Guest post for Cambridge Conversations (Cambridge University Press ELT)


Since winning our Unlock competition last year, in which we asked teachers to tell us how learning English had unlocked their potential, Anna Ostrovsky has found herself a new post, and is about to embark on her dream teaching job in the United Kingdom. Today, she offers some advice on how other non-native English speaker teachers can unlock their own potential, and overcome challenges to find a job.

1. Recognize and accept the fact that we are in a marketplace

Most of us non-native speaker language teachers want to pass their passion for the language on to their students. We know the value we bring into the classroom, and it can feel disheartening to see the evident favouritism of native-speaker teachers in the language teaching space. The best way to educate employers on the benefits we bring to the table is to show them exactly what we have to offer and why their students need us in the classroom. Like any other profession these days, language teaching is an industry with different businesses covering different needs. We can resist this reality, or we can choose to accept it and see it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. The truth is, in a competitive marketplace it’s not about being better qualified anymore – it’s about being unique. Many non-native language teachers are equally qualified in terms of certifications and language skills, but this is just a small part of our profiles. What makes each profile unique is the personality of the teacher – and it is up to you, as a language teacher, to reflect on and to show recruiters your uniqueness.

2. Show your uniqueness

First, let’s take a closer look at your motivation to teach English (or another language). Ask yourself the following questions: Why do you teach? What was that pivotal moment in your life that led you into the teaching profession? Be specific and avoid vague answers, such as “I went into teaching because I love seeing students grow” or “Because I fell in love with the English language.” How exactly did that happen?

Next, think about the way you teach. How do your backstory and your past (teaching) jobs impact your teaching style today? Again, be specific and illustrate qualities such as “creative” or “innovative” with successful projects you’ve done in the past to show your teaching approach. Make it as tangible as possible, so that a potential recruiter gets a feel for your (teaching) personality – not just your formal credentials.

3. Position yourself – for the right teaching job

You now have a unique narrative that you can tap into to articulate your uniqueness, including your non-nativeness.

Now, once you’ve found an exciting teaching position ask yourself why you feel compelled to teach in that particular environment? What makes you think that you are the perfect fit for this position? The right working environment for you is the one in which you don’t need to hide out, where you can be fully self-expressed and completely yourself. And if you truly believe in your non-nativeness as the core benefit, try to articulate why and how exactly it is going to benefit their students. Be specific: general qualities like being able to speak their students’ L1 may sound persuasive to our colleagues, but recruiters want to hear and see concrete examples.

This self-assessment requires a lot of honest self-reflection, but the clarity that comes from it is worth the time and effort. Being clear on your uniqueness you can seek out the employer who wants to hire you precisely for your personality – because you are the language teacher his clients need.

So what makes you unique? Choose one aspect of your story or your personality and post your answer in the comments section below.