How To Fight Stereotypes In EFL

I recently got a substantial comment from a teacher who came up against some serious stereotypes in Vietnam – which was in fact the country he was born in. I’d encourage you to read the comment in full; I don’t want to put my own spin on it by paraphrasing or quoting.

I’m mostly at a loss for what to say. I think most of us can agree that stereotypes or discrimination or however you want to categorize experiences like the ones Mike T. describes are not good. What makes it even more difficult for me to speak about is that I realize that teachers who do fit the expected mold – including me – often benefit from these stereotypes, even if we don’t agree with them.

My teaching has been done in Europe and briefly in the US, and I don’t necessarily look any different from a local teacher or how students expect a native speaker to look – but there is a good chance that – in some places at least – I’ve been paid more or received different benefits or simply had different or easier expectations put on me for this essentially arbitrary difference. I suspect in many countries local teachers make less than native speaker when they do essentially the same work, or even more work, possibly with comparable qualifications.

Granted, there are supply and demand factors at work; there exists a greater demand for native speakers – and often those who look a certain way – than there are native speakers who fit that role. Native speakers often pay for their own flights and end up eventually relocating back to their own countries, where they may be at a financial disadvantage despite their relatively higher pay abroad. But in, say, the 1950’s US, economic excuses for discrimination were just that – excuses. It’s perhaps difficult to single out “who’s to blame”for discrimination when it happens among English teachers, but I feel strongly that economic concerns don’t justify it.

This is a big issue of course and is much wider than teaching English. Can those of us who don’t face discrimination in this way – but who still are not in decision-making positions – do anything about it?

The best I can think of is to acknowledge these issues; they may not exist everywhere but when and where they do, they are very real and very unfair. On the positive side, I’d like to give a virtual high five to teachers who have persevered despite these difficulties.