Category Archives: TEFL issues

The TEFL blame game continued

Last week I came across two posts which tried to pinpoint who is to blame for the working conditions English language teachers in TEFL/TESOL industry have to deal with. There are no doubt many things that are profoundly wrong with our industry. For example, low pay (apart from certain countries in Asia and the Middle East), sham contracts or discrimination NNESTs face. There are also the profit-oriented language schools, which are neither interested in their students’ progress, nor in the quality of their teachers. Finally, our industry is probably the only one I know of that only requires a 4-week teaching course to become a certified and qualified English professional (mind you, in many cases this isn’t necessary either – having been born in an English-speaking country will be enough).

So, who is to blame for the state TEFL/TESOL is in?

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/2QwtYd
Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/2QwtYd

David Petrie in this post points the finger at ‘the market demand’. And so do many others in our profession, to be fair. Since I set up TEFL Equity Advocates to fight for equal employment rights for non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTs), I’ve been told over and over again that the ones that I have to convince are the students. Or their parents. For it is the market that drives the supply.

I completely object to this line of thinking for several reasons. Firstly, it assumes that the market demand is omnipotent and can never be influenced by the supply or any outside factors. Clearly, though, there are examples of how an innovative and cutting edge product, or powerful advertising can shape what the market demands.

It also suggests that since nothing can be done, we should kick back and let the market rule our lives (and working conditions) – a very complacent and lazy ideology, to say the least. Again, it offers no solutions and relegates us to the roles of automata. A rather depressing thought.

Finally, this line of thought also doesn’t address the problem of the origin of the current market demand. Surely, students didn’t just wake up one day to say: From now on, we shall only be taught by Native English Speaker Teachers (NESTs); after which they went to the nearest school to demand exactly that. While I agree that students can and should be allowed to make free choices regarding their education, it is preposterous to assume that the industry and the supply has had nothing to do with shaping students’ preferences.

All in all, while the market is indeed a powerful force that can to a great extent shape any industry, it is not the whole story. There are laws which can be put in place to curb it. The industry can influence what the market wants and educate the customer. So, I definitely don’t think that to blame the market demand is the answer.

The other post on the TEFL blame game I read last week was written by Alex Case. He certainly comes up with a much more comprehensive list of those who should be to blame for the state of ELT which starts with governments, teaching associations, TEFL course providers, and finishes with students. I do agree with the accusations he makes in the post, however, in my opinion there’s a very important point missing from the list, which I think should have actually made it to the very top.

So who is to blame?

Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/qbD2H7
Under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/qbD2H7

WE all are.

Of course, the teaching associations could do much more to support better working conditions. So could the governments. TEFL course providers could and should probably raise the standards, while language schools could stop employing teachers whose only ‘qualification’ is being a native speaker.

However, when was the last time you – yes, I mean YOU – have done anything to try to change your ELT lot? By the way, ranting in the pub after work doesn’t count.

I’m convinced that each of us is partly responsible for what ELT industry is like, or for not having done anything to change it. Teaching associations could indeed do much more. However, they are only the sum of their members, even if slightly greater than its parts. For example, IATEFL has never wanted to be involved in what it considered ‘polictics’, and might never change this stance unless there is a constant and mounting pressure from its members – and the outside ELT community – to act.

Language schools could also pay us decent wages and start valuing teachers based on how well they teach, not where they were born. However, it is futile to expect that they will do so out of good will or pity for our lot. They might, on the other hand, change their minds if we organised ourselves and stood up to them. Of course, nobody wants to lose their job, but then we shouldn’t complain that some employers use this fear against us.

Students and their parents could also realise that whether one is an English native speaker or not has nothing to do with how good a teacher you can be. This is like expecting a patient to get better by themselves while the doctor looks the other way. Students come to us because they don’t know how to learn a language and because they believe we can help them. As educators – if we ever want the ELT community to become a more equal one – we do have a moral responsibility to educate our clients out of prejudices about learning English they might have.

So – to paraphrase David Petrie’s conclusion to his post – if you really want someone to blame for the state of ELT, blame yourself.

And once you get over it, if you’re still bothered by working conditions in ELT, do something to bring about positive change.

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Looking back – 2014 in review

It’s been a great blogging year. When I started a year ago on blogger, I never imagined that this blog would become so popular. And this would have never happened without YOU. So I would like to thank everyone for reading, commenting and following this blog. I hope to see you all here in 2015.

Happy New Year!

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

TEFL Equity Advocates campaign

I haven’t published anything on this blog for quite a while now for two main reasons. Firstly – as you can notice, I’ve moved the blog from blogger and been working on cleaning up the posts and pages. Secondly (and more importantly) – I’ve been working on another project which I’d like to tell you a bit more about with the hope that you might want to get involved and support it.logo 1

About TEFL Equity Advocates

TEFL Equity Advocates blog (you can access it here) was set up to speak out against the widespread discrimination of non-Native English Speaker Teachers (NNESTs) in the TEFL/TESOL industry. I hope that both NNESTs and NESTs (Native English Speaker Teachers) will get involved as I think it is crucial that we all support each other and stop thinking in binary terms. We’re in it together.

As a non-native speaker, I have faced discrimination myself on several occasions. I was fortunate that at the time I did not give up. I felt angry and frustrated, but I knew that I did not want the same to happen to other NNESTs. And I hated the thought of letting the recruiters get away with it. I’m just very stubborn by nature, I guess. I was also very fortunate that I met many like-minded teachers, NESTs and NNESTs alike, who supported me.

Lukhttps://teflequityadvocates.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/meddings.jpge Meddings: “I’m delighted to support Marek’s campaign, which addresses an issue close to my heart. I like the way in which the ‘hard’ aims of this campaign – such as targeting discriminatory job ads – are reinforced by ‘soft’ ones: sensitisation, dialogue and empowerment. I actually believe it’s realising these aims that will lead to change.

I decided then that we needed a place where we could openly speak out against the prejudice and campaign for equity of all teachers. I wanted other NNESTs to feel that there is hope. That there are numerous people and organisations who support them. I wanted to encourage NESTs to get involved too and to support their NNEST colleagues, because together, we can make TEFL/TESL industry more equal for all teachers, regardless of their nationality.

Why is the campaign important?

Jeremy Harmer:https://teflequityadvocates.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/jeremy-harmer.jpeg “I wholeheartedly support the aims of this blog – the ending of discrimination against more than 96% of the teachers of English in the world. Or maybe 98%…..or more…”

  1. Up to 70% of all job ads around the world advertised on-line on tefl.com, the biggest search engine for TEFL job seekers, are for NESTs only. This means that as a NNEST, regardless of your experience or qualifications, your application will be rejected on the spot. And it means that if you’re a NEST, you’ve been given an unfair advantage which you were not even aware of.
  2. Having your CV turned down as a NNEST, despite being more experienced or highly qualified than a NEST, can be quite humiliating. I’ve met many NNESTs who after years of trying, have simply given up and lost all their self-confidence. They started to believe they actually were inferior and unfit for the job. We can’t let this happen!
  3. Discrimination of NNESTs has been a skeleton in the TEFL’s cupboard for decades. Schools have sold courses by marketing NESTs as the only way to learn a language, marginalising and relegating NNESTs to the status of bush-league teachers. And although things have been changing for the better, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I’d like the industry to acknowledge the problem and take steps to eradicate it, as organisations such as TESOL France or CATESOL have (see Anti-discrimination statements).
  4. For years students have been told that only NESTs can teach them ‘correct’ English. But let’s have the courage to acknowledge the fact that we’ve been lying to them all along. Both NESTs and NNESTs can be equally good teachers, and our students can benefit from being taught by the two groups.
  5. After all, we all care about our students, don’t we? We all want them to learn, improve, and have a great time in class, don’t we? Yet, we allow the industry to discriminate some of our colleagues, who could make fantastic teachers. We let recruiters choose teachers based on their nationality rather than teaching skills. Let’s stop being so permissive! Let’s act!
  6. Many NNESTs do not realise that there are numerous colleagues who strongly support their cause. They do not know who they can ask for help. And so they often accept their inferior status in the industry. I feel this needs to change. NNESTs should know that we support their rights, and that they’re not alone.
  7. Many NESTs would also like to work in an environment that promotes equity of all teachers. I have many NESTs friends who have already expressed great support for this campaign, and even written posts for the blog. So I hope that we can all campaign here together for a slightly more equal world which will benefit us all.
  8. Finally, inaction is the worst form of action. On any given day numerous colleagues of ours are discriminated, their CVs end up in bins without being even glanced at. We have a moral responsibility to speak out for their rights and to defend them.

TEFL Equity Advocates goals

Peter Medgyes: medgyes“Blogmasters are a dangerous lot, provoking innocent people to open up on the web. Marek is a  welcome exception. He faithfully relays your opinion even if he should disagree and delivers what he promises. I feel honoured to be a supporter of his blog.”

Here are some of the things TEFL Equity Advocates blog hopes to achieve:

  1. Acknowledge and expose the discrimination of NNESTs in TEFL.
  2. Sensitise the public to the problem.
  3. Debunk the most common and damaging myths and stereotypes about NNESTs.
  4. Reduce the number of job ads only for NESTs.
  5. Give self-confidence to NNESTs.
  6. Encourage NESTs to join the campaign and actively support their colleagues.
  7. Provide support and advice in cases of discrimination.
  8. Give NNESTs the knowledge and the tools to fight for their rights.
  9. Diminish the divide between the two groups by encouraging cooperation and dialogue.
  10. Gain support of teaching associations for the campaign and encourage them to publicly denounce discrimination.
  11. Work together with recruiters to ensure both NESTs and NNESTs have equal opportunities of employment.

Get involved!

There are many different ways in which each and every one of us can get involved in advocating equal employment rights for all teachers. Whether you’re a NNEST, NEST, recruiter, teaching association or a student you can do your little bit to help bring about the change and encourage equal treatment of all teachers, regardless of their nationality. Some of them are:

  1. Write an article for us.
  2. Share the blog with your friends.
  3. Let us add you to the list of official friends and supporters.
  4. Support your NNEST colleagues.
  5. Join one of the FB groups.
  6. Talk to your employer about equal rights for NESTs and NNESTs.
  7. Join people like Peter Medgyes, Jeremy Harmer, Divya Madhavan and Luke Meddings who have already written statement of support for TEFL Equity Advocates blog.
  8. Give a workshop on equality or propose it as a topic.
  9. As a teaching association, follow in the footsteps of TESOL France and CATESOL and take a stand against discrimination of NNESTs by issuing a public statement.
  10. As an employer, choose your staff based on their qualifications, experience and language proficiency, giving equal opportunities to NESTs and NNESTs.
  11. Openly speak out against this prejudice.
  12. Be proactive. Stop turning a blind eye. “Indignez – vous”, teachers!

I’d like to leave you with a few words from Divya Madhavan, and I hope you join the campaign and help us make TEFL/TESOL a slightly fairer world. You can access the blog here, and its FB page here. See you there!

https://teflequityadvocates.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/divya.jpgDivya Madhavan: “I’m deeply impressed with this campaign because it doesn’t simply make bold statements or pass passionate judgement- it actually provides an intelligent and culturally-sensitive roadmap towards making changes that will have ripples in policy and practice alike. This is the stuff of an authentic critical lens on how we tick in this industry. Critical, in all it’s elegance and complexity. I feel very proud to know Marek and to support this campaign.

‘Native speaker only’ ads illegal in the EU

Those who’ve been following my posts regularly, might have noticed that I’ve quite strongly voiced my discontent, outrage and frustration at TEFL job ads which demand the applicants to be native speakers. If you’re not one, don’t bother applying. You might have a PhD in English Studies and 100 years of teaching experience, but no one will even glance at your CV. Your un-English sounding name and your passport make you unfit for the job, I’m afraid. I described the problem and discussed its negative effects on the industry in a previous post which you can read here.I’ve also recently set up another blog, TEFL Equity Advocates, devoted to fighting unequal hiring and employment policies in the TEFL industry. I invite you to visit it, subscribe and help us fight for equality.

In a nutshell, the practice of hiring only NESTs (Native Speaker English Teacher) is so widespread and deeply entrenched within the industry that most of don’t even notice it. And if we do, we might just shrug our shoulders either in despair or indifference. But inaction is the worst form of action!

Whenever I go on tefl.com and look at countries like Spain, Italy, Korea, Japan, where almost 100% of all job ads are for NESTs only, I am filled with rage. And an urge to act!

Below I reblog my post from TEFL Equity Advocates blog, which you can access here.Common sense and gut feeling tell most of us that such ads are a clear case of discrimination. Same as any other type of discrimination, such as based on gender, race or ethnicity. But gut feeling is only just that, and can only get you so far. Have you ever wondered, though, whether such ads were legal?

I have. And I went where most people in doubt go to (no, not the psychologist or a psychic): I googled it! To narrow my scope, I focused on the European Union. Very quickly google told me that the law had the same gut feeling as I did.
Here are some of the things I found:
  • Article 21 of EU basic rights reads as follows (highlighted by me):
Non-discrimination

1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

2. Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

This just confirms what we all know. Discrimination against race and nationality is illegal in the EU. My gut feeling was telling me that non-native speakers were being discriminated against on the basis of their language, birth and ethnic origin.
Let’s delve deeper and see what gems EU law holds for us in store.
  • German MEP Jo Leinen asked the European Commission whether the words “native speaker” could be used in a job advertisement. On 23 May 2003 the EC ruled the following:

In its answer to Question E-0941 the commission states that the term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law. The Commission also states its intention of continuing to use its powers to fight against any discrimination caused by a requirement for native speaker knowledge in job advertisements.

If that was not enough to convince you, continue reading.

  • A Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ (COM (2002) 694 final) when asked about language requirements for particular jobs stated that:

the language requirement must be reasonable and necessary for the job in question and must not be used to exclude workers, so that advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.

More on recruitment rights here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidance-for-employers-pre-october-10/areas-of-responsibility/recruitment-and-job-advertisements/

All this means that employers are only allowed to ask for native-like competence in a given language, which on CEFR is C2, but not for a mother tongue.

In the UK and in the Netherlands some language schools have been taken to court for refusing to employ NNESTs (Non-native Speaker English Teacher). And guess what? They all lost!

What does this mean for you as an aspiring NNEST?

That it’s high time you got angry and acted. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Don’t be discouraged if you see a NEST only ad. Stand up for your rights and make your voice heard. The law is on your side so use it.

Not to say that you have to take somebody to court right away, but politely informing the language school they are breaking the law might just do the trick. I’ve done so on numerous occasions. More often than not, schools are quite eager to listen to persuasive arguments and are willing to change their ads and recruitment policies.

Also visit TEFL Equity Advocates blog and help us fight together against the discrimination.

What if I’m a NEST? Why would I bother doing anything?

Because your help is vital. Your school might not only be choosing teachers based on nationality, rather than their qualifications and experience, but also breaking the law. You might be doing them a big favour by informing them about it. If you’ve always felt that native speakers only ads were unfair, that teachers should be valued on the basis of their qualifications, then it’s your chance to do something about it by joining the movement. Find out more about how you can get involved here.

Footnote: I’ve only described the law in the EU and I’m not sure what it’s like outside the community. However, this is where you can come in. Investigate what the law says about it in your country. Consult an anti-discrimination organisation. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Let’s be pro-active!

Some FAQs and some very subjective answers

In this post I’ve tried to gather some of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked in the last few weeks on my blog regarding the topics of getting a (better) job, teaching qualifications, job hunts and the best/worst countries to work in. The answers I offer are entirely subjective – as the title suggests – so feel free to disagree and say so in the comments section. I hope, though, that at least some of them will come in handy and help you get a better job or develop professionally.

If this list is not exhaustive enough and there are still some questions nagging you, please let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  1. What are the initial qualifications I should take?

    Whether you like it or not Cambridge CELTA or an equivalent (e.g. Trinity TESOL) is a must if you want to easily find an EFL job abroad. A university degree in TEFL might do as well, but just to be on the safe side I’d definitely recommend doing the CELTA or Trinity TESOL. The reason is that they are internationally recognised, so you don’t need to worry about validating your degree. In addition, there’s really plenty you can learn from the course, even if you’ve already completed some university level courses in methodology. For me the CELTA is infinitely more practical than the courses in TEFL I did in university. If this still doesn’t convince, you’ll see a massive difference in positive job responses after completing the CELTA or an equivalent. There’s a myriad of options for taking the courses, and you can read more about them here. I’d personally suggest a face-2-face month long course at a respected institution, such as International House, British Council or Bell.

  2. Where should I look for jobs?

    Probably the biggest and the most popular search engine is tefl.com There are thousands of job openings around the world, all regularly updated. It’s a bit of a pain to create the on-line CV, but once you’ve got it, applying for jobs is really easy and quick. If you have a specific country or even city in mind, you can search for schools there on this website. Emailing the school directly or calling, even if they’re not currently looking for teachers, can often pay off. Both International House and the British Council post job openings on their websites. If you have time during the summer, there are plenty of job openings in the UK. And if you are aiming higher and have a DELTA or an MA in TEFL, look for pre-sessional EAP courses. There are numerous job openings in universities in the UK advertised on jobs.ac.uk and baleap.org.uk.

  3. Which school should I apply to?

    Of course, it all depends on your preferences: some people like small institutions, others prefer bigger ones. Some will want to work in a bustling metropolis, whereas others dream of a quiet place in the countryside. No matter what your preferences are, though, consider applying first to respected and well-known language chains, such as IH, BC or Bell. On average, they offer higher salary, better working conditions and excellent professional development programs (not to say that independent language schools don’t). You will get to work with qualified and experienced teachers and will be able to learn a lot in the process. Of course, they are all franchises so the quality and standards might vary, but none of them will go below a certain – usually very high – standard. For me the biggest plus, though, of large organisations is that you can easily transfer to another school at the end of your contract, without the hassle of having to write cover letters, send CVs around and search the web.

  4. Are some countries better for EFL teachers than others?

    This is a question I’ve recently been asked a few times, but I find it very hard to answer, because there is no right response to it. It all depends, I guess, on what you’re looking for and what kind of person you are. I’ve worked in 6 countries and they all have their pros and cons. You can read more about my experiences there in this post. There are still many places I’d like to teach in, so if you’d want to know my really subjective and biased opinion on it, then here it is. One of the “musts” on my list is South East Asia. I’ve just heard so many great things about it that I have to go there at some point. If at some point I feel like another adventure, I’ll probably head back to Latin America, preferably to South America. If I needed to make a lot of money quickly, I’d no doubt choose the Middle East. If you’re not a native speaker, than stay away from Spain, Italy, France, Korea and Japan, at least at the beginning of your career. Not that you can’t get a job there (IH and the BC tend not to discriminate), but being treated as an inferior, constantly scrutinised, looked down upon and compared to a native speaker can be really frustrating and will most likely put you off. Speaking of which, the UK is probably the most NNEST-friendly country I’ve ever worked in. You might find this post interesting: 10 questions to ask before deciding where to teach English abroad

  5.  What post CELTA qualifications and courses are worth taking?

    I’d say by far the best one out there is the Cambridge DELTA. I might be biased because I’ve done it myself and so I know little about other options, but nobody ever said that this post would be objective. It really does open new doors of opportunity for you. There’s a host of positions you can be considered for only if you have the DELTA (or an equivalent) such as Director of Studies, Assistant Director of Studies, Senior Teacher, Teacher Trainer or EAP lecturer. I think it’s also a necessary step any teacher who seriously thinks about professional development should take.  If this doesn’t convince you, you’re bound to see a huge difference in the number of positive replies to your job applications. And an increase to your salary.

  6. What other professional development options would you suggest?

    Uff! There’s so much stuff out there that I don’t even know where to start. A quick look on the BC professional development site will give you a myriad of suggestions. Another good option is the IH teacher training website. Again it all depends on your experience, preferences and time and money constraints. One of the best options for free professional development is blogging. I’ve only been doing it for a short while, but it can really make a big difference. There are plenty of fantastic blogs around (links to some you can find here on my blog). Watch out for the BC monthly blog awards for innovative teaching ideas.They make a great read and you get a selection of excellent bloggers to choose from for further reading. There are also numerous free webinars going on, on-line conferences and courses that sometimes I wonder when I’ll ever have time to attend just a small fraction of them.

  7. I am a NNEST and I’ve come across so many native-only ads that I don’t know what to do any more. Will I ever get a job?

    I know how you feel. I’ve been there myself. But cheer up – you can get a job. I have. And not just once, but several times. Before I cut to the chase, let me briefly explain the problem to some of you who are not aware of it. In a nutshell, a quick look on tefl.com tells you that over 70% of job ads are for native speakers only (regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof). In countries such as Spain, Italy, South Korea and Japan this figure is even higher. You can read why I think this is wrong here. So how as a NNEST do you get your dream job, assuming you’re a fully qualified teacher?

    Within the EU such job ads and hiring practices are illegal. Contact an anti-discrimination agency – they often offer free legal help and advice. Join a support group on FB: e.g. Budapest NNEST. Write about it and get it published. But above all – be persistent! Believe in yourself! Stand up and speak out against discriminatory ads! Don’t let the recruiter turn you down just because you’re a NNEST – write back to them, argue, and if need be explain – in a non-threatening way – that their recruitment policy is illegal. Soon I’ll published a more detailed post on what can and should be done by NESTs, NNESTs and language institutions to fight against discriminatory recruitment policies within TEFL industry, so stay tuned. Finally, as a qualified NNEST, your best bet might be respected language chains such as the BC, IH and Bell, as well as language schools and universities in the UK, as they all tend to be discrimination free.