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February 01, 2006

Workplace Issues - Discrimination & the ESL Market: Who Are Actually Getting The Jobs?

"We are each burdened with prejudice; against the poor or the rich, the smart or the slow, the gaunt or the obese. It is natural to develop prejudices. It is noble to rise above them." ~ Author Unknown


Have you, or someone you've known, faced discrimination in the ESL marketplace? Lately there's been plenty of buzz on the internet about various types of unfair hiring practices in the ESL industry. For Instance . . .

. . . over on ESL-Jobs-Forum, an entire area of the forum has been set aside to discuss the issue [HERE]. There are posts on examples of race, nationality, sex, gender, orientation, and even weight discrimination in ESL schools across the globe. Some people are even claiming that having a child hinders the hiring prospects for ESL teaching.

For example, in a thread entitled "Age Discrimination in Hiring?," a user named "ridgerunner6" wrote "I am a highly experienced ESL pro and am having problems finding work due to age discrimination." He is answered by a "canuckophile" that agrees "Yes, there is age discrimination in Korea." Consider the remarks of "susanmholman":

I was a single mom for many years. I decided that once both my kids were in college, I'd start my amazing career as an EFL teacher. Little did I know the descrimination [sic] I'd face. The school I chose said that it was easy for an American to get a job in Italy. American English, afterall [sic], is rapidly becoming the 'world' language. Wrong! You have to have EU working papers to be employed in the EU. The Catch-22 is that you have to be employed in the EU before you can get EU working papers. The other item no one ever happened to mention is the age factor. I'm continuously told that I don't look my age and I have my photo on my cv (but not my birthdate.) I've had several offers from schools around the world until they saw the date on my passport, never to be heard from again. I'm only 47, but you'd think I was 100. Whatever happened to wisdom that comes with experience.

Nationality can be an issue too when some school specifically request, for example, British citizens or American citizens over other nationalities. The discrimination is most evident, it seems, against non-native speakers who are quite often more qualified as ESL instructors than their native-speaking counterparts. In this thread entitled, "When the ad says "native" speakers only!" The opinions are all over the place on this one. One commenter said, "A native speaker will recognise another native speaker but no amount of qualifications will make a person into a native speaker." On the other side of the coin, poster "Liu_wan-shan" told readers, "I had been greatly discouraged upon seeing almost all ads with "native speakers only" and receiving no replies from my numerous applications. I was thinking that maybe ESL is really meant for those few races only."

With regards to race, a poll is currently being conducted on the issue in a separate thread called "Is the ESL / EFL Industry Racist?" In "Skin Color," user "praiz" was desperate enough to ask, "Will someone please tell me if there are any schools or private language institutes in Japan and Korea that will take native born speakers who do not have a pink or white complexion?"

But, it doesn't stop with age, race and nationality. Sex and gender play an important role for employers, apparently, in many parts of the world. In a thread called "Women teachers wanted in Asia?," user "mikara.travel" asks, "what is with the high number of Asia job givers asking for only women native speakers? " Poster "pauldadd999" confirms this notion with "Being a male teacher, I have seen this discrimination during the two years I was in Korea."

While we must admit that discrimination exists everywhere on the planet, even in Western countries, is this something that ESL teachers should stand for when they accept work in the "guiltiest" of countries? Is it a type of colonialism to force western ideas of "human rights" on countries who claim to be getting along just fine with these foreign "ideals?"

Some teachers are "fitting the bill," so to speak, but fall short of desirability when they show up with their children in tow. More and more, ESL job-seekers like "Max Gonzalez" are asking about "child friendly" employers and destinations in threads such as "Child Friendly Employers." In "Teaching Abroad with kids," ESL job applicants ask legitimate questions of their peers like, "I have a 3 year old daughter but I want to teach in latin america [sic] is it wise to bring her with me [?]"

In my own thread of discussion, "Discrimination in ESL of all types: Who is responsible?" I try to find out which element fuels the fire: is it the people themselves? Does the market itself determine what it wants from an ESL instructor? An excerpt:

There's been a lot of talk about the topic of racism in the ESL industry in [various threads]. Some other issues were brought up, such as chauvinism, sexism and ageism, as sources of discrimination . . . Take a look at the poll I added [HERE] . . . It's not uncommon that many of us (as evidenced in the [various threads]) have either witnessed or been victims of race discrimination in the ESL industry (especially in some parts of the world). But, how about age discrimination, sex discrimination (of either sex) and gender-preference/sexual-preference discrimination? What about other types of "appearance" based discrimination, "weight" issues, for example?

Many of the previous posts have been doing the finger-pointing at the ESL industry itself for being discriminatory. I've argued for the possibility that perhaps it is the market itself that is discriminatory; the industry, in many cases, just complies to that demand.

But what about this other factor? What if the nation itself sets up the discriminatory "rules"? Who is to blame then?

Maybe I'm way off base here, so please feel free to correct my perspective if you see a logical flaw. Sure, a country is free to stipulate any kind of rules it wants for foreign workers. But does this mean we can say they don't discriminate?

The industry, the population, or the government? Who is to blame folks? And why?

Patricia Dean, on ESL-School, asks "What Influences ESL Students in their Choice of School?" Could it be the "authenticity" of a schools native-speakers that attract the most students? Allowing for exceptions, are ESL students, on the whole, more compelled to take lessons from teachers of a certain age, a certain skin color? What's your experience been?

Perhaps questions such as these will never be answered but at least they can be properly addressed. There's more opinions out there than there is space on this server to re-print them all.

Over on the English-blog, one researcher has asked me for specific information regarding the issue of discrimination in ESL venues. Jeremy Lignelli, a MA TESOL graduate student, left me comment HERE asking for "information, statistics, web pages, personal accounts, etc." for research on his Ph.D. dissertation on Discrimination in ESL. When the publications become commonplace, and the issue is out in the forefront, will the industry finally do something about it?

Please offer your own remarks on this highly controversial matter in the comment box below. Why are representatives of certain nations who do not openly and publicly espouse hiring discrimination as a just practice freely accepting work (and pay) in countries that do? Is this a kind of reverse, or backwards diplomacy? What kind of mixed-messages are "politically correct" (sarcasm) Western native speakers, for example, sending the world if they can also be perceived as only reinforcing certain stereotypes?

Until next time,

Lee Hobbs
Editor-in-Chief, ESLemployment.com
Blog: http://www.english-blog.com

Looking for more articles that focus on workplace issues specific to ESL? Click HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at February 1, 2006 04:41 PM

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» When English Teaching Promotes Cultural Imperialism from [The] English-Blog [.com]
McWorld [or] the Disneyfication of the planet. If imperialism of any kind is dangerous and undesirable then why do we continually hear of cases when a thriving language market, like that of Post-Communist Europe for example, seems to want this element... [Read More]

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» The ESL Industry: Them and Us from ESL School
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» Why is Job Discrimination Such an Important Issue in ESL? from [The] English-Blog [.com]
Don't think ESOL discrimination is limited to other countries! I know of a certain individual who was a super ESL teacher, but he was not rehired at a school because the principal said he wanted to hire someone with "culture and language." What the heck does that mean? . . . [Read More]

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» Discrimination in EFL from EFL Geek: ESL & EFL in Korea
Lee, of the English-Blog, writes a long and thought-provoking piece on discrimination in the EFL market. He talks about a wide range of discriminatory practices including race, nationality, gender, orientation, weight, and whether or not one has children . . . [Read More]

Tracked on February 8, 2006 03:25 AM


Note from Lee:

Readers, until the new ESL-Lesson-Plan writer comes aboard, please leave your comments to recent entry in a place that I can easily get to them (and respond) HERE.

Thank you for understanding!

Posted by: Lee at February 4, 2006 02:59 PM