Sun, Jun 04, 2000 - Page 17 News List

English teachers wanted: must look Western


cristina Becker has her work cut out for her.

An English teacher at the Chung An branch of Hess Education Organization, the 23-year-old American tries to convey the nuances of language by playing a game of "Snakes and Ladders" with her kindergarten class.

During the day's three-hour lesson, the 20 boys and girls will learn how to spell "apple," "boy" and "cat," and describe how they feel. Becker, who has been teaching at Hess for 10 months, cares deeply about the success of her students. "I am establishing their foundation for a foreign language that will really be important to them someday," Becker says. "Not only am I teaching them English, but I'm teaching them about another culture and how to be open-minded and accept people who are different from them."

These are lessons she wishes more people in Taiwan -- parents and school administrators especially -- could have learned. For months after her arrival, Becker found that in the lucrative English-teaching business, a preference for Caucasian teachers exists.

Classified advertisements for private English tutors and cram school instructors in Taipei's English-language dailies routinely call for "Western-looking applicants," "no ABCs [American Born Chinese] please" and "native foreigners only."

Those who don't fit the descriptions will sometimes be offered positions -- but for lower wages. And many schools are unapologetic about their practices, saying a white face is needed to placate parents' demands.

The Giraffe English Language School recently placed an ad discouraging ABCs from applying. "We need real foreigners," says Stella Young, a Taiwanese teacher at Giraffe. "Parents have that requirement."

Who to call

Foreigners working in Taiwan may call the labor issues hotline (8770-1860) for more information on labor laws and education rights or to report any instances of unfair treatment. Of the 500 calls the hotline receives a month, nearly all have come from foreigners in manual labor. Foreigners teaching English in Taiwan may also call the Ministry of Education at 2356-6051 to report any problems, though the ministry has not had much experience handling those calls and may transfer callers to other departments.

Foreign experience

Becker, who was born in Spain but raised in the US since the age of three, has Malaysian, Thai, English, Polish and German ancestries. Since she began teaching last August, several parents of her students have complained that their child was not receiving the "full, foreign experience" because Becker did not look white, she says.

"Their perspective is that if someone is white, they're American," Becker says. "If they're not white, they're not American. I understand that it's just ignorance, but it's really hard for me to swallow."

Despite reassurances from her school director and kindergarten manager that the biases stem from the parents' problems and not her teaching, Becker can't help but consider the effects the negative attitudes have on her relationship with students. "If the parents have a negative impression of me, how will that impact their children's views of me?"

The parents' stereotypes also influence schools and their hiring policies. Parents, who often pay as much as NT$8,000 for three-month lessons, have the financial power of placing pressure on private cram schools to satisfy their requirements, however whimsical.

"Parents who don't understand English will believe the myth that white teachers can teach their kids better English," says Melanie Lin, the chief of the teaching department at Kid Castle American School. "From a marketing standpoint, it's understandable why schools would want to hire more white teachers," she says, adding that Kid Castle doesn't discriminate.

Faith Liao, a Taiwanese English teacher who owns Victory English School, agrees that discrimination in hiring practices stems mostly from parental ignorance.

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