Is there discrimination in TESOL?

While your fellow English teachers abroad are generally easy-going and embrace diversity, some employers may not share the same mindset. In certain regions, including some popular teaching destinations, more conservative viewpoints persist, which can lead to challenging situations.

First language discrimination in TESOL

Contrary to a common misconception, being a native English speaker doesn't automatically make you an effective ESL teacher. Proficient teaching requires an in-depth understanding of English language structures and teaching methodologies to facilitate learning in the classroom. There are several reasons why non-native English speakers might excel as ESL teachers:

  • Non-native English speakers often have a better grasp of English grammar since it is formally taught to them.
  • Mastery of a language doesn't inherently qualify someone to teach it.
  • Non-native English speakers tend to understand the learning process better, having gone through the same journey as their students.

Additionally, accents can be a contentious area. Some employers adhere to the outdated belief that non-native speakers have heavier accents, making them harder for students to comprehend. This argument doesn't hold water as several native English-speaking regions have distinct accents that can be challenging for even other English speakers to understand. Regardless of whether you are a native or non-native English speaker, you might encounter language-based discrimination during your TESOL journey.

Also read: What are the main differences between American and British English?

Race discrimination in TESOL

Regrettably, racial bias continues to permeate parts of the world, impacting the TESOL community. Some employers, especially in Asia, often request applicant photos and may show preference for white teachers. Though this issue is particularly prevalent in China, it isn't isolated to this region. Fortunately, improved education, heightened awareness of racial issues, and enhanced anti-discrimination laws are gradually lessening these discriminatory practices in most countries.

Age discrimination in TESOL

The belief that teaching English abroad is reserved for younger people is a widespread misconception. Many employers value the life experience and reliability that mature teachers bring. However, be aware that certain countries have legal age limits (typically around 60) for work visa applicants. If this affects you, consider alternative destinations or online teaching, which often have fewer age-related restrictions.

Also read: Is 30 too old to teach English abroad?

Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in TESOL

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity isn't unique to the TESOL industry; it largely depends on the country you are in. Non-heterosexual or non-cisgender teachers may find some locations more accepting than others. Despite most places having workplace anti-discrimination laws, some countries still criminalize same-sex relationships or marriage.

Appearance discrimination in TESOL

Appearance can sometimes be a deciding factor when securing a TESOL position. Visible tattoos, piercings, unconventional hairstyles, and facial hair could be problematic for certain employers. In regions where this may be an issue, presenting yourself as 'acceptable' by their standards during the interview process might be necessary. However, authenticity is essential, and while you might need to compromise to secure a position, you shouldn't drastically alter who you are to fit a particular mold. This is especially relevant in conservative Asian countries where traditional values often dictate parental expectations for teachers.

Also read: What are the most common concerns for first time ESL teachers?