Why are White NES the Best Teachers?
Requirements for becoming an English teacher in Asia are pretty straightforward. You’re expected to hold a degree, speak English, and not be a criminal. There’s also another unspoken requirement that occasionally shows up in job ads: you should be white.
The desire for white teachers is very evident in Thailand. Job recruiters filter out dark skinned teachers with extreme prejudice. International schools proudly showcase their fair skinned employees on their websites. Even parents will complain to schools if their child’s teacher isn’t “native” enough. In many cases, the white employees who are selected have less experience than their dark skinned counterparts.
The market decides which employees are the most valuable. Here are a few reasons why Thailand has decided that white people are better teachers.
Thai Teachers Are The Worst
The most readily available, cheap labor force available for Thai schools is, of course, other Thai people. If Thai citizens were capable of teaching students foreign languages, schools would be able to save so much money.
In America, it’s not uncommon to see non-native language speakers teaching foreign languages. I mean, pretty much all of my Spanish teachers were lily white Midwestern women who loved travelling to Spain. Why aren’t Thai schools able to hire local teachers instead of paying a premium for foreigners?
The truth is, Thai people are terrible at teaching English. Any teacher who’s worked at a school in Thailand will tell you that students have a better grasp of the English language than Thai co-teachers. Even teachers who have advanced degrees in English struggle to string more than three words together. Clearly no one is going to be happy with these employees teaching children, especially the parents.
The Parents Are Always Right
When it comes to choosing teachers, schools rely on the feedback of parents. Thai moms and dads have every right to be picky about who they let teach their kids. It’s not our place to hypothesize why Thai parents are more concerned with skin color than actual teaching skills.
It just so happens that for no apparent reason, Thai parents insist on having white teachers. No amount of experience can get a brown person a job, and no amount of evidence can change parents’ minds.
Grades Don’t Matter
One of the biggest arguments for diversity in the Thai workplace is that you’re likely to get candidates with more experience. If the job market wasn’t so prejudiced, schools might hire based on qualifications and experience. This theoretical meritocracy would elevate qualified teachers of any skin color and provide schools with optimum results. Teachers with skills and passion would find jobs and loathsome backpackers would be sent home.
Unfortunately, grades don’t matter. Schools genuinely don’t care about a teacher’s ability so long as they’re pretty to look at and don’t mind bowing to parents every other Tuesday morning at 6am. Unless you’re applying to a highly accredited, progressive international school, you can bet that your school doesn’t care about how well you can teach a class. They already know that every child will pass (it’s mandatory). Their biggest concern is in regards to how to explain the abysmal test results at the year end standardized tests.
White People Aren’t That Much More Expensive
When you compare salaries between Native and Non Native English speakers, you’ll see that it doesn’t cost schools much more to splurge on the Native. The average government school offers just over 10 thousand baht more for a white college graduate to baby sit Thai kids, despite the fact that just having a white person on campus provides so much value to the school.
Locals will stroke the egos of newly employed foreigners by insisting that the salary for a Native English speaker is so much more than a local’s. They never account for the visa fees, flights home, or farang standards of living. Newly certified TEFL teachers would be devastated if they actually calculated how much they were making per hour when factoring in the time they’re expected to stay on campus.
The sad truth about Thailand is that even the hardworking, albeit privileged White teachers working in Thai schools are being underpaid for the value they provide. Hopefully, in time, parents and school administrators can reassess how teachers are hired. With any luck, the notorious Thai fail factories called “government schools” will find a solution that makes employees of all skin colors feel good.