Advice for a NNEST Job Seeker

Are you tired of getting turned down for teaching jobs because you are a non-native English-speaking teacher? Marek Kiczkowiak shares his personal tips on dealing with job discrimination.

You've sent dozens of CVs and your inbox is still empty. The only replies that have come through have all politely rejected your application based on the fact that you're a non-native English-speaking teacher (NNEST). Some have even complimented you on your qualifications and experience, regretting the fact that you were not born in an English–speaking country. Sound familiar?

When this happens, the most common reactions are twofold. You get hot under the collar and you might even fly off the handle, yelling a few juicy swearwords at the silent computer screen. Also, soon after, you're likely to sink into despair, and blame "the system" for your plight.

If you already have, or if you're about to, then please take a few deep breaths and count to ten. I'd like to share with you a couple of the more practical solutions, which will help to vent your spleen in a more productive way, save you from sulking and ultimately help you land your dream job.

When my CV was turned down for the first time based on my mother tongue (I'm Polish), I immediately flew off the handle. Having vented my anger and started complaining about my lot in the staff room, one of my NEST colleagues suggested I write about my experience. At first, it seemed like a far–fetched and impractical idea. After all, how could it get me a job? But in the end I caved in and wrote what became my first ever published article. It was featured in EL Gazette in July 2011 and caused quite a stir at the time, especially within the International House network. Yes, one of the member schools was the culprit.

The result was much better than I could have ever expected. Not only was I offered the job, which I politely (and with great satisfaction, I admit) rejected having already found a more suitable option in another IH school; but IH World Organisation also decided to change their recruitment policies globally and instruct their affiliated schools not to discriminate against candidates on the basis of their mother tongue.

So, lesson number 1: don't sulk – write. There are many online journals and blogs you can submit your proposals to. For example, teflequityadvocates, OUPTESOL NNEST, English Teaching Professional, EL Gazette and countless others, including TEFL.net, which invited me to write this article. Most of them offer guidelines and editorial help, and are very receptive to contributions, even on the rather edgy idea of equity between NNESTs and NESTs.

When my CV was turned down for the second time (for a Dutch language school which formed part of a UK-based chain), again based solely on my being Polish, I had the experience and confidence of the previous case and promptly replied to the recruiter, pointing out to him that a European Commission Communication from 12 November 2002 (COM [2002] 694 final) states that "advertisements requiring a particular language as a 'mother tongue' are not acceptable." I also added to it that on 23 May 2003, in answer to a question from German MEP Jo Leinen, the European Commission stated: "The term native speaker is not acceptable, under any circumstance, under community law."

The answer was immediate and apologetic. I was even invited to the interview, but I'd already decided I wanted to go freelance (and to be frank had no intention any more to have to prove my worth in front of narrow minded and prejudiced academic directors), so again I politely turned down the offer and at the same time continued working on another article about it.

So the second lesson I learned from it all is: don't despair – the law is on your side. The odds are the school doesn't know they are breaking the law, and are actually quite open to considering an application from a proficient NNEST. It's very likely that they will be impressed by your cheek, boldness and drive. I've seen this reaction many times since. If you combine it with lesson 1, you get quite a powerful "weapon". No school, even as big as IH, needs or wants bad publicity.

Finally, connect with other teachers. There are many places on the Internet to do that. Try teflequityadvocates or NNEST Interest Section Blog. On FB/groups there are two great groups which together have well over a thousand members from every corner of the planet — nnest and Budapest.nNEST. You will also be surprised how much has already been written on the topic (I had no idea at the time). A selection of useful blog posts and articles can be found on teflequityadvocates and on Ana Wu's blog. It might also be reassuring to know that many renowned EFL professionals, such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, and some organisations such as TESOL, TESOL France, TEFL.net and British Council Teaching English have openly supported the movement for equal employment opportunities for NNESTs.

In this article I have only addressed the issue of discrimination based on "mother tongue" as it is the one I have been a victim of personally. Having said that, EFL is not free of other forms of discrimination such as that against non-white native speakers, which you can read about in Michael Griffin's post, and I think the above lessons apply to all forms of discrimination.

I also understand that you might think I have been lucky. Perhaps. But you need to help your luck too, don't you? So if you have been discriminated against, don't blame "the system". Don't despair, sulk or feel that you are indeed inferior. Go out there, and show them how much you're worth. We all have the power to change things.

Marek Kiczkowiak

Since doing the CELTA in 2007 and then graduating with a BA in English philology, Marek has taught English in six different countries and is currently based in Wageningen, Holland, where he has set up his own language business: Polish Your Languages. He also has the DELTA, has been involved in teacher training and presented at international EFL conferences. His teaching-related posts can be found on teflreflections. He also started a campaign advocating equal employment rights for NNESTs which you can read more about on teflequityadvocates. In his free time he loves learning languages, reading, travelling and meeting new people.