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Unfair discrimination

April 24, 2007

Hello again,

Reading various forum posts, I note how often teachers raise the issue of unfair discrimination in ELT recruitment. It seems that schools might reject a teacher on the basis of race, gender, being a non-native speaker,...

...being fat, being old, and presumably certain religions disqualify teachers in some countries. For all I know there could be prejudice against red-haired teachers or short teachers. The point is that prejudice is irrational so there is little that be can be done in the short term to defeat it.

How should teachers react to such situations? First I think they need to reflect on the kind of experience they are courting. They want to go to a different country and different culture; it is therefore inevitable that the values and attitudes they will meet will be different from their own. Fifty years ago racial discrimination and gender discrimination were normal in many countries of the western developed world. Is it any surprise, therefore, that such attitudes still exist elsewhere? Globalisation might have an effect on changing those attitudes but the process will be slow.

The reality is that unfair discrimination still exists and is acceptable in some countries as a response to what schools believe their students demand. My own view is that teachers should try to avoid putting themselves in positions that may have humiliating outcomes for them. In other words, do research on the country that interests you in advance of making an application. Check with embassies whether any anti-discrimination laws exist; look at the numerous forum postings by teachers on country-specific message boards. Even write to the school before applying and ask them if they exclude certain types of people.

Does this sound defeatist? Perhaps it does, but I think teachers need to be realists. It is, by rational standards of fairness and justice, quite wrong that teachers should be assessed on anything but their professional ability, but we live in a flawed world. I think it is more important for a teacher to look for positive employment experiences by going to regions where they will not meet judgments based on irrelevant factors.

Can anything be done to change attitudes? Well, as I have said, it will take time. But examinations boards and organisers of international conferences can help by ensuring that the examiners and speakers they choose to send out across the world are as diverse a group as possible, so that students and teachers abroad start to see people who differ from the stereotype they prefer. Please let me know what you think.

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  1. maureen Says:

    I think it is important for the teacher to think of interviewing the school to see if it a good match for him/her. It can help prevent a rejection if it happens later. It also would be beneficial to visit the country and talk to the adminstration of the school. I found when you present yourself in person, sometimes you have better luck to get the job!!

  1. Steve Says:


    After eight years teaching in Japan, discrimination is alive and well. I know of only a handfull of schools who will employ "non-blue eyed and blond hair" instructors. I witnessed many comments from managers who felt English was only proper from a poster boy or girl. Needless to say I pointed out when I could, that the finest instructors I had met were all from outside the mindset. English is not a colour or race, it is a language and the majority of English speakers are from non-English countries. Japan has come a long way but there is so much more to be done.

    Cheers, Steve


  1. Katie Says:

    You make some great points, and I agree that researching a country first will enhance a person's experience there in many ways.

    I also agree that views will be different in different countries, and people visiting those countries need to take this into account. In sociology and I'm sure other fields there is a debate about "cultural relativity" - is it fair or right to judge things in one culture by the standards of another, etc. It's easy to agree in principle but when you really go into detail it is not so clear.

    I dealt with a similar question on my blog recently, and my view is that all teachers can or hopefully can play a role in minimizing this kind of discrimination. As the above comment points out, English is not a colour or race or hair colour, and in the end treating it as such affects everyone. I don't think it's only up to the teachers who personally experience discrimination to fight it, it's up to all of us who think it's wrong.

    All that said, it's very true as you point out that all of us can take steps to at least partly ensure we'll have a positive experience.

    Thanks for posting about this - I think it's an important topic and great to open discussion about it.

  1. Jude Says:

    I am a female ESL teacher with teaching experience in Asian countries where discrimination is a common place. I believe though in some places it is to some extent a "safeguard". Unfortunately South East Asia attracts many Native English speakers who in their own home country maybe labelled as "undesirables". I think that in some situations discrimination has arisen to protect innocent victims ie young students. It is not fair to the majority of teachers who are dedicated good law abiding citizens, but in a situation where cultural differences do exist between East and West and where discrimination is part of the Asian life, what other options are open to them? Making laws doesn't always work in Asia - Westerners are rich by many South East Asian standards so a bribe can take care of that.

  1. Alfred Jones, Ph.D Says:

    Your efforts to help teachers everywhere is appreciated. I am now over 60 and have major difficulty in getting a job. I don't want to sound defensive, but I have taught at university level in Euorpe, Asia ( seven years in Korea and China) and America and have three college degrees in both psychology and education.I have written two books on China and developed a DVD on English pronunciation for Asian students. Some years ago, a Chinese newspaper wrote an article about my father, a British Medical doctor who risk his life time and again providing medicines to the Chinese during the war with Japan. I sent this with my resume believing that it MAY at least help me get a reply from schools where I applied. WRONG. Apparently I was a good teacher, but the day I reached 60 I became old and senile over night.

  1. Randy Hesterberg Says:

    I agreee there are discrimination problems. In Brunei they have a law against hiring teachers over the age of 52, I think, but I'm sure they have a law about age near that number.
    Randy Hesterberg

  1. Maryrose Says:

    Hello am a female Esl teacher from Africa.I have been applying for a teaching job in Asia but I can find that because of discrimination of been native speaker and non native that makes it heard for me in getting one.Does it means that my country with English been the first language not a native speaker?

  1. Vivian Says:


    I am a non-native EFL teacher with 5 years teaching experience in England and Cyprus. I taught English to Foreigners and Cypriots at a College level, and I also taught to children in private institutes.
    If you think that discrimination is only an issue in certain countries, you will find that this is not the case. Discrimination is everywhere. Even in your own country. I know for a fact that a handfull of schools here in Cyprus will employ only native speakers of English instructors, even though they dont have the necessary experience of teaching or even though their CV is not as good, in terms of not having the right teaching qualifications. Unfortunately, lots of employers prefer native speakers no matter how good evaluations and references a non-native speaker teacher may have.
    So all I am saying is that discrimination is everywhere and I believe that in certain countries it is inevitable.
    But can you imagine going through this issue in your own country?

  1. himbra Says:

    This a very hot topic which never stops causing a stir everytime it is brought on. The fact is change happens, is happening and will continue to happen but at a very slow pace.
    I am anon-native EFL teacher and I live though this irrational streotyping everyda. I have even seen non white native speakers being treated as non native speakers.
    However, non native teachers of English need to relise that they sometimes give themselves a way and could be the cause of these streotypes. For instance, consider the following comment:

    "Hello am a female Esl teacher from Africa.I have been applying for a teaching job in Asia but I can find that because of discrimination of been native speaker and non native that makes it heard for me in getting one.Does it means that my country with English been the first language not a native speaker?

  1. Ian Says:

    Ian says that some central European and UK based schools who offer TESOL training themselves discriminate against teachers who have obtained their TESOL qualifications elsewhere. I have TESOL certificate 4 as a post-graduate qualification from University of Adelaide in addition to a Bachelor degree from University of Tasmania. These are long-established (1880's)reputable Australian universities. Everyone must work for a degree in Australia: It is NOT possible to buy a (valueless) degree in Australia. It seems an uphill and impossible battle to educate some European school employers.

  1. king Says:

    This descrimination problem have been there for a pretty longtime and is not going to be eradicated. The way iam looking at it ,it could be minimised but not eradicated.
    This is something to do with a human nature, a flawed world. Iam non - native speaker teaching in China for 5 years now.I suggest we have a kind of world demonstration about this problem, though the effect won't be felt but is a good beginning. There is no need of talking about it without trying to work out a way to solve it.
    Though most students don't care about where you come from ,all they want is the real thing. But the problems are from the employers who use white skin to attract students,it doesn't matter where you are from ,as long as you are white you are a native. All we have to uderstand is that this is business, not education. They don't pay much attention to the quality of teaching but they are thinking of how many students are coming to our schools.
    For a native white speaker, there is 200% chance for you to get a job.For a non white native speaker, you got about 90% chance. For a non native white speaker, you got about 70% chance to get . But for a non native black speaker,you got about -100% for getting a job. Places like Korea, Japan, Taiwan if you are black forget it,for now China is the most acceptable place for blacks . Iam black i know what iam saying,you just have to be prety good,flawless,also pray that the employer is not a racist. You will beg for your job not on the basis of your qualification but because of your color. Iam saying from experiences i have had in China. Though not all the places.
    Anyways it makes me sick hearing about this stuff.
    Please we can join hands together to minimise this problem. Till then ....

  1. Robert H. Toomey Says:

    Greetings, All,

    Reading all the comments aboved, I found myself wondering if there is something missing about being a teacher. I see a lot of people in Asia claiming to be teachers, or people wanting to come to Asia who have no real teaching qualifications. In my world as a teacher, teachers have college degrees and teaching credentials. TESL training could be beneficial, but most of that kind of training really doesn't train people to teach Asians. I am constantly looking for college trained educators, but I can't find them. I do get a lot of untrained people applying, but I can't hire people like that any more. It is simply for the same reasons that no school in America is going to hire untrained people pretending to be teachers.

    The biggest prejudice I have seen in China and Korea are age discrimination, and race discrimination. If one is Caucasion from any country, and one speaks a little English, that person would likely be hired. If you are not Caucasion, the chances of being hired in Asia are slim, as the writers above can attest.

    The one thing that really gripes me is so many people call themselves teachers when any trained teacher would tell them that they aren't. They couldn't get hired in their own countries to teach.

    As I wrote, real teachers are college educated, they have gone through a credentialling program, and they have had some experience, at least student observation and student teaching.

    One last part of my two cents is that college professors and even high school teachers may well know how to lecture, but that is not what most Asian students really need. More than 85% of the Chinese, and people from other cultures, come into my language school in Beijing, and they are at the entry level (a level below beginning). I know that is quite a statement, but I am a professional teacher from California, where I taught for twenty-two years, and the clients that walk into my office have never been taught to speak a foreign language correctly.

    There is a great need for professionally trained educators to come to Asia, understand the culture and the educational conditions that exist in Asia, and help these people to learn correctly. Most schools in these countries are not doing it correctly. I am doing all I can. I just need lots and lots of help.

    Robert H. Toomey
    Director of Education @ REC in Beijing

  1. Caesar Burgos Says:

    Well, folks! We need not go abroad from Europe at all before smacking into the old discrimination wall. I am an American national with a B.A. degree in English from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and both Secondary and Adult teaching credentials (having completed the two-year post-graduate credentialing program at Cal-State University, Los Angeles which is comparable to a M.A. degree).

    I taught English/ESL as a certificated teacher for 9 years is Southern California before leaving for EFL/ESP jobs over the last 14 years in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Indonesia, Switzerland and now currently in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, I have had administrative experience at several different locations from being EFL coordinator, curriculum analyst, to being Head of Language in Switzerland. There I worked for a school that acquired its New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation due to the work I did in the creation, development and implementation of a credible English Language department. I am fluent in Spanish and French and have a working knowledge of Italian and Portuguese.

    One would think that all the above would qualify me heads over heals for any job in Europe,or at least fair consideration. Think again. I keep running into the same old sign on the E.U. wall (Americans need not apply)in the form of the advertisement you see below (typical TEFL.com ad).

    You will teach in one of our English Schools in Paris.
    We work in a fun and dynamic environment!

    EU Passport/Valid working papers
    TEFL/CELTA (or equivalent)
    Teaching experience

    EU national preferred"

    I would like to report differently, particularly since I own two houses in France. It just breaks my heart to think that I cannot get a job at what I love best: Teaching English. If you think you may have a solution, you have my full and undivided attention.

  1. hoppka Says:

    Hi, i'm also a non-native teacher of English and after reading the above comments i am scared even to apply for a job abroad. Well, i've tried once and i gave up after being sent replies such as: sorry, we employ only native speakers (mainly from italy and spain). Despite having a CELTA and grade A, a master's degree in teaching English language and literature, 5 years teaching experience, i still haven't received a positive reply. However, one positive thing is that i got offered a job in an English summer school, but that's only for summer 2007. I know i have to keep trying, since i need to have a job from september, i simply love teaching.
    Wish me luck and let's hope even non-native teachers will get the chance to show what they/we can do, since there are many Englishes in the world, as they say, so why only British or American accents should be the only right ones? By the way, being a non-native teacher has more benefits for their students than being a native one... i think you know what i mean. hoppka

  1. Joshua Says:

    Brenda, your words are encouragement. I must said, it is not simple to look for a job oversea as some said. I am an Asian American. Though I have not try to apply any position, but I have contact many of the schools oversea. They are not interest in me simply because I am not a native English speaker. I complete two degrees in the U.S, have a TEFL certificate and have teaching experience. Still, my chance of getting hire as a English teacher have to be miracle in order to happend. What should I do next? Though, I have a good management job and good pay in the U.S. I would like to go oversea and teach English.

  1. lena Says:

    you could try some of the following:
    1. open your own school (or join as a partner in a local school)
    2. take semi-volunteer positions through NGOs, churches
    3. teach at institutions that cater to the senior market
    good luck,

  1. lena Says:

    i don't mean to be impolite. i understood perfectly what you wanted to say, but i couldn't help noticing some common errors made in your post. (i happen to be teaching in Asia)
    your knowledge of English is excellent for the corporate environment, but in order for an employer to trust you as a teacher you must make sure that you express the past correctly( "i have tried" not "i have try" , "i have contacted" and not "i have contact" etc)
    i am a non-native EFL teacher also, but i just don't apply to jobs where it says "NATIVES ONLY". What i noticed is that as long as what you write or say is 99% correct, employers who accept non-native speakers will give you a chance.
    I suggest you take a thorough grammar course (self-taught or with a teacher)to correct any fossilized mistakes you acquired throughout life and then apply again!
    good luck,

  1. Adam Says:

    Knowledge of the English is very important. From some of these posts it is very obvious that certain people who want to teach English can not construct a cohesive statement correctly. Simply being from an English speaking country or holding that country's passport does not mean one can speak the language as it is supposed to be spoken.

  1. Caesar Burgos Says:

    Attn: Hoppka, Joshua, Lena, and Mr. Toomey

    The point in my post above, Hoppka, is that...there is little "luck" involved in steering clear of discrimination when it is institutionalized into European Union policy. You can apply for jobs in Europe until the cows come home, but no amount of luck is going to get you a job in Europe so as long as E.U. policy has locked you outside the wrong side of the door.

    Joshua, I am with Lena on this one. You will need to master the simple past tense before even considering to TEACH English. Not to be rude, but I can't help but grit my teeth when I think of how much damage to future English students a "teacher" such as yourself could do, particularly since you have such obvious gaps in your English proficiency. You have a long ways to go before I would even consider you as a credible English teaching candidate. This is not to say that you can't be one at some future date. But rather that you still have some work to do before one could considered you a viable, credible candidate

    Lena, I too, like Dr. Jones above, have passed that golden cut off age of 55 where it seems all our teaching experience and expertise acquired over the last 30 years has been reset to zero by the very schools we are trying to serve.

    Unfortunately, your solutions above seem a bit naive and simplistic at best (no matter how well meaning they may be). Trust me, if I had the financial resources to open my own school, I would have done so long ago. Unfortunately, individuals my age are more concerned with how to cope with our pending retirement years (particularly since we are being forced out into pasture due to age discrimination) than taking on the daunting task and financial burden of opening our own school!

    Surely you can see that doing so would be no easy matter and something that someone at the age of sixty would not want to take on. Particularly, since the success of such a school (as in any business)would depend heavily... amongst other things, on many strenuous hours of work, to say the least.

    Working for free is not an option since I still like to eat, no matter how much I love teaching. As for teaching for institutions that cater to a senior market...you'll have to clear this one up for me. Perhaps an example of what you mean here might be in order?

    And finally, Mr. Toomey, I would be more than happy to put forth my candidacy as an English teacher at your institution in Beijing. Unfortuntely, even though there may be a "great need for professionally trained educators to come to Asia," salaries and living conditions for expat teachers there are severely lacking and do not represent that "great need." This is most unfortunate. Should this change at any particular time soon, please feel free to let me know. I shall gladly forward my c.v. at that time.

    Caesar Burgos

  1. lisa Says:

    You are a Queen of common sense! I've particularly enjoyed the prejudice against teachers discussion and your comments about this issue. They give some control back to the candidate.

    Ageism is alive and well all over the world.
    China seems most open to older teachers, based on two pleasant personal stints there.


  1. Ana Says:

    I'm in total agreement that this issue will not go away, and that we as teachers must do everything we can to combat it. That doesn't necessarily mean constantly rehashing it, but it does mean doing a subtle, gradual and effective job of educating school owners.
    Meanwhile, remember that it IS possible for older teachers to get jobs at desirable locations; it just takes a bit longer.

  1. Tolu Says:

    I am a Nigerian with Bachelor Degree.I am interested in taking up TEFL course in Mexico.What are my chances of getting a job in Mexico after this course?Please i need advice.

  1. Ahmed Says:

    Hello ALL,

    i have just entered the world of ESL. With a CELTA I thought, I would be able to finally live my dream of becoming a teacher. However, my dreams shattered when a project I got suddenly got cancelled due to "problems with students". This is a week after I cleared the interview and was given the training by this particular institute. I was told I need to tell parents that I grew up in in England and because I sound 'so English", students would buy it. I agreed but the it seemed they really didn't want to take their chances with a brown non-native Asian who despite having scored a Pass B at the CELTA (something that no student has achieved at the college in the last 2 years,) I haven't received a single interview call, as I am not a native speaker by virtue of my nationality.
    It hasn't been a very good start and the prospects don't seem encouraging !

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