Tag Archives: CELTA

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A NNEST perspective on teacher development: a complicity of silence?

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate about initial teacher training programmes such as CELTA or CertTESOL and how adequately they prepare people to enter ELT profession. For example, Hugh Dellar argues in this post that such courses are biased towards native speakers. The article sparked quite a bit of a debate, so I’d recommend reading the comments below it, as well as this critique by Anthony Gaughan. On the other hand, James Taylor takes a much more positive view of the CELTA in this article. And if you feel more like listening rather than reading, then you can check out this podcast by The TEFL Show where Rob McCaul and I discuss the pros and cons of the CELTA.

So where do I stand in this debate? Well, I acknowledge that there are some really good things about CELTA or CertTESOL:

  • they’re cheap in comparison to an MA
  • they’re short
  • they’re internationally recognised
  • they’re practical

Now that we’re done and dusted with the positives, let’s look at some criticisms. I take a much more critical view of these courses for a number of reasons. I can’t discuss all of them in one post, so I decided to focus on one, the Non-Native English Speaking Teacher (NNEST) perspective, which is partly related to Hugh’s argument. I expand his argument to talk about teacher development in ELT more general, but all of the points I make also refer specifically to initial teacher training programmes.

[NB: This article originally appeared in IATEFL Teacher Development SIG Newsletter (73), p. 8-9. You can download a pdf copy of it from my academia.edu profile here. I’d like to thank Adam Simpson and Willy Cardoso for their comments and suggestions on the initial draft of the article.]

Introduction

When I was originally asked to write this article for IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group newsletter on Teacher Development (TD) for NNEST, I thought that the whole premise was somewhat divisive. I don’t really buy Medgyes’ (1992) argument that “NESTs and non-NESTs use English differently and, therefore, teach English differently” (p. 346). Treating the two groups as if they were separate entities can lead to creating even more stereotypes (read this article by Michael Griffin). After all, both NESTs and NNESTs need to undergo pedagogical training and to participate in TD programs if they are to be successful teachers, for “teachers are made rather than born” (Phillipson, 1992, p.14).

However, the more I pondered the topic, the more I realised that there is indeed a NNEST perspective on TD (see Mahboob, 2010 for NNEST lens). While NNESTs have and still continue to make significant contributions to our profession, they have for decades been treated as second-class citizens. And despite the growing NNEST movement and support for it, there seems to remain a certain reluctance to embrace the idea of equality between NESTs and NNESTs (Holliday, 2005); a certain complicity of silence, if you will.

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Photo under CC by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig from flickr.com

Indeed, as far as TD is concerned, the issue of native speakerism in ELT barely ever receives any attention during CELTA, DELTA or in-house TD programs. So, this article will outline some of the ‘silenced’ issues and argue that they must feature more prominently in TD if our profession is to ever extricate itself from the unprofessional and damaging grip of native speakerism.

For the purposes of brevity, the four main issues will be summarized here. I acknowledge the criticisms of NEST and NNEST labels, but for want of better terms use them here. Finally, this article should not be construed as a ‘rant’ against ELT, but rather as a suggestion for areas that I think should be discussed more openly and regularly during TD sessions. For “racism, as well as native speakerism, only survive if they are constantly reinforced through daily discourses that make them seem natural” (Ruecker, 2011, p.407).

Hiring policies

CELTA’s promise of “open[ing] the door to exciting teaching opportunities all over the world” should be taken with a pinch of salt, as research (e.g. Selvi, 2010; Ruecker & Ives, 2014; Mahboob & Golden, 2013) shows that approximately 75% of all job ads published online are for NESTs only. Not only does this mean that a NNEST with CPE grade A, CELTA, DELTA and a BA in English Studies will not even be considered, but also that any application from a NEST from the ‘Outer Circle’ (e.g. Zimbabwe, India) may well be rejected too. In fact, in certain countries (e.g. South Korea), NES status is further ‘refined’ to being white and Western-looking. This has its obvious negative effect on the importance of professionalism in ELT. However, what I find more damaging is that not discussing this issue during TD programs creates a vicious circle. NNESTs are not given support or tools to fight such prejudice. Conversely, NESTs find this advantageous, and thus have little incentive to openly question such policies.

One ingenious initiative to address this was started by @StudyCELTA. They inform their candidates about discriminatory job ads and direct them to @TEFLwork job board which only accepts equal opportunities ads.

ELF and World Englishes

I only came across these two terms (for a detailed discussion see Jenkins, 2007) six years into my teaching career, having by that time done both CELTA and DELTA. I can’t remember them having been discussed in any of the two courses, nor any in-house TD workshops I’d attended. The fact that most interactions in English nowadays take place in situations where no Native English Speaker (NES) is present is crucial, as it allows us to question the idea that students or teachers should aspire to a rather idealised NES model from the ‘Inner Circle’ (e.g. the UK, the US). It can be quite liberating for those NNESTs who have already developed the “impostor syndrome” (Bernat, 2008), simultaneously aspiring to comply with NES norms while being aware of the near impossibility of the task. For a NEST it is also vital to become aware of the fact that the English they speak is just one of a multitude of Englishes, and thus what is deemed correct or an error becomes much less clear cut. If we are to adequately prepare our students for interacting in English outside the class, we need to acknowledge and embrace the fact that “the standard English is no longer the preserve of a group of people living in an off-shore European island […]. It is an international language” (Widdowson, 1994, p.8).

Teaching methods

There seems to be a silent agreement within ELT to view teaching methods as neutral, apolitical, universally applicable and having sound theoretical or empirical foundations. Yet, these assumptions have been questioned on numerous occasions (see Pennycook, 1994 for a comprehensive discussion). In fact, if one examines the countless ELT methods that have over the years “roll[ed] out of Western universities and through Western publishing houses” (Kumaravadivelu, 2006, p. 20) and have been propagated with “an evangelical zeal” (Kachru, 1990, p.15), it is difficult not to notice the economic, political and cultural interests of the Centre lurking in the background (Pennycook, 1994, p.152). The “active, collaborative, and self-directed ‘learner-centred’ teaching–learning techniques” (Holliday, 2005, p.1) have been promoted as clearly superior to other methods, despite an acute lack of empirical evidence, and a disregard for local educational traditions. While TD courses certainly teach you how to best apply these ‘superior’ methods in class, they show little attempt at cultivating a more critical approach to ELT methodology. Thus, in their vast majority, courses such as CELTA produce teachers who are unaware of the underlying Anglocentricity of most ELT methodology, and who will “work within the confines of the institutions of the existing hegemonic order” (Kumaravdivelu, 2014, p.12) helping to perpetuate the privileged position of NS. On the other hand, what these courses should aim to do if we are to move beyond the pervasive ideology of native speakerism (see Holliday, 2006 for a brief discussion), which still imbues our profession, is to cultivate active and critical members of ELT profession.

Students want NESTs?

We’re constantly told by recruiters (e.g. Edge, 2011; Mahboob et al. 2004) that it’s all due to market demand. Students want NESTs, so schools can’t hire NNESTs, unless they pretend to be NESTs – as some colleagues have had to do. However, as Cook (2000) put it, “Nowhere is there an overwhelming preference for NS teachers. Being an NS is only one among many factors that influence students’ views of teaching” (p. 331). The majority of students want good teachers. It seems then that there is a profound disjunction between what many ELT professionals believe students want (i.e. a NEST at all costs, regardless of everything else) and what the majority of students actually want. There is also a belief that as far as the demand for NESTs is concerned the client is always right. On the other hand, we are prepared to question countless other misconceptions about learning and teaching languages that our students might have. This not only further undermines NNESTs’ confidence in their own abilities, but also buttresses the dominance of NESTs in ELT. Exploring this during TD is crucial as it can help us move the focus away from L1 as the most important and sought-after ELT ‘qualification’ to a discussion “about critical competencies of effective teachers and effective teaching regardless of that teacher’s background”(Farrell, 2015, p.3). Finally, it allows for an exploration of the qualities that students really value in English teachers, and of how these can be fostered in teachers.

Conclusions

I started this article with the premise that ELT is still imbued with native speakerism; that is the belief in inherent superiority of NESTs. While there are various other reasons why, despite over 20 years of NNEST scholarships and advocacy, native speakerism is “alive and kicking” (Phillipson, 2012). A very important factor seems to be that, as far as TD is concerned, there is a complicity of silence, a certain unwillingness to discuss and question it. Looking back at my career, I am convinced that if the four issues discussed here had been put on the table much earlier on, before I found out the hard way what effects native speakerism has on job prospects, for example, I would have been much better prepared to question the assumptions behind it and to defend my own rights. I also think that many more NESTs would also speak out against native speakerism, defending not only their NNEST colleagues, but also the value of their own professionalism, experience and qualifications.

PS: If you are concerned about professional equality between native and non-native speakers in ELT, check out and support TEFL Equity Advocates work here.

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References:

Bernat, E. (2008) Towards a pedagogy of empowerment: The case of ‘impostor syndrome’ among pre-service non-native speaker teachers. TESOL. English Language Teacher Education and Development Journal, 11, 1-8. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/16022259/699956107/name/impostor_syndrome_native_speakerBernat2008.pdf

Cook, V. (2000). The author responds… TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 329-332. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3587957/references

Edge, J. (2011) The Reflexive Teacher Educator in TESOL. New York: Routledge.

Farrell, T.S.C. (2015). It’s Not Who You Are! It’s How You Teach! Critical Competencies Associated with Effective Teaching. RELC Journal, 46 (1), 1-10. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://rel.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/01/27/0033688214568096.abstract

Holliday, A. (ed.) (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holliday, A. (2006). Native speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385-387. Retrieved September 30, 2015 from: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/4/385.full.pdf+html

Jenkins, J. (2007) English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B.B. (1990).World Englishes and Applied Linguistics. World Englishes, 9(1), 3-20. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1990.tb00683.x/abstract

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Dangerous liaison: Globalization, empire and TESOL. In J. Edge (Ed.), (Re)locating TESOL in an age of empire (pp. 1–26). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2014). The Decolonial Option in English Teaching: Can the Subaltern Act? TESOL Quarterly, DOI: 10.1002/tesq.202

Mahboob, A. (Ed.). (2010) The NNEST Lens. Non Native English Speakers in TESOL. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Mahboob, A., Uhrig, K., Newman, K., & Hartford, B. (2004). Children of a lesser English: Nonnative English speakers as ESL teachers in English language programs in the United States. In L. D. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience: Perspectives on nonnative English-speaking professionals (pp. 100–120). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Mahboob, A., & Golden, R. (2013). Looking for native speakers of English: Discrimination in English language teaching job advertisements. Voices in Asia Journal, 1(1), 72–81. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: https://www.academia.edu/4517679/Looking_for_Native_Speakers_of_English_Discrimination_in_English_Language_Teaching_Job_Advertisements

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? ELT Journal, 46(4), 340-349. Retrieved September 30, 2015 from: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/4/340.short

Pennycook, A. (1994). The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. Harlow, Essex, UK: Longman Group Limited

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford University Press.

Phillipson, R. (2012). Linguistic imperialism alive and kicking. The Guardian. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/mar/13/linguistic-imperialism-english-language-teaching

Ruecker, T. (2011). Challenging the native and nonnative English speaker hierarchy in ELT: New directions from race theory. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 8, 400–422. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15427587.2011.615709

Ruecker, T. and L. Ives. 2014. White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces. TESOL Quaterly. Early view. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tesq.195/abstract

Selvi, A. F. (2010). All teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others: Trend analysis of job advertisements in English language teaching. WATESOL NNEST Caucus Annual Review, 1, 155–181. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: https://www.academia.edu/226716/All_Teachers_are_Equal_but_Some_Teachers_are_More_Equal_than_Others_Trend_Analysis_of_Job_Advertisements_in_English_Language_Teaching_2010_

Widdowson, H. G. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 28(2), 377–88. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3587438/abstract

 

 

 

Should Native Speakers also take language proficiency tests?

logo new #2Listen to and download these podcasts from the iTunes Store here, our Soundcloud channel here or from this section of the blog.

In this edition of The TEFL Show podcasts we discuss whether Native Speakers (NS) should take language proficiency tests. While Non-Native Speakers (NNS) need to show a proof of their language proficiency if they want to enroll on a CELTA or DELTA course, for example, a NS of English only needs to show their passport and will be readily accepted (as long as they pass all the other requirements, of course). We debate whether this is fair and outline some of the reasons why NS should also be required to submit proof of their language proficiency.

We would love to hear what you think about this, so please leave us a comment below. We’ve also created a poll which will be open for a week, so vote now: should NS take language proficiency tests? You can give your reasons for your answer in the comments section below.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

Lesson plans – keeping the discussion going: Breltchat summary

A note from TEFL Reflections: I must say I’m amazed that my last post ‘Lesson Plans – a waste of time?’ has cause such a stir. I honestly didn’t expect it, but I’m glad it did. Perhaps the discussion was long overdue.

So I’m delighted to keep it going. Here’s a summary written by Juliana of Breltchat, a regular chat on anything ELT held by #BRELT here, mostly in Portuguese, but sometimes in English too. Please note that while the chat mostly addressed planning in general, my previous post concerned detailed lesson plans written for formal observations or teacher training courses (e.g. CELTA, DELTA).

Briefly, the most important points raised by the participants during the discussion were:

  • The importance of planning.
    Almost all of the participants highlighted the need and importance of planning in order to guide the classroom practices, even if the planning is not done formally.
  • The importance of having an objective in mind.
    Most participants agreed that having an objective in mind to guide the procedures in class is fundamental to start the planning, be it a subject to be worked on, tasks to be performed or topics to be discussed in class.
  • Use of digital tools to help planning.
    Using tools, such as Power Point, Evernote and Lino in place of the traditional paper planning, was also suggested by the participants.
  • Planning might change from one institution to the other (e.g: regular schools versus language courses).
    There are differences between planning in a regular school and in a language course. These differences should be taken into consideration while planning, because the target audience and the approach are different.
  • Keeping in mind the personalization of the planning.
    Despite the fact that some schools do not allow modifications in their lesson planning, whenever possible, the teacher should personalize the planning according to the group and their needs, thus exercising teacher autonomy.
  • Do not keep a single linear plan from the beginning to the end.Taking into consideration that the class is neither the same every day nor in its own occurrence, teachers should bear in mind that the plan cannot always be the same for all classes and all students. In addition, it should not be carried out item by item in an automatic way, because what works for one class might not work for another.
  • Attention to problem identification.Participants also pointed to the need for an ongoing reflection pre- and post-class in order to smooth out the problems and build up new strategies and solutions.

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  • Attention to the students’ and group’s objectives so students’ and teachers’ planning do not clash.
    Attention to the students’ objectives helps the lesson achieve success because the teacher’s objective is not always the same as the class’s and vice versa. In doing so, the teacher promotes motivation and interest in the class. It is always important to have the students’ needs in mind.
  • Despite being important in the beginning of the career, try not relying exclusively on Teacher’s Guide.
    To the novices, the Teacher’s Guide is a valuable guide. However, after some years of experience, following it literally might be risky, because it might make the lesson feel standardized and predictable since it will be lacking in teacher’s identity and students’ interests.
  • Whenever possible, having a plan B (or C).
    Having a plan B (or C) helps when the initial plan has not been so successful or it doesn’t suit students’ objectives. In order not to let the class sink or fail, an alternative plan is always handy. There are no recipes for classes and assuming that your initial plan is always going to work is really risky.
  • UbD

One participant drew attention to UbD (Understanding by Design) as a means of organizing your lesson. Called “Backward design”, UbD focuses on desired outcomes as a guide for planning.

  • Multiple Intelligences and learning styles

Something else that was mentioned was the need to cater for multiple intelligences and learning styles in the plan. However, that topic was controversial.

Shared links:

Juliana Alves Mota is originally from São Paulo, the HeadShotlargest city in Brazil, but moved to the countryside in 2012. A former speech therapist and audiologist who discovered her love for teaching in 2010, she holds a CAE certificate and is currently working towards a degree in English and Portuguese from the University of São Paulo State – UNESP Araraquara. Dedicated to continuous professional development, she always attends online and face-to-face courses, as well as webinars, and has been a BrELT participant since 2014.

Lesson plans – a waste of time?

I realise I haven’t written anything for this blog for quite some time, so I’m really glad that a recent conversation on Twitter about observations and lesson plans with @ashowski and @getgreatenglish, who following our chat wrote a post too, motivated me to write a new post. The conversation was prompted by a blog post by @ashowski which you can read here. In a nutshell, Anthony argues that from the point of view of the observer a thorough lesson plan is essential as comparing it with the decisions made by the teacher during the lesson can “reveal the most interesting features of the teacher’s pedagogic abilities”. Without this it would be impossible “to determine the extent of the teacher’s teaching abilities”. What?!

You know a great planner when you read their lesson plan, but you know a great teacher when you see them. While the lesson plan might reveal some interesting things about the decisions taken by the teacher, I don’t think it is necessary “to determine the extent of the teacher’s teaching abilities”, because the only thing it does determine is the extent of teachers planning abilities. And is just one of many skills of effective English teachers. What I definitely object to, though, are the incredibly detailed lesson plans we are obliged to write for formal observations.

First, they do not reflect how we plan on a day-to-day basis. Let’s be honest, any good teacher will prepare and plan for their classes in one way or  the other, but when was the last time you wrote a CELTA/DELTA like lesson plan? Probably for your last observation, and only because you were obliged to. On a day-to-day basis we might write down the main aims on post-it notes, draw a flow-chart with main stages on a piece of paper, or make notes in the teacher’s or student’s book (for an overview of various approaches to planning read this post by Adam Simpson) . Personally, I will often visualise the different stages, interaction patterns, lesson aims and go over the various options I could use in the class without writing too much down. The best decisions often come to me on the spot. They depend on students, on their mood, on what happens in the class, and on countless other unpredictable factors.

6-11. The butterfly effect

Which brings me to my second objection: you can’t plan for the unpredictable. And what happens in class is to a lesser or greater extent unpredictable. While thinking about the lesson, its aims, possible interaction patterns, predicting setbacks and devising solutions to them are all part and parcel of preparing for a successful lesson, I can’t see how writing them down in the form of an ever more complex and detailed lesson plan will help you effectively respond to what happens in the classroom. As Steve Brown wrote here, “Teaching is not about managing the delivery of a lesson plan”. Unfortunately, though, both teacher training courses, as well as in-house observations place great importance on thorough lesson planning.

Because, as we’re told, there’s a direct correlation between a good lesson plan and a lesson success. Really? When preparing for my last observation I spent several hours writing the plan and preparing materials. According to the feedback I received, the lesson went well, but I didn’t feel the hours of prep paid off. I didn’t feel it was a particularly outstanding lesson. And I’m pretty sure I would have taught a similarly effective lesson with 10% of the time put into planning. And would have been much less stressed about having to stick to the lesson stages. So might have responded to students’ immediate queries and needs better too.

So why are we told by trainers and observers to prepare detailed lesson plans? Perhaps because “they [the lesson plans] provide comfort to the novice and to the person required to certify the novice’s ability” (the Secret DoS in this post). Perhaps because “it is part of what most teachers are expected (and paid) to do” (ibid). Perhaps because the observers/trainees actually believe that how the plan looks reflects in a way how the lesson is going to pan out. It shows that the trainee is diligent and has carefully thought about the lesson. This belief, though, is underpinned by “the misconception that [through planning] teachers can control what students learn” (Steve Brown in this post).

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But the paramount importance that is placed on producing neat, organised, detailed and long lesson plans is misguided, because it doesn’t really prepare the trainee for the daily teaching and planning routine. It teaches us a skill that we never use. It dupes trainees into thinking that they can anticipate every problem that might come up in the lesson. It also seems to suggest that only by following a pre-planned sequence of activities can we teach a successful lesson. And it takes teacher’s attention away from what really matters: the students and what is happening at a given moment in class.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel that planning IS important. It is essential. But not in the form of hours spent stressing over a detailed CELTA-like lesson plan, which most likely will end up accumulating layers of dust somewhere on a forgotten shelf in the DoS office. Such planning leads to little meaningful PD.

Stack of Paper 050

It is stressful, time-consuming and not environmentally friendly. It also emphasises the lesson plan as a measure of teacher’s abilities. Yet, we all agree that successful teaching is much more than a well-written lesson plan. So what I would like to see is s shift towards that “much more”, towards the actual teaching. I would like to see the observer and teacher discuss teacher’s PD needs and focus the observation aims accordingly. I would like the observer to see the real, everyday teacher, not the artificial machine conditioned by the one-off 10 page lesson plan.

This, however, would require a change in what the observations are used for, which at the moment is quality control and assessment. There’s little pre and post-observation reflection, let alone a meaningful and personalised PD action plan whose aims would stem from the observation. Surely, though, this is how observations should be used. For example:

  1. Pre-observation meeting where teacher and observer discuss teachers strengths, weaknesses and PD needs
  2. Observation
  3. Post-observation meeting where teacher and observer reflect on the lesson and agree on PD goals
  4. Teacher develops an action plan with the help of the observer and agree on the time frame, goals, action research tools, etc.
  5. Teacher carries out the action plan with support from the observer
  6. Observer and teacher meet to discuss the results of the action plan (possibly preceeded by an observation)
  7. Teacher continues working on all (or some of) the same developmental goals OR go back to point 1 to start a new cycle

So, no, I don’t think that a lesson plan reveals pedagogical abilities, nor that it determines the extent of teacher’s abilities. What it does do is reveal a profound detachment from how real planning is done. It overemphasizes a skill that we never use on a daily basis; a skill whose correlation with a successful lesson is yet to be proven. Long lesson plans are a fruitless, artificial, stressful and time-consuming exercise which rarely result in meaningful PD.

Our attitude to lesson plans is full of hypocrisy too. On the one hand, as teachers we produce long lesson plan each time we’re observed, because we are required to by the observer, even though we doubt whether they help us develop professionally, or deliver a more effective lesson. On the other hand, as observers, we expect adherence to one and only true attitude to planning, even though we know that it’s neither the only one, nor the best, nor the most practical or realistic one.

While the ability to plan is important and needs to be cultivated, we mustn’t forget about the countless other skills which a successful teacher needs. And to help the teacher develop them, we don’t need to see an agonizingly long lesson plan every time we observe a class.

Further reading:

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.