Let's talk about Filipinos who work as English teachers in Thailand. Are they native speakers? Are they good teachers? Do they have the right to be angry when their job applications are turned down because of their nationality? Are there any job opportunities for them in Thailand? Are they well-paid? What do Thais think of them? Read on and find out.
I know a lot has already been said and written about the topic and the debate can get quite heated at times. I don’t want to join in but just give my personal view on the situation.
First of all, the 64,000 dollar question: Are Filipinos native speakers? Let’s not beat around the bush: NO, they are not. I’m very sorry, but the national language of the Philippines is Tagalog and that is most, if not all, Filipinos’ first language. Even though a lot of them speak very good English, they are technically not native speakers.
Next, are they good teachers? Well, I don’t know that many Filipino teachers personally, but from what I’ve heard they can be excellent teachers. They can teach just about anyone, but seem to be especially good at teaching young learners. They don’t mind teaching children and are able to teach large groups of them. They are quite flexible when it comes to working hours. Their motto might be “the more hours, the better”. I don’t have a clue about their reliability, but I don’t think many of them call in sick often or ask for unreasonable amounts of time off.
Do they have the right to get angry when their job applications are turned down because of the fact that they are Filipino? This one is a more difficult question to answer.
Most top international schools, a lot of prestigious secondary schools that offer bilingual education or an English programme, and some up-market language schools only hire native speakers. It’s their policy. They know that if parents pay huge amounts of money for their offspring’s education, they want to see white faces teaching English in the classroom. They don’t hire Filipinos.
Does that mean that Filipinos are being discriminated? I don’t think there is a widespread discrimination towards Filipinos, because just outside of the spectrum of the above mentioned educational institutions, there are plenty of job opportunities. Thai primary and secondary schools and a lot of language schools actually employ thousands of Filipinos teachers.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, apart from Thai teachers of English, Filipinos make up the biggest contingent of foreign English teachers.
In my opinion, Filipinos sometimes get agitated because of the general attitude towards them. I agree that it can get frustrating when your umpteenth job application is turned down. You pick up the phone to try to find out why your services are not wanted and you are told that the school doesn’t hire Filipino teachers. You argue that your English is good and that you’re a good teacher, but deep down you know it’s just water down the drain. Sounds familiar? Starting to get angry? Just wait a second.
Maybe you should have read the job requirements better. A lot of schools want their teachers to have a degree, possibly a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA, and only hire native speakers. If you applied for a job without meeting the job requirements and subsequently got turned down, I don’t think there is any reason to cry foul. By the way, most schools only contact short-listed candidates, so it might be a good idea to phone first before spamming scores of employers with your CV, cover letter and graduation pictures.
Let me go on and expose some darker sides of society concerning foreign teachers.
I have a suspicion that some non-native foreign teachers sometimes get frustrated because they don’t really get the recognition they deserve. It is not unusual for Thai parents to look down upon non-farang teachers of English. It’s completely unrelated to the quality of the teachers involved and has everything to do with face.
Parents will gain a huge amount of face when they can tell their family and friends that little Somchai is being taught by Mike, a fair-haired, blue-eyed farang teacher from the USA, compared to a very small amount of face when the teacher is brown-skinned Felicito from the Philippines.
Some parents bring their children to the language school I work in for extra tuition, often because their English isn’t good enough to follow lessons in class. Sometimes the parents add with a sorrowful expression on their face that “the children have a Filipino teacher at school”.
I usually start by reassuring them that there is nothing wrong with Filipino teachers, on the contrary. In fact, I think (but don’t say to the parents) that those children are bloody lucky to have a Filipino teacher and not a Thai teacher of English.
It’s a well-known fact that the English proficiency of Thai teachers is usually not as good as that of non-native foreign teachers. I have to agree with the patents though that it is always a good idea to get some extra lessons for students with low English skills. Nobody can do miracles in a classroom where there are more than twenty students, not even Filipino teachers.
If given the choice, parents will undoubtedly choose unqualified Harald from Denmark, who has never taught anyone in his whole life and who thinks EFL stands for European Football League, over Felicito, even when the latter is a top-class children’s teachers with all the necessary qualifications and a better accent than the aforementioned smorrebrod. By the way, I’ve got nothing whatsoever against Scandinavian teachers, it was just an example. Actually, I’ve got nothing against any teacher, as long as they behave professionally and do a good job. Unfortunately, the customer is always right.
Finally, there is the salary. Schools that employ Filipinos as well as Thai and Western teachers often have a three-tiered pay scale, with Thais at the lower end and Westerners at the higher end.
If a Thai teacher makes let’s say 10,000 baht a month, the school would probably pay a Western teacher around 30,000 baht and try to get away with paying the Filipino teachers around 20,000 baht. Is this fair? Well, on the one hand Filipinos aren’t native speakers, so a slightly lower salary might be justified. On the other hand, non-native Western teachers are paid as much as native speakers, so it’s not justified. Western non-native speakers are paid as much as native speakers because they have an extra quality Asian don’t possess: their skin colour. Is this fair? Probably not, but that’s the way it is and it’s not about to change overnight.
If the aforementioned (fictitious) school pays the Filipino teacher 25,000 baht, I guess that quite reasonable. Should they try to get away with paying a salary of 15,000 baht or less a month, that’s robbery. Also, let’s not forget that Thai teachers are often paid what some would call a pittance. This is true if you compare their salary to that of foreign teachers. In Thai society though, it’s unfortunately not thought of as unusually low, it’s a normal salary. Considering some Thai teachers’ English proficiency, it’s probably way too much.