Are You A “Real” Teacher?

At a school Christmas party, I was recently asked if I was a teacher. By a local teacher of English who knew I was employed by the school and taught classes for them. She was a nice person and I’m sure she didn’t mean to imply that I wasn’t in fact a teacher, she may have been more interested in knowing what I did at home, but this illustrates something which can become quite an issue in an environment with both local and native speaker teachers.

Some native speaker teachers like to press the point that they think you need to be a native speaker to be a good teacher. I disagree with this: a person’s native language is hardly the determining factor in making them a good teacher or not. There are plenty of people who make a mockery of teaching by assuming that their status as native speakers means they don’t need to prepare. Also, people who teach history or biology or math generally don’t have some innate knowledge of the subject: they learn it and pass on the knowledge, just as non-native speakers of English do with this language. Being a good teacher doesn’t depend on being a respective “native” of your subject – it depends on what you do in the classroom.

By the same token, it’s not correct to assume that someone is not a “real” teacher because they are a native speaker.

In many ways it’s more work to analyze a language which you just “know” and haven’t formally learned. I put time and effort into preparing lessons that are helpful, clear, interesting and motivating to my students, and I find it a little condescending when people assume that I’m getting paid the same salary as them for simply walking into a classroom and doing nothing more than opening my mouth.

The impetus for changing these unfair generalizations needs to come from both sides: native speaker teachers as a group need to take responsibility for their work and be sure to take it seriously, and non-native speakers perhaps need to hold their judgment until they have a chance to see their native speaking colleagues actually perform.