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Part 3: Challenges for a “Non-native” (L2) ESL Teacher

by: Rolly Obedencio, ang ating ULIRANG GURO in Thailand
** Part 1
** Part 2

Continuation... As I came in close contact with many Filipino applicants in the middle of the year, English proficiency over qualification was their major challenge. Some of them came to the training center, because they had been fired by their employers when their accent had changed in the middle of the year. (I just wonder whether accent was the real reason of their being fired). They thought that there was nothing wrong with their accent. My boss, however, said, that they had a terrible accent. The training center had to retrain and market them at the end of the course after they would have acquired the near native-like accent.

Teaching skills necessary for a Thai environment were easy for those Filipino teacher-trainees. They had been educated in their college years. In my observation, not many of those schools where I had interviews asked for a TESOL/TESL/TEFL certificate, though. So, TESOL/TESL/TEFL certificate wasn’t a big deal for me at my job interviews, except at this first school I worked for. The training I received paid off when my boss wanted me to demonstrate in each class, especially the visiting groups of students, teachers and administrators from other schools, what a certified TESOL teacher had to offer in the entire year.

Students at that government school were mostly slower and much larger in number than those at private schools. So I had to dumb down my approaches to an average of 37 students each class. Some of them in grade 12 couldn’t respond to some personal questions, such as name, age, or occupation. There was the slowest section among grade 12 students that every teacher, local or foreign, just gave up. I had to provide them a positive atmosphere that they would risk speaking up without any hesitation. My boss was very glad that these students were able to open their mouth, speak up, and have a meaningful conversation with me in the middle of the term. It was satisfying.

Different Thai teachers seated in each of my classes posed another challenge too. They were not there to teach, but to help control the class as were told. However, they were just seated there as observers and evaluators, taking notes of my strategies and management. The mood of the class would naturally change if looked at a different perspective by an observer seated at the back row of the classroom. I didn’t underestimate Thai teachers with me in my classes. They were the eyes and ears of my boss. I had to overcome that little uneasy feeling, until I got used to it that they became my friends and partners. (You would receive presents if you got much approval from them, though).

The foreign teachers, not only the local Thai teachers, posed a challenge to me. There were about six L1s (first language speakers of English) and four L2 foreign teachers, of which two were Filipinos (including me), one was a Hollander and an overqualified Indian, having a Ph.D. in English Literature. There was a fast turnover of teachers after the middle of the first term. The Hollander left with a promise to return, but he never came back. He had his personal reasons. He was replaced by someone from Scotland.

Let me give emphasis about this strange Scottish teacher who was discriminatory. He asked me, “Are you teaching pronunciation?” “I don’t if it’s not a part of my lesson objective,” I said. He retorted “How can you not teach English without pronunciation?” I replied with a subdued one, “I do teach it if it is a part of my objective.” He raised his voice, “What kind of English can they learn from a non-native speaker? Students should learn from me, because I’m a native English speaker.” I smiled and said, “Well, I’m bloody sure my students have learned from me. I don’t have problems teaching pronunciation, though. My co-teachers can attest to what I have done.” He continued patronizing me by saying in a Scottish way “D’you have a ‘paddow’ (i.e. paddle) on your boat?” “Sorry, what did you say?” I asked. He said acerbically, “a flat thing used for rowing a boat.” I grinned and said, “Ahh, a paddle. What is that supposed to mean?” Instead of answering, he asked another question, “Which prestigious university did you graduate from?” I politely said, “Just a small college at the top of the mountains in the southern part of the Philippines.” He said, “I graduated at Cambridge University with a degree in History.” I asked, “What was your thesis about, and tell me your main variables.” He was surprised to say and ask me, “I wrote about the World War II, but what’s a variable? I have never heard of that word. That’s bloody difficult question.” I smiled and winked at him, “I understand, don’t worry. Forget about that.” The following week came. He didn’t show up. I inquired. I was told by my boss that he was fired, because he didn’t know how to teach. Each period was wasted by a mere series of drill of rote pronunciation without communication, and that students couldn’t understand him of his accent. He complained about why I should be favored by the students and teachers when I’m not a native speaker. My boss just said that the Scottish teacher had nothing to offer comparable to my skills and qualification. I pitied him. He became history.

Except me, another bunch of teachers replaced our batch in our regular program the following term. After the Scottish teacher left, a very handsome young Swedish guy came. Girls giggled as if tickled by their laughter in class. He also lasted for two weeks, because he had nothing to offer but his handsome face. He was replaced by an excellent South African. An experienced British teacher replaced another British colleague of mine. His English was not without errors, but his teaching skills were impressive. My boss requested me to find very good teachers of any nationality. I surely found some among the Filipinos. They were ranked according to accent, skills, experience and qualification during their job interviews. The best one among them was hired. (To be continued...)


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