Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL (NNEST) Caucus was first proposed in 1996 and officially established as one of six caucuses in TESOL in 1998. Here are two articles by our first president, George Braine, which take us through the journey of how this caucus came to exist:
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
In a delightful article in The New Yorker, the Indian-born doctor Abraham Verghese recalls an incident which occurred soon after his arrival in the United States. Emboldened by his medical abilities and high scores in the required examinations, Verghese is confident of obtaining an internship at a "Plymouth Rock" hospital affiliated to a prestigious medical school. However, a more experienced compatriot warns him that these hospitals "have never taken a foreign medical graduate" and advises Verghese "not even to bother with that kind of place." Instead, he is told to apply to more humble "Ellis Island" hospitals, those situated in inner-cities and rural areas, which American doctors avoid. "We are" Verghese's compatriot continues, "like a transplanted organ--lifesaving and desperately needed, but rejected because we are foreign tissue. But, as they say in America, tough .... ."
Although many foreign medical graduates eventually get internships, filling positions that Americans refuse to accept, NNS English teachers are less fortunate in finding employment. What chances do foreigners have in a market glutted with American teachers willing to accept even low-paying adjunct jobs with heavy workloads? Further, as Alexander Jenin's frank and timely complaint shows, for many NNS English teachers, qualifications, ability, and experience are of little help in the job market.
Especially at the Masters degree level, where most ELT jobs are restricted to intensive English programs, few NNS have succeeded in breaking the unwritten rule "No NNS need apply." Despite the TESOL organization's explicit opposition to hiring practices that discriminate against NNS, most intensive program administrators (with some notable exceptions) do not hire NNS. In fact, some administrators have openly stated so at professional conferences and job interviews.
The most frequent excuse for this discrimination is that ESL students prefer to being taught by NS. About ten years ago, despite resistance from NS colleagues, I was hired to teach part-time in an intensive English program. About two weeks after classes began, two students complained about my accent and requested transfers to classes taught by NS. Some ESL students naively subscribe to the native-speaker fallacy--that the ideal English teacher is a NS. This belief stems mainly from their frustration with incompetent, barely proficient English teachers in their own countries, and is especially evident in intensive English programs, in which these newly arrived students enroll. When I later taught at a US university, ESL students flocked to my first year and advanced writing classes, relishing the support of fellow ESL students and a NNS teacher, who they said would better understand their language problems.
Another frequently cited reason for not hiring NNS English teachers is the complex legal process that employers must go through in order to recruit foreigners. For instance, the Immigration and Naturalization Service requires proof that by hiring the foreigner ("alien," in immigration jargon), the employer is not depriving an American citizen of employment. Despite this complicated and sometimes frustrating process, most intensive program administrators are also members of NAFSA, an organization which assists them with current immigration procedures. Further, most foreign employees are willing to bear the legal cost of the process, with an army of immigration lawyers competing for their business!
Perhaps the main reason is never explicitly stated but nevertheless apparent. A fairly recent phenomenon in Western academia is the increasing presence of foreigners, as teachers, researchers, and scholars, in almost every discipline, including ELT. Although this is only to be expected--there are at least four NNS to every native-speaker of English, it is naturally resented when scarce jobs are threatened. Many administrators and teachers appear to view ELT as the last domain of the NS, to be defended at any cost. This attitude is highly ironic, considering the professions' strident championing of multiculturalism, diversity, and other sociopolitical causes, often on behalf of ESL students and immigrants. Although ESL students are praised and admired for the multiculturalism and diversity they bring into language classes, NNS English teachers, who can also contribute their rich multicultural, multilingual experiences, are often barred from the same classes. Paradoxically, NNS teachers are usually better treated by the often reviled administrators of English Departments, who care less for accent than for ability and experience.
A further irony is that NNS English teachers who return to their countries after qualifying in the West are not always able to find work. Some language program administrators, notably in Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, prefer to hire unqualified NS instead of qualified locals. The classified pages of newspapers in these countries are strewn with advertisements for "native English speakers." Exposed to such propaganda day after day, the minds of parents and students are brainwashed and the native-speaker fallacy is perpetuated. Indeed, we in ELT inhabit a weird landscape. A colleague in Hong Kong was once asked how she could teach English, since she is American. Another American friend, being interviewed for a private tutor position over the phone, was turned down because she did not have a "British" accent.
Jenin and others like him are in the bewildering and frustrating position of being denied what they have been trained to do. How can they respond in these circumstances? First, they should accept that the playing field will not be level for NNS English teachers, that they will have to struggle twice as hard to achieve what often comes as a birthright to their NS counterparts: recognition of their teaching ability and respect for their scholarship. Often, teaching ability alone will not suffice for employment or career advancement. They must grow as professionals, taking active roles and assuming leadership in teacher organizations, initiating research (even on a small scale), sharing their ideas through publications, and learning to network with NNS colleagues.
Like I did, they will meet courageous administrators who will see beyond their accents and pronunciation, mentors who will promote their careers, and colleagues who will support their research and publication efforts. The ELT profession is segregated and the competition for jobs is fierce, but a glance at the scholarship in ELT shows how much NNS have achieved. Further afield, in current fiction, the technical mastery of V.S. Naipaul, the magical prose of Salman Rushdie, the subtle brilliance of Kazuo Ishiguro, and the million dollar book contract of Arundhati Roy are proof that mastery of the English language is within everyone's reach.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
I am delighted to inform readers that the TESOL Board of Directors has approved the formation of the Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus. We are grateful to TESOL's Board of Directors and especially to Kathi Bailey, President of TESOL, for their support.
The place of nonnative speakers as English teachers has probably been an issue as long as English has been taught internationally. Although many TESOL members are nonnative speakers, their role in TESOL is not always visible, recognized, or encouraged. To bring more visibility to nonnative speaker issues, I organized a colloquium titled "In Their Own Voices: Non-native Speaker Professionals in TESOL" at the 30th Annual TESOL Convention held in Chicago in 1996. The highly charged, mainly personal narratives of the speakers generated much interest and enthusiasm among nonnative speakers in the audience; many claimed that they finally had a voice. First proposed at the Chicago colloquium, the caucus has become a reality within 2 short years mainly because of Jun Liu of the University of Arizona and Lia Kamhi-Stein of California State University, Los Angeles, who tirelessly publicized and gathered signatures for the proposed caucus. Meanwhile, the Chicago colloquium has spawned five other colloquia at subsequent TESOL conventions and inspired an anthology titled Non-Native Educators in English Language Teaching to be published shortly by Lawrence Erlbaum.
Despite the TESOL organization's opposition to such discrimination in hiring practices, nonnative speaker English teachers continue to face discrimination in obtaining employment. Although most native speaker colleagues are supportive, some administrators and colleagues appear to view English language teaching as the sole domain of native speakers. This attitude is highly ironic, considering our profession's strident championing of multiculturalism, diversity, and other worthy sociopolitical causes, often on behalf of ESL students and immigrants.
Although ESL students are praised and admired for the multiculturalism and diversity they bring into language classes, nonnative English teachers, who can also contribute their rich multicultural, multilingual experiences, are often barred from the same classes. As a result, many nonnative speaker English teachers feel the pressure of low morale and self-esteem, lack of recognition, and marginalization. As professionals involved in teaching English, we need to address these and other issues related to the role of nonnative speakers in the profession. The overall aim of the caucus will be to strengthen effective teaching and learning of English around the world while respecting individuals' language rights.
The major goals of the caucus are:
- to create a nondiscriminatory professional environment for all TESOL members regardless of native language and place of birth,
- to encourage the formal and informal gatherings of nonnative speakers at TESOL and affiliate conferences,
- to encourage research and publications on the role of nonnative speaker teachers in ESL and EFL contexts, and
- to promote the role of nonnative speaker members in TESOL and affiliate leadership positions.
Membership is open to all interested TESOL members, both native and nonnative speakers of English alike!