Power

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Scott Thornbury posted an interesting blog post about power in TEFL on Sunday. The post talks about gender and native speaker bias. The comment section is, uncharacteristically, really awful. I wanted to share some thoughts but I’m going to put them up here instead of there.

I agree pretty much entirely with what Scott says but I’d like to shift the focus somewhat. Most of the talk there was based around who big conferences book to be plenary speakers and who big publishers send to those conferences. The problem with this isn’t just that we have very little power to change those decisions. It’s also a problem that it’s easy for everyone to have a good ol’ hate on big organisations and then, having blamed them, do nothing.  It reminds me of the adage:

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It’s very easy to imagine people in their cars swearing at the rest of the traffic oblivious to the fact that they’re also causing the guy behind them to swear in the way. Similarly it’s easy to be mad at big TEFL groups while not looking at our own behaviours. The amount of non-native plenary speakers might be a sign that the TEFL industry and community gives a huge amount of privilege to native speakers and their opinions.

In my (fairly limited) experience of TEFL conferences I’ve noticed that there might be a lot of microagressions and other behaviours that might make it harder for non-naitive EFL teachers to be a part of discourse. I’m not attacking anyone here as lots of these are based on dissatisfaction with things I’ve done and how things have gone in workshops I’ve run. This is all from my experiences in South Korea and I’m pretty clueless about elsewhere (tell me in the comments!)

I’m also aware it might be problematic for me to make this post as a native speaker so I’m very open to, and indeed hoping for, feedback and things I’ve missed from the list.

  • Basing decisions about what conference talk to go to on native speaker status.
  • Talking a lot during workshoppy time to the extent that non-native speakers don’t have time to.
  • You break off into groups, you chat, it’s time to feed back, you pick the native speaker (or the native speaker picks themselves) to summarise the groups opinions.
  • When you’re in a break off group, asking questions to non-native speakers like ‘how do you feel about this as a non-native teacher…’. Surely ‘how do you feel about this as a teacher…’ is fine.
  • Asking more follow up questions in break off groups to native speakers than to non-native speakers.
  • Reading few books and blogs by non-native teachers.
  • After conference drinks with mostly native speakers (or at least inviting only native speakers).
  • If you’re running a conference event and you’re taking questions and you do it in a way where the loudest and most confident (read ‘most privileged’) attendees get the most questions. (Pro tip: giving everyone a post it to write a question on and then taking them in means you can also filter out crappy questions, hurrah!)