I honestly feel that now is the time non-native speakers should be paid fairly in the Thai TEFL field. By fairly I mean linked to their qualifications, skills and English ability.
I’m proud to work for a school where skills and ability matter more than nationality and we pay our teachers equally. Hopefully more schools will follow soon.
This great article from Cosmo Philippines shows that some non-native speakers are making as much, if not more, than some native speakers - but there is still a long way to go.
There will of course be the usual bunch of people who cry out “but they have bad accents” or “the parents and students want Americans and Brits only” and even “They don’t really know how to use English”. The point I’m making is that non-native speakers should be paid based on skills and experience that dispel some of the above arguments.
One point I want to make crystal clear is this is not an article arguing about which countries are native / non-native speaking countries. For the ease of understanding I’m basing native speakers as those listed by the authorities here in Thailand regardless of my personal opinion of what constitutes a native speaker.
The South Africa argument
There are a lot of South Africans teaching English here in Thailand. It’s vary rare that people raise an eye at having a teacher from South Africa but the Thai government does not include them on their pre-approved list of native English speakers.
South African teachers have to take a TOEIC test before they are allowed to teach here. If someone from the Philippines or Italy can pass a TOEIC to the same level then I guess they have the same English ability as a South African or any native English speaker.
What I’m saying is that if a non-native teacher can score 95%+ on a TOEIC exam then I guess the “they can’t use English” argument falls on its face.
Some will say that an exam is not the same as using spoken English. That is true but at an interview it should become clear whether a non-native speaker can use spoken English well.
When I’m in the classroom I make the odd grammatical slip or spell a word wrong here and there. Nitpicking on non-native speakers who make a few mistakes is not fair as we all make them. At the other end, if a non-native speaker gets a score of 75% on an exam then it should be reflected in the jobs they can do and the salary offered.
If a non-native speaker gets an acceptable score in their language exam and has a degree or masters in education then surely they are better suited to teach English than a native speaker with zero teaching experience or qualifications? As such shouldn’t they be offered the same, if not greater pay?
Of course if a non-native speaker doesn’t have teaching qualifications or scores poorly in an English exam then they should be paid a lower rate or not hired. It’s all about fairness.
I’ve been lucky to work with a couple of non-native speakers in TEFL who have masters in education and related fields. I’ve learned so much from them and I would readily admit they have more experience and subject knowledge than me. They are paid the same salary as me and a few earn more as they have been at the school longer.
As the interviewees in the Cosmo article say, well qualified non-native speakers should know their worth and not settle for less.
I wrote an article here on Ajarn about teachers' accents when learning English. Overall I feel it is a benefit for students to learn from teachers with a wide range of accents. Thai students won’t only speak English with people from London and California. They will speak English with other non-native speakers as well as those from Canada, Australia etc.
The chance to have great, well qualified teachers from Italy, Brazil, Myanmar, Kenya etc will only benefit students in the long term.
Many Thai students I’ve spoken to say they find it difficult to understand teachers from outside America as they’ve been brought up on Hollywood movies and American music. It takes time for them to adapt to British, Australian and other accents – the same applies to non-native speaker accents.
Of course if a teacher has a poor accent and is not understandable at all they should not be hired. This applies to both native and non-native speakers.
Someone’s accent shouldn’t be the reason to pay them 50% less than another teacher.
But the parents and schools want Brits and Americans..
I think this argument depends on the school. Sure some schools have a policy of hiring only teachers from certain countries. Other schools are open to any nationality.
When it comes to government schools there is an under supply of teachers so we should encourage well qualified non-native teachers to come here by offering equal salaries to native speaking teachers. 15,000 baht a month for someone with a degree in education, great TOEIC score and experience using English is a kick in the teeth. Pay the going rate of 30-40,000 baht a month and better teachers will come here.
Bilingual schools offer a multitude of classes in English. They often need teachers with experience of teaching other subjects such as maths, history and science. I personally know a few non-native speaking teachers working in bilingual schools. Some make the same as their native speaking peers whilst others make less. Most of these teachers feel appreciated and well respected at their school.
International schools are much stricter with teacher recruitment. A large majority of native speaking teachers in Thailand wouldn’t be qualified to work in an international school. If it’s a British school or American school then you can understand why schools choose teachers from their respective countries.
However there is the example in the Cosmo article of the Filipino teacher working in an international school making $60,000 a year so it’s certainly possible for non native speaking teachers to work in these schools. Again qualifications and experience are important when working in the international school sector.
Parents care a lot about their children’s education, especially if they’re paying a fortune for it. I understand that some schools take heed of parent’s warnings and stick to Brits and Americans but this isn’t the case nationwide. Non-native speakers should accept that they may need to be flexible to find a good employer.
I’ve worked with teachers from Poland, Italy, Myanmar, South Africa, the Philippines and China. The students who have been taught by these teachers have given great feedback. Over my five and a half years here I’ve never heard a student comment or complain about a teacher just because of the country they’re from. Perhaps this is because these teachers all have a native level of English and appropriate qualifications.
I’m sure there are examples of students and parents complaining about the non-native teacher because of their nationality. These complaints might be about accent, teaching style or English ability. Again I’m not saying that some of these claims are unjustified in terms of English ability. If a non-native teacher is teaching incorrectly and making lots of mistakes I can understand the student’s frustrations. However, those who do meet standards should be rewarded with fair pay.
What’s keeping wages down?
Well firstly we can see there are some non-native speakers here making equal money, if not more, than native speakers. The problem is these jobs are not easy to find.
There are also many well qualified non-native teachers who accept low salaries as they feel it’s their only option or don’t fight for higher pay. Perhaps it’s agencies pushing the agenda to schools that they shouldn’t pay teachers from certain countries 30,000 baht a month regardless of their qualifications.
Also looking at the Cosmo article, one teacher states in the Philippines she could earn around 18,000 PHP ( about 10,200 THB ) a month. Making 15-20,000 baht probably sounds quite good for new arrivals. Like native speakers there are probably a steady stream of people happy to come here for a year or two on lower salaries as they feel they are getting a pretty good deal.
Fair salaries – what’s not to like?
I don’t think anyone could argue that well qualified, capable non-native speakers should get equal salaries. To do so would show ignorance or perhaps something much worse. When it comes to it, if someone speaks English to a native level, has great teaching skills and experience, they shouldn't be discriminated against purely based on their nationality.
In the end, schools are free to choose who to hire, but I hope in the future that skills and ability will be more important in the TEFL field when deciding salaries than a person’s home country.
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