Image courtesy of Christopher Carfi

I have spent the better part of today mulling over a response to some comments that were made on a Linkedin post regarding the discrimination of non-native speaking English teachers in job ads. I tried making a video, but I started to rant and that went downhill from there. This is my third and final attempt at writing this out. If you are reading this, then somehow I’ve managed to articulate something that I felt was worthy of posting. Here goes nothing.

For those who are wondering what I am talking about, here is a link to the post and comments. I want to make something perfectly clear, this is not an attack on the commenter. I do not know her, nor do I understand why she feels the way she does. Because of that, I will refer to some of her problems with this debate and attempt to address them in a civil manner (which didn’t go so well on video).

Quote from the commenter: “The sooner people stop listening to this sort of self-pitying drivel and stop blaming the rest of the world for their inability to get whatever job it was they wanted today, the better.”

Response: Whining is different than raising awareness. When I was younger, I would complain that my older brother got to do things just because he was older. My parents did this to protect me. That didn’t matter. I still wanted my way and would make sure that I was heard. That is whining. What Thiago, Marek, and others are doing is making people aware about an injustice. It is the same thing that happens with gender, race, age, and other forms of discrimination. Women can vote because others spoke up and told others about this injustice. People of various races can vote because someone stood up for what was right and just. They were not complaining. They were not whiners. They were right.

Quote from the commenter: “Marek is a long-term self pitying moaner. If he put as much effort into ensuring he was applying for suitable jobs and presenting himself and whatever skills or qualities he has, it would be far more productive.”

Response: I have met Marek and I can tell you that his reasoning has nothing to do with ‘Look at me and all of my troubles’. He is doing what is right. You know, he does put a lot of time and effort into this cause and he should be commended, not attacked. He is doing this for the betterment of many, not himself. You should sit down and have a pint with him. I think you would find he is nothing like you think.

Quote from the commenter: “Truth: the general language level of a non-native English teacher is not as high as that of a similarly-qualified native speaker. Yes, there are individuals who have attained the same, comparable or even higher levels, but the majority have not.”

Response: Firstly, how well you speak or write in English does not translate to how well you will do as a teacher. Teaching isn’t about dispensing knowledge, it is about guiding your students. I have my students for such a short time each week and for only a limited number of weeks at that. My goal is to help them take control of their learning and to give them guidance and correction along the way. You know what? My grammar and spelling isn’t perfect either. What is more important is understanding how to give guidance and feedback and the ability to know when to do that. What is really interesting to me is that someone who has learned English as an additional language has a much better understanding of what it takes to learn English than myself who learned it as a child. They can often catch things I wouldn’t normally hear or see just because they are anticipating what is coming next in the student’s language learning journey. I have worked with some excellent teachers along the way, and many of those were non-native speaking teachers. Go figure.

Quote from the commenter: “Owning a TEFL or CELTA certificate doesn’t make anybody a teacher, regardless of nationality. They are commercially sold and marketed products. They are not a measure of your language skills or even close to being enough to teach you how to teach a language.”

Response: I agree. I totally agree. That doesn’t mean you have the right to remove the person from the hiring process. If you aren’t happy with the certification, make your voice known there. Otherwise, if you aren’t happy with the idea that someone should get a job just because they have the certificate, you would need to eliminate native speakers from the equation as well. They both have the same certification. Why is one being discriminated against and the other isn’t?

Quote from the commenter: “Of course, added to this, we have the legend of the interview during which an impeccably-skilled and qualified non-native teacher is told “I would love to give you the job, but you’re not a native speaker, so I can’t. Can anybody spot the flaw? No? What kind of employer would waste his or her time interviewing someone who, regardless of their skills, they would refuse to employ because of nationality? A retard, maybe? Or maybe the applicant lied about their nationality? Otherwise, it just wouldn’t happen in real life.”

Response: My apologies for the ignorant language in that quote. First off, yes, some people do try to circumvent the nationality question, but only because they have to. It sounds like to me that they have the qualifications and experience that is needed for the job, but they are removed from the process only due to their first language. That is crazy. It sounds like a story that is made up, but I would suggest anyone who has actually had this happen to them should let this commenter know that it actually happens, and far more often than even I am aware of.

Quote from the commenter: “There are certainly ‘backpacking’ teachers, and long may they continue to exist. I have witnessed them teaching for free in India, seen them realise that they have both the knowledge and ability to teach, and go on to become superb teachers.”

Response: Yep, because they were given the chance to teach and gain experience. That goes for non-native speakers as well.

Quote from the commenter: “In any case, the real problem lies elsewhere; the simple truth is that supposedly intelligent people far too often become imbeciles when it comes to applying for jobs. For example, people apply for jobs for which they do not have adequate qualifications or experience.”

Response: See the last sentence of the previous response. Maybe we should be helping people learn how to apply for a job and not just calling them “imbeciles”. Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean you are unintelligent. That is why we teach, and learn.

Quote from the commenter: “If you are a non-native, why is it discriminatory not to offer you an interview, or a job? Does someone out there imagine that native speakers don’t need to compete for interviews?”

Response: What if you can’t get an interview because you are not even allowed to apply for the job?

Quote from the commenter: “Is that where I’ve been going wrong all these years? So, instead of applying for jobs like everybody else, I should have just attached a scan of my tits and passport to my CV?”

Response: ???????

Quote from the commenter: “Wow, in that case I’m going to apply for a job as a pilot. I’ve always fancied that as a job and I’m pretty good at flight simulator games. That’s more or less the same, isn’t it? And if I get turned down, well, there’s always sexual discrimination, isn’t there?”

Response: Well, that would apply if someone was applying for the job simply because they can read a comic book in English. What we are talking about here is someone who is qualified and experienced for a job, but are told not to apply simply because they have a different first language. You have never qualified to become a pilot and you have never actually flown an airplane. If you had and they told you not to apply simply because you are a woman, you would be enraged (or at least you should be). That would be sexual discrimination and you would have every right in the world to complain and certainly a legal leg to stand on. For many of these people, they have no legal standing in the country that is advertising to fight this. That is why Thiago, Marek, and others are standing up for what is right. And I join with them.

17 thoughts on “Discriminating

  1. Good stuff, Nathan. I happened to notice your ‘like’ of the discussion and the caught the comments by the woman in question as I explored further. I couldn’t stop myself from commenting there myself.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Nathan. When reading the original debate on LinkedIn, I could sense a great amount of bitterness in Jane’s voice. Well, this happens when one takes things too personally. It’s weird that someone who believes “this is a lame debate, an endlessly reposted waste of life” actually puts so much effort into commenting. It might have been a valuable discussion though, hadn’t she dragged people’s names through the mud and made fun of people’s mistakes …

    1. A great comment. Besides if you take a look at her profile she is self employed, Obviously she cannot find a job (I can guess the reason why) . Therefore, I assume, the bitterness, she projects onto the others. I am not defending her just trying to understand why she reacted the way she did.

  3. A 2000 paper by Arva and Medgyes which compared trained non-NESTs with untrained NESTs in Hungary just popped up on Elsevier’s Top 25 downloads in linguistics (http://sco.lt/7awrDt). The authors used teacher interviews and classroom videos of 10 EFL teachers in the late 1990s and concluded that the NESTs were better suited to teach speaking and the non-NESTs grammar, though they concede that the study cannot tease out training and proficiency variables.

    Árva, V., & Medgyes, P. (2000). Native and non-native teachers in the classroom. System, 28(3), 355-372.

  4. Thanks for replying to the comments in such a civilised manner. I completely missed the discussion, but judging by the quality, or rather its absolute lack, I’m glad I didn’t see it.
    I’d come across similar responses several times on FB and other social media. It’s like arguing with a creationist, i.e. you can’t argue with them logically. But I’m glad people like you and many others do try to talk sense into them. We have to. Usually the radical minority is the loudest, so thanks again for writing this post.

  5. Some organizations want the passport, some want the face that they think matches the passport. In the end, these organizations are doing themselves a disservice.

  6. I admit I was frustrated having the comments, so I couldn’t help responding in a similar way, since, it appears to me that is the only way you can get the message across. Anyway, thank you for this lovely and civilized article. I enjoyed it.

  7. It’s great that you posted this exchange of views, and it just shows that the advocacy work of NNEST speakers is working!

    How many teachers would feel empowered enought to post this kind of exchange 5, or 10 years ago. It just wouldn’t happen.

    But now it’s happening. And by posting this exchange, others get to see the empty and spurious arguments that get thrown around. We can all see, reflect, and make up their own minds.

    And maybe even change our behaviour.

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