IATEFL 2016 The N-Factor: follow-up workshop to Silvana Richardson’s Plenary talk

Now it’s time for Silvana’s Day 2 Plenary follow-up workshop. As you would expect, there is a good turnout!

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A little reminder from the day 2 plenary!

Silvana starts by welcoming us and telling us that as it is a workshop, we are going to be doing most of the work. She plans to recap the main points of the plenary, ask us some questions, and hopefully explore some future directions.

Rather than writing up her recap here, I encourage you to take a look at my full write-up of her wonderful session here.

Silvana gave us the following questions:

  1. Why did you come to this workshop?
  2. What struck you most about yesterday’s plenary?
  3. What questions/comments would you like to ask me?

Then once we had discussed in small groups, we had to hand questions in to Silvana.

Question 1: One question that seems to recur is the question of terminology – what can we do to improve on NEST and NNEST?

Audience 1: Why not just say I’m an <country adjective> English speaker. One of his students wrote “I like speaking English with an Italian accent”. So that is what we aim for, a confident English speaker who is proud of his/her background and identity. Audience 2: I think there is a difference between being a speaker and being a teacher. Penny Ur speaks about highly proficient users of English. Becoming a native speaker is not am ambition that can be achieved. Audience 3: Why would we want to? Silvana: I’m a native speaker of Spanish, sorry. Audience 4: If we wan to do away with the discriminatory side of things, let’s have “I’m a teacher of English”. Why come up with something that will go against us? “I’m a qualified and experienced teacher of English. And I’m proud to be Hungarian and give a Hungarian English model to my students”.  Audience 5: We should let our students know who we are and that we have worked hard to become proficient at the language. Audience 6: What’s really important is to be a good teacher. That you use the language you have, whatever the level, in the right way with the students. Teaching is about the student talking time. Silvana: What we are teaching is English. For me, being competent and highly proficient is important. If I am teaching, and I am A2 level, then I should want to go on and improve that. Marek: For too long, there has been an obsession with native-like proficiency. It’s unfair to ask for C2 level all the time, we can’t turn a teacher down because they have slightly lower proficiency. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t improve. Silvana: It’s about subject knowledge isn’t it. Audience 7: It’s very difficult for us to be respected by society because we allow ourselves to be considered great teachers with an A2 level and it’s ok. If we were doctors and had a superficial knowledge of the human body…? Marek: Proficiency is not the only aspect. For example don’t require people to be proficient in methodology, they can’t be after a 4 week course. Audience 8: I was just wondering..I will always be proud of being an NNS but the time it would bug me would be if someone doesn’t want to employ me because of it. I don’t have a problem with being referred to as such, but if someone says we don’t employ NNS, then I have a problem. Audience: The solution in my opinion is rooted in the perception on the clients side, on the learners’ side of what the NNS has to bring to the table. Let me ask you a question. Do you know what the Fair list is? An award giving to organisations where there is gender equality for example at conferences. Maybe we could have one for NS-NNS equality.

Question 2: The NN teacher’s voice is an incredibly powerful source of quality exposure in low resource environments, how can we encourage this to be valued?

Audience: students will value a NNS more because they can see them as a model of what they could aspire to, so they can relate to it. A “we could do that too” thing. Marek: Haven’t found a single study that supports that a majority of students prefer native speakers. Good English was important. Audience 2: I think proficiency is an issue here. We are trying to do away with the native speaker as an idea but we need to put something in place of that, so that students have something better to strive for. We can’t improve anyone if we don’t know what we are trying to get at. I’m not saying we can agree on one particular standard but there should still be something up there. Our students would like to see that they improve and know what we expect from them. Audience 3: I’m troubled that we are still talking in terms of dichotomies. As Silvana said, we have to do it together. It’s not dispensing with the idea of NS-NNS, it’s actually being equal and that equality to be placed on the basis of qualification and competence which includes language competence. But language competence doesn’t mean native modelling. Audience 4: I guess what we are facing here is a social issue. We are talking about equality. It’s a social change. And it will not come from textbooks or top-down, probably as social change  generally doesn’t. It will come from us. I agree with our Hungarian friend, it’s about unity. It’s us uniting and joining together, joining strengths.

What are we going to do about this?

(NB: Again, deliberate use of extra large font above!) 

More discussion questions:

  • What changes would you like to see?

Silvana says we need awareness, advocacy and activism. What are you going to do in your context to make this change? To make change, it happens with small steps. So we need to start looking at what step one is. What possible first steps could you, your school, your teaching association take? We are asked to listen supportively.

She invites us to share ideas for change. Various audience members share the following:

  •  I might be in the minority here because I’m English. My point is, I teach ESOL here in the UK. I’m fully qualified, I’m doing a Masters at the moment. My problem is I am lumped in with the people who go abroad, with no qualifications, to get summer jobs. It’s not just a problem overseas, we’re having similar problems here. The government doesn’t want to pay us. I don’t know how to change that other than doing the best job I can. My manager is Polish, I have a French colleague, both fully qualified. They’re getting jobs here and not being discriminated again so it’s kind of we need to change it not just for the rest of the world but also in ESEs so that people recognise the jobs we do.
  • I used to be a teacher in a secondary school. I had to do a 4 year degree then an M.A. in teacher education. That is what you need in Ireland. With a 4 week course to become qualified, it gives the impression of not being a real profession.
  • I think all of us can chip away at the prejudices. But it can be top down too, I’d like to see other institutions getting involved like TESOL France. These organisations are powerful in their countries and can send a powerful message.
  • I’m going to set up a blog aimed at learners about what they should look for in their teachers. So that they can see that no matter whether they are native or non native, what is important.
  • I think if you work from the grassroots, you engage in local association of English teachers, that would be a good thing to do. If there isn’t an association, make one. We should be focusing on the professionalism of a teacher not their origin.

There are so many questions here, and we have only just started. The conversation will continue at Marek’s TEFLEquity blog.

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2 thoughts on “IATEFL 2016 The N-Factor: follow-up workshop to Silvana Richardson’s Plenary talk

  1. Pingback: Have you heard of TEFLEquity Advocates? – Lizzie Pinard

  2. Pingback: IATEFL Birmingham 2016: We’re all teachers | Sandy Millin

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