When I first decided to share my first post on several Facebook English teaching groups, little had I suspected I was already on a bitter path. The kind of path that you find yourself on when you ask for opinions and what you get is an open personal attack based exclusively on where you were born. One could also say I was looking for it, just by being there.
Did I not know there are people who still think like a century ago when it comes to language, race, culture or religion? Did I not at least suspect that there are people who are still willing to use nationality or birthplace to label, judge and condemn all at once? Did I really expect to have a decent conversation, however controversial? Absolutely. What I never intended was for a question about the appropriateness of teaching English as a non-native speaker or what and how native speakers feel about sharing a profession with non-native counterparts to lead to aggressive verbal attacks from some of the former.
However annoyed a native English speaker might have felt when reading my question, did that even begin to justify my being called “you and your people are the scourge of Europe and nothing will get the smell of campfire out of you”? Did that somehow explain my receiving private messages with pictures of poorly dressed people in front of an ATM, allegedly trying to rob someone and supposedly sharing my nationality, only to help make the point that my countrymen know nothing better than stealing as if that were somehow a fact? Did my question actually justifiably provoke people to lash out on my English accent, even though they had never heard me speak? Did that somehow logically result in a discussion about the wrongs of immigration, the reasons some voted for Brexit or what a mistake the EU was?
To me it´s pretty obvious that I did bother and that my question did make some native English speakers mad, however unjustifiably or stupidly so. It´s a matter of opinion: I asked for fellow teachers´opinions on whether it bothers them to know that non-native English teachers manage to secure jobs teaching their native language and I got my answers. In the end, all these reactions did little more than answer my question: some native English teachers do feel that non-native speakers should not be allowed to teach, no matter how talented, fully proficient or good they could be.
Needless to say that many of the teachers had nothing but nice and beautiful words to say, emphasising how much they had learned from non-native fellow teachers, how responsible and amazing they were, what an enriching and amazing experience working together had been. Some even tried to make the point that non-native people could actually make better teachers because they know firsthand the mechanisms and strategies of learning the language as a foreign one. Hats off to all these wonderful, smart and open-minded strangers who put my soul and mind at ease when thinking of the responsibility people who teach in classrooms all over the world have.
I got several different answers and the way some fellow teachers chose to speak their mind is of mild importance: some politely said they did not actually believe a non-native speaker stands the comparison, because I obviously lack the cultural knowledge to explain specific use of English, and others started criticising the way I had phrased my question and the post, thus trying to prove I am not proficient; some told me I could never be a good English teacher because I was born in Eastern Europe and my accent – indeed, that of a person they never met – is one of the most difficult to understand; yet others have accused me of “spreading this shit on several groups” with provocative posts; some even insulted me and others called me names.
Of course, what seemed to be eluding them all – and this is the crux of it all and why I think they simply could not think straight because of the repressed anger – was that the question was not about me, and I hadn´t asked them to tell me what they thought about me, my English teaching skills or my chances of securing a good job as such.
It was personal to them, even if it absolutely wasn´t to me. And it wasn´t about being a native English teacher. Not to me, not to them.
But I decided to write this because there is something I just can´t stop thinking of. These people, the ones who insulted and accused, judged and condemned, furiously spat and threw origin-related arguments in the conversation – these people are also teachers. They are not just the average voter who punishes the right when they don´t have free healthcare anymore and chastises the left when they have to pay more taxes. No, they are also teachers. They get into a classroom full of people of all ages and walks of life and teach them to hate, despise, spit rage and feel anger towards people who are just not like them, speaking English for that matter. They show people how easy it is to discriminate, to crush, to loathe, to brush off feelings and emotions.
And that is scary – not because it´s unheard of. No, these people have always existed and I guess they will always be there someplace, anywhere in any society. The scary thing is what caught me completely unaware: I never expected to find them in a group of teachers, because people look up to teachers. Teachers mold minds and give shape to thoughts, feelings, emotions. They share a huge responsibility and what should be unheard of is hateful, angry and frustrated teachers.