The topic of Asian culture is one of those aspects of life, which if one is not exposed to, stays in the realms of the unknown. There are many perceptions of the Asian culture by western society, such as; the superstitions, the wide variety of exotic food, the obsession with many things western, and more. This is not the focus of the article though. The focus is on education; namely English.
English has long been the staple diet of many Asian countries due to the overwhelming influence the language has around the globe (good or bad). Business, tourism, aviation, travel, are some of the industries which mostly rely on English on a daily basis. The language is spoken in more than 50 countries (English speaking countries (wikipedia) So you could say that is has a foothold around the world.
With the growth of English has come the increasing numbers of the ‘English Teacher’
Now English teachers fit all descriptions, due to the fact that there are also many English speaking countries (1st language), where mainly English is spoken. So ‘native’ speakers’ as we are known, come from many countries.
History has ‘dictated’ that Western countries, namely The UK, The USA, and Australia are primarily ‘white’ countries, so naturally the best English teachers are those with ‘pale faces’ (hence the title of the blog).
This idea has always been adopted by Asian countries, and the 3 main ones are South Korea, Japan, and China. Because in all 3 societies the desire to be ‘white’ is an ingrained part of the culture, so therefore anything which does not adhere to this , goes against the grain.
This growth in the desire to learn the language in Asia spawned the birth of the ‘backpacking/surfboarding/travelling teacher, who for all intents and purposes fits the description in the image above. Thousands upon thousands of these people have travelled around South East Asia under the guise of being an English teacher. Some are competent, and others are ….well….. English speakers!!! This is where things become out of sync.
The requirements for teaching English, although changing slowly, are for men 6ft tall, blone hair, blue eyes and handsome. English skills?? “Can you speak English?” “Yes” “Well you are hired” (signal all the girls swooning).
For women, not quite the 6ft tall requirement, but all the others, with ‘handsome’ replaced by ‘beautiful’. This has long been the requirements for these 3 countries, and anything which does not fit the bill does not even get a look-in, in many institutions.
I have been an ESL teacher for over 10 years, and have worked both in classroom, and online. I was once had a conversation with a Korean ‘hagwon (academy) owner, who was interested in my becoming an online teacher to his students, after hearing about me (from where I have no idea, but I was teaching 90% Korean students on a campus at the time).
So my friend, who he contacted (she is Korean, and was once my student) set up a call between said owner and me. When the call connected and the video kicked in he saw me. Upon seeing my face (black man) there was a complete change of approach. The 1st question was “Are you sure you are from England?” (which was repeated throughout the interview). “Yes, I was born and raised there” “But you don’t look English” “How do English people look?” “Well…..white” “No, there is a huge part of the British population that is not white” “Ok, then how is your English?, is it your 1st language?” “It is the only language I speak.” He then proceeded to ‘test’ my English, even though his English was not of a sufficient level to test me, which resulted in the comment “Your English is quite good” (????) “but I don’t think the students would be comfortable with you teaching them.” (Considering that one of my very 1st English classes was to a group of 13 Korean university students, and the Dean of the university was sitting at the back of the class to check me out. He left the class after 10 minutes, being satisfied with what he had witnessed, I would say that I am a competent and knowledgable teacher).
I have also met several non-white teachers (Black, Asian, Middle Eastern) who were working in Korea (South), and their stories all mirrored each others. If you are not ‘Caucasian’ then you are not only ‘not a real teacher’, because you are automatically seen as less intelligent, but you are also a 2nd class citizen.
I have to say at this point that I know that this is a generalization, but the evidence is out there, and you do not have to look very hard for it.
I have worked with some ‘awful’ ESL teachers in my time. Some who did not even know basic grammar. Their only ‘saving grace’ was that they fitted the description.