TEFL Equity Advocates

In today’ s world, the lottery of birth would appear to be at the forefront of many areas of political issues. Who we are born to, the socio-economic background we are blessed with and the country that we automatically belong to is likely to have consequences that shape our futures. Discrimination based on gender, wealth and nationality can be observed worldwide and unfortunately, the world of TEFL/ELT is also a victim of this, with perhaps the most effected group seen as being our “non-native” teachers. Regardless of these teachers potentially possessing all the necessary attributes and qualifications of an exemplary teacher, the failure to be born in an English speaking country is likely to mark their careers from the very start.

Truth be told, I only stumbled across TEFL Equity Advocates a few months back. Founded three years ago, TEA fights for equal employment opportunities for both native and non native teachers. More information can be found here at http://www.teflequityadvocates.com

As a Director of Studies of a TEFL training centre, I have had the privilege of training many fabulous individuals over the years. Of the 500 plus trainees I have had the pleasure of shaping, I have seen everything from poor, fear-provoking classes, to outstanding masterpieces, and while many factors may influence the performance in the classroom, the “nativeness” of the teacher has never been one of them. Yet many agencies and academies around the world constantly place ads for “native speakers” placing this one attribute above pedagogical skill, personal attributes or qualifications.

Whilst I absolutely agree that employers need to be challenged regarding their job ads and employment policies, I also firmly believe that attitudes should be challenged from “grass roots” upwards. Not only do non-native teachers need to be aware that they have every right to be employed in the same way as a native teacher, but native speakers should also be aware that non-natives have every right to this same entitlement. At my TEFL training centre, the PED team is compromised of five trainers, two of whom are non-natives. As a team we all teach grammar, soft skills, observe classes and give feedback. It is our experience and certification in the field that qualify us for the job. While I hope that my trainee teachers graduate the course with increased pedagogical knowledge, confidence in their performance and with an ability to self-reflect, perhaps my biggest hope is that unfair attitudes are shattered before they have even been formed. By having a mixed training team, I truly hope we are sending the right message to our trainees; that where you are lucky enough to be born has absolutely no bearing on how successful we can become as a teacher, not should it influence the opportunities you have for development within the sector.

Thank you TEFL Equity Advocates for striving for a more just world!

Can a 4 week TEFL/CELTA course ever be enough?

Yesterday marked the end of my Masters with a rather nerve-wracking oral defence. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, it saw me presenting my thesis to a panel of professors, followed by fifteen minutes of questions in which your research, findings and conclusions must be defended. While my thesis explored areas that may be of immense interest to other teacher trainers (and will therefore appear in a future post) it was the questioning on behalf of the panel of professors that has fuelled today’ s blog post.

One of the members of the panel was based in Argentina and was actually rather unfamiliar with the concept of a four week TEFL program. This was due to the preference of Argentinians to gain placement in the public system, forcing them to attend four year programs to qualify as teachers. Her final, and closing, question has resonated since the defence ended.

Can four weeks ever be enough?

As a Director of Studies at a TEFL training centre, there is no denying what amazing transformations can take place within four weeks. Trainees begin the course with little to no knowledge in the field of ESL teaching. Over four weeks we see their knowledge base grow, their confidence soar, their self-reflection techniques develop and their ability to adapt in the classroom strengthen. Without doubt, it is witnessing these transformations that provide the most satisfaction from my job.  Trainees graduate feeling capable and confident in the classroom.

However, while growth on the course cannot be disputed, how do teachers grow when “released” into the industry to begin teaching independently? Here in Madrid, the answer to this question may appear to be rather worrying.

Little ongoing professional development occurs here with ESL teachers. At my training centre, OPD sessions are offered every Friday, covering  a range of topics from teaching phonetics, teaching business English, telephone teaching and classroom management. What do the agencies and academies that recruit teachers actually offer in terms of OPD? The answer, unfortunately, is very little. Prior to entering the world of teacher training, my 5 years working in the field offered me absolutely no opportunities for training. No courses, no meetings, no conferences. My only source of development and training was through my own motivation to read and acquire knowledge.

Some weeks ago I took to facebook to ask my graduates to tell me how many times they had received feedback through observed classes since leaving the TEFL course. I received almost 60 responses, of which only 12 teachers had ever been observed since leaving the course. Some of the teachers that had never been observed had been teaching in Madrid for up to three years. Three years……..no observations……..no feedback. Teaching here in Madrid can be a rather solitary affair. You plan on your own and execute classes on your own. We develop our own methods, our own “go to” activities. What prompts do we receive (apart from those form our students) to question our methods?

Observations are crucial – not for assessment purposes but to encourage ongoing development. In the words of Hughes & Vass (2001, p.231), “the biggest and most underused resource that teachers have is each other.” As well as Director of Studies observing teachers, teachers should be watching each other, to gain new ideas, question their own skills and techniques and to share expertise.

How many jobs can you think of where no ongoing training is given? Why do ESL teachers not receive the same degree of ongoing training as their secondary, primary and infant teacher counterparts? I think this is a serious question that requires consideration.

With such a lack of ongoing development, an even greater pressure and responsibility is placed on teacher trainers: responsibility to provide potential employers with highly skilled teachers, responsibility to provide the very youngest members of society with language teachers who will shape their futures and the responsibility to ensure that all trainee teachers embark on their new careers with confidence and self-belief.

Can a four week TEFL program ever be enough? Absolutely not – and it shouldn’t be. TEFL offers a wonderful basic package of skills, techniques and teaching awareness. It cannot be the only source of training for those who later invest years into the world of ESL teaching. To support our teachers, inspire them and give them a need for growth, a much more united front is required. It is in the best interest of recruiters for them to train, support and encourage development in their teachers. This may further spark teachers’ individual interests in the area of personal growth. Not only do we owe that to our teachers, we owe it to our students and clients too.

What ongoing development is offered in your part of the world? I would love to hear your comments and ideas J


Hughes, M., Vass, A. (2001). Strategies for closing the learning gap. London: A&C Black.