TEACHERS WANTED! Must they be Native?!

I’ve been a teacher of English and Spanish for over 25 years and I’ve never let the fact of my nationality or birthplace affect my professional performance. Never believed that anyone could be a teacher – it’s way more than skills, it’s a calling. Born in Brazil,, born at home because I wanted to be close to momma (lol), my mother tongue is Portuguese with a Paulista accent and proud of that. As anyone should be proud of their heritage.

Proud of being Brazilian!
Proud to be a Brazilian teacher

My first contact with English was at school when I was 11 years old and as English was replacing French and Latin as the foreign languages taught at public schools I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher (whose name I’ve forgotten, I think it was Maria Cecilia, but not sure) who gave us a great basic structure of the English language in the 9 months she taught us. We’d copy her texts from the blackboard, we would repeat what she said, we would try to memorize verbs and their conjugation. No visual or audio resources. Remember it was a public school in Piqueri, a low income middle class neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil. Yes, some of my classmates had parents who were doctors, lawyers, teachers and housewives. Some had money – even a telephone and a car. Not my family’s case either way). Others came from the shacks in the “Buraco Quente (Hot Hole)” favela near our school (that already in the early 70s).

Public schools used to be aggregators bringing together people from all social classes, even shantytowns.

Yes, Still today I don’t know every single word of the English language or I may mispronounce some words. So do native speakers.

Teaching a foreign or second language is more than just your mommy singing lullabies to you in that language when you were born.

It takes hard work, constant studying, and passion for the subject matter.

I’m not saying native speakers cannot be great language teachers, but it’s undeniable that a teacher who also went through the process of learning that language can not only empathize but also provide strategies for their students.

Of course many people who don’t know better still think that a language teacher is not a professional but a person born in a place where English, French, German is spoken, period. Wanna learn Portuguese? Don’t look for a professional teacher, get a Brazilian or Portuguese national to teach you. If you get your lessons for free or almost free, even better. Yes, Virginia I’m being sarcastic.

The market wants the market gets

The list above from LinkedIn shows the priority that many language schools have – they not even bother to say “native-like” teacher – why? Because that’s what their clients are demanding. It’s a reality, not a myth, Virginia. Certifications, professional history or experience are often not necessary. And let’s not get started in cases that I witnessed when the school would pay MORE for the native teacher than the local indigenous educators.

teachers wanted – Harmony Science Academy – Carrollton
Teachers wanted… must be native speakers?

I’ve seen cases that students asked for that “tall, blue-eyed man to be their teacher because he looked native. “But hey, he’s Swedish not from an English speaking country“. Students would say: “close enough!

Also I’ve witnessed cases when a Black British person would be turned down as a teacher because he didn’t have the “qualifications” – I think you get my gist.

Prejudice is alive and well in different manifestations of the human heart and it’s no surprise it is so present in a humanistic career as language teaching.

Patient prejudice toward nurses - American Nurse
Prejudice is alive and well

What can be done?

The British Council, yes, the British Council well known for their neutrality, right? published the following back in 2014:

“If you start questioning these practices (preferring native teachers), you are likely to hear one or all of the following excuses:

1. Students prefer NESTs
2. Students need NESTs to learn ‘good’ English
3. Students need NESTs to understand ‘the culture’
4. NESTs are better for public relations

They go on: ” So why does this obsession with ‘nativeness’ refuse to go away? Because for years the English language teaching (ELT) industry told students that only NESTs could teach them ‘good’ English, that NESTs were the panacea for all their language ills. But let’s be blunt and have the courage to acknowledge that the industry encouraged a falsehood which many of us chose to turn a blind eye to while others assumed they could do nothing. I feel this needs to change”.

“The good news is that positive changes are already taking place. TESOL France has issued a public letter condemning the discrimination of NNESTs. Some of the most renowned ELT professionals such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, as well as organisations such as the British Council Teaching English team have already expressed their strong support for the TEFL Equity Advocates  campaign I started, which fights for equal professional opportunities for native and non–native teachers.”

And I make theirs my words: “And you can help bring about the change too in numerous ways that were outlined here. So stand up, speak out and join the movement.

(Source: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/native-english-speaking-teachers-always-right-choice)

Cheers,

Mo

The NEST v NNEST Conundrum

Lately I’ve come across lots of discussions on the NEST (Native English Speaking Teacher) versus NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher). Even this quarter’s issue of the Braz-Tesol Newsletter dedicates most of its pages to articles written by Brazilian teachers (notorious NNESTS) in defense of language teaching not being limited to the place one was born.

Non-Native English Speaking Teachers
Non-Native English Speaking Teachers

I even found this site defending TEFL equality http://teflequityadvocates.com

Being Brazilian I couldn’t agree more: A good language teacher will have learned the structure of the language and is aware of steps and techniques that will allow learners to overcome hurdles along the way in their language acquisition process.

However, it must be pointed out that many NNESTs also lack enough language skills to teach highly advanced levels, Ilá Coimbra a NNEST wrote  that “In the Brazilian context, the general level of our English language teachers is B2 (or intermediate – high intermediate English)  far from being enough”; which would justify a language learner’s desire to have lessons with a NEST.

In the English teaching world prejudice against NNESTs or those who look like NNESTs is rampant. Many people would object to hiring a Japanese-American teacher simply because he or she looks “Japanese” no matter the language background they have. In China, Korea, and I’m sure other countries, an African-American teacher will find it hard to overcome prejudice no matter how big their NEST egg is (please, forgive me my pun).

Because of my light skin complexion and light brown eyes, I haven’t suffered – as far as I know – much discrimination as a NNEST. But a case that comes to mind was when I was a Program Director at Literacy Volunteers of America in Danbury, CT. To become a tutor I had to take their Certification Course (a 4-week program and was the only NNEST in a group of about 15 people). After my certification, I was hired as a part-time Program Director/Teacher Trainer/Tutor and I had to interview many prospective students – many of whom had come from Brazil. I knew that they wouldn’t discredit me for being Brazilian but they would immediately start talking to me in Portuguese. In order to encourage them to speak English I’d just say that my name was Mo and proceed with the testing. I taught many of them and always with the condition that they should use English in the classroom. It came to a point when out of a class of 6 students, 4 were from Brazil and sometimes they would talk among themselves in Portuguese. I’d ask them – “what are you talking about?” and they’d say “It’s not for you to understand“. At their graduation – I  finally came out – I told them I could understand everything they had said and I actually WAS from Brazil.

They were mortified, but that taught them a lesson about the possibilities in learning a language really well.

Literacy Volunteers of America
Literacy Volunteers of America

So NEST or NNEST? it will depend on the students’ needs and teachers’ skills and qualifications.

Good Lessons,

Cheers,

Mo

http://teflequityadvocates.com