In my timetable at the moment, the afternoons are filled with TP, i.e. observing and assessing the teaching practice of trainees on our school’s Trinity CertTESOL course.
Recently, I watched 3 very good lessons one after another.
At this point, I should qualify what–apart from standard assessment criteria–made me judge these lessons as “very good”.
They were good because:
- the teachers were in sync with their students’ personalities, interests and language abilities
- the teachers had prepared well to address these points
- the teachers showed genuine care for their students’ progress before, during and after the lesson
- the teachers had attempted to build on students’ learning from previous lessons
- the teachers responded to what their students said, not just how they said it (i.e. they weren’t just ‘error hunting’)
- the teachers supported and encouraged the students throughout the lessons
- the teachers had reflected well on their own strengths and weaknesses and enthusiastically tackled these, to the evident benefit of their own confidence and their students’ engagement in the lessons
- and finally, to be fair, there was probably also some mysterious alignment of all those ‘intangibles’ which just sometimes come together to make everyone happy to be where they are, doing what they’re doing, at a particular moment
While these teachers were teaching, two of their peers were also observing and taking notes. After teaching finishes, we always solicit the opinions of these peer observers.
This particular day was no different, and it commenced like this:
“I just want to say how honoured I am to have seen these three such lovely girls–native speakers.”*
I wish the written form of a blog post could do justice to the way that was said. (Un)fortunately I wasn’t prepared for it, and didn’t record it.
You’ll have to make do with my description:
These 2 words were uttered with a kind of tender awe, a kind of reverence bordering on idolatry, something akin to a teenage boy breathing the words “Bond girls”. Or maybe more like an individual of a certain political leaning devotedly murmuring “Aryan”.
It was chilling.
Seriously, I was a bit weirded out. I hear people harp on about the greatness of native speakers all the time, whether expressing this notion either directly or indirectly, but something about the way it was actually said this time… I nearly shivered.
As a general rule, I tend to sit on the fence with most ‘issues’. As another general rule, when I do have an opinion, I don’t tend to feel it’s my place as a teacher to foist my own views and beliefs on the other people in the classroom.
So, true to form, I held my tongue.
(Well, OK, I couldn’t help myself interjecting, “That’s neither here nor there”, as after uttering the ‘N’-phrase, this person paused to give me a supplicating look, whereas I wasn’t about to give my approbation. But after that, I shut up.)
But then a few hours later, I happened, by complete chance, to come across a sample timetable from another school for a different training course (just an internal thing, not a Trinity certificate) very similar to another course I’m working on at the moment.
And this got me fired up again.
The courses (both at my school and the other, which I’m about to detail) are intended mainly for teachers from overseas who wish to brush up on their teaching methodology, maybe learn about some new technologies or alternative approaches to the ones they’ve covered in their own (initial) training.
According to this other school’s website, “the course is designed mainly for non-native teachers” who:
• have teaching experience abroad or in the UK
• are returning to teaching after a break and feeling a little rusty
• are in training
• wish to acquire innovative ideas for the classroom
Among the items mentioned as covered in the course is the following:
• focussed phonology sessions to help students enhance their pronunciation and reduce accents
Aside from the fact that this quite obviously does not seem implied as necessary or relevant according to the purpose of the course (as defined in the four bullet points above), that phrase “enhance their pronunciation and reduce accents” gets my goat.
Where on earth does the assumption come from that having a non-native accent means having an undesirable excess of something?! That’s my understanding of ‘reduce’. And does that mean a native speaker somehow has some kind of magically ‘pure’, uncontaminated pronunciation? Surely not–that’s just bizarre.
And what’s more, on the very same page, the course purports to “refresh [trainees’] knowledge of current methodologies and trends in the EFL world” and be “[adapted]…according to [the] group’s need”.
Does anyone else see all the inherent assumptions and contradictions here?
Well, here’s what I see, anyway:
- “enhance their pronunciation” –> there is inevitably going to be a problem with the quality or value of the accents of trainees, which will therefore need enhancing
- “adapted to the group’s need” –> we’ve already determined what you need; you need to reduce your unsuitable non-native accents!
- “Current methodologies and trends in the EFL world” –> ELF, certainly a current trend in ELT research, is excluded by definition (despite this being the predominant use of English in the world now)
For goodness’ sake, everybody has an accent. Shouldn’t we ask people before assuming they want to change theirs? Especially if it’s already serving them quite well as it is, thank you very much?
Anyway, these two incidents (the trainee’s comment and then stumbling across this course description) in the space of as many hours led to this blog post.
I don’t make many pleas of this nature, but seriously–this has got to stop. This pervasive, unquestioning deference to native speakers, for no legitimate reason, is frankly absurd.
It’s just as absurd as according someone higher status because of other things they did not ask to be and cannot help, such as the colour of their skin or their sex, issues which I think we’d agree have already been quite thoroughly canvassed in the past few decades.
Coming back to the lessons I recently observed which prompted that ‘native speakers’ comment which offended me so much, yes, they were good lessons (in my opinion). Yes, the trainees who delivered them were native speakers. But one does not logically follow from the other.
Take a moment to scroll back up and read that list of reasons why their lessons were so good.
Nothing on this list is exclusive to native speakers.
I would have thought that was obvious, but then a pithy comment comes at me like a bolt from the blue and makes me lament that such overt, unfounded prejudice is still so prevalent in a modern, multicultural context like the one I work in. Worse still, that this is perpetually legitimised by the ELT industry… but this is a topic for another post.
OK, rant over.
*My quotation here is as faithful as I can be to the actual words without having recorded it. The words ‘honour’, ‘lovely’ and ‘native speakers’ were definitely in the same short sentence, and in that order.