Assumptions About Native Speaker Teachers

A recent blog post on “unqualified” native speaker teachers in China got me thinking more about expectations on both sides when a native speaker teacher is involved. It’s my opinion that one of the most frustrating situations along these lines is when there is some vague, mostly unspoken notion that native speakers and local teachers do actually have different roles, even though there is no explicit distinction made…and it’s taken for granted that the native speakers can’t possibly know anything about teaching or grammar.

I once heard a school owner tell a teacher – who happened to be a native speaker – with seven years experience that “We [meaning “not you”] understand how learning happens. It’s fine when it’s all fun and games, but when it comes to actually learning something, well…”, followed by a head shake.

She told him he would need to participate in a training course with the other new teachers, most of whom were university students of English language without any previous experience, certificate, or, obviously, college degrees. They had been chosen, incidentally, to save the school tax money. In the same seminar, the teacher leading it was at a loss for words when, upon her request for ideas, I suggested this cool “crack the code” activity. After a pause, she finally came up with a shocked “That’s a good idea.”

I can, in fact, admit and deal with the fact that there are lots of people with more knowledge and experience than me. But it can be pretty disheartening to be nearly totally dismissed on the assumption that you can’t possibly be a “real teacher”…especially in situations where experience, qualifications and a demo lesson are required. While not every native speaker may want to function as a conversation teacher, I generally think it’s preferable if employers make a point of outlining duties and responsibilities and so on, rather than assuming that native speakers “just can’t do” some things.