark night. Hear the NNEST colleagues, the Non-Native, the ones who bought into the rhetoric that TEFL was a profession, that Teaching was a profession. They beg to differ with anyone’s definition of “profession” if their attempts to exercise their profession, is met with indifference and indignity.
Surely, they ask one question, but one question of us, tearfully so, hearts aching, pained yet once again, our NNEST brothers and sisters ask: “How long? How long must I suffer?”
Without any further preamble, I give you a case of NNEST discrimination, because there simply is no other term that is fitting: discrimination…
Discussion: We Are All Born Free & Equal: Unless You Are A Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST)
I agree that the non-native ESL teacher faces discrimination in getting a job here in the US, based on my relatively brief experience in the field. I am a native speaker of English and also have an MA, as well as separate, additional certification in TESOL from a local, accredited university. With these qualifications and no experience in this particular field, I readily obtained employment locally, which was my goal.
When the institution for which I worked needed to hire another ESL teacher, the administrator who would do the hiring asked for my advice. I recommended two colleagues who had received exactly the same training that I had. I knew both from shared classes and knew them to be competent as well as good communicators in English.
One was from Mongolia, the other from China. The administrator declined to hire them precisely because they were not native speakers, despite the fact that I could vouch for their abilities. I even pointed out to the administrator that the very fact that they spoke English so well as non-natives could well serve as an inspiration to our students, who often expressed the fear that learning English was an impossible task.
Instead, the administrator hired two women who lacked any ESL training whatsoever, simply on the basis that they were native speakers. She believed that if the students were simply exposed to an all-English environment in which they were “forced” to learn, they would. They did not. In fact, they rebelled and began refusing to attend those teachers’ classes.
When administrators and, indeed, other teachers actually believe that skill is irrelevant, that training is irrelevant, and that failure to learn English is really just a matter of obstinance, it doesn’t matter what organizations like TESOL, Inc. state.
As the ironic statement of Animal Farm puts it, “All people are equal…but some are more equal than others.” Our field faces many challenges and this is one of the biggest.
Posted by Diana Gainer, MA