Back

Are native teachers better? Non-native teachers and self-esteem

20th August 2019

By Cristina Ene

Teaching is not always a walk in the park. In fact, it is not only stressful but also draining as teachers give so much of themselves. I would argue that non-native teachers have an added stress: low self-esteem. “Are they good enough? Are they doing their jobs properly? Are the students happy? Are the students judging them based on their accent?” These are common questions that most non-native teachers ask themselves. It is true that native teachers ask themselves these questions too. However, non-native teachers might ask themselves these questions once too often, and they will probably give a negative answer. What happens then is that their self-esteem gets lower and lower, their performance suffers and students become unhappy. It is a self- fulfilling prophecy.

Being a non-native teacher does not mean that you will go through this or that, if you do, there is no way out of this situation. In this article, I will argue that you need to (i) know your subject, (ii) get qualified and (iii) challenge yourself in order to build-up your self-esteem and have a successful teaching career.

 

Know your subject

It is common sense that if you are to teach anything, you must master it first. Thus if you are going to become an English teacher, you must know your subject very well. Getting to C2 (proficiency) level is only the first aim in becoming an English teacher. Once you have reached this level, a common pitfall to avoid is thinking that it is the final stage. In reality, all languages are fluid, there is no actual beginning and end to any level. That translates to constant learning and improving, be it learning new words, improving fluency or accuracy. What many non-native teachers feel is that besides this being a life-long goal, it can feel almost impossible to reach it as there is always something new to learn. Moreover, it is not unheard of for non-natives to feel that they will never reach this stage and ‘competing’ with natives is pointless as they get a ‘head start’. While that is true, it does not automatically mean that natives are better teachers or that they can better explain the language to students.

One major advantage non-native teachers have – and there is a tendency of downplaying it as it is turning into a cliché – is that they have learnt the language themselves, actively and consciously. They are very much aware of the effort and time required to learn the language, of the joy and the frustration that learning can bring. Speaking the students’ mother tongue is not mandatory although teachers who speak it have an extra advantage – they are more aware of the specific problems students might encounter when learning English. Not speaking it does not take away anything as the teacher is still able to empathise with the students. Non-native teachers can serve as a role model for the students as they are living proof of what can be achieved.

Reaching success as a non-native teacher involves hard work. However, what it really needs is a change of mentality. Many students, especially at lower levels, are not always able to tell that their teacher is native or not, be it due to their language ability or the teacher’s high command of English. What happens when the students say “Oh, you’re native, right?” is that many non-native teachers immediately feel that the students want a native teacher and if possible, it is better to pass for one. Quite a few non-native teachers and students regard being native as the ideal while being a fully proficient English speaker is what they should be aiming for. In the long run, this works against non-native teachers because it makes it less obvious for students that there are many non-native teachers who have achieved a very high level of English and are very talented teachers.

 

Get qualified

Knowing your subject is only the first step in becoming a successful English teacher. Again, non-native teachers might feel that things are not fair as it is sometimes easier for natives to get jobs without being qualified while non-natives find it harder, if not impossible. Be that as it may, being qualified is a must, not just because it makes getting a job easier, but because qualified teachers are more confident and have higher levels of self-esteem. As I mentioned in the previous point, this can also turn into a life-long journey: getting qualified is not just about getting the CELTA (or other initial TEFL qualifications), but getting further qualifications, such as the YL extension to CELTA (or IHCYLT), DELTA and other certificates (like for example the online or face-to-face IH courses).

Many non-native teachers complain that there are many of them doing these qualifications while some students still say that learning can only happen with a native teacher. While it is true that some students do not appreciate qualifications, it does not mean that they are worthless. On the contrary, being qualified is what makes one a good teacher. Gone are the days when teachers were ‘God’ in the classroom and regarded as the only vessel of knowledge. Although change is slow in certain parts of the world, this traditional view is being challenged and a more modern one is becoming more common. While the teacher needs to be a master of her trade, just knowing a great deal about grammar and having a certain accent will not suffice. It is the teacher’s ability to engage the students, to enable them to take responsibility for their own learning, and to guide them. This is what qualifications offer teachers.

 Moreover, when a non-native decides to become an English teacher and turn this into a life-long career, it is unquestionable that what drives them to do this is a great love of the English language and working with people as well as a desire to help them. This means that investing the time, energy and money into getting qualified should not feel as unfair, as something asked only of non-natives but as something asked of all those who what to be teachers (for shorter or longer periods).

 

Challenge yourself

A common situation that many non-native teachers find themselves in is the following: they have achieved a certifiably high level of English, they are qualified, they have some experience teaching, and yet they do not feel as confident as they should. While this can be a personal issue, chances are that what they need is a challenge. Once they have mastered teaching a certain level or type of class, they need to move on to something new. Contrary to popular belief, mastering a certain skill – in this case teaching a particular level or age group – will not necessarily result in a significant increase in self- confidence overall. Once one masters teaching a certain level or age group, there are no challenges and they take it for granted. It begins to feel easy therefore it must be easy which means they are not doing anything that great.

Reaching a plateau is a common problem for many teachers and the only solution to this, as well as a way of giving yourself a confidence boost, is to challenge yourself. A non-exhaustive list of examples includes starting teaching a new level (especially a high level, even C2) or type of class (exam-preparation or 121 with important clients), become a Cambridge or IELTS speaking examiner or take on mentoring responsibilities. Yes, this will imply working with native teachers, examining with a native teacher and mentoring a native teacher and while this might sound daunting, it is outside the comfort zone that growth happens.

Although getting a job usually involves competing against other candidates, working with other teachers does not have to be a competition, as there is so much to learn from other people. Despite students sometimes saying that they prefer native teachers and the nerve-racking feeling that your accent doesn’t sound as nice as a native teacher’s, there is also the reverse: sometimes native teachers can’t identify with the students, they don’t understand what is too difficult for them, what problems they might have. Working with native teachers can be mutually beneficial: non-natives can share their knowledge of what students need and how to explain language while native teachers can share their knowledge of the language. Cooperating is in everybody’s interest: the students get better teachers, the teachers get more knowledge and self-esteem knowing they are becoming better teachers.

To sum up, being native or non-native is not what makes someone a good teacher. It is the hard work you put into becoming a better teacher and your passion for teaching which is the driving force behind it. For all the non-native teachers fretting about their suitability as English teachers, here is something to consider: think of every time you helped a student, or every time they said admiringly they wanted to achieve the same level of English. Being a good teacher is something that can be learnt, and as all other jobs out there, it requires constant professional development.

Cristina Ene

Cristina Ene is a CELTA-qualified teacher with 5 years’ experience. She has taught all levels and age groups, as well as General, Business and Exam preparation classes. She is also a Cambridge Speaking Examiner and a speaker at different ELT conferences.

TEFL Blog Index

Share this post

Train to Teach

Anglo-Continental is a Cambridge approved CELTA Training Centre located in Bournemouth UK.

We have over 20 years’ experience delivering full-time and part-time CELTA courses and have a 98% pass rate.

Click to find out more.

Cambridge CELTA courses 2019, AVO Centre - Bulgaria

Learn how to teach English confidently and get the most prestigious TEFL Certificate! Highly experienced and supportive team of tutors. Very high pass rate. Special price package with accommodation and airport pick up included.

Click to find out more.

Trinity College London CertTESOL 4 week residential course in Thailand

The only Trinity CertTESOL in Thailand. Certified and recognised worldwide. Beautiful location. Small groups.Teaching practice in real schools. Meals and accommodation included. Job Placement available on course completion.

Click to find out more.

Get Certified to Teach English and Guaranteed Paid Job Placement in Mexico

International and accredited 4-Week TEFL course in Mexico that will upgrade your resume. The most budget-friendly way to travel! Choose ITTO TEFL - TESOL Programs!

Click to find out more.

Online TEFL Courses & Job Offer Program included.

Choose from 3 different Online courses: 140/120 or 100 hours + Boost your CV by adding one or more of our Specialty Certificates on Teaching Business, Young Learners, Technology. Save up to 35%!

Click to find out more.

Your Gateway to a Wider World!

Earn an accredited TEFL Certificate and Masters Degree with Via Lingua.

Click to find out more.

Voted Best Value Trinity CertTESOL. ONLY €495 & FREE accommodation in Austria!

3 month internationally recognised and accredited course with the Global English Teaching (GET) Academy. Includes 300 hours Teaching Practice in real Austrian classrooms. Apply NOW!

Click to find out more.

TESOL @ BGU, Lincoln, UK.

Looking for an opportunity to expand your career choices at home or abroad, fund your travels or attain an internationally-recognised TESOL qualification? If yes, then one of our flagship TESOL courses could be for you! BA (Hons) TESOL & Linguistics MA Education with TESOL.

Click to find out more.

Trinity CertTESOL in Edinburgh, UK.

Extensive support throughout the 4-week course from our experienced and dynamic tutors with full access to our extensive resources. Guaranteed job interviews with possible employment.

Click to find out more.

Train to Teach by the Beach - Delta Module 2 & CELTA in Mexico!

Take The Anglo 8-week summer Delta M2 course in Cancun, Mondays – Thursdays. Or the 4-week summer CELTA course in Puerto Vallarta. EARLY BIRD PRICES available now!

Click to find out more.

International TEFL Institute

Give yourself the best possible chance of securing a well paid English teaching job aboard. Register for one of our accredited, all-inclusive online TEFL courses. Why pay more? Starting from US$149 with job assistance and much more!

Click to find out more.

Become TEFL qualified in relaxed, sunny Madrid. 120-hour, 4-week course. Observed teaching practice.

Observed teaching practice. With over 30 schools in Spain, guaranteed job-offer for top-graduates. Excellent value for money at only 990€. Change your life for the better!

Click to find out more.

Full-time, part-time and Online Blended Trinity CertTESOL Courses in Malaga and Rome.

Become TEFL qualified in sunny Malaga in southern Spain or wonderful Rome. Get your passport to live and work in Spain, Italy or anywhere around the globe. EARLY BIRD FEE!

Click to find out more.

TEFL Training College - Internationally Accredited Online TEFL & TESOL Courses

Certificate & Master Diploma Courses. Courses include: Teaching Young Learners, One-to-One, Business English, Grammar Awareness and Teaching English Online. Full Tutor Support and Employment Assistance.

Click to find out more.

TEFL Worldwide Prague – Train Here & Teach Anywhere!

TEFL Worldwide offers the Internationally Recognized and Accredited 4-week TEFL Course in Prague! Lifetime job assistance provided worldwide. Our graduates are teaching in 60+ countries! Highly rated by language schools and graduates.

Click to find out more.

Invest in your teaching career with an accredited 120 hour TESOL certification for teaching English online.

Equip yourself with all the skills demanded by TESOL employers. Course includes TESOL, TEYL & Teaching Online. Work from anywhere!

Click to find out more.

Want More Jobs Like This Direct to Your Inbox?

Subscribe To Our Free Daily Newsletter

Your privacy is important to us. Your subscription email address will never be shared with anyone. Each newsletter includes a simple one-click unsubscribe button.

close