UPDATE: Below my post, you can read Vinícius Nobre’s letter (he’s the president of Braz-TESOL) and, now, the reply that Open English has written. We did it!
I must say I’m not particularly offended when I’m called a NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher). Perhaps I’m just being naïve, but I don’t believe there’s harm in the terminology when it’s used by someone just to make things clear. It’s just as if you say I’m tall, or blond, or even white. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge we have to pay attention to the rules of political correctness and avoid misinterpretation as much as we can, but I just choose to believe that people, when they do that, they’re not simply trying to offend me. The same is true for the NNEST thing. I was born in Brazil and I’ve never studied nor lived abroad, and the English I know is the English I learnt in Brazil. Therefore, if you call me a NNEST, I simply understand that you are stating a fact.
However, it’s also very easy to notice when someone is being rude, offensive, or just tongue-in-cheek. For instance, if you’re among friends and one of them just happens to say something that could be interpreted as rude by others who haven’t got a clue of how well you know one another, you don’t take it that seriously. You’re probably well aware of the fact that this friend of yours is just pulling your leg, yanking your chain, or making fun of you. You know this is not exactly what he feels or thinks. I remember when I was 12 or 13 and played basketball. If I remember correctly, that was the very first time I heard someone complaining about the kind of language I used with a very good friend of mine. You see, we were very good friends, and there was absolutely no harm meant, but as this friend was black, I used to call him according to his skin colour. I can honestly relate to that and assure there was no cruelty or racism of any kind involved, just as I’m sure he didn’t mean any when he called me “German” or “Whitey” or “Honky”. I’m now aware of the fact that these are offensive words, but I have never felt offended when these words were used by my friends.
Just the same, it’s also very easy to notice people are being rude or judging you as inferior – and they can use exactly the same words. You see, it’s not only a matter of being politically correct, it’s a matter of how you say what you’re saying. The body language, the context, and all that goes with verbal communication are the things that make the difference between a simple joke among friends and offensive and unacceptable language. The reason why I’m writing this is not because we should be teaching this to our students, or teaching them which words in English are not supposed to be said, which are the politically correct ones and which should never be uttered. What’s caused me to write this post was the complete and absolute lack of common sense of people who happened to have put together a TV advert of an online language school that, as far as I know, is quite new in Brazil. The school is OpenEnglish.com, and the advert (I’ll translate it to my fellow NESTs below) is this:
This is what the advert says (my comments are in brackets).
“These two want to speak English. One of them goes to a traditional school, the other one studies at OpenEnglish. One of them studies with the same textbook his mother studied with (as if textbooks hadn’t changed at all), the other one studies online with multimedia lessons (one size fits all, anyone?). One has classes with Joana (a Brazilian name for the teacher who keeps dancing and making a fool of herself dancing to herself singing “the book is on the table”), the other one has classes with Jenny. “How about you? What is your choice?” (Jenny’s sentence in Portuguese).”
On one of the other ads, they’ve even added that Joana, the Brazilian teacher, had learnt English in Buenos Aires… well, I’m so sorry, but this is the kind of NNEST that IS, indeed, derogatory. This is why there’s a cause running on Facebook through the causes site, which you can find by clicking here. You see, there are a whole bunch of things that could be said to highlight the benefits of studying online – I’d be OK with that. However, I can’t possibly stand someone going as far as taking advantage of the little knowledge of people when it comes to learning a foreign language and their desire to learn it fast (because everything has to be done fast these days) to sell a product. In addition to this, Brazil is currently on a campaign to teach their population English no matter what on account of the world cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. How many people will be lured by an advert that is on national TV and waste their time and money on something that is unlikely to work?
As I said in the beginning, I’m a NNEST and that’s it. I don’t have to be proud or feel inferior because of that. The most important letter in the abbreviation is the last one – T. I’m a teacher first and foremost, and as such I’m constantly looking for ways to better teach my students. It honestly doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you also find the campaign offensive, I kindly ask you to join the cause. If you think this is not important, that’s also OK. If you think I’m wrong, just leave your comment and we can definitely talk about it.
UPDATES: Isabela Villas Boas has also written a fantastic piece on the add, expanding on what I have written here: Click here to read her post.
Vinícius Nobre is the current president of Braz-TESOL, and this is what he wrote on the matter:
“As the president of the largest association of English teachers in Brazil, I feel I have to take a stand and express my outrage and disappointment with regards to the TV commercial that has been broadcast on national television promoting an online English course.
I am NOT a native speaker of the English language, I do not have long blonde hair, I do not live in California and I do not wear a tight T-shirt to teach my students. In fact, I NEVER had a native speaker of English as a teacher. I never even lived in a foreign country. I simply studied the English language in my own developing country, and then four years of linguistics, literature, second language acquisition, morphology, pronunciation, syntax, education, pedagogy, methods and approaches. I have only dedicated 16 years of my life to the personal and professional growth of thousands of students. I have not bragged about my passport or my birthplace because I was too busy trying to understand my students’ linguistic and affective needs. I am NOT a native speaker of the language; hence – according to this TV commercial – I do not qualify to teach. I probably qualify as an irresponsible and grotesque mockery of a teacher.
Like me, thousands of hard-working, gifted, committed, passionate and under-valued educators (from Brazil or ANY other non-English speaking country) are depicted in 30 seconds of a despicable and desperate attempt to seduce students. I have met outstanding teachers regardless of their nationality and many of which who were native English speakers. The best English speaking educators I have met, however, were always dignified enough to acknowledge the qualities of a non-native speaker colleague.
Foreign language education has developed tremendously so as to guarantee the fairness and respect that all serious language professionals deserve (native speakers or not). At least among ourselves. If students still insist that a native speaker is better, we should at least rest assured that in our own profession we can find the respect and the recognition that a committed and qualified professional needs to have. It is sad, however, to be ridiculed by another (so-called) educational centre.
As the president of BRAZ-TESOL, as a non-native speaker of the English language, as an admirer of teachers regardless of their nationality, I resent such an irresponsible joke. But then again, who am I to even think about saying anything about the learning and the teaching of English? I am not Jenny from California – the utmost example of a foreign language educator.”
Open English’s CEO reply to the letter above – in English and in Portuguese:
My name is Andres Moreno and I’m the founder and CEO of Open English.
A recent advertisement we’ve been running on TV has upset some groups of people, including an important Brazilian teacher’s association, for what they perceive to be an offensive portrayal. Let me start by saying that anyone whose mission in life is teaching English has earned our admiration and respect. If we have offended this group, or any other, we sincerely apologize. As a company Founded by a Latin American entrepreneur and currently employing people from multiple countries across the region (including Brazil), we value diversity of opinions and welcome feedback as part of our desire to connect with students and advertise responsibly.
We happen to believe that online teaching from native English speakers is the right model for certain lifestyles, so it’s the one we’ve chosen for OUR business. However, this in no way diminishes the efforts and achievements of other teaching professionals.
Again, our intent was never to offend. Due to the feedback we have received and because of our great respect for our colleagues in the English teaching community, we are immediately pulling the ad from our website, social media platforms and television airwaves as soon as possible.
Meu nome é Andres Moreno, fundador e CEO da Open English.
Uma campanha publicitária veiculada por nós na TV foi considerada ofensiva por algumas pessoas, incluindo uma importante associação brasileira de professores. Quero começar dizendo que qualquer pessoa que tenha como missão na vida o ensino do inglês merece nossa admiração e nosso respeito. Se nós, involuntariamente, ofendemos essas pessoas, ou quaisquer outras, sinceramente pedimos desculpas. Como uma empresa fundada por um empreendedor latino-americano que emprega profissionais de diversos países (incluindo o Brasil), valorizamos a diversidade de opiniões e recebemos eventuais críticas como uma forma de nos ajudar a aprimorar nossa conexão com os estudantes e a anunciar de forma responsável.
Acreditamos que o ensino online com professores nativos de inglês é o melhor modelo para determinadas pessoas com determinados estilos de vida e é esse o modelo que escolhemos para o nosso negócio. Isso, de forma nenhuma, desvaloriza os esforços ou diminui a importância de outros profissionais de ensino.
Nossa intenção nunca foi ofender ninguém. Em razão das críticas que recebemos e do profundo respeito que temos por nossos colegas da comunidade de ensino do inglês, determinamos a interrupção imediata da exibição dos filmes publicitários da campanha em nosso website, em nossos canais nas mídias sociais e na televisão.
Fundador e CEO da Open English
Honestly, I hadn’t really planned to write a follow up to my previous post. However, things just seem to happen in a certain way and you have to do your best to adapt and make use of them to your advantage. I’m a strong proponent of meaningful and interesting conversation used to promote professional development. If you keep yourself open to learning possibilities, you’ll certainly see that people everywhere are dropping hints on how you can improve your game if you listen carefully. I had mentioned Jason’s participation in my class on my previous post, and students told me they enjoyed it so much that I could actually get a second guest teacher in that class. this time, it was Cecília Coelho, and we had a marvellous talk about assessment. Time was, again, an issue. Unlike Jason, who is in Australia, Cecília and I share the same timezone. Yet, our teaching schedules make it somehow hard for us to connect. I thoroughly appreciate Cecília’s effort dashing home to join the class – and I also thank the students for staying a bit longer than usual. It was definitely worth the while!
In addition to all of these wonderful co-teaching moments in my class, I’m also really happy with our #breltchat. In case you’re an English teacher in Brazil and you still haven’t heard of it, then you should pay a visit to our blog and join the conversation. #breltchat is the younger brother of #eltchat, a chat for English language teachers eager to discuss some issues we have to face on a daily basis in our profession. #eltchat takes place every Wednesday – twice! Currently, the first chat starts at 8:00 a.m. and the second one at 5:00 p.m. Brazilian time. This is a very successful chat on twitter, and 5 Brazilian English Language Teachers decided it would be a great chance for us to help Brazilian teachers develop and think about the particularities of our educational system. Bruno, Raquel, Valéria, Cecília and the one who writes you gave it a go and, fortunately, a wealth of Brazilian English teachers bought the idea and have made it a success. We hope it keeps growing from now on, and I’m sure the teachers who started participating in it won’t drop the ball now!
Anyway, our last chat was about Dogme and we decided we were going to try and interview some of the Dogmeists out there so that they could explain the concept better to teachers who still don’t know much about it. We also asked them about a couple of possibilities and suggestions that could possibly work in Brazil. Apart from Willy (interview coming up soon, hopefully) I don’t think they actually knew much about our educational system in Brazil, but they still agreed to help us think about some matters. You’ll soon be able to watch all 5 interviews: Fiona Mauchline, Luke Meddings, Scott Thornbury, Shelly Terrell, and Willy Cardoso.
Learning from a conversation? Well, I guess then these interviews are going to give you a lot to think about. On behalf of the #breltchat team of moderators, I hope you enjoy this interview with Scott Thornbury. Oh, and I hope you can get past my initial nervousness… trust me, it gets a lot better after the first answer!
I’d like to, once more, thank Scott for his participation (and apologise for my poor introduction). I’m sure this interview will be helpful to many teachers out there.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this one. All 5 interviews will soon be available at #breltchat. In the meantime…
- Watch Bruno’s brilliant interview with Shelly here.
How can we expect to change education when the people in charge don’t really feel like doing much about it? Besides doing something to ease the criticism, and maybe to appease the harsher critics, why would the government want to make things really work in education? It’s a known fact that the less educated you are, the easier it is for you to be manipulated. Sure, your brain may also play tricks on us when we are educated, and some might even be stubborn and refuse to change their minds. Nevertheless, we’ve got to admit that education is the only one thing that can open doors. It is the only one thing that can’t be taken away from you. Cliché?! It’s been said so often, that, yes, this might come across as cliché. But isn’t it true?
Real change in education, or in any other industry, has got to come from the ideas of those who are involved in it. Yet, most people in charge of public education are not teachers. This goes way beyond principals, I’m talking about those who are responsible for letting principals and teachers work. Politicians who should be working to make it happen, are actually getting in the way of change. In Brazil, to be more specific, in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, there’s always news about public schools that are about to be shut down simply because the building can’t welcome students any longer. Whenever you turn on the TV, there are stories of schools whose windows don’t open nor close – the ones which are open can’t be closed when it rains, and the ones that are closed can’t be opened when it’s hot. Not to mention worse problems yet – bathrooms that don’t work, schools with no food to serve to the kids, no water in the water fountains… and to think that those who went to public schools in Brazil 40 years ago (yes, a very long time ago), say that public education was actually better than the kind of education you could get in private schools.
Nowadays, if you’d like to give your children a chance in an educational system that puts kids through gruelling exams in order to have a chance to study at university, you’re likely to do whatever it takes to send your student to private schools. One would think kids would be treated differently there. I once had the opportunity to meet a principal from a school in Australia when he came to talk at our language institute. When we were talking about how schools were in Brasília, he was shocked to hear that most private schools put about 50 students in a class. When he said that most of his teachers would refuse to teach if there were more than 20 students in a class, I was aghast at such thought. Having studied and taught in a school with 50 students per class myself, I couldn’t believe it when I heard that teachers could have such a reaction. But it only makes sense.
Even though there might be fewer students per group in some public schools, teachers sometimes haven’t got chalk to write on the board, and kids haven’t been given a copy of the coursebook to work with in class. To make matters worse, there’s absolutely no security in most of such schools, which leads to plenty of other problems such as drug trafficking, bullying, fights and others. When a principal finally gets the money to buy the computers and create a computer lab, more often than not the computers are stolen within a month. Now, how could we change such a chaotic situation?
I believe real change will only happen when teachers are really heard about their needs. They are the ones who are really there. They know the real deal. They know what it takes to start making changes, but… how would we expect anyone to really hear their complaints if those who are responsible for funding, and who should be working for the people, are oblivious to such a reality. What sickens me the most is seeing an interview on TV when they say that they’re going to create a commission to investigate what needs to be done and that people shouldn’t worry, that next year every thing is going to be fixed. And we all know, I guess, how the story ends. Year after year schools are shut down, and politicians say they’ll build new ones. And that they do, but at what cost? The money that should be used to maintain schools goes straight to their pockets, and they make even more money when building new ones. They aren’t concerned about education, they’re concerned about the construction of more and more schools, as it’s much easier to embezzle when they have these public constructions.
But then again, why would they want to promote any real change? Most of them send their kids to the best private schools in the country, and some even send their kids abroad. Of course they’re going to say that everything is just fine in public schools. They don’t depend on it. So, change that should be bottom up can’t happen because those at the top don’t know and refuse to see that lots of things have to be done. And change that could be top down also doesn’t happen because… well, because they really don’t want it to happen for many different reasons.
Isaac Asimov created the three rules for robots. Perhaps we should come up with three rules for politicians as well. I have a suggestion for such rules:
1. All politicians must have a university degree – Let’s face it, there are pre-requirements for anything we want to do in life. You want to be a doctor, you’ve got to go through med school. You want to be a lawyer, law school it is. If you want to be an accountant, well, you have to study for that too. However, at least in Brazil, you can be a politician just by not being illiterate. I concede that having a degree isn’t a guarantee of anything in terms of integrity and morals, but let’s look at it from the following perspective: a legislator’s job is to create laws, and laws can’t be written or read and interpreted and then voted on if you can’t really read AND understand what you’ve read.
2. All politicians must have their bank accounts public – If you’ve chosen to work in politics, you’re supposed to have made this choice because you want to make things work for your country. You’re paid by the people and you work for the people, and as a citizen I’d love to know exactly how much money I’m paying you.
3. All politicians must use public services – Schools, hospitals, and even public transport. Being a politician in charge of public education and sending your students to private schools is just like being the owner of a restaurant but never having your meals there. It’s like being the owner of a school, but sending your kids to study in a different school. Well, if you don’t trust your school enough to send your kids there, why would I send mine? Yet, this is what happens. It’s only when politicians are forced to send their kids and family to public schools, to use public hospitals and to use public transport that they might start thinking about making real changes. Other than that, they’ll just close their eyes to all problems.
If you ask me, I’d say that it’s not bottom up nor top down. The whole system is upside down.
There is a school in Brasília that seems to be interested in approaching learning from a more ‘humanistic’ and ‘holistic’ perspective than what the current Brazilian educational system forces other schools to do so. They are concerned about arts, sports, music and creative thinking (as far as I’m concerned) than the other 99% of schools are. It’s almost as if Sir Ken Robinson’s idea of how schools should be like had come to life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all schools could actually teach for life instead of teach for the test? I mean, it seems to me that it’s common knowledge among most educators that standardized tests don’t deliver what they claim to deliver – if you do well on the test, it means you have learned the subject. (You can read a lot of great posts on that here and here, to cite just a few people who will lead you to many others)
And my answer to that question is, yes, it would be wonderful. But I recently heard a story from a student from the school I mentioned in the first paragraph above. She had been studying in that school for quite a while and was really happy with her routine. It all changed on her second to last year of high school. As kids grow older, so do their social circles (hopefully), and no longer did this particular student live with people from her school circle. To make matters worse, she had already learned of the standardised test all Brazilian learners are submitted to and which defines whether you’re going to college or not.
Reality hit hard on this student when she had a chance to compare her “knowledge” on physics, for instance, against her friends’ who were also going to compete against her for a place at university. It suddenly hit her that, if she was to succeed, she’d have to change schools and go where they actually abide by the system – they teach for the test. And so she did. Needless to say, she’s feeling miserable, but one’s got to do what one’s got to do, right?
The aim of this story is to pose a question: how can teachers be responsible for changing the system when there are no teachers in charge of thinking education? I mean, even though we may want to change the way our students learn and value their personal characteristics, we seem to be in a catch-22 situation. What I mean is, education is, ultimately, between the teacher and the learner. However, these two elements are under pressure from many different angles: schools policies, state regulations, ministry of education, and society as a whole. If teachers start this change, students will fail the big test they are forced to take in order to have better chances in life. If teachers choose not to do anything to change this situation, they’ll end up frustrated as they know what they’re doing doesn’t really help much in real life.
I’m of the opinion that we should re-think schools, and education in general. But when we’re in such a sad situation as this, I think the easy way out is a top-down change. If the ministry of education don’t change the rules for university entrance, parents will insist on enrolling their kids on schools which are well-known for their high “pass” percentages. If schools and their teachers fight the system, no matters what parents say, they’ll end up with no students – all parents want to give their kids a good chance to succeed, and if by that they need to go to a good university, they’ll take their kids to the schools that’ll better prepare their kids to get to such universities.
The situation is even worse when you learn that state schools are left to their own devices by the government and no matter how hard principals and teachers try, they can only do as much. Besides, if the salary is significantly less than what private schools pay, there isn’t much to keep good teachers in state schools.
To sum it up, it seems that our little friend will have to put up with the fact that, in order to go to university, she’ll have to be taught for the test – reality check. It doesn’t seem to matter that the kind of education she was getting before was preparing her better for life. In order to be able to “get a life”, she needs to pass the test.
How would we solve this if change doesn’t come from the top? I mean, teachers can and should do their share – pressure the government for change. But if things remain the same, the good teachers, the ones who care about teaching for life, will actually be putting their kids at a disadvantageous position. And this will be true as long as the yardstick we measure our kids against is a test.
Reading the local newspaper this morning, I found this piece of news that made me think yet again about the skills/characteristics of a 21st century educator IN BRAZIL. I love the discussions on #edchat every Tuesday, ideas and opinions are diverse, and discussions are really thought-provoking. However, nothing can be done unless we think globally without losing sight of local issues and particularities.
If you’re reading this and you can read Portuguese, here’s the link to the article.
If you can’t read Portuguese, here’s a quick summary:
1. Three criteria were considered unsatisfactory: a) teachers’ education; b) students’ performances; and c) lack of standardised curriculum.
2. Brazil invests meagre US$ 1500 per student YEARLY. This is less than other countries such as Mexico and Chile.
3. Despite the fact that 95% of children go to school, their performance is very weak both in national and international examinations.
The article finishes by saying that the divide between the rich and the poor in Brazil is only getting bigger due to the lack of standardised criteria of curriculum organisation. While the rich and educated are aware of what their kids should be learning, the poor haven’t got a clue. Shouldn’t education be inclusive instead of exclusive?
My concern about the use of technology in previous posts regards this specific problem. Outside twitter-ville and blogosphere, there are many children who simply haven’t got access to any technology at all apart from a TV set. In addition to that, rarely do public schools have a computer lab, and when that happens, the computers get stolen within weeks. If we do not invest in teacher training, how can we expect teachers to change this portrait of educational gloom? At least in Brazil, no one wants to ‘steal’ a teacher (nor do they want to rob them – with a paycheque like that? Why bother…).