Born and raised in Poland, Marek has been teaching English for over six years in different countries and contexts. He has a BA in English Philology, CELTA, DELTA and is an IELTS examiner. He runs a relatively popular blog about teaching English which you can read here, and is an advocate of equal rights for NNESTs through TEFL Equity Advocates he set up. He’s an avid reader and a bit of a language learning geek (he currently speaks 6). You can find him on Twitter @marekkiczkowiak | March Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
1) How did you become an educator? Was it by chance, as is many times the case, or did you already plan to become a teacher when you were growing up? Where have you taught in your career and what experiences have been the most rewarding?
My dad always reminds me that when I started my BA in English Philology – which I chose because I thought it wouldn’t be too demanding, rather than because I was really keen on it – and he asked me what I was planning to do in the future, I answered that I had no clue, but would definitely never be a teacher. Maybe because the notion of an English teacher I had was the overworked and underpaid public school teacher. However, I soon realised that with the CELTA I could actually go to teach abroad, which I thought would be great. So as many of us in ELT, I started teaching because I wanted to travel and see the world. It didn’t take me long, though, to come to the conclusion that teaching was actually something I really enjoyed and wanted to do for the foreseeable future.
I’ve taught in 6 countries: Poland, Costa Rica, Spain, Hungary, the UK and the Netherlands. All of them have been great in their own ways. The job in Poland taught me that the audiolingual methods (e.g. Callan) don’t really work above high elementary level. Costa Rica was very rewarding, because it was my first full-time job, and the first time outside of Europe too. And when I went there the second time round, I got trained as an IELTS examiner and was responsible for Professional Development in the school, which was a great experience too. The 9 months I spent in Hungary were also fantastic – I did the DELTA, met some great people and had lots of fun at the same time. In the UK I’ve taught EAP – very rewarding both professionally and financially. Going back in May for the third summer in a row. Finally, the Netherlands. Incredibly rewarding. I went freelance for the first time in my life. Set up a one-man company. Got involved in blogging and started teaching Spanish and Polish apart from English.
2) Please explain to our readers what the TEFL Equity Advocates blog is all about and what types of texts and interviews you publish in it. How do you select the people to interview?
TEFL Equity Advocates is a campaign I started to fight for equal employment opportunities for NNESTs. Some of the sections on the website are:
- a regularly updated blog
- Talk to the Expert – interviews and articles by renown ELT professionals, recruiters, teacher trainers and scholars
- Teacher Success stories – stories of NESTs and NNESTs who have succeeded despite discrimination to show all of us that there is light at the end of the tunnel
- Resources – links to articles, FB groups, anti-discrimination statements, websites and blogs where you can look for support and information
- The Hall of Fame – links to schools and job listing websites which have committed themselves to giving equal opportunities to NNESTs
At the beginning I wrote many posts for the blog and created the website content myself (I’m the only person running the whole thing). I also sent email after email to people I thought might be willing to contribute to the blog. For example, one of the first people I contacted was Peter Medgyes and to my great surprise he agreed to be interviewed. I was taken aback even more when David Crystal said yes too. Once the ball was rolling, more and more people started contacting me wanting to publish an article on the blog or express their support for the project. Since then, both seasoned and completely inexperienced bloggers have published articles on the blog. Everyone’s welcome.
So if you feel you would like to write something for the blog, help in any way, or just say hi, feel free to get in touch here.
3) You mention in your blog that you created the TEFL Equity Advocates movement because you yourself were discriminated against and resented it. Could you please exemplify some of the discrimination you suffered and explain how this empowered you?
The first time was in 2011. I was working for an International House school in Spain and applied for a transfer to IH Lisbon. They turned me down stating explicitly that they were only looking for NESTs. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never felt inferior to NESTs, nor had I suffered any discrimination before.
I was furious and quite vocal in venting my anger in the staff room while I read the email. A NEST friend of mine who happened to be present at the time said that it was shocking and probably illegal, so I should vent my spleen in a more constructive way and write an article about it. And so I did.
I was really lucky that I came across Melanie Butler, the editor of the EL Gazette. She was very supportive and helpful. The article was published (you can read it here in El Gazette July 2011 issue, p.4) and in the end, International House head office promised to change their hiring policies and the way job ads are phrased, so that words such as ‘proficient speaker’ or ‘C2/C1 level’ are used instead of ‘native speaker’ (from what I can see on their website this has indeed been put into practice). I was also offered the job in IH Lisbon, but I was already on my way to IH Budapest.
The second time round was when I was looking for a job in the Netherlands in September 2013. I wrote an article again which you can read here. This experience made me realize that there was definitely something profoundly wrong about the way ELT recruitment was run. And that there was need for more advocacy of NNEST rights.
4) What are some of the most memorable success stories you have collected from your advocacy in favor of equal job opportunities for native and non-native teachers of English?
The first that comes to mind is by Bella. She teaches EAP and some of her students are actually NES, so she was a bit concerned how they would react when they realised she was a NNEST, a fact that for a while she’d hidden from them. It shows the unfortunate fact that many NNESTs might feel inferior despite being very highly proficient, qualified and experienced. Bella did in the end tell her students she was a NNEST, and she was quite positively surprised to find out they didn’t really care. What mattered to them was that she was a good teacher. You can read the story here.
5) What are some sad stories that have also had an impact on you, in other words, stories of discrimination against non-native teachers?
I’m really sad when I hear from NNESTs – and I’ve come across many – who actually believe they can never be equal to NESTs. This is how far things have gone. NEST superiority in ELT has been asserted, repeated and sold for way too long, but the tide is changing slowly, so I’d rather focus on the positive. That’s why I publish success stories, rather than those focusing on failure. I think we all have the power and responsibility to take the bull by the horns and fight for our rights. Sulking, complaining or blaming others won’t change anything.
6) Tell us a little about your other academic endeavors, such as your teflreflections blog, in partnership with Robert McCaul, and your teaching, both online and face-to-face.
I started TEFL Reflections around October 2014 and about 3 months ago Rob joined me. We regularly post articles on all things ELT although recently we’ve been focusing on teaching IELTS quite a lot. Apart from this, I’ve published several articles and presented at conferences (you can read more about this here). As I mentioned above, I set up my own teaching business – Polish your Languages – when I came to the Netherlands in October 2014 and I’ve been teaching Spanish, Polish and English since. However, I’m moving out of the country in March, so I might move the business on-line, or close it for a while. I haven’t decided yet.
7) Reading about your experience and everything you’ve done, and about your current freelance work as a teacher of English, Polish, and Spanish, I can safely say you are an entrepreneur. You don’t just wait for things to happen; you go after your dreams and you seek self-fulfilling opportunities. How do you feel about what you do and have done in your career? What challenges have you faced along the way? What do you do to remain motivated as a teacher, researcher, presenter, etc.?
I think I’ve always been very driven and highly competitive. I just hate losing. And I’m also very stubborn by nature, so once I’m motivated to achieve a goal, I won’t stop until I get there.
My mind’s also very restless. And I don’t believe in karma, angels, luck or divine intervention. We’re all architects of our own fortune. This is what keeps me motivated. I’m convinced that we can achieve practically anything as long as we put our mind to it. As someone famous once said, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
I don’t think I’ve faced particular challenges. I’m really grateful that universities are free in Poland, so I could get very decent education. My parents and friends have always supported me whenever I needed help. Of course, I have been turned down for various posts during my career, but then who hasn’t. I have also faced discrimination as a NNEST, but unfortunately this is unavoidable in our industry. At least for now.
I guess I always focus on the bright side of things.
8) What advice would you give to other NNESTs beginning their career now?
Be persistent. Be confident. Believe in yourself and in your abilities. Stand up to employers or recruiters that discriminate against you. And never let anyone look down on you just because you’re a NNEST.