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WARNING – This post may be controversial for some!
This question popped up recently on my blog when some people asked whether the classroom teaching experience is the same for the NNEST, as the NEST when both are foreigners in the foreign land.
It raised a number of controversial points. Firstly, why do we always assume that those teachers who are teaching internationally in English schools will always be native speakers and secondly, if they are teaching in foreign schools, are they treated the same in the classroom by the students even though they are not native speakers.
I think there are a number issues at play here that are often misunderstood. The NNEST often thinks that the reason why they don’t get the same appreciation for their teaching is because they have an accent, or they may not know the English natively. From my side as an employer, I’d say that that is not always the issue. Often the issue is the world experience the person brings to the table and I’m not talking about teaching qualifications or where they have taught.
A teacher is not just someone who imparts or delivers information, they are someone who has a calling to change the world. The calling comes from a deep-seated desire to help people to improve themselves by learning something, and the way they believe they can do this is based on a combination of the technical knowledge they have and their world view. The quality of the latter I’m going to say changes depending on each person and is in no way connected to one culture more than another. However, this is where things get messy concerning the colour of the face in front of the class.
For me, it’s nothing to do with the accent. Even within England itself there are many different (virtually indecipherable) accents. For those where the accent is easily understood, there is still a difference, but the difference is acceptable. So why should a Swedish accent be more prejudiced against compared to a British accent? To me there is no difference as the world view is the same. As with a New Zealand and Australian accent vs a British accent, the world view is the same. However if you get a Chinese or Indian accent vs a British accent though the English is perfect and the accent is simply a side issue, it will be the world view that some ESL students are uncertain of. Basically they are worried about what they don’t know.
English accents aside, sadly many ESL students have a preconceived (or call it racist if you like) perception of the kind of character that comes with a certain accent. For some accents though the English may be perfect, the student may feel that their world view will be limited to that countries experience and not in line with the global world view that they want and that which many ‘western countries’ hold.
Interestingly in Malaysia a Russian teacher who speaks fluent English is not prejudiced against as much as a local Indian teacher, simply because the ESL students there feel because the teacher has a white face and is from ‘somewhere over there in the western part of the world’, they have the same background, but little do they realise that often those Russian teachers may have been born in the bred under a communist regime and so have quite a different world view to their Swedish or British counterparts. But for these students a white face signifies something to them that may not necessarily be true.
At the end of the day I do believe every school manager or owner has to cut directly to what it is that they want to project. If the world view issue isn’t important to them, all NNESTs and NESTs need to be treated and paid equally. If the school wants only western teachers because of the world view, that is their company policy and need to stick to it. If they want a different world view for their students then they shouldn’t go down that track simply because of the ‘native-ness’ of the accent.
So what I do challenge all owners to do is to question why they want a ‘white face’ in front of the class. They may feel that it puts bums on seats, but if the teacher isn’t up to scratch, then those seats won’t stay warm for long.
The recruitment criteria of any company is in fact ‘who the company is’. And this is all part of the culture of the organization. Company culture is the number one reason for success or failure of a company these days and in the future. If you can’t figure out who you are, then you need to be honest with yourself now.
The last and most important point here is that I do believe all school owners and ESL practitioners need to understand that a western world view is NOT any better than any other world view. The important point is to note that some students may feel much more comfortable with their own nationality world view rather than a western one. It’s up to the school to decide where their stand is on this.
If you are an ESL teacher or school owner and think that ‘world view’ should never enter the classroom, you are naive to say the least. A world view has nothing to do with morality, religion or politics, what it does have to do with is cultural perspective and experience. And I say again, the western cultural perspective and experience is in NO WAY better than any other cultural perspective and experience, it’s just different.
The final point to make here is that NNESTs and NESTs salary-wise need to be paid completely in relation to the quality of their teaching performance, and in no way every should someone be paid less purely because of their passport or the colour of their face. Salary should have nothing to do with world view. That is a separate issue and should be only about the company’s business decision on their brand.
What are your thoughts on this?