Introduction by Sulaiman A. Jenkins
Where effective language teaching should be the main concern for companies and organizations hiring English teachers, native speakerism continues to be a major stain on the industry. It is the idea that good teachers only come from specific countries, have specific accents or even be of specific ethnicities. The problem this mentality creates is that it forces, unfairly, qualified English language teaching professionals all around the world to be preoccupied with issues irrelevant to the main task at hand: delivering quality English instruction. The following two accounts of two English language teaching professionals detail their unfortunate struggles with questioning their own value in a market underpinned by native speakerism. One teacher experiences frustration and disappointment at the need to constantly affirm the fact that he/she is a fluent English speaker and qualified teacher. The other teacher expresses the emotional and mental anguish he/she experiences when the time he/she invested his/her entire career in becoming a professional language instructor is simply discarded and his/her value is simply reduced to being native or not.
1. My journey in TEFL being a POC has been a difficult one. I have lived in many different countries where English is the main language from a very young age. I have also been speaking English with one of my parents since I was three. However, this does not seem to be enough for many of the English language schools. In terms of my accent, there is very little that can be discerned that I am not a native speaker so no issues are flagged when speaking with potential employers over the phone. However, the conversation shifts dramatically with every opportunity of a face-to-face interview. A few years ago I was not given the opportunity to teach at one school supposedly because they did not consider me to be a “native speaker”. The interviewer aggressively challenged me about my decision to put on my CV that I was a native speaker. This was not questioned at the telephone interview stage, however, became an issue during the face-to-face interview. That being said, I have also come across schools which welcome POC teachers and have been fortunate to be part of a few. The world of TEFL has to change and recruitment based on accent or skin colour needs to be urgently addressed.
2. I am a non native English teacher and I often think that to maintain my emotional well being I should probably leave the industry. Early on in my career, my employers told me to lie about my identity because they thought students would be disappointed if they knew I wasn’t a native. Later on, I met colleagues who would often make comments on my status as a non native teacher. Looking for work has always been an utterly depressing experience: native speakerism, a box I will never be able to tick, was more important than the qualifications I had accumulated over the years. All this has caused me to feel like an impostor, absolutely dread “getting to know” activities and exacerbate my anxiety. Even now that I have a DELTA and an MA in ELT (for which I received distinction in both) my commute home from work is all too often spent thinking obsessively about every single word I said in the classroom, looking for mistakes I might have made and imagining students/colleagues’ potential outraged reaction. It is only the appreciation of some students and teacher trainers that has kept from not going completely insane in the last eight years.
As you can see, such stories offer a glimpse into the lived struggles of thousands and thousands of teachers and hopefully raise awareness of the serious problems native speakerism creates in the English language teaching industry