This was a pretty intense Sunday. In the afternoon, I attended a great webinar by James Taylor (The Teacher James Blog) . It was the first of a series of webinars brought to us by Marek Kiczkowiak (Tefl Equity Advocates and Tefl Reflections) and BELTA (the Belgian English Teachers Association). If you still don’t know their work, I suggest that you click those links now!

Being a non-native speaker English speaker teacher (NNEST), it goes without saying I support Marek’s movement 100%. I have faced discrimination in Brazil, my home country, and I wonder what it would be like to get a job in an English-speaking country or in any other country where there are native speaker English teachers (NESTs). Back in the day, I remember visiting the website from a certain language school and they were very clear about their language requirements policies: if you were a NNEST, you should be a CPE holder and your grade should be, at least, B. If you were a NEST, all you had to do was show your passport. They didn’t use exactly these words, though. That was me trying to add a little bit of honesty. After all, being born at the right place means much more than holding a CPE grade C.

During James’ webinar, he asked what we could do to change this. How can we actually fight discrimination? Some very interesting answers popped up and I hope you watch the recording as soon as it is available.

We sometimes feel defeated and think there’s very little we can do. We forget that, as teachers, we have a tremendous impact on people and the way they see the world. Everything starts when you are empowered to make a difference. I’ve had many teachers, to whom I am so grateful for, that changed life somehow. We have to choose to not belittle ourselves and remember that we can be that change. I know it is easy to get dimmed by disappointment and the daily grind, but don’t underestimate the power you have to influence others.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this was a very intense Sunday. I watched the Oscars. I love everything about the Oscars. The red carpet with Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest, the gowns, hair, make-up, the actors and the ceremony, of course. When I was growing up, there was no internet (technically there was, but it wasn’t popular at all) and I used to spend a lot of time watching movies and telenovelas. There is something truly magical about what you can convey with film. This year was particularly interesting due to Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.

It makes me sad that in 2015, men and women do not have the same opportunities. It makes me angry that in 2015 people like Sean Penn feel comfortable enough to make xenophobic remarks about director Alejandro Iñárritu for the world to see. ‘It’s a joke’, they said. ‘They’re buddies’, they said. No, it’s not okay. Being someone’s ‘friend’ doesn’t give you the right to be offensive. The weirdest thing, to say the least, was that it took place in The USA, as Iñárritu brilliantly pointed out, a nation of immigrants.

It was a pretty intense Sunday. Right after Patricia Arquette’s amazing speech, lots of people commenting on a Facebook post by The Daily Mail that it was funny how women like Patricia talk about the gender gap, but don’t say a word about compulsory military service for men or about maternity leaves. Pay gap is a fabrication and women like Patricia should be quiet because Hollywood actors make way more money than the average person.

Apparently, a feminist woman who advocates for women’s rights is really annoying. I find it odd that men who have a problem with compulsory military service prefer nagging at a feminist instead of taking action to change things.

By no means I intend (or want) to speak for women. I don’t know their struggle because it is not something I live every day. The beauty is that I don’t need to be a woman to support women. I have a mother, a sister, female students… I can be appalled by world hunger, even if I have food on my plate. It is the same with James Taylor. Even though he is a Caucasian British male, who does not know what it is like to be a NNEST, he still unapologetically chooses to talk about how discriminating people based on where they are from makes no sense, as there is no evidence whatsoever that NESTs are necessarily better teachers.

Equality starts when you acknowledge you may be in a privileged position and do something to make sure others have the same rights.

As teachers, we can (and should) use our public platform to raise awareness against public issues. If you want to educate people about equal employment opportunities, you should also educate them about the many challenges women still face nowadays. Devote some of your time to openly discuss how people of color have been given fewer opportunities over the centuries. Show your students the privileges that benefit them as well those that don’t. These are not controversial or taboo topics, at least they should not be perceived as such. These are real-life issues, possible contexts for your lessons. If you make a commitment to fight for equality, commit to it as a whole and not just to the part that benefits you directly.

Unfortunately, in some countries we cannot be completely open about some issues. However, as teachers, we are usually very resourceful people. I believe there is always something that can be done, a seed we can plant. I am sure you will find your way to fight for equality, for a better world and therefore make a difference in someone’s life.

It is not going to be easy. Trust your wisdom and be brave. Don’t be afraid to stand for what you believe. And as a wise person told me earlier this morning, if you feel crazy pants along the way – remember, you’re probably wearing just the right pants.

Have you felt you were making a real difference to your students or people in your life by taking a stand on equality? How did it go? I’d love to know!

Thank you for reading!


4 thoughts on “Equality

  1. Unfortunately, we face this every single day in our country. Some work policies have changed. However, we still hear the echoes of discrimination in some part of Brazil, mainly where holding a CPE is not so easy to have, most of the time because of money or opportunity.
    I couldn’t agree with you more about the Oscar. For sure, it’s the voice of many people (women for wage equality, what in my opinion, there is no difference between female or male worker, whatever work field they are). Not only in a particular country, but all over the world. Equality is an important issue in which must be debated in our society nowadays.
    Once again, a brilliant post, full of food for thought! Congrats T.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Priscila!
      You have a very interesting point. I also believe discrimination against non-native English speaker teachers is far worse in small cities.

  2. “discriminating people based on where they are from makes no sense, as there is no evidence whatsoever that NESTs are necessarily better teachers.” And I do hope you would agree that the opposite stance is equally ridiculous…

    While I agree with your basic message there is a basic flaw which you entirely fail to acknowledge, which is that this discrimination does go in both directions. In the three countries I have worked in outside the Uk I have been denied management roles or opportunities to do teacher-training because “I would not understand the problems of learners”, “as a native you speak the language, but you don’t really understand it” or simply that “learners feel more comfortable with someone who speaks their own language”. Last time I checked, one of my local universities employed 50 teachers, two of who were NNEST ‘conversation’ tutors i.e. not really teachers.

    Put simply, if you really want equality you really ought to be railing against discrimination in all its forms not perpetuating the very NNEST v NEST divide you claim to be fighting against.

    • Feel free to write anonymously, but I hope you feel comfortable to write your name next time. Even if I disagree with what you have to say, this is a safe place for you to have and express your own opinions, as long as you do it respectfully (which you did).

      I do agree with you. I don’t think non-native speakers or English are necessarily better either, so yes, the opposite stance is equally ridiculous.

      While I acknowledge discrimination goes both ways to some extent, I believe NNESTs have a harder time. I have never seen a job ad that stated ‘locals only’ or ‘non-native speakers of English only’ while the opposite is not only true but also very common. People use market demand as an excuse to not even consider hiring a NNEST.

      I’m sorry you had these bad experiences. I think what you’ve been told is outrageous. I hope you do not have any professional relation with these people anymore, as they were questioning your skills. If they think you don’t understand the language, they shouldn’t have hired you in the first place. Someone’s position (teacher or conversation tutor, for instance) should be based on their qualifications, not on they are from, this is wrong and certainly not what I stand for.

      I don’t think I am perpetuating the NNEST v NEST divide by talking about it. There is a divide, whether we like it or not. My intention is to make people think about it and hopefully change something. I don’t want NNESTs to have better opportunities, I just want them to have the same employment opportunities. I want to go to a site such as Dave’s ESL Café and don’t read ‘only for native speakers of English’ or even worse ‘only native speakers of English from The USA, Canada, Australia and The UK’. The same way I strongly feel women should have the same opportunities, people of color should have the same opportunities, gays, the list is so long I could go on forever.

      Thank you for your comment and if you happen to know any study about discrimination against NESTs or other personal experiences, I’d love to hear.

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