The current English language teaching Jobs Landscape:
What would you do if someone tells you to your face they will pay you less money for a job you’re applying for because of where you were born? That is, in a nutshell, the EFL/ELT job landscape for many non-native English speakers. You are qualified, trained and experienced but your competency as a language teacher does not matter because you simply refused to be born in a native English speaking country. Obviously, it is your fault that you did not actively participate in your birth process. Did you space out when you were having a conversation with your maker? Umm, I’d like to be born in one of the native English speaking countries please, God. If you search for EFL and ELT jobs, do not be surprised when you come across job ads like the one below. You can find these kinds of job ads in many countries – this particular one I took from a job forum from Thailand. These kinds of ads should be illegal but unfortunately, they’re not.
I hope you’re a bit outraged now at the very least because if you aren’t, I’m not doing a good job of asking for more attention on this matter. In an ideal world, I would have liked to confront them and call them out on their discriminative practices but in reality, bills needed to be paid, and I did not have the luxury of choice in the past. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer about it all but being discriminated was one of the main causes of my depression. I felt unrepresented, victimised and the worst thing was that no one stood up for me. [See picture below drawn by yours truly because that was how it felt like then and also now sometimes whenever I come across discriminative job ads.]
Now, when I express my outrage about these job ads to my family members and friends, they remind me I’m way more qualified for these jobs and that I am in a much better position in life. So I shouldn’t care so much about this anymore. Although they mean well, I disagree – I’m tired of staying quiet and being the polite Asian woman.
I am where I’m at today because some people gave me a chance and stood up for me. When I got the job offer for the British Council, my line manager who is now my friend, supported and encouraged me even during the interview before I got offered the job. When one of the schools requested my picture because my name was weird (code word for not a Western name), she stood her ground and told them that the British Council hires qualified teachers and nationality was NOT something they look at and that they can either accept me as a teacher or they can find another organisation to work with.
When I applied for the job in Japan, everyone told me there’s a very little chance of me getting it because they simply did not want you if you’re not from the States. I applied anyway and my current boss offered me the job during the first interview. Another important someone who gave me a chance.
Someone stood up for me when I couldn’t and it changed my career trajectory. So it’s time for me to stand up and call out these types of job ads, and organisations. And I do – when I see job ads like the one above, I leave comments – I call them out, I challenge them. It was daunting at first but the shame is in ignoring it because it does not affect us. Not surprisingly, no one ever replies, or sometimes I get kicked out from the forums.
How can we tackle it?
- Speak up whenever you can. Talk to your organisation, coworkers, and take part in conferences and present these issues. If you are a non-native English speaker like me, you can share your experience. If you are a native speaker, you can stand up and speak for others who have been discriminated. These are also places where you will meet allies and you will feel heard and represented.
- Search on social media for equality groups. These are the groups on Facebook which I follow: 1). https://www.facebook.com/EqualityELTJapan 2). https://www.facebook.com/WOCinELT
- If you’re lucky enough to be involved in a hiring process at your institution, look at the applicants’ qualifications and experience and not their nationality. Make sure to give chance to non-native English teachers if they meet the requirements.
- Mentor people, both native and non-native English speakers. Mentor so that you can encourage new teachers to stand up for themselves and also help them become aware of discriminative practices so they can fight it.
- Raise students’ awareness of native speakerism. Here’s a good resource to help you incorporate it in your lessons: https://teflequityadvocates.com/2019/10/23/how-to-tackle-native-speakerism-the-four-levels-of-change/
- If you know people in positions of power, government officials, or policymakers, please have these difficult conversations. If you are a person in a position of power, please work on making these changes. Don’t fall for the parents-only-want-native-speakers comments. If you want quality education, you will need quality teachers. If a parent expresses discriminative views, tactfully address them. Protect your quality teachers.
- Boycott discrimiantive job ads and refuse to work for and work with these types of organisations.
- Be an ally to your non-native colleagues. Be a voice for them and also be their lending ear. It goes a very long way to be heard.
- Let me appeal to you. Please don’t become an English language teacher simply to fund your travels. For you, it’s easy money. For others, it’s a career – not a job, read it again and let it sink in. If you really want to fund yourself that way, at least become a trained teacher and also have the decency and responsibility to plan good lessons. Read up and do some research. Chances are you’ll be teaching students from average income backgrounds or maybe even from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their parents might be funding the children’s education with a very low salary they are getting. You owe that much human decency especially if you’re going to be in the education field. So please do research before you jump into things.
- Lastly, if you are a non-native English speaker, remember you are where you are today because you deserve it. You worked hard for it. Erase those self-doubts. Years or being told you are not good enough is traumatising but you can and will get over it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Overall, discrimination is everywhere and it is alive and well in the English language teaching world as well. It affects people’s lives and their career trajectories. It’s a difficult topic to discuss. It can be uncomfortable but it is so necessary. To be honest, I’m so tired of fighting it. But I won’t ever stop because discrimination doesn’t take a break so we shouldn’t either.