The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Alex Cuetos

Native speaker, better teacher? Not always!

Demand for teachers has made China a popular working destination. As I’ve found, it’s also a destination for unqualified and unmotivated ‘teachers’ looking to make easy money.

As a Spaniard teaching English in China, I’m living proof of the fact that teachers are becoming increasingly hard to come by. By logic I shouldn’t be doing this job. When I started, as a non-native teacher of a foreign language, I was treated almost as a second-class citizen; my salary was lower and school leaders didn’t care much about me.

As a Spaniard teaching English in China, I’m living proof of the fact that teachers are becoming increasingly hard to come by.

Over time I’ve met dozens of ‘teachers’ with no qualifications, no experience and, most damagingly of all, no interest in the profession whatsoever. Some of the CVs I’ve seen are enough to make your skin crawl. I remember one woman whose only work experience was in Boots and had no degree, and another from Canada whose experience was collecting tickets at concerts in her hometown.  

Both were hired, and because they were native speakers their salary was higher than mine from the outset. Very few qualified teachers end up in small schools and small cities, they all go to big international schools.

While I’ve had a lot of fun working with these two women, and many other teachers like them, I can hardly condone their working practices. I’ve seen teachers:

  • arriving late (if at all)
  • working while drunk or hungover
  • making pupils watch films while they chat on their phones.

Sadly, the list is endless!

Optimus members can download our 'recruitment toolkit' to help ensure that you employ the best staff for your school. 

The challenge ahead

I always tell my friends that education is like medicine, you should never get involved if you are not passionate about it. Poor, half-hearted teaching can have significant, lasting effects on the lives of pupils. 

A hospital wouldn't employ an unqualified doctor, so schools (regardless of where they are) can't hope to hire unqualified teachers without compromising education.

Does being a native English speaker means that you are necessarily a good English teacher? Not really.

Does taking sixty hours to receive an online TEFL certificate make you a good teacher? Of course not. You need at least 120 hours! 

My friend Susana helps to send highly-qualified Spanish nurses to work in British hospitals, where they are highly regarded. Would it be possible to create something similar for teachers; a serious agency recruiting qualified professionals to teach English in China?

I know my school and many other schools really struggle to find teachers so the demand is certainly there. Who is up for the challenge?

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