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An aside to the discrimination debate

So I’m looking at articles on discrimination and a lot of people seem to equate discrimination of white/colored with native/non-native.

In my experience, the native/non-native argument is academic. That is, it has no bearing on practice and trying to use this argument to effect practice is.. impractical. Schools are not discriminating against native and non-native speakers. They are discriminating against white and coloured teachers.

So the real questions is, why do language schools love the white man?

More to follow…

Primer to the discrimination debate in ELT (part 1)

Marek from left a comment on my blog. Asked if I wanted to contribute to the discrimination in ELT discussion. What a great opportunity. But before I send in my ‘official response’, I thought I should collect some of my thoughts. So here goes:

First some vocab (PTV, amirite?)
NEST = Native Speaking English Teacher
NNEST = Non-native English Speaking Teacher

American’s Next Top Model

Thread 1: I will call the ‘better model’ argument. I present David Crystal. He says the definition of NEST is problematic. And when you look at the components of the English model (“phonology, orthography, grammar, lexicon, and discourse”), then you shouldn’t assume a native is better than a non-native, especially when you factor in socio-economics (and specifically, education level). Basically says that some NEST are not as good as NNEST when it comes to the ‘language’. I cannot disagree with David Crystal because he is David Crystal, but I can that this is a very academic argument. In practice, most native speakers who have an undergraduate are “good enough” with the language to teach it up to B2/C1 level. Let’s be honest, the language is not that complicated. So if you have a white guy who is ‘good enough’, then you take the white guy. It’s a no-brainer.

The Matrix

Thread 2: So you have a native and a non-native who are both ‘good enough’ with the language, why take the non-native guy? Introducing the ‘no spoon’ argument. Take the non-native because he is a better teacher (hypothetical). He does the rapport building, has good empathy, provides a good learning environment, etc. Skin color and passport are a red herring. You shouldn’t consider it at all. But let’s assume the non-native and native are both EXCELLENT teachers. How do you decide? No-brainer again, take the white guy.

No Country for Old Men

Thread 3: Assuming language skills and teaching skills are equal, the white guy will usually get hired. Why? Because he’s exotic. Of course, white guys are appalled by this. Question is, if you are in a non-white country, where else will you come in contact with a higher concentration of white guys other than an English school? (no brothel jokes please.) Fact is, non-white people REALLY LIKE white people. They like looking at white people and they like listening to white people. It is even a sort of status symbol to be in the company of white people. Some of this undeserved attention has led to what I will call the “white settler complex”.  Needless to say, there is moral outrage, which has spurred on many posts about America’s Top Model and The Matrix.

Long story short, we can look at strengths and weaknesses of natives and non-natives all we want, but at the end of the day, there is no shortage of EXCELLENT white teachers who are GOOD ENOUGH with the language. So schools can be selective when it comes to hiring. It just so happens, many schools take white guys.

So how do we get out of this situation? More thoughts coming in part 2 of this post…

Just finished Learning Teaching by Scrivener

One thing off my to-do list; I finished reading ‘Learning Teaching’ by Jim Scrivener. Tremendously useful book. I found it to overlap a lot with the CELTA course, which suggests to me that the content is very mainstream. A large focus of the book is on (1) how to manage the classroom and (2) how to run activities.

This seems to be the norm now: Activity-based classroom teaching. It’s no surprise though. When you think of what ‘teaching’ is, then you sort of have to think ‘classroom’. That said, Scrivener is very open-minded in his approach. Even if we are stuck with this archiac form of interaction, at least we can innovate a little within the confines. I also like that rather than being a “recipe” type person, he’s more of a “toolkit” type. There is no formula to follow; just advice to accept and consider. Bricolage is the operative word. Try, test, try again, test again.

I especially like the closing where he says that “education is too important to be lost amid a constant focus on smaller problems” (p. 380). For teachers, this means not to be too hung up whether students ‘get it right’ or ‘understand’. Instead, enjoy the moment, which is the learning process. Students are become better people; through education. English is just a skill. The skill can be substituted. It is the learning process which is precious and must be cherished.

Progress: July 19

It’s about 2 months since I finished my CELTA and started to look for work.

I have 5 classes (~13h/week) now and will be taking on 2 more classes (11h/week) in Sep. This will push me up to “full-time” hours. I’ve throttled my job search effort. And I can be a pick more picky about which classes I take on. Without even noticing it, I’ve already logged over 100 hours of teaching time. I’m starting to get the hang of things. I take more liberties in class. By that I mean I don’t follow the textbook so strictly. I’m also refining my craft each day. I pay less attention to what I’m doing as a teacher and more attention to what the students are learning in class.

Discrimination in ELT

It’s no secret that the ELT industry has a discrimination problem. Apparently it’s really bad in Korea, especially if you are black. In Vietnam, you will be discriminated against if you are vietnamese (regardless of your qualifications). I sent this joker my CV and I talked to him on the phone so he clearly knows I have a CELTA and have a native accent.


There is a small movement within the industry to fix discrimination: see and , but their cries will probably fall on deaf ears. The people in power (e.g. Cambridge and British Council) need to walk the talk. Let’s see some more people of color in english textbooks and let’s see some accents aside from British and American in the recordings. Then maybe attitudes will start changing.

Are English Schools bad?

Here’s AJ Hoge. He doesn’t like English Schools. He says they are boring, stressful and passive. He forgot, they are also very expensive!

In Vietnam, it’s normal to pay 4-5 million per month (200-250 USD) with schools employing foreign teachers. If it’s a school with local teachers, you can expect to pay 1-2 million (50-100USD).

Personally, I think if you like the classroom environment and you can afford it, then go. You will benefit from the opportunities to interact and you will learn in a structured and principled way. That said, don’t rely exclusively on schools to “teach” you. It’s your job as a student to be proactive in your own learning. Schools (i.e. classroom learning) is just one of the many ways you can learn English. I agree with AJ Hoge, however, that school is the most boring, stressful and passive, way to learn English. I don’t know what the formula is, but I reckon, if 100% of your learning is happening in the classroom, then you are not doing it right.