The haves and the have-nots

silvana slideMany years ago, I encountered a participant on the IDLTM who had, shall we say, interesting views. She was the owner-director of a fairly successful language school in Germany, and had lots of fairly strong opinions about how management should work. I could tell a number of fairly shocking stories about her “unusual” views, but for this blog post I will just share the one which was possibly the most shocking – the one which left the rest of the group most open mouthed. This was when, during a discussion on recruitment, she revealed that she didn’t hire black teachers. I think she was taken aback by the collective gasp on this announcement, and she defended herself saying that her customers wouldn’t be happy with a black teacher. After picking my jaw off the floor, I jumped in and asked her how she knew that, and she announced that she was sure it was true, that German business people would not want a black teacher (this was an LTO which primarily worked with business English).  Now, obviously I was not in a position to claim a greater knowledge of that market and those customers (even though I found this claim hard to believe). So, instead I told her that even if what she said about attitudes were the case, that we have a duty to take a stand and make it clear that such attitudes have no basis in reality, and if there were customers that had such racist views, then it was up to us, language school managers, to educate them and not pander to that kind of thinking.

I have no idea if my words (and the support and agreement with my arguments from all of her classmates) had any effect.  Honestly I suspect not. And with hindsight I wonder if I could handled it better – by perhaps reporting her in some way (I’m quite sure such hiring discrimination is entirely illegal in Germany). But it is an incident that I suspect I will never forget.

So, why am I telling this story now? Well, I was reminded of this event very vividly last week during Silvana Richardson’s fantastic plenary about the continuing existence of prejudice against English teachers who have a language other than English as their first language (as Silvana pointed out, “Non-native English speaking teacher” is not a terribly positive description). The plenary was passionate, inspiring, and still also backed up with solid and strong research and great use of the literature to support the arguments made. It could have just been about passion and anger, but it never was, and instead was a thorough debunking of all the various reasons that are given and held such that native speakers get advantages in ELT.

I won’t review and comment on all of it, because I could not possibly do it justice, and anyway, I really think everyone should watch it for themselves, but one of the main sections of her talk is on overcoming the myth that “This is what students want”, and as I listened I was taken back to that experience mentioned above, when a similar argument was given to me for engaging in another discriminatory hiring practice.  From an academic managers perspective, then, I think it is our responsibility to get past this belief that students want native speakers.  Partly because it’s unlikely to be true (watch Silvana’s talk for the research data) but partly because even if it is true, we have the duty to change people’s perceptions – and we do that by changing our hiring practices. Fromteflequity this point forward, if anybody who has responsibility for recruitment says in one of my sessions “We have to hire native speakers, because the students expect/want it”, I will respond as I did back then, that even if that is 100% true it’s not a good enough answer.  I am also going to see how I, in my various strands of work, can support TEFL Equity Advocates. If you haven’t seen Silvana’s plenary, and you have any form of bias towards hiring native speaker teachers (as opposed to simply the best teachers), for whatever reason, conscious or unconscious, I urge you to watch the video. It takes an hour, but it’ll be one of the more important professional hours you spend this year. I guarantee that.

Oaths of Office

I was recently listening to a BBC podcast which asked how much blame for the global financial crisis should be attached to MBA programmes (You too can listen to it by clicking here, should you be interested, and believe me it is worth it). To summarise, in case you can’t bothered to listen to it, or don’t have time, people in charge of MBA programmes (or MBA programs, as it probably ought to be since they focus on the US and especially Harvard), feel that their only failing was that the model of risk assessment that was taught has proved to be deficient. Others, meanwhile, say that in fact, MBA programmes taught their graduates to put shareholders interests ahead of anything else, and in fact in one damning piece of research quoted (conducted by the Aspen Institute), students entering an MBA were asked what the role of business was and answered that it was to produce goods and services for the community, and by the time they finished the degree had changed their primary answer to “maximising shareholder value”.

Anyway, one of the things that was raised on the show was the MBA Oath, which is something that has been put together by some students to try and make graduates of such programmes more responsible leaders and managers. You can find the full text of the oath here.

As someone who teaches/trains on a post-graduate course for managers (though not an MBA, but the IDLTM), I wondered how much relevance this has for me and for those students I work with. Now, I don’t for a moment think that myself and my colleagues who teach on the course have been focussed on maximising shareholder value and profit, and in fact I suspect we do a good job of making sure managers who go through the course are fully focussed on the teachers, admin staff and other employees, and by extension the learners who are at the heart of any language teaching business.

Also, in general, as a profession, I think many school owners and managers do tend to be more people than money oriented.  This doesn’t apply to every school, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced LTOs (language teaching organisations) which are very much focussed on advancing the financial status of the owner

Having said that, however, I think it’s never a bad idea to examine (and re-examine) the way things are done and the ethics and moral choices that lie behind the things that we do.  The more I look at that oath, though, the more it seems self-evident (and only serves to highlight what a problem was being created by traditional MBAs in that some of those things had to be stated)

So, here, rather than trying to apply a set of platitudes of the “obey the law” and “think about things other than just personal profit” type, I’d like to come up with a list of commitments that LTO owners and even perhaps DOSs (or other middle managers) might want to keep pinned to their office wall. I have decided to take a leaf out of Ken Wilson‘s book and start this off as an open thread for commenters to make their suggestions –  I do have a few ideas myself, but rather than pre-empt things, I will, for now, keep my powder dry and see if people reading this would like to suggest some items of their own.

So, over to you!

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