Learning is a never ending process. As teachers and educators, reflective practice about what we do in the classrooms, and why we do the things we do, is something that needs to be addressed more frequently and effectively.
This can be done in so many different ways. Specifically we do them in teacher training sessions after an observed lesson, but I am not aware this continues once we are out of the classroom as learners, going into a classroom as teachers.
You might think CPD occurs through a more informal medium like a friendly chat with a colleague, and you would be right, it does happen in rather informal settings. However, I am now starting to think this process which we often disregard and leave out the one easy chore we feel we can always get around to doing, should really come first and get our undivided and intentional attention.
Even with the busiest of schedules, I’ve decided to commit to a 30-Day challenge to be more intentional on reflective practices for English teachers and I’m starting TODAY, the 1st of May 2023, and taking you on this journey with me!
I’m sending out a reflection prompt to those who have opted in for the challenge through e-mail – the most direct way I’ve found to reach people – and to practice what I preach, I am also taking part in the challenge and wonder what some of my own take-aways might be.
Having said that, I have some nuggets hidden here and there to challenge and dispell common myths in English language teaching and learning, so some prompts will not be as effective for me as they might be for you discovering these prompts day after day.
If you’re already a subscriber you can update your profile preferences here so that you too may receive your daily prompt straight inside your inbox! Make sure I’m not in your spam folder please.
I also think that all this can be used as extra/bonus material for educational related content creators who are experiencing burnout and might want to fuel their ideas and creativity by recording their answers and sharing them with the world as part of the content creation strategy. Kill two birds with one stone, as they say… or the more compassionate replacemente I just discovered writing this cross two hurdles with one leap.
I will choose one of the 7 prompts and write or record my own reflections every Friday, so stay tuned for that also. Let’s not be afraid to share and support reflective practices and those who generously create them for us.
ELT Ireland Bulletin, Issue n. 8 – 19th February 2022
Six years have passed since Silvana Richardson’s eye-opening plenary gave an insight into how non-native teachers were struggling to find equal opportunities as native English speakers. Even though many field professionals are highly aware of the discriminatory behaviours of school employers, not much has changed in the job advertisements looking to hire unqualified native speakers over qualified professionals. It is a long battle which can be won only by raising enough awareness towards the preconceived notion of what constitutes being an English teacher.
The reasons behind the preference of Native Speakers
There can be a variety of reasons for the preference of native speaker teachers, depending on the country one lives in. Private schools in Italy claim that a native-teacher is what students want. They are convinced that their customers are willing to pay for lessons that are conducted by teachers who solely come from the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, because of the authenticity of the learning experience. This leads to many recruiters requesting a copy of the candidate’s passport to make sure they are in fact citizens of one of the nations mentioned above. Another explanation schools use to attract clientele is that their teachers are mother tongue speakers. They like to perpetuate the idea of one accent being superior to another, insinuating that anyone who speaks with a different accent is therefore an “inadequate teacher” who does not provide the English model which is familiar to the entire world of English speakers.
Addressing the issue from a rational point of view
Nowadays, very few people in the world live in the exact same place as they were born. Whether it is for a job opportunity or studies, people move, travel and settle in any place their hearts desire. We can say that this is definitely one of the great perks of living in the 21st century. Subsequently, many children today come from a variety of backgrounds, there is a mixture of cultural contexts, accents and races that simply cannot and should not be ignored any longer. It is not unlikely to find more than one nationality in the same family, or children of immigrant parents who are attending a school in a language that is foreign to that of their own. What is different today, compared to the not so recent past, is that the personal situations of every individual are now enriched with unique experiences and stories. These distinguishing features that make up a person need to be taken into account regardless of where one was born, and it is extremely important that we keep that in mind at all times if we want to go past the traditional definitions of what constitutes being a native speaker or teacher in 2022.
The post-colonial varieties of English are conventionally called “non-native” varieties, therefore, a heated dispute emerged in the Journal of Pragmatics with some linguists arguing that it was implicitly racist to use such terminology, as English was in actual fact the native language of many speakers of those varieties (Singh et al. 1995; Singh 1998). Whether or not one agrees with such divergence among linguistic definitions, we can all agree that during a recruitment process, most qualified “non-native” teachers pay a high price for such whimsical and pre-historic definitions used to categorise language teachers. While it is unlikely that we will hear about Indian English or Singapore English being taught at an international school level, we must understand that varieties of English are not to be demonised. If we consider the vast array of English accents and what model of Received Pronunciation we should foster (traditionally the British English accent is regarded as the standard RP), we might find it impossible to determine what “neutral” or global English sounds like. The truth is: most of the world is not made up of native speakers – as much as it might pain British English traditionalists to admit – and local varieties can do much more for English language learners.
Joan Pujolar and Bernadette O’Rourke, in their position paper entitled The debates on “new speakers” and “non-native” speakers as symptoms of late modern anxieties over linguistic ownership, speak of how the discomfort with the concept of “native speaker” in the area of English language teaching had been growing for some time. According to Crystal (2003), non-native speakers of English outnumber native speakers by three to one, which makes all the difference, because most publishing corporations market their teaching materials towards non-native teachers and speakers accordingly.
To sum up: We all know that the majority of English teacher professionals are not native-speakers; We are aware that most of the published materials in ELT are directed towards non-natives teachers and learners; We have developed an understanding that a main standard model English simply does not exist because of the different varieties of English even in those countries known to have English as their “Native Language”.
The questions I would like to pose are: How can we move forward from here? Will there be a change for Non Native Teachers across the globe? Can we overcome this hurdle together?
How to promote equal job opportunities for a better tomorrow
Non-native learners and teachers are a potential source of resistance, because they have the chance to object to this lapsed hegemony as aware and active participants, and as people who have witnessed and experienced the negative perception that recruiters and unaware students have against non-native teachers. We now have the right tools to bridge the gap of understanding, social media being one amongst many, and do something about how non-native teachers will be regarded in the future.
One of the most traditional and powerful ways to spread information is through word of mouth. It is something that everyone can do. Therefore, simply speaking about the problem can go a long way and raise awareness on the issue. This is what any individual can do starting right now. Example Situation: Any time someone wants a reference to a language teacher and asks you where the teacher is from (expecting to hear New York or London), be sure to make the effort in explaining the difference between where one is from and what qualification one holds.
Schools should promote the inclusion of globally recognised qualifications as a requirement to enter public and private institutions for teaching English as a foreign language. From a personal point of view, I have had little to no attention despite holding a DELTA Cambridge in Parma, Italy. My name and nationality have been the biggest difficulty I have had to overcome every single time I have had to apply for a job.
We need to realise that we are not alone, and that these instances of malpractice against non-native teachers have already been addressed legally by official communications on the matter.
In fact, according to the Official Journal of the European Communities, article 21:“Any discrimination 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.”
Hence, we should all be more alert towards advertisements and job offers coming from institutions and people who claim that having a qualification to teach is preferable but not necessary. These claims discredit professional teachers who have invested in their education and careers to help learners advance in their own chosen paths.
The more we, as a community, insist on seeing the same respect and opportunities given to non-native teachers as to native and mother tongue speakers or teachers, the sooner our future as English language teachers will begin to seem brighter.
Crystal, D., (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Rourke, B. and Pujolar, J. (2021) The debates on “new speakers” and “non-native” speakers as symptoms of late modern anxieties over linguistic ownership. In Slavkov, N. (ed.) The Changing Face of the “Native Speaker”: Perspectives from Multilingualism and Globalization. Series: Trends in Applied Linguistics [TAL], 31. De Gruyter. ISBN 9781501512353 (In Press), 1 – 21
Singh, R. et al., (1995) On “new/non-native” Englishes: A quartet. Journal of Pragmatics, 24 (3), pp.283– 294.
Charted of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000/C 364/01)
My journey teaching English as a non-native English speaking teacher.
When my parents named me they wrote my name in Armenian, as they are Armenians at birth themselves and so am I.
The Armenian language is very complex and ancient. It has 39 letters and it is really hard to learn. I personally never learned how to write Armenian, but that’s another story.
My name was spelled “մէրի” (mēri)… and it is pronounced like the English “Mary” name. However, since our documents had to be translated into a more international and known language, my name was suddenly spelled M-E-R-I.
The way my name was spelled soon brought on to many misconceptions as to who I really was. Spelling errors which could have been easily avoided, bureaucratic problems and mistrust, a bunch of lost opportunities in ELT and, well…funny stories too.
I will not get into now.
Instead, I will tell you how I got my first students.
Flash forward to when I came to live in Parma, Italy.
I began working in Italy as an English teacher, I quickly realised it was a better idea to write “Mary” on public ads to get a callback and say I was a mother tongue speaker instead of saying I was an English teacher with this or that qualification. It always worked. It was easier to start a conversation by saying that rather than have no conversation at all. Soon enough I had my first private students and a year’s contract.
I concluded I would first teach a lesson to later speak about who I actually was. Once I had earned my students’ trust, I could come clean and explain my position, as I am doing right now here in writing. I still feel like a fraud when I spell my name M-A-R-Y in public ads, btw.
On paper, I had no business teaching English in Italy, and unless I somehow had a chance to speak to a recruiter directly in English they would never hire me based on my CV alone. This still continues today.
People are afraid of the unknown. The old fight or flight response has seen generations after generations make the same mistakes in judgement, that is categorising people based on their origin, name, colour, accent, etc.
Somehow it is easier to make sense of the world by sticking labels onto things so as to keep everything well organised, in specific slots. If you give “it” a name, “it” will seem more friendly and less unknown.
I do think this reasoning might have made more sense in the past when one was born and raised in a given town or city, had spent their entire life in their hometown, and never as much as laid foot in another territory. Maybe their general traits could be more easily identified or guessed based on their environment. Yet, I also realise we could argue that we would not be able to define and categorise a person in that circumstance much like any other human being. We can be complex that way.
So what is the dream I have?
I dream for English teachers not to be categorised into Native vs. Non Native speaking teachers. It is not a competition as much as it is a desire to have equal opportunities in the job market.
I wish I never have to explain WHY I can speak English as someone who was born in a Non English Speaking Country ( or whose name is spelled Meri) to anyone who is pondering whether to hire me as their English teacher – in my experience, no one expects Armenians to know English well, and frankly, not many know what “Armenia” is. What people do know is that Armenia is not the UK, and definitely not the US, and that is just enough to blow any deal as of today.
The long and winding road of TEFL/ TESL. The_Non_Native_Speaker.
I will say it again, this time more clearly: New English students don’t really know anything about teacher qualifications, what native speakerism is, the struggles that non native speakers face, or how good their teachers are.
The message for the longest time has been, native speaker teachers are good (meaning non native teachers are bad).
Hence, we find ourselves having to justify WHY we are English teachers at all, being born in so and so place, not speaking like Her Majesty.
The narrative has become counterproductive for students because they find themselves in a room with a native speaker and not a native or non-native TEACHER.
The problems that arise with that are many, because speakers who are not teachers:
Can’t speak in a clear, comprehensible way so that ANY level learner can understand them (grading language and local accent come to mind)
They speak too fast because they just speak – meanwhile when a teacher speaks he or she is actually listening to him/herself through the students’ mind and adapting lexical choices just enough for them to understand, yet be challenged at the same time (comprehensible input +1)
The use of unfamiliar and inadequate expressions simply comes from not knowing which elements are relevant to be taught and which are not as important.
There is a lot you can teach, but will it be useful to that particular student or group?
Experienced teachers almost always know what the next hurdle is, and they know how to guide you to overcome that specific hurdle eithout overwhelming you with unnecessary information in that moment.
The reason students find themselves in this condition – with NON-teachers teaching and unemployed teachers rolling their eyes – is because the truth has been concealed from them.
Potential language learners have been brainwashed by ads telling them a NATIVE TEACHER is all they need, but a native SPEAKER is all they get.
They have been told they can SOUND native if they have a NATIVE TEACHER.
They have been told that if their teacher was born in a non English speaking country, then he or she cannot be a teacher.
I don’t know about you, but I’m only glad doctors don’t face the same discrimination.
We – qualified teachers, native or not – are professionals and should be treated as such. Please share this blog post to raise awareness of discriminatory practices being fed to the public.
To all Non-Native Teachers out there! Here are 5TIPS that will motivate you to get out there and use your skills to your advantage!
We have all seen those discriminatory ads, where most schools either promote their services by using mother tongue speakers as their ‘unique’ strategy for getting new clients, or search for teachers who are solely English speakers, rather than actual trained teachers.
Let’s agree though that no matter the negative emotions we might still get from seeing the NNEST (Non-native English Speaking Teachers) category pushed around and bullied, we can still build our careers and have a competitive edge over our ‘native rivals’.
1. SPEAK ENGLISH!
In Italy, job interviews are conducted in Italian, as most recruiters prefer to speak in their L1. I would highly suggest you pretend English is the only language you speak. At the risk of making THEM feel uncomfortable, you really want to show off your skills the minute you step into that office, or receive that call.
2. TELL YOUR STORY, GET RID OF YOUR LABELS
People often use stereotypes to identify others, especially if you are a foreigner, and most likely you do it too. So instead of acting like a victim and saying ‘this is not fair’, talk more about yourself and let people in. The more you speak about your background, your passion for teaching and experience in the field of education, the more you are likely to get a callback and set any preconceptions and misconceptions aside.
Personally, when I speak Italian, recruiters compliment me. Regardless of the fact that I have been living in Italy for the past 20 years. I then quickly remind them I am not a ‘native speaker’ of Italian either, but I consider myself bilingual in the two languages that are NOT my actual ‘mother tongue’. In fact, I still do not read or write in my actual mother tongue (Armenian)…LABEL THAT!
3. BE THE MODEL YOUR STUDENTS FOLLOW
The fact that you are a NON native teacher, means you speak MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE, which means that you are either bilingual or you have studied a language successfully and had the experience of being a language learner yourself (or even both those things). What is the advantage here? As a Non native teacher you are more likely to understand the daily struggles students face when learning English as their L2. In fact, you might even say that you have become an expert at learning languages and believe you can help your students succeed, just like you have.
4. BUILD YOURSELF UP: TWO is better than ONE.
Less is NOT more when it comes to skills and competences. Rather than feeling like an impostor, because the ‘system’ often make you feel unwanted, remind yourself that language is a means of communication and you have the power to reach more people, build relations and trust with those around you, but most importantly with yourself. YES, I SAID IT! Give yourself credit and others will follow.
5. STOP GETTING DEFENSIVE
You might feel insecure and fed up with having to prove your worth, but not everyone’s out to get you. There are plenty of recruiters and job ads looking for professionals like YOU. When called for an interview, never speak from a distorted perspective, they might not want to ask the same daft questions you have become accustomed to answer.
Believe it or not, there are like-minded people who know exactly what your qualifications mean and how hard they are to get and, most importantly, they are willing to bond, interact and get to know you. Whatever you do, do not automatically assume they are critical of you. Don’t start off on the wrong foot.
If you find your students blankly staring at you while you go on and on for the sake of comprehensible input or filling those uncomfortable silences. Here are some Tips & Tricks you might find useful for your next lesson so that you can start reducing TTT.
Ask Open Ended Questions
Don’t ask any questions to which one might reply, “Yes, I do”, or “No, I don’t”. Give your students the right amount of opportunity to take longer and freer turns. While they are putting their thoughts together and formulating sentences, you might want to take down some notes on how they are performing and later tackle students’ weaker areas. However, please remember to engage in the conversation as naturally as possible. Not as their teacher, but as a good listener. Feedback can come later.
Get into the habit of making things more personal (make it more about them)
By starting conversation on a personal note, you can take time to assess accuracy and fluency issues, while learning about your students’ English proficiency. Yes, you might have the perfect lesson for teaching the Present Perfect ready to go, but if you don’t connect with your students on a deeper and personal level, your role can become interchangeable with that of any other teacher. Give your students TIME and allow for them to share their experiences, just like they would in their L1 before starting any planned activity for the day. This can also give you a lot of insight on what to teach in your next lesson.
Use Back Channeling to keep conversation going on the student’s end
Most students don’t realise how to use back channeling in the appropriate way, simply because they are not involved in authentic conversations with English speakers on a daily basis. This is your chance to both use it to reduce Teacher Talk Time AND allow them to notice this strategic tool they can use for more natural sounding conversation. Your intonation here plays an important part in keeping the conversation tone authentic. Remember you are not acting, you are engaging with your students.
Leave a comment with what works best for you to reduce Teacher Talk Time.
I agree with what you’re saying here. As you said, native speakers are unaware of the use they make of…
Intersting points, but I am not sure I fully agree with the suggested conclusions and actions to take. 1. Native…
Can’t thank YOU enough for the feedback. I’m happy you liked it.
I agree with what you’re saying here. As you said, native speakers are unaware of the use they make of…