#IATEFL2017 – Stopping the buck

The interviews with Andy Hockley 1 and Marek Kiczkowiak 2 discuss the issue of native speakerism –

a pervasive ideology within ELT, characterized by the belief that ‘native-speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western culture’ from which spring the ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology3.

Marek Kiczkowiak who campaigns on this via TeflEquity Advocates 4 responded to the interviewer’s question of the reception of his pre-conference talk to academic managers and directors of studies (DOS’s):

Most of those DOS’s that came here today are very supportive of non-native speakers, they are interested in equal opportunities but they do find that very often that their hands are tied. Because sometimes the way agents sell the courses to the students who then come to the UK to their school is very different to what their school offers. The school offers a very diverse staffroom but the way the agents have sold the course is that they will have the class with your typical white western looking native speaker.” (my emphasis)

I was surprised that Marek accepted what he has called in the past the TEFL blame game 5 – native speakerism is due to market demand, what students and parents want. If we look at the issue of agents we could point out that a lot of the major schools have an agent procedure. So these big schools could apply positive pressure to what their agents sell. Similarly the British Council who accredit language schools can also play a big part, since agents often only work with BC accredited schools.

The systemic bias that is evident in the current setup of ELT has to be examined alongside the individual bias. Some glimpses of this systemic or structural bias are seen in the interview with Andy Hockley. Initially individual biases are mentioned, for example:

hire ethically, don’t have biases
people who come to this conference are not among the most biased
the majority of those who come to the conference are converted let’s call it
in smaller schools, in smaller places there is this unconscious bias that native speakers are better than non-native speakers

Andy Hockley then mentions his research on academic managers where “increasingly educational organizations are merging, are becoming bigger and more corporate”. Managers complain “they have to do so much corporate number stuff, kpi’s and all these things, they don’t have time to focus on education”.

KPIs are organizational metrics called key performance indicators, which have been critiqued as performativity i.e. “indicators of quality that are taken as definitions of quality”. 6 Andy makes this point when he says “people read data with their own biases in the first place so the data is not really relevant” and “I don’t think, at least so far, that the data is telling us much about what is going on in the classroom”.

Here the organizational reasons, the managers who talked to Andy gave, show the nature of the challenge for TEFL Equity Advocates and other groups such as TaWSIG 7 to organize for fairer and more equitable working conditions.

So let’s stop passing the buck and start hitting it.


  1. IATEFL 2017 Andy Hockley interview:

2. IATEFL 2017 Marek Kiczkowiak interview:

3. Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT journal, 60(4), 385-387. [https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article/60/4/385/499514/Native-speakerism]

4. TEFL Equity Advocates [https://teflreflections.wordpress.com/]

5. The TEFL blame game continued [https://teflreflections.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/the-tefl-blame-game-continued/]

6. Biesta, G. (2015). Education, Measurement and the Professions: Reclaiming a space for democratic professionality in education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-16. [http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/11141]

7. TaWSIG [http://teachersasworkers.org]

18 thoughts on “#IATEFL2017 – Stopping the buck

  1. Thanks for the post – I haven’t made it to any conferences yet this year so I wondered how much further we are along since 2016. I currently work in South East Asia – Does Hockley realise over here it’s not just the small schools but the industry standard not to hire NNESTs 😀 Small gains I guess, the recruitment profile is shifting from ‘native’ to ‘foreign’, to include fluent-english-speaking Europeans…. The BC are (in theory) an exception here now. What would you suggest ELT professionals do to avoid the blame game? Boycott schools with this type of policy? It would be difficult to find any work here if that were the case. Not defending it, just thinking aloud.

    1. hi Teflwaffle
      if TEFL Equity Advocates manage to move things forward with big players in UK, again I am calling out the big schools here and the British Council, it may encourage local groups based in your neck of the woods to organise for positive changes
      maybe you know of such local groups? or maybe start something yourself?

  2. Well said, Mura! What chance is there of real change with these people “leading” it!

    1. Hi Geoff
      thanks for dropping by, I take it you mean the big schools and British Council by “these people”?
      I think maybe Marek might have taken a different interpretation?

      1. By “these people”, I meant Marek Kiczkowiak and Andy Hockley.

        I’m afraid there’s a bit too much of the glib salesman about Mr. Kostrzewski’s writings and presentations. He’s converted his (sic) website into a vehicle for self-promotion to such an extent that it’s now a pain in the butt to visit. It looks like it’s desperately trying to sell stuff; a “Join Now!” pop-up page blocks your view 5 seconds after you arrive; every page invites donations to the cause, and every page provides a promotional link to the full range of training courses that Mr. Kiczkowiak runs.

        Furthermore, while using dubious constructs involving the “ownership” of language, Mr. Kostrzewski demands equal rights for NNESTs without showing enough appreciation of the need to locate this demand in the wider fight against the commodification of education. Would it be OK if NNESTs got the same appalling working conditions as NESTs and everybody worked happily together teaching for buttons from a global coursebook?

        Finally, after Brexit and Trump’s election, Mr. Kostrzewski pronounced that British and American teachers had “lost the right to claim that their version of English can serve as a reasonable model of English language use.” How can one take the author of such tripe seriously?

        Mr. Hockley talks abut managing ELT as if it were one more service industry, which, of course, it soon will be, especially if he gets his way. He uses the same awful language as management gurus, and, like Mr. Kostrzewski, he shows little interest in promoting a locally-controlled, democratic model of ELT where workers’ rights and critical pedagogy are given priority over efficiency and profit.

      2. okay I see what you mean Geoff, I guess each campaign has to decide for itself their strategy;

        and if we take your analysis of TEFL Equity one could say the passing the buck option will be more evident with TEFL Equity strategy;

        on the other hand a hope is that TEFL Equity approach by bringing native-speakerism to a wider audience could compensate in other ways?

        we can only find out by implementing whatever strategy each group thinks best

  3. Hi Mura,
    Thanks for the post. I agree that in hindsight I should have phrased it better. A bit tricky to get it 100% right with the BC cameras staring at you 😉
    What I wanted to bring the attention to is that agents are a huge part of the problem. Many DoSes are faced with a situation where their students have been promised white native speakers, but who they actually get is someone completely different. The point is that we need to talk about this with the agents and see if we can change the way they sell the English language.

      1. We won’t know until we try. The problem is, though, that for the most part we aren’t talking to agents. It’s not about passing the blame to someone else,but agents are part of the problem, and we need to talk to them too to see if we can solve this problem together

      2. hi Marek

        the passing the blame trope assumes individual bias; I think TEFL Equity is doing a great job on this, a question is then how can we tackle the systemic bias i briefly discussed in the post?

        why not focus on the big players in UK?

        the big schools and the British Council?


      3. I think that’s a very good suggestion. As with anything, though, I don’t think there’s one right solution. So we need to address it from different angles. Agents is one of them. And big players is another. The problem with big players is that they’re big and very slow to change. Not that they never do, though – IH is one recent example. What I’m trying to say is that you won’t solve it with one solution. We need to tackle it from various perspectives

      4. They’ve made it an official policy that ads for native speakers only are unacceptable. Of course, some schools still do it, but IH World is pretty good at policing it and taking ads like that down.

  4. As teachers, clearly you are all well aware of the significance of 1066 and the dominance of Norman French? English was literally banned in this country for roughly 400 years. It was spoken only by serfs and peasants. What we now hold to be English grammar was created by Thomas Sheridan and others during the Industrial Revolution, about 150 years ago. English grammar is not drawn from the English language, it is Basic Latin that has been superimposed upon the English language. So English grammar remains confused and both socially and politically potent for native speakers in ways that non-native speakers will never understand.
    Brandishing an English grammar book as if it is some sort of sacred religious text is a mistake. There will always inevitably be a difference between native and non-native speakers of every language in the world… It is exremely rare to find anyone who can speak their native language as fluently as a second language. Psychologically, there will always be a distinction and that distinction is the diference between achieving fluency and the innate ability to speak a first language effortlessly…
    I would say that if a non-native English teacher could teach in a secondary school in England, only then should they teach other non-native speakers English in other countries… That isn’t provocative, it is a straightforward observation…
    Be well!

    1. hi
      thanks for your comment;
      nope no idea what the significance is of your potted history on native speakerism;

      your criterion of only being allowed to teach provided you have taught in the language country in question’s national schooling system maybe somewhat unworkable;

      if however what you really mean is having some sort of rigorous competence assessment process that would raise the professionalism of the English Teaching industry then that would be a good thing

    2. “It is exremely rare to find anyone who can speak their native language as fluently as a second language. Psychologically, there will always be a distinction and that distinction is the diference between achieving fluency and the innate ability to speak a first language effortlessly”

      1. Wrong way round, I think.
      2. It seems to ignore the fact that more than half the world’s population are bilingual.
      3. We should recognise that there’s a difference between native speakers and non native speakers of a language. It doesn’t follow that native speakers make better teachers of that language.

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