There is one activity that I have pretty much each and every student I teach do at some time or other. They need to imagine that English teachers are to be replaced by robots and they are taking part in designing the prototype. As I think you’ll understand, I find reading how they visualize the ‘ideal’ teacher fascinating. Answers range from good-looking models to fairy godmother, and pretty much anything in between. Yet I have still to find a group who does not finally ‘settle for’ a set descriptors that goes like this: patient, helpful, approachable, tolerant, energetic, flexible and cheerful with a good sense of humour- someone who gives interesting lessons and knows their subject well. And you thought teaching was easy!
Still, this seems to be in line with all the resources I have read or looked at. Whether you studied English/TEFL at university or did a CELTA, you – without a doubt – came across Jeremy Harmer’s “How to Teach English,” which kicks off with the assertion that students value the relationships they share with their teachers a lot more than the personal merits of their educators alone. Similarly, EFL info websites praise the ability to motivate and inspire learners and schools praise their teachers for having those very same attributes when advertising for students. Yet one thing you won’t find in Harmer, or in any ‘How to Teach’ handbook I have ever read, is the suggestion that what one really needs to have in order to be an effective TEFL teacher is ‘English as your mother tongue’.
Now please let me make myself clear, this is not an attempt to prove that the native versus non-native dichotomy is invalid, nor a brave try to summarise those findings that have been published on the issue in the past decades. My aim rather, is just to explain why the Teacher Trainer Department of IH Budapest (and a handful of their graduates working as teachers in countries across the world) felt it necessary to create a support network, called “Budapest nNEST,” on Facebook- a group with the intention of aiding non-native teachers of English when seeking job opportunities abroad.
Aiding? Yes, the fact of the matter is that we need support! I wish I hadn’t had to find this out from personal experience but there you have it. The combination of my calling to teach and my adoration of the English language drove me from my native land to the UK for years to ‘work on my English’ and to completing an MA in English Language and Literature alongside a Teaching degree. But having worked for many years back in Hungary as an EFL teacher, I just couldn’t fight the urge to ‘try myself out’ elsewhere, and take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities this profession affords by working and living abroad. Imagine my disappointment then on learning that my qualifications did not entitle me to work abroad. This first hurdle was not one that I could not overcome however, I just did the CELTA in Budapest and suddenly I was half-way there. Or so I thought. Next came an altogether more difficult hoop for me to jump through and if I had known what it was at the time I could have saved myself hours, weeks and months spent filling in and sending off the literally hundreds of application forms that went unanswered over the years. I simply had the wrong mother tongue!
As Christopher Holmes, Assistant Head of Teacher Training at IH Budapest and founder of the group, explains; “the group’s primary aims are to share resources, information and advice to nNESTs hoping to teach in a country other than their own and to counter the discrimination that sometimes exists against nNESTs within the TEFL industry.” This is why we joined up; our mission is to help nNESTs not to lose their self-confidence and enthusiasm in the battle for the justification of their existence as an EFL teacher. And given the growing number of our members – both native and non-native teachers – I am certain that we have tapped into something somewhere and proven there’s a need for our existence.
We are by no means the pioneers on the issue- the books and articles written about the topic as well as the websites dealing with the dichotomy are innumerable; what makes the difference is our focus. We welcome discussions and opinions about native and non-native teacher issues, but never lose sight of what’s really important which is to remain focussed on how our strengths could be of use to one another. Like the very best staffrooms that feature the sharing of resources, knowledge and skills, our member teachers are urged to share their blogs, post interesting articles on different aspects of teaching, raise related issues to be discussed, and tell one another their success stories to uplift and inspire others.
Besides teaching and theory, of course, practical and up-to-date information is available to all members. We, the administrators, offer our experience and knowledge about the countries we work in, tips on CVs, cover letters or interviews and personal advice. Visitors to the page can also find documents they can download including a list of schools around the world that welcome non-native qualified teachers and a list of ‘ambassadors’ who currently work abroad and can provide information for anyone interested in working in that area.
But our enthusiastic group has some loftier intentions too. We would like to make a difference, to stir up the stagnant waters of hidden discrimination and to proclaim that the current situation is just not good enough. We let people know, for instance, that in Europe it is against EU law to discriminate on the basis of mother tongue, despite most job advertisements stating ‘being native’ as a requirement. On our page, all visitors can read about the views of the Commission of the European Communities regarding the free movement of workers as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. We also encourage all members to help us by taking action. There is a downloadable letter template we use to be sent to schools that advertise in contravention with the law in order to call their attention to the discriminatory nature of their practices. We are also planning to go beyond EU borders, as Chris Holmes explains, “we are looking for volunteers who would be interested in getting involved in new worldwide campaigns that would aim to raise the profile of nNESTs and improve opportunities for their employment.”
Has something I have said moved you? Can you feel your spirits rising? Then please come and help us, we need your support! Join our group and spread the word about what we do. Share your opinions and your experience with us. Use our resources and help others find a job abroad through the sharing of your knowledge. Be an ‘ambassador’ and help others make their dreams come true. And if you happen to be an employer who is willing to hire nNESTs, let us know so we can include your school on our list. Let’s make some noise together!
Last, but by no means least, in order to make a go of this initiative, we are also taking action ‘officially’ and making our voice heard in wider circles. The upcoming BELTA Day in Brussels in March will be the first international conference where our group stands up for the rights of nNESTs. Chris Holmes and Marek Kiczkowiak are going to talk about “Misconceptions that just won’t go away!” trying to question why linguistic discrimination still persists despite all of the research and findings that seem to suggest that a teacher cannot be judged by their speaking English as their mother tongue or a second or foreign language.
So we are on, we are here, ready to help, support, discuss, understand, as well as stand up and fight for making the EFL industry a better place for nNESTs with equal chances and opportunities. After all, as Gandhi says, “The only difference between man and man all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species. Where in is the cause for anger, envy or discrimination?”
- How trainers can support state school NNESTs in developing countries by Andrew Tweed
- Non-Native Discrimination – The Stain On Our Profession? – by Chris Kelly
- Pronunciation Clinic: Just What The EFL Doctor Ordered!
- Job Awareness – Apply Responsibly (Part one)
- Essential Teacher Knowledge by Jeremy Harmer, Pearson