Discrimination against non-native English-speaking teachers (non-NESTs) is commonplace: non-NESTs tend to get paid lower salaries, are given fewer promotion opportunities and get passed over for jobs. A 2007 investigation found that almost three quarters of higher education institutions in the UK made hiring decisions based on perceived native/non-native speaker distinctions (Clark and Paran 2007). What is the rationale behind these discriminatory hiring practices?
The common assumption is that students demand native English-speaking teachers, or NESTs (Holliday 2008), student demands influence hiring decisions and hiring decisions embody discrimination. Do these assumptions hold up to scrutiny?
To test these assumptions about students’ demands, I surveyed and received responses from 323 sales and service staff; 151 adult students; 97 parents of young learner students; and 552 teachers. Of the teachers, 273 self-identified as non-NESTs and 279 self-identified as NESTs; 247 of them were Chinese. All respondents worked or studied at the same private language school in China.
The sales and service staff surveyed were responsible for communicating with adult students outside class, keeping parents informed of students’ progress and most importantly, selling language courses. All teachers performed the same job duties, albeit with teachers from ‘native’ English countries receiving higher salaries than those from China.
Respondents were asked to identify the importance of different qualities in teachers. The characteristics were as follows: ability to speak the students’ first language (L1); appearance; being a native speaker; nationality; personality; relationships with students; attitude; and qualifications. The preferences of parents and students were combined to make the results easier to interpret, as were the responses from sales and service staff.
Sales and service staff showed stronger preferences for native English teachers than parents and students. Sales and service staff considered the ability to speak students’ L1 to be less important than parents and students; they considered being a native speaker to be more important than parents and students; they considered nationality to be more important than parents and students (Table 11.2.1); and they were more commonly prepared to pay more money to study with a native English teacher than parents and students (Figure 11.2.1).
Discussion and implications
These results imply that parents and students, in general, place less value on having native English teachers than do sales and service staff. They also demonstrate that the preferences of sales and service staff may play a bigger role in influencing students’ opinions and staffing decisions than previously thought. It should not surprise us that sales staff are unconcerned with ending discriminatory hiring practices in the TEFL industry, but it should surprise us that they may be unaware of the unique benefits and insights a non-NEST can offer students. These benefits include being imitable models of successful English learners, the ability to anticipate language difficulties, empathy with students’ problems and the use of the students’ L1 to teach learning strategies (Medgyes 1992).
Participants in this talk suggested teachers host workshops and webinars to raise the awareness of this issue with sales and service staff. Those unable to organise events on larger scales can simply speak to non-teaching staff in their schools to raise awareness this issue, highlight the role sales and service staff could play in solving it and emphasise the ‘selling points’ of ‘non-native English teachers’ described above. Sales and service staff are regularly excluded from our professional discourse. Including them in this conversation about eradicating discrimination seems especially apt.
Clark E. and A. Paran. 2007. ‘The employability of non-native-speaker teachers of EFL: a UK survey’. System 35/4: 407−430.
Holliday, A. 2008. ‘Standards of English and politics of inclusion’. Language Teaching 41/1: 119−130.
Medgyes, P. 1992. ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal 46/4: 340−349.
Image by The Digital Artist