Can't Speak English?

Can't Speak English?

It was my first day in school. I just signed up as an ESL teacher in an international school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to augment my income in the university in Battambang, Cambodia where I've been teaching for three years now. I was assigned to teach Level 10 ( Intermediate) class. I asked one of the students for her opinion regarding the topic. She replied, "Can't speak English. Don't know English."
I encouraged her by saying with a smile, "Teacher Pablo believes in you. Don't worry. I will definitely understand you."

On my way home I can't help but compare my school with another school in Battambang, Cambodia. My school has a reputation for hiring only native speakers. In fact, I am the first Asian ESL teacher in that school. In spite of that I've heard several students say that they can't speak English.

COERR Language Skills Center in Battambang only hires locals. They don't have any foreign teachers. They don't even have Filipino teachers. The big difference is that I've met a lot of students at COERR who are in level 7 and they are really conversant in English. This proves that the need to hire native teachers of English is a must is wrong.It is just a myth. What schools need to do is to hire competent teachers.

Let's take the case of the Philippines for example. I never had native English teacher since the first time I entered school. I learned English in a public school and with Filipino teachers. In fact, the Philippines never hired foreign teachers. The only time that the Philippines had American English teachers was in 1901 when the U.S. government sent 500 trained teachers to the Philippines. That's just it. After that we were practically on our own.

The difference? The American English teachers who went to the Philippines in 1901 and the teachers at COERR know pedagogy. They were and are trained teachers. While most of the native American teachers here are plumbers, electricians, gardeners or waiters whom I guess are having difficulty finding jobs in the U.S. probably because of lack of qualifications. Those who are really trained and qualified American English teachers would rather go to China, Japan or Korea where they can earn 3,000 to 4,000usd. American ESL teachers here in Cambodia earn 800usd to 1200usd.

I am not giving up. This is the reason why I really enjoy my teaching job at UME (University of Management and Economics) in Battambang. Cambodia. I am sure that my students will sooner or later become school administrators. I hope that they will not look at the color of the skin when they hire ESL teachers. They can hire whites, blacks or Asians. It doesn't matter. What is important is that they should look at the qualifications. I am sure though that they will hire teachers based on competencies.

Pablo Gravoso


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