It Does Matter if You're Black or White

By Eric - 11:00 PM

(Source: Taken from the blog of Mr. Philip Roeland a native speaker teaching in Thailand: Mr. Phil Roeland's Blog
I read this article at a certain website for teachers who wish to teach in Thailand, of course including Filipinos.

"The blatant discrimination in TEFL job ads 27th May 2010
Although I'm absolutely no Michael Jackson fan, I do agree with a line from one of his songs stating that "It don't (sic) matter if you're black or white", especially when it comes to recruiting well-qualified and adequate teachers. I wholeheartedly agree that black can be beautiful, even if the statement came from one of the whitest black guys that ever walked the Earth. This blog article will go a bit deeper into the whole gamut of discriminations EFL teachers are up against when applying for a job in a far away land.

Black vs. white

Although it is rarely mentioned in job ads, most if not all Asian recruiters on the lookout for teachers are after whities. And let's make no mistake about it: the prize specimens are Caucasian white, not some locals having overindulged in skin-whitening products.

Does that mean blacks (or other shades) have absolutely no chance whatsoever of finding a job? Not really. There are plenty of opportunities, but these candidates will just have to look longer and harder before finding a decent position. As there is a chronic English teacher shortage in Asia, things will look up sooner or later as schools get desperate to put teachers in the classrooms.

Why this preference for white-skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed teachers in Asia? I guess most parents mistakenly believe that these are the best teachers. School administrators just go along with their misguided clients as ‘the customer is always right' (even if they're not).

What to do about it? Not much we can do really, except grin and bear it, and prove them wrong by putting on an excellent performance in the classroom which cannot be ignored.

Requirements: White Native speakers prefered (sic).
Remark: Shame on this (Chinese) recruiter.

Western vs. Asian

Not only black teachers can encounter bigoted parents and school administrators. Foreign born Asians such as ABCs (American born Chinese) or ABTs (American born Thais) will often have a difficult time persuading schools to hire them. Sometimes these teachers - who carry foreign passports - don't even speak their parents' or grand-parents' tongue anymore. Again, ruling these job seekers out - even if they're qualified - is a parochial approach that doesn't have a place in our globalised world.

Requirements: Western English teacher.
Remark: Just another way of saying that applicants should be white and big-nosed if they want to work for this employer.

British vs. American

Some job ads specifically target British or American teachers. If there's a good reason, well okay. Problem is that there hardly ever is any good reason. Students often think that because they are going to a particular country they need a teacher coming from there.

If it's for cultural reasons, I might be inclined to agree, but if it's just to better their English skills when going to the USA, a Canadian teacher could do just as good a job as an American one. If it's for immigration or political purposes, there's not much one can do (Saudi Arabia for example only wants Brits, Mexico is keen on EU passports while Taiwan and Korea are in love with US and Canadian teachers).

Fair enough if you want a Brit in order to learn the Queen's English or Received Pronunciation, but really, who would want this in an evermore globalised world where global or international English will rule the roost instead of a local variant? By the way, not all Brits speak like the Queen, innit?

Requirements: British teachers wanted.
Remark: Tough luck for Ozzies, Kiwis, Irish, South Africans and both native and non-native speakers from other countries. Remote possibility that this requirement is well-founded. However, I bet it isn't.

Native vs. non-native speaker

‘English teachers should be native speakers'. I don't know where this old chestnut came from, but were this true more than 90 per cent of all English teachers worldwide should be retired straight away. Teaching English in most countries around the globe is done by local English teachers. Swedish teachers teach English in Sweden, Brazilian teachers teach English in Brazil, and so on. By the way, English teachers teach French in England, so actually teaching another language in most countries around the globe is done by local teachers.

Hardly ever do western countries employ imported native speakers to teach English. Given the overall level of English and fluency of their students, I'd say these local teachers are doing a pretty decent job. As a travel addict, I can say that many Europeans are very good at English; Latin America has a long way to go, but it's getting there; in Africa and the Middle East skills are basic but speakers make admirable efforts.

In Asia, however, especially Thailand and China, students seem to be studying the language of Shakespeare for more than a decade and still manage not to be able to utter basic phrases, hence the idea that the best teachers must be native speakers. School administrators and parents alike seem unable or unwilling to grasp that it is rather the ability of the local teachers and the motivation of students which are sorely lacking. They also seem to forget that no matter how good foreign teachers supposedly are, they won't be able to achieve much if you pool 50 to 70 uninterested students in a single classroom.

‘So who would you employ? Native or non-native speaker?', another blog on this website asked recently. I admit that well-qualified and enthusiastic native speakers would top my list. Second place, however, would go to the dedicated non-native speakers with near-native English proficiency. At the bottom of the list you'd find the unqualified, inexperienced and often job-hopping ‘teachers' that roam the world and whose prime objective is not to help students get better at English, but rather to pay off their student loans, booze and mate as much as humanly possible and ruin the reputation of every foreign teacher in the process.

How to assess a teacher's skills and qualities? Apart from having a butcher's at their CV and cover letter, a face-to-face or phone interview possibly combined with a demo lesson is an excellent way to do this. For non-native applicants, an interview by both the local recruiter and a native speaker (as the former is often not even able to recognize if someone is a native or non-native speaker) should uncover the suitable candidates. Also, either a customized or standardised test such as TOEFL or IELTS might be used to separate the weed from the chaff.

From a personal point of view, let me just add that among the best teachers I've ever hired, quite a few were non-native speakers.

Requirements: teachers from native English speaking country USA, Canada, British (sic).
Remark: All other nationalities are screwed if this policy is enforced. The only result will be that recruiters severely limit the applicants' pool and may miss out on excellent candidates from other countries (both native and non-native speaking). It is mainly because of this myopic world view that there is a chronic teacher shortage in several (Asian) countries and that often fly-by-night and unqualified teachers can acquire a job they really shouldn't be entrusted with.

Old vs. young

When is a person too old to be an effective teacher? I don't think there is a universal age limit, be it official or unofficial. Some countries limit the age of teachers to 60, others don't have any regulations at all.

In my opinion, real age is less important than the age you feel like. Some 50-year olds may still look, feel and act like spring chickens while other 30-year olds may already be burnt-out and jaded, and look as if they're carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only face-to-face job interviews can really determine how old a person is. I'd probably prefer a dynamic 50-year old to a sullen 30-year old.

So is there an age when we're too old to be effective teachers? I'm sure there is. Problem is that it differs for each individual. Some could go on into their seventies (not unheard of as you may think), while others had better throw in the towel when approaching the official retirement age. Is it warranted to ask someone's age in a job ad? I suppose so. After all, you may not want a 73-year old to teach your kindergarten class or a 21-year old to teach the business executives seminar.

Requirements: Young English teacher, native English speaker, no degree required.
Remark: This employer clearly hasn't got a clue about effective recruiting. Inexperienced, unqualified, young native speakers are preferred over qualified and possibly more mature professional teachers. No wonder so many schools bitterly complain about the quality of the teachers they hire. However, instead of generalising and painting every foreign teacher black they should rather take most of the blame themselves if they follow the above recruitment policy.

Male vs. female

Are men or women better teachers? This is a tricky but also impossible question. There are excellent female teachers, but there are some damned good male ones as well. Some claim women are often better at teaching (very) young learners. This doesn't mean, however, that all men suck at this job. By the way, recruiters limiting a teacher search to women will get them a lot less applications to choose from, thus possibly missing out on the chance to sign up the illusive perfect male teacher.

Requirements: Under 45 years old - female (sic) are required.
Remark: Excellent chances of getting this job if you're a youngish female. Old hags (45+) and blokes haven't got a chance in hell. Schools should realise that some men can be great young learners' teachers as well and that not all females adore children.

Requirements vs. remuneration

The funny things when looking at job boards is, job requirements are usually very rigorous but salary is often a complete joke. Many salaries offered may seem high when compared to local salaries, but to lure a good English teacher to a faraway land, they should be more than peanuts. No wonder only 2nd or even 3rd tier monkeys apply for many of these positions.

By the way, very few applicants are interested to know that local Somchai's or Zhou Li's can survive on respectively 15,000 baht of 3,000 yuan a month. A foreign teacher may need some more creature comforts and might want to build up a nest egg for rainy days or a trip to their home country.

Better job ads
So what kind of teachers should schools be looking for and how can they improve their job ads? As far as I'm concerned, EFL job requirements should look more like this (adaptable to the local situation of course):

• Well-qualified: tertiary degree and teaching certificate
• Excellent English skills
• Dedicated and creative individuals
• Experience preferred

I've seen some ads recently asking for a neutral accent. I can only applaud this as teachers with heavy regional accents can be hard to understand, especially for beginners and elementary learners (not to mention friends and colleagues). However, this is often linked to the native speaker requirement, which it really shouldn't. If a speaker has a neutral English accent, can be clearly understood and if it's hard to determine where he's from when speaking, it shouldn't matter whether he's American, German, South African or Iranian. I'd hire a well-spoken and dedicated Hungarian or Zimbabwean instead of a native-speaking lager lout or redneck with bloodshot eyes any day.

Finally, schools and recruiters should start looking for the best qualified and most suitable candidates without limiting their scope using nationality, age, gender or skin colour. Only then can we truly improve education in a globalised world. Even if local attitudes seem to be rather narrow-minded, putting decent teachers - no matter what colour or origin - in front of an audience is often the best way to overcome the students' and parents' fears and make them understand that excellent teaching skills are not linked to appearance or colour of your passport. Foreign English teachers should be seen as educators and not exotic entertainers or foreign wizards with an innate teaching ability. Good luck to all of you currently on a job hunt.

PS: All job requirements in this article were taken from actual job postings"

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