Phil Roeland

It does matter if you're black or white

The blatant discrimination in TEFL job ads


Although I was absolutely no Michael Jackson fan, I do agree with a line from one of his songs stating that "It don't (sic) matter if you're black or white", especially when it comes to recruiting well-qualified and adequate teachers.

I wholeheartedly agree that black can be beautiful, even if the statement came from one of the whitest black guys that ever walked the Earth.

This blog article will go a bit deeper into the whole gamut of discriminations EFL teachers are up against when applying for a job in a far away land.

Black vs. white

Although it is rarely mentioned in job ads, most if not all Asian recruiters on the lookout for teachers are after whities. And let's make no mistake about it: the prize specimens are Caucasian white, not some locals having overindulged in skin-whitening products.

Does that mean blacks (or other shades) have absolutely no chance whatsoever of finding a job? Not really.

There are plenty of opportunities, but these candidates will just have to look longer and harder before finding a decent position. As there is a chronic English teacher shortage in Asia, things will look up sooner or later as schools get desperate to put teachers in the classrooms.

Why this preference for white-skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed teachers in Asia? I guess most parents mistakenly believe that these are the best teachers. School administrators just go along with their misguided clients as ‘the customer is always right' (even if they're not).

What to do about it? Not much we can do really, except grin and bear it, and prove them wrong by putting on an excellent performance in the classroom which cannot be ignored.

Requirements: White Native speakers prefered (sic).
Remark: Shame on this (Chinese) recruiter.

Western vs. Asian

Not only black teachers can encounter bigoted parents and school administrators. Foreign born Asians such as ABCs (American born Chinese) or ABTs (American born Thais) will often have a difficult time persuading schools to hire them.

Sometimes these teachers - who carry foreign passports - don't even speak their parents' or grand-parents' tongue anymore. Again, ruling these job seekers out - even if they're qualified - is a parochial approach that doesn't have a place in our globalised world.

Requirements: Western English teacher.
Remark: Just another way of saying that applicants should be white and big-nosed if they want to work for this employer.

British vs. American

Some job ads specifically target British or American teachers. If there's a good reason, well okay. Problem is that there hardly ever is any good reason. Students often think that because they are going to a particular country they need a teacher coming from there.

If it's for cultural reasons, I might be inclined to agree, but if it's just to better their English skills when going to the USA, a Canadian teacher could do just as good a job as an American one.

If it's for immigration or political purposes, there's not much one can do (Saudi Arabia for example only wants Brits, Mexico is keen on EU passports while Taiwan and Korea are in love with US and Canadian teachers).

Fair enough if you want a Brit in order to learn the Queen's English or Received Pronunciation, but really, who would want this in an evermore globalised world where global or international English will rule the roost instead of a local variant? By the way, not all Brits speak like the Queen, innit?

Requirements: British teachers wanted.
Remark: Tough luck for Ozzies, Kiwis, Irish, South Africans and both native and non-native speakers from other countries. Remote possibility that this requirement is well-founded. However, I bet it isn't.

Native vs. non-native speaker

‘English teachers should be native speakers'. I don't know where this old chestnut came from, but were this true more than 90 per cent of all English teachers worldwide should be retired straight away.

Teaching English in most countries around the globe is done by local English teachers. Swedish teachers teach English in Sweden, Brazilian teachers teach English in Brazil, and so on.

By the way, English teachers teach French in England, so actually teaching another language in most countries around the globe is done by local teachers.

Hardly ever do western countries employ imported native speakers to teach English. Given the overall level of English and fluency of their students, I'd say these local teachers are doing a pretty decent job.

As a travel addict, I can say that many Europeans are very good at English; Latin America has a long way to go, but it's getting there; in Africa and the Middle East skills are basic but speakers make admirable efforts.

In Asia, however, especially Thailand and China, students seem to be studying the language of Shakespeare for more than a decade and still manage not to be able to utter basic phrases, hence the idea that the best teachers must be native speakers.

School administrators and parents alike seem unable or unwilling to grasp that it is rather the ability of the local teachers and the motivation of students which are sorely lacking. They also seem to forget that no matter how good foreign teachers supposedly are, they won't be able to achieve much if you pool 50 to 70 uninterested students in a single classroom.

‘So who would you employ? Native or non-native speaker?', another blog on this website asked recently.

I admit that well-qualified and enthusiastic native speakers would top my list. Second place, however, would go to the dedicated non-native speakers with near-native English proficiency.

At the bottom of the list you'd find the unqualified, inexperienced and often job-hopping ‘teachers' that roam the world and whose prime objective is not to help students get better at English, but rather to pay off their student loans, booze and mate as much as humanly possible and ruin the reputation of every foreign teacher in the process.

How to assess a teacher's skills and qualities? Apart from having a butcher's at their CV and cover letter, a face-to-face or phone interview possibly combined with a demo lesson is an excellent way to do this.

For non-native applicants, an interview by both the local recruiter and a native speaker (as the former is often not even able to recognize if someone is a native or non-native speaker) should uncover the suitable candidates. Also, either a customized or standardised test such as TOEFL or IELTS might be used to separate the weed from the chaff.

From a personal point of view, let me just add that among the best teachers I've ever hired, quite a few were non-native speakers.

Requirements: teachers from native English speaking country USA, Canada, British (sic).
Remark: All other nationalities are screwed if this policy is enforced. The only result will be that recruiters severely limit the applicants' pool and may miss out on excellent candidates from other countries (both native and non-native speaking). It is mainly because of this myopic world view that there is a chronic teacher shortage in several (Asian) countries and that often fly-by-night and unqualified teachers can acquire a job they really shouldn't be entrusted with.

Old vs. young

When is a person too old to be an effective teacher? I don't think there is a universal age limit, be it official or unofficial. Some countries limit the age of teachers to 60, others don't have any regulations at all.

In my opinion, real age is less important than the age you feel like.

Some 50-year olds may still look, feel and act like spring chickens while other 30-year olds may already be burnt-out and jaded, and look as if they're carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only face-to-face job interviews can really determine how old a person is.

I'd probably prefer a dynamic 50-year old to a sullen 30-year old.

So is there an age when we're too old to be effective teachers? I'm sure there is. Problem is that it differs for each individual. Some could go on into their seventies (not unheard of as you may think), while others had better throw in the towel when approaching the official retirement age.

Is it warranted to ask someone's age in a job ad? I suppose so. After all, you may not want a 73-year old to teach your kindergarten class or a 21-year old to teach the business executives seminar.

Requirements: Young English teacher, native English speaker, no degree required.
Remark: This employer clearly hasn't got a clue about effective recruiting. Inexperienced, unqualified, young native speakers are preferred over qualified and possibly more mature professional teachers. No wonder so many schools bitterly complain about the quality of the teachers they hire. However, instead of generalising and painting every foreign teacher black they should rather take most of the blame themselves if they follow the above recruitment policy.

Male vs. female

Are men or women better teachers? This is a tricky but also impossible question.

There are excellent female teachers, but there are some damned good male ones as well. Some claim women are often better at teaching (very) young learners.

This doesn't mean, however, that all men suck at this job. By the way, recruiters limiting a teacher search to women will get them a lot less applications to choose from, thus possibly missing out on the chance to sign up the illusive perfect male teacher.

Requirements: Under 45 years old - female (sic) are required.
Remark: Excellent chances of getting this job if you're a youngish female. Old hags (45+) and blokes haven't got a chance in hell. Schools should realise that some men can be great young learners' teachers as well and that not all females adore children.

Requirements vs. remuneration

The funny things when looking at job boards is, job requirements are usually very rigorous but salary is often a complete joke.

Many salaries offered may seem high when compared to local salaries, but to lure a good English teacher to a faraway land, they should be more than peanuts. No wonder only 2nd or even 3rd tier monkeys apply for many of these positions.

By the way, very few applicants are interested to know that local Somchai's or Zhou Li's can survive on respectively 15,000 baht of 3,000 yuan a month. A foreign teacher may need some more creature comforts and might want to build up a nest egg for rainy days or a trip to their home country.

Better job ads

So what kind of teachers should schools be looking for and how can they improve their job ads? As far as I'm concerned, EFL job requirements should look more like this (adaptable to the local situation of course):

Requirements:

• Well-qualified: tertiary degree and teaching certificate
• Excellent English skills
• Dedicated and creative individuals
• Experience preferred

I've seen some ads recently asking for a neutral accent. I can only applaud this as teachers with heavy regional accents can be hard to understand, especially for beginners and elementary learners (not to mention friends and colleagues).

However, this is often linked to the native speaker requirement, which it really shouldn't. If a speaker has a neutral English accent, can be clearly understood and if it's hard to determine where he's from when speaking, it shouldn't matter whether he's American, German, South African or Iranian. I'd hire a well-spoken and dedicated Hungarian or Zimbabwean instead of a native-speaking lager lout or redneck with bloodshot eyes any day.

Finally, schools and recruiters should start looking for the best qualified and most suitable candidates without limiting their scope using nationality, age, gender or skin colour. Only then can we truly improve education in a globalised world.

Even if local attitudes seem to be rather narrow-minded, putting decent teachers - no matter what colour or origin - in front of an audience is often the best way to overcome the students' and parents' fears and make them understand that excellent teaching skills are not linked to appearance or colour of your passport.

Foreign English teachers should be seen as educators and not exotic entertainers or foreign wizards with an innate teaching ability. Good luck to all of you currently on a job hunt.

PS: All job requirements in this article were taken from actual job postings.


You might also be interested in....

Young teachers vs old teachers? - Which age group do Thai employers really prefer?

Black teachers in Thailand - Does racism exist in The Land of Smiles?

The joy and pain of teaching in Thailand - A non-native teacher looks back over her ten years in Thailand

Native vs non-native speaking teachers - Who would you employ?




Comments

Your blog post spoke my mind, Phil. I would like to add 2 things to what you have mentioned in your post:

1) There are some employers who do hire non native English speakers but they have to look white, preferably from Europe. Non native English speakers who look otherwise don't even stand a chance. Not in Thailand, I have seen job ads on Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese EFL job boards where it was mentioned that non-native speakers are welcomed but they have to be from Europe [indirectly meaning they have to look white]. If it's a non native English speaker from Asia or Africa, then the employers won't even bat an eye on their resumes.

2) In Thailand, Filipino nationals do get hired as non native English speakers but they receive lower salaries than a native English teacher would get. For example, if a native English teacher is being offered 35000 baht a month, a Filipino teacher would be offered around 15000 baht a month, which I find highly unfair. If the school is in Bangkok, a Filipino teacher will have a hard time meeting monthly expenses with a meager sum of 15000 baht.

By Sharif, Bangladesh (27th September 2016)

Some of these directors and managers need to be well schooled. I guess some of them have never travel out of their home land.They perceive the white skin as a superior race to other race.No white will live dollars to earn low thai baht currency.They purposefully came to Thailand for relaxation and when there is shortage in cash,they jump into.
To speak English and to teach English language are not compatriot.If that was the case,i think everyone in Thailand would have teachers either teaching English or thai subjects.I congratulate some of the directors and managers who are now recognizing blacks and other race like the Filipino.If you can't speak Thai language don't expect the students to understand the trash you are teacher.The white are just out to take the baht upset your child. You will not understand unless you go closer to them.They teach for money and not to bring up the children to speak English.Most directors hate this big nose people.

By karim, Bangkok (2nd March 2016)

What a refreshing article! It should be noted that the schools which hire white faces are are probably not the types of places you want to work at...even if you're white.

By Becca, Granada, España (27th February 2016)

When it comes to the business of education in Thailand it is a free market economy. Schools/universities/language centers certainly do NOT need uptight liberal Westerners to help them word the adverts for potential employees.

In fact, this politically correct culture of pretending problems don't exist or denying that they do actually backfires and causes problems.

If I am looking for a job I want to know ahead of time if an old fat balding bastard like me has a chance of getting it. I do NOT want to get bib and tuckered up, waste a day travelling across The Polluted Mango, only to find they are looking for someone under thirty!

Also, surely the comment that parents are 'bigoted' has to be deliberately disingenuous, right? Thais are extremely tolerant of other cultures.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (25th February 2016)

David, Bangkok on 2010-11-29 - if your Thai skills are good, it's a plus in many schools. Other then that, shit happens

By Kanadian, Jiangxi China (29th November 2010)

38 year old male Thai-American natural born English speaker here. Just arrived in Bangkok, will be taking the TEFL next month. This article has made me even more worried about being able to find a decent job as an ABT (American Born Thai). Any advice that you can give me when I am searching for a job? I know that CVs must have a self picture, so they will know that I am a Thai-American. Its shameful that I am discriminated against in my home country, but I know thats just how it goes!

By David, Bangkok (29th November 2010)

I'm a teacher in S.Korea and I'm not sure whether they discriminate based upon age/race here. I've got a filipina friend who stated that she was starting to have a hard time finding a job because they prefer native speakers instead of non native speakers. But I don't think it's across the board here.

As far as qualified/non qualified. I think everyone is non qualified until they get into the classroom and create their own teaching style. Because all a degree/certifications mean is that you're an educated dummy. Even with years and years of experience it doesn't mean your skills will neccessarily translate over initially into success when you're in a new class room. If this was the case experienced/qualified teachers in native speaking countries would not be getting fired for poor results.

Dealing with motivation of kids has always been hard universally because kids are never motivated to do school no matter where you're teaching. When I was in school I sure wasn't motivated. But you make them participate and then as they participate they enjoy. You have to push them.

Dealing more specifically with race. That's nothing new. Everyone knows whites are always on top of the social ladder on a superficial ladder. America runs the world (not for long lol) for now so it's expected.

By Rene, Korea (6th June 2010)

Facts are facts so here they are. In 2004 I was working at Anuban Nakorn Sawan - head teacher. This means it was my or part of my job to hire new foreign staff. I had an email from a semi retired TEACHER from Canada. At this time she was working in China and was interested to explore Thailand via working at our school. The dean rejected her application based on the fact she was 52 ( ha ha so was my dean ). I advised him we ( non teachers ) can learn from her. My words fell on deaf ears. My dean replied with, find me someone around 22 or 23 and cute. Two months later I quit teaching in Thailand. Thai's are very prejudicial and shallow. If you think twice, your in a dream world !

By Kanadian, the beach (6th June 2010)

Clearly you're only allowed to post a comment if it's positive on this website. It's dictatorshit.

Phil / ajarn.com says - that's complete rubbish. There are plenty of negative comments if you look around at other blog articles. I do not post every comment that is sent and neither am I obliged to. Posts that are badly written or would take too much time to edit are rarely used. Posts that are just plain stupid, meaningless or irrelevant aren't used either.

By Blanco, Thailand (3rd June 2010)

Good article Phil, and well thought out.
My own reply is based on a small section of your article: age discrimination.
I can assure you from my own present personal situation that Thai employers discriminate against 60 year-olds.
I turned 60 in December 2009, and in March 2010, the private school I had been working at for the last two years, suddenly decided to replace me. Nothing wrong with my performance, in fact the Principal and the kids loved me, but it was the manager (a Thai male) who decided that I was out, even though he had never once watched a class of mine during those two years.
Since then I have applied for countless jobs, and received nothing. My agent (a Thai female) suddenly seemed distant when I asked her to notify me if a position came up. Then one day, I telephoned a government school in Thailand with a vacancy, and the Principal informed me that the Thai government has told government administrators not to employ anyone over 60!
That hit me really hard. I had just wasted countless hours applying for jobs, and not one single employer had the decency to inform me of the Thai age discrimination rule, including my own ex-boss!
It's true that I am 60, but my friends don't believe me, and tell me I look 50. I am physically fit; have a full head of hair; no beer-belly; and I speak the Queen's English.
At this moment in time, I have decided more or less to pack up and go home. In my native land I would have another five years to work productively, but Thailand decides that I am too old to be a teacher.

By Philip Bennison, Thailand (31st May 2010)

Yeah,

great blog Phil. I agree with almost all of what you said. I would say though that it's not strictly true that only Brits can get work in Saudia - all nationalities are catered for (on the native speaker scale that is). You'll find a lot of Americans, Canadians, Irish, Australians, indeed it's a fairly normal mix of nationalities represented across a broad spectrum.

As you rightly say, "...there is a chronic English teacher shortage in Asia, things will look up sooner or later as schools get desperate to put teachers in the classrooms."

I'm not sure I share your optimism as there has been a shortage for many years, and I wrote about it in an article for the English Language Gazette highlighting the fact that there are at least 100,000 teachers needed in Thailand. This was confirmed by the then Minister of Education, so it beggars belief that schools will not employ perfectly competent individuals regardless of age, colour, gender, native or no-native etc., etc.

This is a blip on the radar of the supply/demand dynamic too which ensures that gaps get filled where and when they are needed, but that is not and has not been happening here, and it's something that needs to be radically changed IMHO. It also knocks on the head the monetarist idea in economics that markets always correct themselves if left unchecked, but in Thailand with such a shortfall of teachers this has not happened at all and many students are being taught by local Thai teachers with barely a passing knowledge of English.

This means that the students are being taught all the mistakes the local teacher makes which worsens the problem. In this scenario, it would be better that those students were not taught at all rather than by someone wholly incapable of teaching that subject as the damage is often irreparable and the incorrect grammar and pronunciation, for example, is often reproduced by the students for the rest of their lives.

I've seen this first hand e.g. the bigotry of Asian parents who discriminate against even members of their own racial group.

"Not only black teachers can encounter bigoted parents and school administrators. Foreign born Asians such as ABCs (American born Chinese) or ABTs (American born Thais) will often have a difficult time persuading schools to hire them."

What better teacher could you have? One that has been taught Asian values and who can also speak as fluently as a native speaker?

"Sometimes these teachers - who carry foreign passports - don't even speak their parents' or grand-parents' tongue anymore. Again, ruling these job seekers out - even if they're qualified - is a parochial approach that doesn't have a place in our globalised world."

Absolutely spot on with the growth of International English which I've talked about on my blog.

Finally, I also agree with the following:

"The funny things when looking at job boards is, job requirements are usually very rigorous but salary is often a complete joke."

I always laugh when I see the list of requirements in the job description. The only thing seemingly missing sometimes is that you have to clean the boss's toilet, or paint the building green every six months or some other equally ridiculous task. But then when you look at the salary of say, 25,000 baht you fall down with laughter.

I just saw an ad on jobs.ac.uk, an education site where I also contribute articles, and I saw the following article. Here are the jobs requirements (which are called "emoluments" don't you know!):

III. JOB DESCRIPTION

Members of the ELI are expected to be at the university for five working days per week during academic terms, normally from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm or 10.30 am to 6.30 pm.

All members are involved in the following:

1. Teaching eight one-and-a-half hour classes per week in each of two fifteen-week terms per year
2. Working in the ELI Conversation Lounge or adjacent skills practice areas for 2 one-and-a-half hour periods per week
3. Participating as a member of a research team in one of the institute's research projects
4. Participating in the ELI Professional Development Programme
5. Attending scheduled weekly meetings and activities of the ELI and other special meetings which may from time to time be called
6. Attending special ceremonies and events conducted by the university including entrance exams and ceremonies, the graduation ceremony and the Open Campus Day in July
7. Participating in functions organized by the ELI including the student welcome party and the administrations of the Kanda English Proficiency Test (KEPT)
8. Cooperating with the Public Relations section of the university in the promotion of the university to high schools students and other interested parties.

God! If I was doing all of that, I'd never have time to teach!!

Thanks for your post Phil! Keep 'em coming.

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Riyadh (27th May 2010)

After reading your article, I would like to state that not everything is always what it seems.

Status(Loss of face)
One of the most important aspects in Thai Culture.

It may be perceived as discrimination by foreigners.
"It dont matter if you're black or white", but
"It matters if I (school/parent/etc) lose face or not when hiring you"

One could check the Human Development Index. The Philippines are ranked below Thailand. Maybe that is why Thais believe it lowers their status.
Most countries would not hire people from less developed countries to teach them.

I was born and grew up in Belgium, and I am against any form of discrimination and injustice. But unfortunately, Thailand is not Belgium, and my rules do not apply here...

The ads just reflect what increases their status. Whether that is discriminating, right or wrong, depends on whether you interpret it the Thai or Western way I guess.

By Matthias Van Kerckhove, Rangsit (27th May 2010)

Excellent blog Phil!
I can only admire and applaud the clarity of issues that really need to be raised from under the carpet. By stating the issues and the benefits of related attitude changes, your blog is definitely a must for both admin and teachers who perpetrate these mindsets. It also encourages those who consider them outdated and out of place in our brave new world.

As you rightly pointed out, a major driver of these issues is the 'client', the parent(s) therefore if their tuition value-views alter, the service providers will also need to change.

By Tayo, Thailand (26th May 2010)

Great blog Phil!
I'm sad to say we still do get the occasional job ad that says 'white teachers only' or worse still - "no black teachers" but they are now very few and far between compared to past years. Perhaps the penny has finally dropped. I do make a point of sending an abrupt, some would say 'rather nasty' e-mail to such advertisers and they usually apologize and feel overwhelmed with embarrassment. In most cases, the person who has been given the task of posting the ad is some lowly admin person who genuinely feels there is nothing wrong in putting "no black teachers please" in a job description. It's all about educating people and explaining that you are not allowed to do these things in this day and age.

I have always sympathized with older teachers who are struggling to find work and realising that age is definitely the barrier. I'm fast approaching fifty myself (OK I'm 46 but time just flies) and I do feel less marketable, at least as far as teaching is concerned. I once worked with a teacher well into his 70's and while he wasn't God's gift to the teaching profession (we could never knock the lecturer mindset out of him) you could never fault his energy level.

By philip, (26th May 2010)

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