I’ve been in Santiago, Panama for the last 10 days,
facilitating a 2-week Training of Trainers session for Peace Corps
staff. There are 15
participants from 10 countries including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Micronesia,
Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Samoa, Tonga, Ukraine, and the United States.
Despite the far flung nature of the participants we find we
share much in common. In most of
the countries represented it is difficult for English teachers to find full-time work and when they can find full time work, it is often either without
benefits or the pay is so low that the teachers must take a second (or even a
third!) job. In almost all
countries there is a severe shortage of texts and in many countries a culture of
reading is not widely developed, due to under resourced educational systems and simply a lack of affordable books.
On the other hand, in almost every one of the countries, there is an absolute mania to learn English, and far and away most teachers really care about finding ways to make learning more effective and engaging. Our students, while not always angels, respect us and genuinely want to learn.
This gap is disappointing. The demand for English is unquestionable. Governments regularly list a command of English among 21st Century Workplace Skills. Daily more and more interactions are conducted in English between people who are not native speakers of English. Despite this, too many English teachers strain to make a living wage—or to obtain the benefits that make up part of a living wage.
True, in the rush to provide English language services too many teachers have been pressed into service as English teachers without proper
teacher education and in some cases without sufficient English
proficiency. On the other hand there are many dedicated, qualified English language teachers that deserve more. What can we do?
First it is clear that the native speaker fallacy (that native English speakers are “naturally” the best teachers) hurts us all. Internationally, native English speakers abroad often earn more than educated, experienced English teachers in the country in question. In English-dominant countries like the United States, the notion that being a native English speaker is “good enough” to be an English language teacher depresses wages despite demand.
Education is part of the solution. We need to inform governments and the general public that you need to know how to teach—and teach ENGLISH to help students learn English effectively. Being a native speaker is no magic bullet. Second, I think we must stand up and always show ourselves as the professionals we are. We have worked hard to be well-educated, experienced teachers. If we show the results of that every day, we will make progress to better compensation for us all. It won’t happen today, but we can build for tomorrow.
What is your employment situation like?