Depending on where one chooses to pursue ESL, race might determine job availability, or even the pay scale. Unfortunately, many schools, especially in the third world, require a white face to help market the institution as prestigious. Regardless of what the candidate might be capable of, they want the parents of the children to know this person speaks English just by looking at him or her.

Schools in Southeast Asia, for example, are more likely to hire a white person with no degree than an second-generation Asian born and raised in an English speaking country a degree and a teaching certificate. This is because the parents will take one look at such an individual and immediately assume he or she is not a native English speaker. And if that doesn’t sound ignorant enough, black people face this sort of discrimination as well. Thus, parents are less likely to enroll their children or will demand a lower tuition. If the person of color is hired, then the wage will most likely be lower than that of a white.

I worked in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a man whose family had originated in Laos. While he had a degree and had proven himself a good teacher, he was earning about $100 less than myself, merely because he was Asian.

I also heard a similar story from a co-worker in Japan who had worked under the JET program, a government agency which supplies English teachers to schools throughout the country. He told me of a school which sent back the teacher sent over by JET because he was black, and would not fit the image that the school had wished to convey.

People of color should not be discouraged from entering this field, but they should be aware of what lies before them.

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