Showing posts with label delta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label delta. Show all posts

Saturday, February 9, 2019

If a "bilingual", "globally-oriented" Taiwan is the way forward, immigration reform for educators is imperative

Just a quick thought at the end of Lunar New Year that struck me as I chatted about my life in Taiwan with a friendly British couple on the beach. Links to come later as I can't easily add them on an iPad. 

They asked me if dual nationality in Taiwan was even possible, or if I would have to give up my original nationality to get it. I told them sincerely I was happy that recent changes to the immigration laws in Taiwan created a pathway, but dismayed that the path was entirely too narrow and impossible - as an educator, I'd have to be a university professor (assistant or associate - I forget which because that's so far off for me that it doesn't matter yet.) I mentioned that I have friends at prestigious institutions like Academia Sinica who have been told that this is interpreted (incorrectly) to mean "when you have tenure", so they won't even write the necessary letters for their academics until that happens. 

"Imagine," I said, "having to get tenure at Academia Sinica before you even qualified as an educator!" 

It was the same thing I'd told Legislator Karen Yu just a few weeks ago. 

My husband joined in, "It seems like a rule that was put in place with very little thought - like some people in a room just decided that sounded good, but which has a huge effect on people's lives that the folks in that room are totally unaware of."

And I've come to realize, as those whole "bilingual country" and "English as a second official language" talk starts slowly creaking its wheels towards actual action, that if the government is serious about it, that immigration laws, especially for educators, simply need to be loosened. Now. 

The usual pushback to people upset that they don't qualify for dual nationality in Taiwan (like me!) is "this is the set of talents/skills that the government has decided it needs, that's why it's comparatively for someone in STEM to jump through the hoops, but difficult for teachers. They want STEM workers but don't need so many teachers. Deal with it!" 

This is of course nonsense, though I do acquiesce that this is what the government *thinks* are the skills it needs to attract to Taiwan. What's horseshit is the notion that Taiwan actually needs more talented foreign STEM professionals. Taiwan has reams and reams of local STEM talent, the best of whom are leaving Taiwan due to low pay and poor working conditions. (and even so, if anything there's a surplus of engineers and IT professionals. Perhaps pay would go up if they were more scarce.) Foreigners aren't going to take those jobs in any great number because the jobs aren't very good; what it needs is to provide attractive enough opportunities to get its own talent to stay, and perhaps some foreigners as well. Taiwan is not a developing country; what it would take to satisfy top Taiwanese talent is not far off from what it would take to attract foreigners. Expectations don't differ that much. 

But what Taiwan actually does need - or will need in the coming years - is talented educators. It's true that there is a surplus of not-very-well-trained "English teachers". While I support a way forward for them in the field that involves better apprenticeship and training than what is on offer now, they are not the ones I mean. We have a lot of those (too many, in fact) and not enough trained and experienced foreign educators - whether you have a teaching license, a Delta or a postgraduate degree. Among those who are here, a disproportionate amount are English teachers or non-specialized teachers of young learners; teachers who specialize in other subjects are harder to come by. We have even fewer experienced language teacher trainers - and I don't just mean among foreigners. There aren't that many options for teacher training in English among locals either. 

The government seems to have realized this - the talk at the meeting before Lunar New Year focused at times on this need. But they don't seem to have realized that if that is the talent Taiwan must attract, then one of the best ways to get those already here to stay and attract new professionals is to make it easier not just to move here, but to stay. That is, to further amend immigration laws so that teachers who want to build a career here have a hope of staying on as citizens, someday, if they wish. 

If we're going to really go ahead with a "globally oriented Taiwan" - that is, a country where English is integrated culturally to a degree that eases the road to greater internationalization, which is the actual goal - Taiwan is going to need more than a handful of professors who currently qualify. 

They are going to need teacher trainers (you know, like me). Not just to train up foreign teachers, but locals as well (which is what I focus on). No country actually achieves the level of 'bilingualism' that the government says it aspires to with foreign teachers alone: you'll notice that English medium teachers in countries like Singapore, India, Hong Kong (I'm calling it a country and don't care what you think) and the Philippines are overwhelmingly local. They're going to need advisors, translators, editors and tutors. They are going to need English proficiency test examiners (even though tests like IELTS suck for political reasons and you should not take them if you can avoid it.) 

And yes, they're going to need just regular teachers. Not just English teachers; if Tainan is any indication, this push is going to go hand-in-hand with a bilingual education model, where regular subjects are taught in English. This model isn't particularly common in Taiwan, although schools with multilingual curricula exist; educators who are familiar with it will be needed, and a number of them will be foreign. Teacher training programs and certification courses will hopefully become more readily available in Taiwan - I have high hopes for international standard pre-service certifications, including those run by Cambridge and Trinity. But those require trainers, and to get to a point where locals can do those jobs (as such training does not currently exist in Taiwan), we'll need foreign teacher trainers. 

So, it makes absolutely no sense, from this moment forward, for the government to imply through its immigration law that it does need foreign engineers but it doesn't need teachers. It makes no sense to set the bar for educators so ridiculously high that almost no-one meets it, and to predicate it on a job some valuable educators may not even want. 

Personally, while I think I'd be a fine academic, I find a lot of meaning in teacher training, especially training up non-native speaker teachers. This is a real contribution to Taiwan - but to become yet another university professor teaching the same old academic writing and speaking classes? That is also meaningful, but we have a lot of them already. Are more of those what Taiwan really needs, at a time when it will be gearing up to train a bunch of new teachers in modern methods that are not currently common here?

Many of us are already here, and have made Taiwan our home. We want to stay and contribute, and one of the best ways the government can ensure that we do is to make it feasible for educators to gain dual nationality. Taiwan is a fine place to live as well; surely some newcomers will want to stay. 

It's time for Taiwan to truly open the door to them, and amend its immigration policy to reflect the talent it says it needs. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An internationally-recognized English teaching certification course is now available in Taiwan!

Trinity CertTESOL is coming to Taiwan!

As a teacher trainer myself, I'm very excited about this. One of the biggest flaws in the industry of English-teaching workhouses and abbatoirs here is that, once here, if you don't already have a basic pre-service teaching certification, it's difficult to get one as there were no offerings in Taiwan. No Trinity CertTESOL, no CELTA: two of the only - if not the only two - internationally-recognized programs that include practicum hours. And, as a teacher trainer, the only two that I can personally wholeheartedly recommend.

In addition to tuition fees, that meant leaving the country for a month (and losing a month's worth of income, if you could get the time off at all) and paying all associated costs with living in another country for that month - possibly as well as rent back in Taiwan. I know it was a huge financial burden when we went to do CELTA in Turkey.

Now, that's no longer necessary: on November 5th, a part-time (Monday-Friday, 9:30-13:30) certification course is finally available locally! If you can be free in the mornings, you don't have to leave Taiwan or stop working.

Trinity is equivalent to CELTA, which means that it will be useful to you even if you leave Taiwan. Having not only been through CELTA but also Delta and in the middle of a Master's program in the same field, I can say that it's worth it. The curriculum is sound - and I'm a teacher trainer who has completed an equivalent course herself, I would know - and the practicum hours set it apart from weekend or online courses. You will certainly become a better teacher because of it, if you take what you learn from it and incorporate it intelligently and thoughtfully to the classroom while developing your own style.

It's also important to remember that these certifications aren't meant to create insta-teachers or classroom superheroes. Nothing can do that except experience, reflective practice and consistent, high quality professional development. They are pre-service programs, which means they are open to people who have never taught. They aren't even meant to give you all the skills a professional needs: entire multi-year teaching programs exist for that, and not even they can accomplish it. They're meant to give you the fundamentals you need to be competent in the classroom as a novice teacher, or to improve your practice as a current teacher, with the assumption that you will receive further development and institutional support from your employer (how much institutional support you are considered to need post-certification will vary). They are stepping-stones to higher-level in-service teaching degrees. They get you on the track - they're not the end of the road.

You may be wondering how such a certification can help you in Taiwan. I admit that's a real problem here: the complete lack of any sort of qualifications needed to be a "teacher" in Taiwan, and how certifications are generally not rewarded well, which feeds the cycle of mediocrity and poor teaching practice.

But, better jobs in Taiwan do exist. There are fewer of them, but they are generally only open to teachers who have these certifications, or at least, those who do get their resume pushed to the top of the pile. These jobs tend to be more professional and pay better (though I wouldn't say they are wonderful - almost no job in Taiwan is). You may be frustrated that at Happy Oxbridge Engrish Scholar's Acadamy, you won't get a raise for doing this program, and I'm sympathetic to that.

But, better places to work will actually consider you seriously if you do, and that will come with better pay and other perks, like the ability to request more time off (unpaid) or more time off in total (perhaps paid).

Oh, yeah, and you'll just be a better teacher for it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Delta vs. Masters Throwdown

I've only been at Exeter for a few weeks and haven't started the assignment writing part of my course yet, so I may come back and edit this at some point in the future. However, I do feel qualified to comment on what it's like doing a modular Cambridge Delta compared to doing a Master's degree in TESOL.

In the introductory section on the first day of my MEd program, I walked into the classroom remembering this completely preposterous exchange on Facebook: the admin of a CELTA-specific group grew inexplicably angry when I ventured that a Delta was likely just as challenging as a Master's, and a Delta holder will have learned just as much as a Master's graduate (although they may have learned some different things, and certainly in different ways).

"A Master's is a one-year or several-year high-level program. A Delta can be completed in 12 weeks. There is no way a Delta can compare to a Master's," the admin insisted.

Although I had not yet started a Master's then, I was basing this suggestion on anecdotes from friends and colleagues who have done both, many if not all of whom feel Delta was actually harder. I was also considering the Ofqual rankings, which award Delta the same level (7) as a Master's. Surely they wouldn't do so for no reason. I was also considering my Delta experience, which consisted of deep and intensive exposure to the academic and practical corpus of research into teaching and learning English, from the fairly unacademic, somewhat beginner 'How to...' series all the way up to dense analyses in Applied Linguistics. Most of our work was self-directed, with the expectation that we would, after Module 1, create thoughtful and worthwhile output rather than a regurgitation of our reading.

For this insolence, I was banned from the group, but whatever. I was mostly amused by the other person's complete certainty that the Delta was the cakewalk and the Master's was the rigorous training program. I am not certain the holder of this deep and anger-inducing opinion held either degree.

That's a part of why I'm writing this - there are a lot of opinions out there, mostly by people who have taken one course or the other (but not both), or who have done neither. I'm not sure I'm better qualified than those people quite yet, but I have some experience and an 'Edit' button for future thoughts, so I figure it's worth having a go. Don't take this as my final opinion on the matter: my thoughts on this are very much a work in progress.

I also want to take some time to discuss which one is the better choice if you want to teach English in Taiwan.

The short version of my opinion is that, in fact, those who compare the Delta unfavorably to a Master's: my original supposition that they are roughly equal in difficulty and content learned seems to be holding up. The Master's program feels easier now, but I suspect that will change. What will certainly remain constant is that the way of transmitting knowledge and its intended application is very different indeed between the two types of program.

The Delta is hard. It took me three years; it's not at all true that "it can be completed in just 12 weeks". First of all, for those who do take that option, that 12 weeks is more intensive than anything you'll encounter on a Master's with the possible exception of the final stretch of thesis writing. Spread out to create a workload more similar to that of a Master's - say, completing the modular courses in quick succession rather than taking one per year as I did - a Delta will take at least a year, and likely more given the breaks between when the modules are offered. If you take Module One in September and finish in December, the next module is likely to be starting in March of the next year, finishing in June. You may have to wait until September again to take the third one, finishing again in September. Your workload will be similar during those times as that of a Master's.

That sounds an awful lot like the amount of time it takes to complete a Master's in the UK (generally one year), and nearing the amount of time it takes to complete one in the US. There is no basis for dismissing Delta on those grounds. In fact, if you contrast that to my current program, it will take me three years (exactly the amount of time it took to do a Delta), with a much more spread-out workload and likely less crying into a pillow overall (though ask me about that again in 2019).

Even if one does take the 12-week course, you are not done in 12 weeks. In that time, you crash-study for the Module 1 exam, which you generally take when the intensive program ends. Your Module 2 is complete. You receive a crash course in how to do Module 3, but you don't actually do it: that is completed after the intensive course ends and can take up to another full semester. Two semesters' worth of work, one of which is highly intensive? Again, that sounds similar to a Master's program.

As for the content, so far it's much the same. If anything, I feel sympathy for my non-Delta-holding classmates who are currently taking Language Awareness. I remember having to learn that, and what I learned is not that different from what's being taught in the core module, although I tended to focus more on pure mechanics (e.g. the actual phonology system of English including use of the phonemic chart, manner of articulation and the like rather than ideas of what phonology is and how one might teach it). The basics of testing, approaches to teaching and issues in teaching  are also much the same, and it seems as though principles of teaching and syllabus design will be similar, as well. The same names - Richards, Nunan, Krashen, Thornbury, Kumaravadivelu, Kachru, Vygotsky, Tomlinson to name a few - pop up in both.

So far, I have found the content in both to be of about equivalent difficulty, although I'm interested to see what writing my Master's assignments will be like. I may well change my mind.

That said, the aim and application of the content is radically different. Delta is practical - any theory you learn (and you do learn quite a bit) is meant to bolster your classroom practice more or less immediately. Master's programs vary, but the Exeter MEd TESOL leans more toward the cerebral end - learning theory because it develops your knowledge base as a teacher. That's a compliment: it's exactly what I wanted after the relentless practicality of Delta. Or, as we discussed on the first day, programs like this are a part of teacher development. They are not teacher training. Teacher training is about making teachers more immediately effective in the classroom, whereas teacher development is about cultivating the knowledge that informs what one teaches in the classroom. I've had teacher training - I did a Delta. Although professional development - like learning a language - is never really over, I don't need another program like that. I needed, and found, a program focusing on the theoretical underpinnings of what I did in that program.

A few examples of what I mean when I say Delta was training, whereas the Master's is development:

On Delta, we did have to do background reading but what really mattered was how we executed our ideas in class, or how well we built a syllabus as a result. For Module Two, the written assignments mattered, but what really made or broke a candidate was their assessed teaching. You could know all the theory in the world and it wouldn't matter if enough of your classes sucked (ahem, were deemed substandard in execution), whereas you could pass the written assignment with an imperfect grounding in theory and still do well if your classes were amazing as rated against the course specifications.

On the Master's, there are no practicums. Nobody is going to assess my teaching - I'll mostly be assessed based on my written work. On one hand that's a shame, as I find observation and feedback to be the most efficient route to improved teaching. On the other, I'm relieved because I've been through it already, and what happens in a one-hour class as per Delta specifications cannot fully capture the depth and breadth of what goes on in a real class over time. In either case, having walked over that bed of coals, it will be good to immerse myself more deeply in theory without necessarily having to stop when I reach a point that a grounding in it is sufficient for me to teach a given one-hour class. It's not a benefit that is as immediately apparent, but over time I do feel it will grow to inform my work in valuable ways.

The assessed lessons were far and away the hardest - yet most practical - part of the Delta. There are ways in which I am sure a Master's will be more challenging, however. The closest you get to writing a thesis on Delta is your Module Three assignment. However, the main paper is capped at 4500 words, with everything else going in appendices. Although my final product easily topped 100 pages, the main paper only took up 17 of them. I can't imagine a passing Master's thesis with that ratio.

I also suspect - and I am usually right about these things - that our assignments will be judged to a very high standard. Once my blissful month in England is over and I hit the books in Taipei, I suspect what seems very interesting but basically easy now will become much harder extremely quickly. The British educational system, especially at the Master's level, places a high value on self-directed reading and output. It only makes sense that the input sessions, then, would be the breeziest part of the course, but are not at all indicative of what will be expected of us once we start producing. I have a suspicion that, academically speaking, much more will be expected of our written work in terms of depth and breadth of research covered as well as ideas birthed from that process than Delta ever expected. The trade-off is that we will not be expected to demonstrate our ability to actually write a lesson plan or teach a class (we do, however, have to demonstrate our ability to create materials, conceptualize a teacher development or training course and critique as well as write a test).

That said, I can't deny that these past two weeks have felt more like a lovely vacation with some interesting TESOL classes, in a way that Delta never did. Delta was pure - and purifying - pain. An intensive Delta (or even CELTA) is several weeks of all-day input with further work on the weekends. You don't get a day off, ever. "Intensive" summer input sessions for a Master's are four, maybe five days a week where only occasionally does one have more than three hours' of class to attend, with some reading that is not onerous. Yesterday we went to the seaside town of Beer. Today we'll go to Powderham Castle and have cream tea. It's so very intensive.

I'm still surprised I never descended into functional alcoholism on Delta, whereas here at Exeter, if I drink too much it will be because of all the pub-crawling students in Britain do, not because the course is particularly stressful. We'll see how I feel about that when I actually start writing, however.

I am learning a lot, though. For example, what I had thought the term 'construct validity' meant turns out to be not at all what it means when considered in depth. We'll be going more deeply into the concepts of validity and reliability than I ever had to on Delta. Delta Module One had one section on issues in ELT, whereas this course offers a whole module on it (and the issues - such as culture clash in the classroom, the native speaker myth and others are pertinent and worthwhile). Delta only touched on materials development in that you had to create or adapt materials, with no background reading on how to do so necessary, whereas I'm now taking an entire module on exactly that.

Another benefit of actually studying TESOL at a university is that I am an educator by profession. Training in how to execute my work better is important, but an educator who doesn't herself seek higher education feels like an oxymoron of sorts. It will also loop back to training in that eventually I am likely to find myself teaching EAP classes to non-native-speaking graduate students. How can I claim to be qualified in teaching a graduate student how to absorb content and then write and present it if I have not done a graduate program myself?

It is also important to repeat something I pointed out in my last post: I have learned more from my classmates, most of whom are non-native speakers, and had more productive discussions with them in two weeks than I have in ten years of interacting with mostly average, often unqualified teachers in Taiwan who were mostly hired on the basis of their being native speakers rather than their having any training (or in some cases ability) in teaching. It's cruel but true. If you only focus on the practical, you begin to treat education as a purely practical channel. It then becomes about market forces - students become clients, teachers are hired based on optics more than ability, and the goal is a happy customer, which is not necessarily an educated customer despite education being the ostensible goal. I've heard more justifications for this practical approach than I care to consider, including defenses a lack of qualifications on the part of both teachers and school owners (not principals, not head educators - owners), with little emphasis on what is actually learned if that is not necessary to create happy clients. I appreciate getting away from all that.

Delta never advocated such an approach, but the idea that learning should only ever be immediately practical (being specifically trained for some kind of job, without actually knowing much beyond that in any deeper way) eventually brings one to that logical conclusion.

I'm happy that I did Delta first, though. If I had done the MEd first, I'd be getting a lot of developmental input with not as much guidance as I'd like on how to actually use it. I might have started to question why I was doing it at all. What I needed when I did Delta was exactly what it provided: practical and efficient training to be better in the classroom. Having that, it's time to dive deeper - something Delta doesn't offer. If I'd never done the MEd, I'd be fighting a nagging feeling of hollowness, that there is so much more to how we teach that I never touched upon because it was not immediately necessary, regardless of whether it might be someday.

I have to say I also appreciate the access to academic journals that I get as a real live student, rather than a sort of in-limbo person in training. Delta was difficult, in part, because I needed academic references but didn't always have access to them. The Distance Delta attempts to remedy that, but ultimately the online library is insufficient.

A final note on Master's programs that is worth mentioning: more than one person I've talked to regarding more than one program has mentioned that many of them are full of a certain cohort. The students are mostly young women and mostly inexperienced - mostly candidates who might struggle doing a Delta, if they are accepted on a module at all. They mostly have to get the basics down of TESOL theory and practice. Yes, they are mostly from China, but that shouldn't be a point against them (I only bring it up because it's a recurring theme in conversations I've had with those familiar with MA TESOL programs in several institutions, including some quite prestigious ones).

This is not at all specific to Exeter - in fact, the person who first mentioned it to me did so in the context of a completely different university - and certainly does not apply to the summer intensive program I am currently doing. That is to say, if that's the common denominator you are teaching to, someone who comes in with a Delta and a wealth of experience might feel that the work is not sufficiently challenging. In fact, the person I talked to told me straight-up that I would be disappointed with the academic rigor such a program and it's a major reason why I applied to this program specifically.

I'll end with a short exploration of which path is right for someone who wants to make their career in Taiwan. I wish I had an easy answer, and could just shout "Master's!" or "Delta!" and have that be it, but as with most worthwhile issues, it's more complicated than that.

If your goal is to simply be an excellent teacher, and you have a good work situation in which teaching well is generously remunerated and which doesn't require a Master's, get a Delta (it should go without saying that I recommend you get a CELTA regardless). The Delta is training, and you will be well-trained. You'll have exactly the amount of theory you need to do your job effectively, but not much more. Get a Delta if you want to go into teacher training as well, if you don't have a teaching license of PGCE - you can train teachers without one, but you are not likely to be a great trainer.

Keep in mind, though, that the Delta is not recognized by the Taiwanese government because they have some who-knows-what-dunce in charge of foreign language education policy. You get Delta to better yourself, and it's a good filter for separating good employers from bad when interviewing (pro tip: a good employer will recognize the value of a Delta and reward you accordingly. A bad one will not know or care what a Delta is and why it matters - if you have a Delta, don't ever take a job with a school that doesn't care about it unless you're desperate).

If, however, your goal is to explore employment opportunities outside of the deeply exploitative cram school industry (although good cram schools do exist - I teach classes through two of them), get the Master's. That is your entree into university teaching, may help you get into international school work and should be sufficient for public school teaching if you have permanent residency or a marriage visa (for everyone else, a teaching license is specifically required). A Master's degree is recognized, and therefore matters more for this type of advancement. If you do, though, I'd recommend getting a CELTA or Trinity TESOL certification as well, simply for the practical component. I know Master's degree holders who have done that and said it was worthwhile, as their graduate programs never actually taught them how to teach in the way that a series of practicums with targeted input sessions can.

If you've had good training, with a solid teacher trainer who took the time to observe you and help you grow as a teacher as you gained experience, get the Master's. Do this especially if you are interested in the theories and ideas that inform your beliefs and priciples as a teacher.

Do not, however, mistake being trained in one school's specific - and potentially not-research based - 'house curriculum style' for actual training. If you have unbiased, outside feedback saying that you are already effective in the classroom - perhaps you have a CELTA or equivalent and did a lot with it, or received good but informal training - get the Master's.

If you think you might leave Taiwan someday, and you want to teach but are worried about how to get a good job doing it in another country, get the Master's, or a teaching license if you want to work with children. It's an unfair but true fact that outside of Europe - if you can get a teaching job there, which as an American is nearly impossible - and possibly the Middle East, the Delta just won't be widely recognized enough to help you.

If that's never happened and you'd be going from "online TEFL certification and being thrown in a classroom without guidance" to "Master's student", get the Delta (or at least get it first).

If you think you'd like to do both, get the Delta first. It will not only give you the practical framework  that helps make sense of the theory in real contexts, but many programs will give you credit for it which will reduce your overall workload and fees on the Master's.

If you need something you can start from Taiwan, and want to start as soon as possible, get the Delta. You might have trouble finding a Module Two tutor, but everything else can be done with minimal problems from Taiwan. That's not true for a Master's. Although some Taiwanese universities do offer graduate programs in TESOL, I am not convinced of the quality or international portability of any of them. It is similarly hard to put together the time and money to do a full-time program abroad and then come back, but options like the program I'm currently at at Exeter are available. 

If you not only want to expand your career horizons but dive into both training-by-fire and deep theory, get both.

After all, nobody except the twin devils of money or time ever said you had to choose.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Teaching English in Taiwan: some ethical issues

I'm sitting here in my dorm near the graduate campus of the University of Exeter, listening to birdsong and trees rustling in the wind out my open window. It's July but I'm wearing my new Exeter hoodie, because England apparently does not have any season which can be properly called 'warm'. This is quite different from Taiwan where I'd be wearing as little as possible and still sweating, possibly even with the air conditioning on, and outside my door would be a cacophony of human sounds that would be welcoming in the way that they ward off isolation.

We've just had a seminar exploring two topics: varying perceptions towards native and non-native speaker teachers first, followed by CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning, in which a subject course is taught in a foreign language, with the primary goal of subject learning with the hoped-for added benefit of improvement in foreign language proficiency).

A common theme developed in my mind as the discussions of both of these issues rolled on.

When one thinks of teaching English from an ethical standpoint, if they think about it at all, the two most common issues they tend to come up with are some form of "linguistic imperialism" - the idea that by teaching English we are somehow 'ruining' or forcing 'Westernization' on a local culture - and racism in hiring practices as well as pay. I'll explore these first, although I have to admit that the issues I discuss later are the ones I find meatier, or simply of greater interest.

These are of interest to me, and I'll explore them below. However, they feel a bit warmed-over, and I'm more keen to talk about the issues I explore later on. Not because these two aren't important, but because they feel so done.

That said, I'd like to say a few things about each before moving on.

There's little merit to the first opinion - while teaching a language does require some transmission of cultural knowledge (regardless of what some governments may mandate), simply being an access point to one of the cultures of the English-speaking world is not itself enough to destroy a culture any more so than Americans learning a foreign language, or living alongside speakers of languages other than English, are doing harm to American culture, regardless of what some less thoughtful people might believe. If anything, we are a resource for the non-privileged to learn the language of the comparatively well-off English speaking world, and therefore offer them the possibility of entry into it. You can't create equality by denying the less privileged access to the cultural touchstones of the more privileged.

The second, however, does make a fair point. I'm a white native English speaking American. The privilege inherent in this is striking when I hear about how my Black friends who teach in Taiwan are treated, not to mention the lower pay and sub-par working conditions offered to Taiwanese teachers. My classmate is Taiwanese and going for the exact same degree I am, and yet you can be sure that I will probably end up earning more over the course of my career. This is absolutely not fair. I am not 'better' because I'm a 'native speaker', that's ridiculous.

The ethical question is, of course, is it acceptable for me to continue teaching in a context where I know I have at least some of the opportunities I do because of my race and native language, rather than my actual teaching ability? Is doing so a form of perpetuating the system? Would it even be possible to find a teaching context where this is not the case? Is it too much to ask of me to give up a job I am committed to and find meaning in, in a country I love, because I am a part of a flawed system? Would doing so fix anything?

The answers to the above, to me, are:

No, it is not really acceptable (yet I do it anyway).
Yes, it is a form of perpetuating the system.
However, no, it is likely not possible for me to find a better context - almost every ELT context has these flaws. Those that don't are not generally available to Americans (e.g. in Europe) or would not pay enough for me to cover my basic expenses, including student loans (e.g. in the US, given that I want to work with adults and don't yet have a Master's).
And finally, no, I don't think it would make a difference if I left, nor do I think it is fair to expect me to do so.

The best I can do is fight day-to-day for a better industry, although that strikes me as unsatisfactory. I'd love to see local teacher pay be on par with foreign teacher pay (with them getting a raise, not us getting a pay cut). I'd like to strike the law limiting who can be hired as a foreign teacher based, ludicrously, on passport. I'm not sure that advocacy will have much effect at all, though. It doesn't seem to have so far.

I wish I had a better answer. This has been the go-to answer for the Defensive White English Teacher for decades, and it doesn't seem to have done much good.

There is so much more to explore, though.

As I mentioned above, I don't think much of the idea of cultural imperialism through language teaching. However, there is a sort of domestic cultural and economic imperialism at play in Taiwan (and elsewhere in the world, surely) that makes my skin crawl.

Taiwan has been a place where, over the centuries, various colonial regimes and invading forces have tried to assert their dominance over the island, and their primacy in the cultural hierarchy, through the enforcement of foreign-language medium education in schools. Most notably, the Japanese did it by making the education system in Taiwan Japanese-medium, and the ROC did it later by forcing all students to learn in Mandarin, to the point where today many foreigners and some Taiwanese do not realize that, although it can be debated what the historical 'native languages' of Taiwan are, Mandarin is certainly not one.

Now, it seems that English is one of the tools used to bolster dominance in Taiwan's social hierarchy. The 'cultural imperialism' isn't coming from us whiteys this time, it's coming from Taiwanese who have a privileged socioeconomic position in their own culture. It raises their profile, and the profiles of the adult children they've raised, to speak English well and have connections to the Western world. While not essential for political or business success (I'm fairly sure Chen Shui-bian doesn't speak much English at all), it certainly helps (every other elected president in Taiwanese democratic history has been educated, to some extent, in the West).

It costs money to raise children who have this cultural cachet of speaking English well, unless you have a particularly bright child. Cram schools - the good kind - are pricey. Local bilingual education is even more expensive. International schools are yet more expensive, and not open to those who don't have a path to foreign citizenship. Studying abroad is the most expensive route possible, and in some cases not available if you aren't able to put in the money to get your princeling to a certain level of English ability first.

The rich keep control, to some small extent, because they can afford to learn English well. It affords more respect, more connections and more opportunities.

These are the people whose princelings find themselves in our classes much of the time, although I appreciate that buxibans that offer more affordable classes to families that don't have such means do exist. As adults, they find themselves in my classes, either bankrolled for expensive IELTS preparation or successful businesspeople who have access to a high-quality teacher who charges accordingly.

It's easy to stereotype these children of privilege as the same KMT diaspora 'Chinese elite' who seem to hoover up all the money, privilege and power in Taiwan in every other way. Many of them are - do you think Sean Lien got to Columbia on his own merits? Or that Hau Lung-pin would have earned a PhD from UMass-Amherst on talent alone? Maybe, but I doubt it. Many, however, are not. It's a problem pervading all segments of wealthy Taiwanese society.

The problem, then, is not that I'm here teaching English. It's that I'm earning good-enough money teaching it, and you don't come by good-enough money without being expensive by local standards. Therefore, those who can afford my services are already privileged, and I'm helping to broaden and extend that privilege as they widen the gulf between what they have access to and what others of more modest means do.

It is, in effect, a domestic sort of cultural imperialism, which is not at all one unique to Taiwan. I'm not afraid of the Big Bad West here, I'm afraid of wealthy locals who do the same thing to their fellow countrymen!

I'm not sure what to do about this, either. I've considered volunteering, and likely will once the burden of tuition fees is lifted. That's really the problem - people talk about missionaries in Taiwan as though they are so generous and giving, sacrificing their own gain to help others. There is surely some truth in that, for some missionaries. But the other truth remains: most people have bills to pay, and it's not possible to offer one's services for free if one has bills to pay as well, and does not have a large religious organization making sure that issue is taken care of.

I don't charge so much because I'm greedy, I don't think. I do it because I have family to consider in the US as well as US-based bills to pay.

I'd work for less so that more could afford access, and often do give steep discounts to real friends who need help (I'll even work for free if I believe it will make a real difference, in fact, I prefer offering help as a favor rather than charging a nominal fee). However, again, I can't really pay my own bills if I do that as a part of my regular work. I offer it in my freelance capacity because I generally know the situation and the person, but if I did so as a teacher employed by a school, I would most likely end up being taken advantage of as the school continued to charge high rates and simply keeping the difference. In fact, this is exactly what my former employer did in a few circumstances.

Frankly, if accepting less were a feature of my regular work, I wouldn't be here at Exeter bettering myself professionally so I can offer ever-better teaching to my learners. Period.

I'd like to get to a point where I have the resources - as in, I can afford to do something like this - to try and bring high-quality English teaching to those who could benefit from it but can not generally afford it. That's a long way from here, though. That's something the Exeter graduate does, not generally something the tuition-paying Exeter student does.

Another issue is whether it is ethical to work in a system where so little attention is paid to qualifications. By agreeing to work in a system where you don't need any basic qualification to teach - where, in fact, teaching English is looked down upon because it is simply assumed that it is a job anyone can do, which requires little or no training (yes, the link is relevant because in his book Cole does exactly that) - am I not conferring some level of legitimacy on that system?

This is a conundrum for my context, at least, where I mostly work freelance but do take classes with a few places that are technically 'cram schools' (in the legal sense as it relates to their business registration, though they do not embody many of the negative connotations of the term). It takes a level of qualification far lower than my own to work in either school, although I will say both offer high-quality English classes. Some 'schools', if you can call them that, require even less.

Despite being generally good, neither school offers paid lunar new year leave (despite this being a legal requirement) or paid annual, sick or typhoon leave. Both treat teachers well, though there is no greater contractual job security than in any other cram school. Neither has many career-furthering opportunities for those who want to teach (as opposed to being an account or business manager). Neither offers nor sponsors training. One offers a small bonus (and I am grateful for it), but neither offers the 1-to-2 months' salary bonuses on offer from more traditional employers.

I do like the two employers who provide me with group classes. I recommend them as both employers to teacher friends and as schools to local friends who might be prospective students. I want to make clear that I have no bone to pick with either, and the downsides are tempered with a lot of advantages: all the (unpaid) leave I want without complaint, and higher-than-average pay. However, by continuing to work at these places, I do wonder if I'm legitimizing the downsides.

The issue can be expanded, however. If I worked at a school that didn't require at least a basic minimum of training such as a CELTA, I'd wonder if I'd be legitimizing the lack of qualifications necessary to "teach". If I worked at a public school or university, I wonder if I'd be legitimizing the sub-par working conditions that many institutions take as a norm, such as useless reams of administrative work, high student-teacher ratios (up to 65 students in a conversation class in some places!), over-reliance on testing, a poorly-constructed curriculum and generally lower pay.

I want to end by circling back to one of the issues I explored above: racism in hiring practices here. I've covered issues of pay, treatment and opportunities, but another issue I find disconcerting is how many people - locals and foreigners alike - try to justify native speakerism. I've written about this before (linked above already but here it is again) but now feel I have something more to say on the topic.

It is impossible to ignore - and I'll write more about this later when I really sit down and write about the experience of doing a Master's as a part-time student, splitting my time between Exeter and Taipei - the fact that I have learned so much from my professors and classmates here at Exeter. Most of my classmates are not native English speakers, and many professors are similar. I've been hanging out mostly with female classmates because we happen to get along so well, and out of 7 women, only two of us are native speakers. My Delta local tutor is not considered a native speaker by many. Although as a native speaker who has sought to upgrade her qualifications, I cannot say that native speaker teachers generally are less motivated to attain a level of professionalism in their work as such a generalization would exclude me, it is quite clear that generally speaking that level of qualification, and the important conversations that go along with it, seems to be populated by the non-native English speaking teachers.

I can surely imagine leaving my soft academic cocoon for the sharp idiocy of Facebook commentary, finding myself on one of the many groups for English teachers in Taiwan, and feeling my face fall as all of the nuanced points and brilliant ideas of my Exeter cohort are not reflected in the general Taiwan English teacher commentariat. It hasn't happened yet, but that's mostly because I've abandoned many such groups in dismay, not because the screamery isn't there.

What I mean is, it seems as though the general sentiment of the foreign English teacher population - although I do realize this is by no means a stereotype I can apply to all of them - is that native speakers are best (perhaps because they themselves are native speakers and they are scared of losing their privilege?), this is because that's what 'clients' want, qualifications aren't necessary because most employers in Taiwan - the not-great ones - don't care about them and won't pay more for them and being a better teacher isn't a good enough reason to pursue them (and yet pay is low because unqualified teachers don't deserve more), and many other beliefs I will charitably call 'ignorant'. At times it feels as though trying to address some of these beliefs - e.g. "it's fine to discriminate by only hiring women for certain jobs" or "non-native speakers are never as good at English and therefore deserve to earn less!" - with any level of nuance is an exercise in futility.

I do wonder if continuing to work in an industry where - at least in Asia - that 'ignorant' attitude prevails to some extent legitimizes it. Again, however, I'm not sure where else an American can get a job that pays sufficiently well where the industry has not only more professional working environments, but also more professional teachers with more nuanced and thoughtful attitudes.

Basically, although I find great meaning and pleasure in my work as a teacher and have a great love of Taiwan, I have serious qualms with working in the educational field here, not only in terms of employment but also in terms of the problematic attitudes other privileged teachers hold, while talented and thoughtful educators are held back.

And yet, basic economics would dictate that the way to push for something better is to not accept something sub-par. If good, qualified professional educators would not work in Taiwan, the industry as a whole would have to improve in order to attract them. Yet here I am, agreeing to work for what is on offer now, although I find it lacking. I don't mean in terms of pay - I'm talking about general working conditions and attitudes in the industry that lead to socioeconomic inequality, poor treatment of non-white and non-native-speaker teachers, a lack of adherence even to the benefits accorded us by law, and the overall attitude toward teaching not only of those on the outside looking in, but also of other teachers here.

How can we force things to improve if we accept what's on offer now, as unsatisfactory as it is? And yet, what else can we do if this is the work we want to do, and Taiwan is where we want to be, and it wouldn't be much better anywhere else?

I don't know.

The other day I was thinking about how one trains a teacher to be successful in a flawed context. Much teacher training focuses on training the teacher but assuming a generally good context, or at least one with flaws that can be overcome with yet more training. I was thinking about it in a Saudi Arabian or, to some extent, Chinese context where certain discussions or topics might be forbidden, and where many institutions unrealistically expect qualified teachers to teach English with no controversial cultural content. The assumption is that you can read up on cross-cultural communication and overcome these issues, but I'm not entirely sure that's true; I doubt that any amount of training can fix such a problem when the issue is not with the teacher.

This is why I work neither Saudi Arabia nor China.

However, it's also true in Taiwan. The system is perhaps less flawed, but I wonder what kind of training would help me to more efficiently navigate the ethical issues I do face here. Is the Taiwanese educational system, from public schools to universities to buxibans, so flawed that it presents an ethical issue to even work in it?

I used to think, putting on my well-worn Defensive White English Teacher hat, that the answer was no. At least, I thought, I would eventually end up at a university where things might be better. I'm coming to realize there isn't necessarily any improvement even as one 'moves up'.

Now, I'm not so sure. I don't intend to leave Taiwan simply because I love the country, even though I don't have much praise for its TEFL opportunities. However, I can't ignore the real ethical questions that working in such a problematic system has raised.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fighting Native Speakerism in Taiwan

I don't blog much here about English teaching, because to be honest, it's my job. I happen to love it, and I happen to be a professional, and I want to talk about it,'s my job. I may start a specifically ELT-related blog someday, but otherwise I generally tend to keep my hobbies (like snarking on Taiwanese politics, activism - to the degree I am able - writing and travel/exploration) separate from my profession. It's funny, though, because I'm actually qualified to comment on ELT matters, whereas despite my related degree (International Affairs), I'm basically a hobbyist with a snarky streak when it comes to politics.

However, something about this really ought to be said. First, a primer in what 'native speakerism' is.

None of this is new - there is a whole organization dedicated to fighting native speakerism. But, to get into why it's difficult to fight in Taiwan, I feel the groundwork needs to be laid.

Native speakerism is a global issue - preconceived notions about what makes a 'teacher' due to a lack of general training in ELT issues (which is fair - not everyone is going to have a basic knowledge of education theory) causes learners to believe that native speaker teachers are superior and schools advertising the usually (but not always) white, Western faces of the teachers with correspondingly high tuition preys on notions of 'prestige' in teaching. Learners then request native speaker teachers, leading schools to then discriminate against non-native speaker teachers in hiring, and blame it on "the market" - a market which they helped create. It doesn't help that a horrifying lack of professional standards makes it possible to get a teaching job with no qualifications or experience to speak of other than being a native speaker, and that the owners of language schools are often local businesspeople, not educators, and do not know themselves what to look for in a quality teacher - they too boil it down to "native speaker, looks the part, cheaper than a trained teacher, you're hired."

One can add to that a big fat dollop of outdated assumptions of what it means to be a "non-native speaker". People who don't know better will insist that "non-native speakers can't possibly know all of the idiomatic language, rare collocations and modern usages of English, they'll teach a more textbook English", but that assumes quite a bit about a native speaker. An Egyptian woman who spent the first ten years of her life in Cairo, but then moved to England and had lived there ever since, for example, would speak at a level so close to native that you would not know she wasn't a native speaker, and would have more knowledge of British idiomatic language than I do. How is she less of a 'native speaker' than I am? A Taiwanese student who went through an entire school curriculum at TES or TAS, who might speak flawlessly - you might mistake her for an Asian woman from the West - is she a native speaker? My own grandfather grew up in Greece and moved to the US in elementary school. His native languages were Western Armenian - there are a genocide and two escapes in that story - and Greek. To hear him talk now you would never think of him as anything other than a native speaker of English. Is he? Why do you assume all native speakers speak an imperfect, textbook-y or even 'foreign accented' (again, whatever that means) English?

And that's not even getting into issues of cultural or linguistic imperialism and the notion that only "native speaker English" (whatever that means) is "good enough", or that there is something wrong with local varieties of English!

What really goes into teaching well is, of course, a high level or native-like level of English: something many non-native speakers attain, as well as sound training (whether it confers a credential or not - the piece of paper is not the point, though it's hard to gauge the quality of non-credentialed training) and increasing levels of responsibility through experience. Some level of basic talent or affinity for teaching helps. Research agrees: if the level of English is sufficient and the teaching is pedagogically sound, the first language of the teacher makes no difference.

I find this a very convincing set of arguments for doing away with discrimination based on first language in language teaching, and yet the problem persists in Taiwan. Why?

The law is outdated 

There are conflicting accounts of what the laws actually say. Most non-native speaker teachers in Taiwan are Taiwanese themselves, students on a student visa that allows work, or other foreign residents married to locals. A few have Master's degrees and therefore can be hired for any job. It is unclear whether, legally, visas for non-native speaker teachers who come to Taiwan simply to teach can be procured by schools however. I have been told "no", I have been sent unclear links with confusing language, I have been told such visas have been successfully issued, although every example seems to be of a white European. I have been told English must be the 'official language' of the country of origin, but the US has no official language, and plenty of countries people don't think of as English-speaking, such as Nigeria and India, do have English as an 'official language'.

However, I have also heard firsthand accounts of non-native speaker, non-Taiwanese foreigners trying and failing to get a visa to teach English because they held the "wrong" passport (not from Canada, the US, Ireland, the UK, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand). So, let's just say that the law is unclear but if you are not a native speaker, and do not have another pathway to a job that doesn't require a school-sponsored visa, and lack a Master's degree, that it is likely to be difficult for you to procure a visa to work in Taiwan.

This is in direct contradiction to research on effective teaching, and yet it remains a problem. When it is difficult to get a school to even offer a job to someone they know they may not be able to get a visa for, it makes sense that schools would go for candidates for whom visas would be promptly issued.

So what can we do? 
Honestly, I have no idea. You can lobby the government - good luck with that. You can write an editorial - nobody will read it. You can try to raise awareness among locals inclined to do something about it, but so few are even if they agree with you. If you ever do find yourself with the right kind of guanxi in the government, this would be a great place to use it to bend someone's ear. For now, however, I'm at a loss.

It's hard to know which schools would not discriminate, given the choice

It's very difficult to know what a school would do if it didn't have this potential legal hurdle to hiring non-native speakers and very difficult to fight, as it requires a change in the law.

My various employers, for example, are all good people. They're sensible and they have some foundational knowledge of the qualities needed in a good teacher. I do not want to think that, given the chance to hire a non-native speaker teacher who would need a visa, that they would discriminate. However, due to the confusion and difficulty inherent in the law, it is hard to be sure. How can I talk to my employer about a problem if I don't even know if it exists, or if it only exists hypothetically?

In my school I noticed an advertising sign-listicle sort of things ("10 reasons to study with us!" but at least it didn't have something like "#8 will shock you!") where one of the items was "Canadian, British and American teachers: the world of IELTS comes to you!" - what does that mean exactly? Is that pro-native-speakerism? Would they discriminate against a talented, native-like and qualified non-native speaker if given the chance to hire one? It's hard to say. It's just an item on a list tacked to the wall, and there's no way to test the sincerity of it. How does one even bring that up?

This makes it difficult to have these conversations with employers - note conversations, not confrontations or arguments - when you can't really know where they stand. When perhaps they themselves don't know where they stand. It's hard to push the issue further or raise awareness.

So what can we do?

One of the core messages of TEFL Equality Advocates is for native speaker teachers to use their privilege to help change the system: not applying to work at schools that discriminate, withdrawing one's application from a school that indicates that it discriminates later in the process, and writing to such schools to tell them why (in gentler words, of course).

It's difficult to do that when you can't know if a school would discriminate if they didn't have to by (very confusing) law. What you can do, though, is bring it up if the opportunity arises and try to gauge your school's attitude towards native speakerism, and take it from there.

The 'native speaker' model is still seen as the best, or only, choice

This is a massive problem in a world where ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) is the English that most English speakers - most of whom are non-native - use. Native-speaker models with little attention paid to communication in the real world the learners will face is not optimal. A native-speaker model that ignores the Taiwanese businessman going to Korea, the young student planning to travel in Central Europe, the tech guy who talks to co-workers in India or young person who might not encounter native speakers often puts them at a disadvantage and is often the reason why good students in class, or even chatting with native speakers informally, hits a brick wall with other non-native speakers. This attitude, to be short, must change.

So what can we do?

Get training in how to teach ELF, and teach it if it fits your context (which it probably does). And let your students know why. Let them know that, in fact, as a native speaker you are not always an optimal model, and that learning by working with the English of non-native speakers is in many ways just as helpful or more helpful to them than only dealing with you.

School owners are often dismissive of foreign teacher concerns

This, I would like to emphasize, is not a problem with my employers. We are listened to and our opinions respected and considered and, often, acted on. I appreciate that a lot. It's why I continue to work for them. However, I can't say that's true for most, or even many, schools in Taiwan. Whether locally run or not - though most are run locally - there seems to be an unspoken but clear lack of respect for the sentiments of teachers, however correct or convincing they may be. (That's not to say such sentiments are always correct or convincing). Six-day workweeks, crazy hours and a lack of communication - or outright lying - driving high turnover, while the boss complains about high turnover? Low pay making it hard to hire good people? Textbooks that are required but not very good leading to poorer teaching?

All of these are valid concerns that are often dismissed by school administration, even at the "better" schools.

So, trying to bring up native speakerism is likely to get you about as far, if even that far, when opening such conversations. If they don't care that you're warning them that systemic problems in how they treat employees is the direct cause of high turnover, then they won't care about this.

So what can we do?

Change jobs. I feel like if the opportunity arose, I could bring this up at either of my workplaces without consequences, and be listened to. Try to find that kind of work. If your school is one where teachers and staff share resources and interesting articles, passing around an article on the issue may also have some awareness-raising effect, as well.

Other teachers will defend native speakerism

This is honestly the most aggravating to me, and I am sure that if this post makes the rounds among other expats that there will be blowback along exactly these lines. Whatever. I'll say it anyway.

I've heard it all - the same tired excuses that 'non-native speakers just don't know the language as well', 'this is the market, this is what the students want', 'you can't tell people whom they must hire, they can discriminate if they want and if someone doesn't like it they can find a different job', do you really want non-native speakers from India or the Philippines competing for your job, driving down wages?' and finally 'this is discrimination against native speakers, you think we're all know-nothings!'

Let's break all of these down:

Native speakers just don't know the language as well: covered it above

This is the market, this is what students want/employers can discriminate if they want: Due to lack of awareness and advertising for schools that preys on this. We can do better. In fact, research also shows the 'preference' among potential students is not as high as you would think. In any case, would you say "this is what the customer wants" as an excuse to discriminate based on gender, race, age or sexual orientation/gender identity? (If so, then you are pro-discrimination and I really don't know what to say except that there's a reason why such discrimination is illegal in most developed countries. It hurts members of those groups more than you realize, for very little reason. Customers, at times, have to be told when their requests are not reasonable.)

If someone doesn't like it they can find a different job: not if every single employer discriminates! Is it really okay to restrict the jobs available, or make no job at all available, to someone based on characteristics they can't change - and what your native language is happens to be such a characteristic, like age, race and orientation - for no reason other than to feed the prejudices of an uninformed clientele?

Do you really want "non-native" speakers from India or the Philippines competing for jobs and driving down wages? Well, I am a fan of government-mandated minimum wages at fair levels so the latter won't happen. As for competition, I welcome it. Competition makes for better product if it is fair. I am qualified. I have a decade of experience and a Delta, and will soon have a Master's in TESOL from a good school. The people who hire me - knowing what I cost - are not going to ditch me for someone who does not have such a background, and I would not want to work for anyone who would, or who thought that background was not necessary and just wanted to hire the cheapest taker. If those speakers - many of whom are actually native speakers or close enough to it - have similar credentials, then it is fair that we should compete. But it is fairly rare to have them at all, so I'm not that worried.

This is discrimination against native speakers, you think we're all know-nothings: This is the "what about WHITE HISTORY MONTH?!" of excuses used to defend native speakerism. I'm sorry, but it is. Many native speakers are not qualified to teach English. That does not mean those of us fighting native speakerism think none of them are. I'm a native speaker and I'm perfectly qualified to teach (but not because I'm a native speaker - in addition to it). I know that losing privilege feels like oppression, but I would beg those who think along these lines to really go back and consider what they are saying.

I have to say that I find these concerns worrying - in terms of advocating employment discrimination! - and unprofessional. If you don't have confidence in your ability to succeed in a wider employment pool, then why are you doing this job? Are you so afraid for your security that you want to shut others out to keep it? Is this even ethical? Is there not a whiff of wanting to cling to privilege about it?

So what can we do?
In terms of working on this attitude among other expats, simply making your points when the discussion comes up and sticking to them, doggedly raising awareness and not letting the privilege-clinging dominate the discussion, is all you can do until people start to listen.

I'm lucky, I can afford to have this attitude. Want to be lucky too? Upgrade yourself so you are not competing for low wages, but have the chance to work for people that recognize what you have to offer. Treat your profession like a profession, stop devaluing yourself. That's another thing you can do.

Trust me, if you actually take the time to, say, get a Delta or Master's, you won't want to work for people who would pay the lowest bidder $450/hour.

Employment laws are not enforced and there is no real union

This is tough too - in theory, Taiwan prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, creed, sexual orientation etc.: basically the same way all other developed countries do. In theory, if you are fired (or not hired) for being (or not being) a certain race, you can sue, and you are supposed to win.

In practice, these laws are not enforced very well, if at all. There is no union of English teachers able to take action regarding this, and it's difficult for individuals to act without union representation. The three main issues facing unionization are that it is not popular in Taiwan (the workers' associations, which are unions in a way, don't quite act in the same way as we might imagine a union would), which also means that Taiwanese local teachers in private academies are not likely to join; it is hard to convince people scattered across many schools and employment types, many of whom are not planning to stay long-term or teach professionally to join; and that I have heard - correct me if I'm wrong - that only foreign workers with APRC or JFRV open work permits are allowed to unionize at all. If true, that means almost no English teachers in Taiwan are even eligible to legally unionize. Those that are are often so embedded in doing their own thing that it's hard to organize them (I admit to being somewhat guilty of this).

What that means is that if it's hard to get the government to act on discrimination based on race or gender, it will be even harder to get them to act based on native speakerism. Even if we get the employment laws for foreign teachers changed, there is no guarantee the new laws would be enforced.

So what can we do?

Unionize, or at least support the effort. Good luck with that. I told you this would be hard to fight. Set a precedent by fighting discrimination in other forms, such as that based on race, gender or age, so when you are ready and able to fight native speakerism, pushing back against discrimination and actually winning won't be a novel concept. Getting a more diverse teaching staff in schools will also speed up the acceptance that not all "good" English teachers look a certain way - a prejudice that is tied to native speakerism.

It's hard to advocate for "good teachers with credentials and experience regardless of native language" when credentials and experience aren't necessary in the first place, and learners are often unaware of this

This is another thing that aggravates me in Taiwan, although I do love this country with a ferocity I didn't think possible (and I am not a naturally patriotic person). There is a stunning lack of professionalism in many fields - my other bugbear is the journalistic standards of local media - English teaching not least among them.

I have said that I do think there is a place for inexperienced, even unqualified, new teachers in the industry. I can't be too hard on them, I used to be one. However, I do feel it ought to involve gradually increasing responsibility at an employer that provides good quality training along the way, with an internationally recognized certification eventually required.

That is not what happens in Taiwan, by a long shot.

If it is already considered acceptable to hire a fresh college grad with no relevant experience or credential, give him some materials (if you do even that), maybe let him observe a few classes and then have him go for it, with no attention paid to further training (or further quality training), then it will be quite difficult to convince schools, learners and teachers that in fact quality matters. It will be a battle just to dismantle the notion that teaching is an inborn talent - it is only in very rare circumstances - and to persuade people that experience without training isn't worth a fraction of what the two in tandem are worth.

So, convincing employers that, yes, a non-native speaker must have a very high level of English, but also that there are other qualities that also matter that make it possible for a non-native speaker teacher to teach just as well as a native speaker, is an uphill battle when they don't think those qualities are important even in native speakers.

So what can we do?
Raise awareness among your learners about what goes into teaching well. When they ask you for advice, tell them that they shouldn't be looking to continue their education with "a native speaker" per se, but a qualified, experienced teacher with good training. Tell them straight up that being a native speaker does not make one an automatically qualified language teacher, and advise them to aim higher.

Along with this, advocate for more training available in Taiwan. I did an entire Delta from Taiwan, but as it stands now there are no other strong, internationally-recognized pre-service or basic credentials available here. You have to leave the country for any such face-to-face credential (and, in fact, such credentials are worth little if they do not include practical experience). The more people who have training there are in the market, the more awareness about the importance of training there will be. Fun side effect: higher wages (at least one would hope) if starting a job with some training were the norm.

Foreigners don't teach "differently" and aren't "more fun" because of "culture"

This seems like an unrelated point, but bear with me.

Another excuse I often hear from learners about why they want native speakers isn't about being a native speaker at all - they think foreigners, Westerners specifically, are more "fun" and our classes are more "exciting". Often, they think that this is because our educational system and culture are "different". In some cases they mean "better", in others they mean "fine for after-school English class but in Real School Confucius-like stone-faced teachers who teach to the test as they give you more tests is still the way to go, and we are merely after-class entertainment.

Some may even think the 'fun' comes with a lack of training, as though training teaches a teacher to be boring.

Often this is pegged on the West just being fundamentally different. It is, in some ways (but hey I took boring classes and had tests too).

The truth is, though, that an untrained teacher is usually the more boring one, relying on old tropes of what a teacher does rather than more updated, modern pedagogical principles. The untrained teacher is more likely to fall back on drills, repetition, quizzes, worksheets, lecture-mode teaching, arduous and torturous (and not very useful) top-heavy presentations of grammar or other concepts, and maybe a few games here and there. When they are not boring, they rely on personality to get by (I was once guilty of this and perhaps from time to time still am when I get lazy - I do have the personality for it).

This is true no matter your cultural or national origin, let alone your native language. And yet it's used as the reason why a learner wants - or a school thinks a learner wants - a 'foreign English teacher' which really means a 'Western English teacher' which equates, generally, to a native speaker. It may be a way of asking for a native speaker without saying so directly.

So what can we do?
When you hear a learner talk about wanting a 'fun' class taught by a foreigner - or any other variation of the "foreigners are fun!" sentiment, counter it gently. A well-trained Taiwanese teacher can be just as 'fun' and an average native speaker teacher can be quite boring - it's experience and training that make a class better.

This introduces the concept of professional background, rather than national origin, being the key factor in a good teacher, which paves the way for acceptance of non-native teachers as just as able to teach a 'fun' or interesting class as native-speaking ones.

Language teacher training in Asia is not what it could be

Of course, going along with all of this is the need to better train local non-native speaker teachers in Taiwan. This is, in fact, a region-wide problem if not larger. It seems that non-native speaker local teachers are trained based on outdated or unsound principles, as friends of mine who have been through language teaching Master's programs say the pedagogical side often is neglected in favor of the Applied Linguistics side. If we want learners to accept that non-native speaker teachers can be just as qualified to lead a class as native-speaker ones, we need to do something about this, so that local non-native speaker teachers have more modern, principled teacher training.

So what can we do?

Very little, unless you yourself are a PhD, join the academic faculty at a school that offers a Master's in TESOL or other language teaching field (Applied Linguistics, Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, Applied Foreign Languages etc.) and push the school to modernize, which in Taiwan I know often is a losing battle. We can all stand to go out and get more training to raise the overall level of quality of English teaching, and we can push for an internationally-recognized teaching certification program (I don't want to say CELTA or Trinity, but if not them, at least something like them) to be offered in Taiwan so more non-native speaker teachers have a chance to attend. You can work to become the sort of person who would be qualified to be a tutor in such a course.

Those fighting native speakerism globally often have a blind spot

The final issue isn't so much what Taiwan can do, but a criticism of a lot of the dialogue internationally on how to fight native speakerism. These articles often have massive blind spots when it comes to Asia: they assume non-native speaker teachers can get visas: this is often not the case in Asia - if not Taiwan, then China and South Korea do have these restrictions, meaning that calling out discrimination where you see it and writing to schools with discriminatory ads is not a workable strategy.

They also tend to take as the default employers that are either within the formal education system (such as working in a public school) or are under the auspices of a government (such as British Council or IELTS), which are bound by certain professional and ethical standards that you can call upon when fighting native speakerism. That doesn't work when most employers are buxibans (private language academies) run by businesspeople, not educators, who run businesses, not schools, and who aren't, honestly, beholden to any professional or ethical standards at all, if they are even aware such standards exist in English teaching.

They often cite a "four week intensive course" as "the minimum qualification" to teach (and note that it is not sufficient in the long term, which is true). In Asia, however, this is generally not the case. In fact, in Taiwan if you have taken that course - they mean CELTA by the way - you are actually ahead of the game. The minimum qualification to teach is nothing at all. So advice that takes having something like CELTA as the minimum requirement to work is not helpful.

This needs to change - I don't mean to divide teachers, but it is dishonest to pretend these differences do not exist.

I wish I had better suggestions for how to deal with the situation we have, rather than the situation most common advice addresses. Unfortunately, in the ELT industry as we experience it in Taiwan, there is little we can do except push back gently when the issue comes up, raise the issue when it is pertinent, raise awareness when the opportunity arises, and improve ourselves via quality training and experience to bring the industry overall to a higher standard, which will hopefully bring with it more up-to-date ethical standards on the non-native speaker teacher issue.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Teaching English in Taiwan isn't "well-paid", even compared to local salaries

I have the feeling this is going to be one of those posts I write once, and then link to from here on out every time the topic comes up in some stupid online debate. But I'm sick of writing it, so I'll write it one last time here and then can copy+paste forevermore.

First, a few things to make clear: yes, I acknowledge that the take-home pay of English teachers is considerably higher than that of many locals when you take hours worked into account, especially at the lower end of the qualifications-and-experience pool.  The same is true if you compare a foreign teacher to a local one, especially a local English teacher - which is, of course, unfair and native-speakerist. I'm not denying that.

Second, I'm coming at this as a professional, so that is of course going to color how I see wages in the TEFL field (I've started refusing to call it an "industry" because it is a field of education. Some private English schools do good work, some are parasites, but I won't descend to the lowest common denominator).

Finally, I realize that these factors are vary widely by country and region. I'm coming at this from the standpoint of a professional who expects a salary floor, a fundamental base idea of what pay should be, no matter where I go - just as any professional would.

And, finally, of course, I do realize we are much better off than your average Southeast Asian worker in Taiwan. That goes without saying, and their fight for a better life should not be ignored, either.

All that aside, English teaching in Taiwan really, truly doesn't pay that well, even compared to local salaries, and I'd like to explore the reasons why:

We don't get the benefits Taiwanese workers (often) do, including labor protections or even employers who follow the law

Here are some things I don't get that most Taiwanese workers do (and I'm a professional, I can only imagine it is worse for others):

- Paid Chinese New Year vacation - which is actually a legal requirement, even for hourly workers, but good freakin' luck getting it. Not even my comparatively good employers offer that.

- An annual bonus that is at or near 1-2 months' salary - I do get a bonus from one of my employers and it's appreciated. Truly. But your average Taiwanese can expect an extra month, or two, of salary. I haven't known many English teachers who got that outside of the universities and perhaps the public schools. 

- Paid leave - I'm willing to make this trade-off because I get more leave than your average worker, but still less than your average public school or university teacher. That said, it would be nice to have leave factored into a salary package.

- A stable income - one thing I do want is a fair salary with acceptable working conditions ("we own you" cannot be a prerequisite for mediocre pay). In Taiwan either you can earn more in take-home pay by the hour but get no benefits, or you can earn a crap salary and be your supervisor's butt monkey. Neither is appealing. I realize Taiwanese also have this problem, but compared to most of our home countries, this is a problem.

Plus two more that I do get, but most English teachers don't:

- Labor insurance - I had to fight for this, but I got it. I have heard varying reports on the legality of schools not offering lao bao, from "that's illegal, they MUST offer it" to "the employee can choose not to enroll but the school cannot refuse to enroll them". Either way, you should be getting lao bao, and you probably aren't. 

- The ability to change fields/industries - if they can get hired, a local can switch to another job in another field. Without 2 years' experience in that field or a Master's, a foreigner can't. Either we teach English until we get permanent residence, or we come in with those credentials already, or we teach whether we want to or not unless a loophole can be found. This doesn't seem directly related to pay, but it is: it's hard to find ways to increase your earnings if you are stuck in a field you may not want to be in, which doesn't actually pay all that well.

For professionals, the comparison is jarring

A lot of people who say "but we are paid so much better" are comparing those 22-year-olds above (and ignoring all the benefits their young Taiwanese counterpart enjoys that they don't). That's fine, if you are also someone who in any other circumstance would be earning an entry-level salary.

I, however, am not comparing myself to a twentysomething local who hasn't risen very high at work yet, because I'm not a twentysomething and I have risen. Looking at what I earn in relation to an entry-level Taiwanese worker is not a valid comparison.

I'm comparing myself to the thirty- and forty-something professionals I know in Taiwan - and I know quite a few as I've taught Business English for many years - and I have to say, my salary does not stack up. They can afford to buy apartments and drive nice cars as well as take good vacations. I could perhaps afford one of those (the car would not be my choice, of course). Right now, because foreigners can't easily get mortgages unless they are married to locals, I choose the nice vacations. But compared to the people I actually spend time with, I am not that well paid and have very little salary security. My engineer, finance/fund manager, sales rep, accountant and doctor friends and students do better than I do - not that I've asked my students their salaries, but because it's not that hard to figure out when they tell me about their lives.

Once you make that comparison, things don't look so great. 

Something like 90% of the teaching jobs in Taiwan are a joke

For someone looking to make real money and live a proper thirtysomething life - and I'm no materialist, I just mean you can eat real food and be confident that you can pay your rent without living in a crap-box - only the thinnest sliver of the TEFL pie in Taiwan is worth looking at. I've unsubscribed from most job boards with Taiwan jobs, not only because I'm not looking but also because, in the years I've been on them, I've seen exactly one job I would apply for. Maybe two or three if I were looking and needed to land something decent. Those are not good odds.

Better jobs do exist, but they don't come along frequently and they tend not to advertise much, because they don't have to. ITI-TAITRA (at least before the Ministry of Education lowered their pay scale), CES Taipei and its sister school UKEAS, LADO Management Consultants, Cambridge Taipei (I have heard), British Council and maybe a few other places (not sure about LTTC, for example - anyone?) pay pretty well, all things considered. Then there are the public school, university and (very good) international school jobs if you are qualified. Every once in awhile a more typical buxiban will pay above the standard rate, but they don't seem - from my outside perspective - like great places to work. My former "management consulting" firm, in scare quotes for a reason, also pays above the standard rate but I would never, ever recommend them to anyone with a shred of sense.

At these better jobs you are more likely to start at around $750-$800/hour (but you'll need the qualifications to get the higher rate) and go up from there - $1000 or even $1500 isn't unheard-of. Salaried positions are all over the place in terms of pay, but $70,000/month with perhaps a housing allowance isn't unheard-of either, though it could be lower.

That is a very, very tiny sliver of the market to choose from.

The rest, honestly? My first impulse was to call them "trash" but I'm sure someone will get mad, and I can see why people wouldn't want their job to be called "trash", but honestly...

Not great.

University pay? Also a joke (depending on the hours you are expected to put in)

Sure, you get an annual bonus and paid vacations, but your average university job seems to pay between NT$50-$70,000/month. That's...not good. Back when it was easy to get such jobs for a few hours a week it was a pretty sweet deal, and I think fair considering how much extra prep work one has to put into a good university course. Now that they pay those rates but expect full-time work, including meetings and all manner of extra work like judging those stupid speech contests, it's just not a great option.

There are no local opportunities for good professional development

Want a CELTA? In Taiwan? You're in luck - you get to pay for airfare, accommodation and food, the course itself and miss out on four weeks of pay because it isn't offered in Taiwan (yet). Lucky ducky you!!!!

You get to pay that yourself, because no school, not even the good ones, will sponsor you. Fun times!! Woo!!

Want a Delta? You can either do the same damn thing but for even more money and time, or you can do it online. Good luck finding a tutor for Module 2. I know like 10 people who could do it. Most are busy and one is leaving the country soon. 

Have fun parting with all of your hard-earned cash and then some!

(It's worth it, but still, have fun paying all that money out of pocket on your joke wages)

So much depends on your skin color

A lot of the estimates of teacher pay in Taiwan are based on the idea of a white native speaker teacher. However, I have friends who are Indian, Black or of Asian heritage who are quite clear that they are consistently offered lower salaries and fewer raises. Many are made to feel lucky to have a job at all, and many get completely inappropriate complaints that clearly stem from racism, which hurts their performance reviews and results in lower pay overall. It is important to take this into account and not just estimate the salary for Jimbo McBlueeyes.

Estimates of pay are all over the place, but I'd gather the lower ones are more accurate

I've heard "NT$65-100,000/month", I've had someone tell me they made about $51,000/month and someone say they had trouble cracking $45,000. The starting pay for 22-year-old Jimbo McBlueeyes is usually NT$600/hour, but I've seen lower. (I make more - a lot more - but I'm the exception. If you are good at what you do and get a Delta you too can fight with me for that tiny little sliver of the market. Fun times for all.)

If you make $600/hour and work 20 hours/week, you'll make about $48,000 before taxes depending on the month - remember how many hours you work in a week may not be up to you, and does not include all of the work you actually do. If you work 25 hours a week you'll make about $60,000 before taxes. Get a tiny raise (I've seen 5 and 10 NT raises! I almost quit over one!), make a tiny bit more. Five years later maybe after 5 10 NT raises you're making $650 - whoopty freakin' doo - and you get $52-65,000 before taxes, unless you get some certifications and go after that thin sliver of job market mentioned above, or get lucky with a better offer (it happens - I know someone at American Eagle who makes $750/hour).

All that is to say, it sure seems to me that for the vast majority of teachers, the lower end of the pay estimates are more accurate and you have to fall into some good luck to earn more. Those estimates are, to be frank, not that great. And remember, once you do hit a more professional level, your Taiwanese counterparts are often now making well over $100,000/month depending on the profession. You go from making more than your local peers to making far less.

I'll finish this section up with an anecdote: when I applied for permanent residence, the immigration officer who looked at my paperwork actually commented that I make very good money, and most foreigners' income tax documents she sees show much lower pay. That could be due to the buxibans cheating, but it's probably also in part due to pay being lower than people would generally like to admit. 

I'm not sure estimates of Taiwanese pay are that accurate either

Everyone says the average wage in Taiwan is around NT$30,000/month, and I do know people who are offered that joke of a salary or less. But, if so many people are making that, and logically speaking so many are then making less, how is it that people can buy apartments and cars, take vacations to Japan etc.? I realize part of it is generational wealth, part of it is being able to save everything if you live with your parents. But some of it, at least some, is almost certainly due to the rampant cheating on taxes that most Taiwanese companies do. If your employer cooks the books, your salary is likely reported as lower than it is - or maybe you have your own thing going and you under-report or don't report certain incomes - which makes the national average seem lower than it is.

Cost of Living, Moving and Traveling

The first one affects Taiwanese too: the cost of living has gone up, but pay hasn't in the last decade. I came here a decade ago (almost exactly). The pay then for English teachers was more or less exactly what it is now, but it does cost more to live (don't believe the government line about inflation being stable or even negative - they lumped in a huge decrease in fuel costs along with rises in everything else and called it even. If you are wondering why the official line is that inflation is not a problem when your rent, food, sundry and transport costs have gone up, that's why).

The second is that, honestly, teaching English here especially in the most common jobs pays better, especially compared to cost of living, than waitressing or what have you back home. Sure. But you are still basically spending thousands of dollars to uproot your life, move to a new place, settle in, get an apartment etc. all for what amounts to a wage that isn't that much higher than if you'd just stayed in your own country with your inexperienced self. People say you can make good money - no, if you do it, you do it because you want to go abroad, not for the money. The money, as I've shown, is not great.

Finally, as much as schools would like to crow that your visits home are not their problem - which is to a certain extent true - it would be smart to ruminate on the fact that if you want foreign English teachers, you've really got to understand that they have ties in their home countries and like any normal human being they want to maintain those ties. It would be wise to factor in the idea that people might want to see their parents every couple of years or be able to be there for grandparents in their old age. For older professionals, being their for your parents' old age is also a key factor. Schools are not obligated to consider this, but if they want to attract more talented people, it would be wise to consider it when putting together their salary offers. Visits home cost money, and if you have good reason to visit home every year or every two years, that can eat a huge chunk out of your savings.

It's yet another iteration of the universal truth that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. If you happen to get someone better, they won't stay long because they want more than peanuts. It goes for Taiwanese workers as well as foreign teachers.

Considering these costs in light of what teaching jobs actually pay, from a financial perspective teaching is not actually a great choice. You do it because you want to.

That doesn't mean, however, that you don't deserve to earn a good wage for doing something you want to do.