Social Justice: Is teaching English making me more entitled?

I’m a feminist and a social justice advocate, so I spend a lot of time and energy trying to change entitlement in myself and others.

Entitlement: “the belief that one inherently deserves privileges or special treatment.” (Oxford Dictionaries)

I would also like to expand this concept to include “may lead to the inability to recognize, acknowledge, and accept one’s own entitlement and the disempowerment of others.”

I believe that I am entitled in certain ways: I am afforded certain privileges and they act like sunglasses, tinting my perspective and keeping me from seeing that others frequently do not receive the same treatment. For example, I’m university educated, and I sometimes forget that this opportunity is not available to everyone. For countless people all over the world, any education at all is unthinkable, let alone expensive post-secondary education in a university, academy, or college. There are many people in western society who face all kinds of barriers to different types of education. This is a form of classism, whereby individuals are kept from human rights and privileges as a result of the class system, which creates divisions and restricts access, in this specific case, to post-secondary education.

But I’m not thinking about the privileges afforded by education today.

I’m thinking about my native tongue.

I am a native English speaker, born and raised in Canada by British parents, several hours from the American border, and I have spent over two years living in Scotland. My travels and life experiences have given me the opportunity to develop a broad accent that foreign and second-language speakers of English often tell me is easy to understand. Probably because my voice is such a mish-mash of different English accents!

The last six years of my life have been defined by my passion for travel and teaching the English Language to children, teens, adults, classrooms, summer camp groups, and host families. I taught English to children in summer English-Drama camps all over the north of Italy for three summers while living with host families. I have worked with these host families over time to improve their conversation skills and comfort with the language, and I still keep in contact with some of them today.  I helped international students at my university with writing and grammar at the Learning Skills Services drop-in centre. I mentored students living in the halls of residence for two years. I worked as a student ambassador/tour guide for incoming students, sometimes international applicants and their families. I taught a Polish host family for several months by creating an immersive environment with them in their home. January to June 2015, I spent six months working as a teacher for an English language academy in Naples, teaching Anglia, Trinity GESE Grade 1-6 and Cambridge Key English Test (KET) exam preparation to classes and individuals in the private school and local state schools, as well as conversational English in one-on-one private lessons. Most recently, last but not least, I have spent the last 7 months working for another English language academy in the south of Spain, as the remedial programme co-ordinator, working with students from age 4 to adulthood to provide personalized lessons giving extra support to students in need or preparing students who will take Trinity GESE 1-8 or ISE I – IV exams.

This wide variety of teaching and learning experiences and has shown me that my native tongue is a highly-valued commodity that I can sell. It also showed me that access to and ability to use the English language opens doors. I am able to do so much simply by virtue of being a native English speaker. People struggle to learn my language so they can communicate in my mother tongue. Frequently, people would rather struggle to learn my language than encourage me to learn theirs. And let’s be honest: English speakers do have a reputation for going abroad to non-English countries and simply seeking out natives who speak English rather than attempting to learn some words or phrases in the local tongue. Honestly, I’ve caught myself doing it. It’s pretty problematic. I often find myself thinking about this: is my work as a language teacher making me more entitled to certain rights and privileges because I am a native speaker of English?

We can’t always look outward for oppression – I think I have to look inward too. No one is perfect. We’ve all made judgements or decisions based on prejudiced or stereotyped ideas. Self-reflection is a way to question my own entitlement and the impact that it has on my opinions, actions, and perceptions. When teaching, I try to empower and facilitate rather than dictate and demand, attempting to look past my tinted glasses and try to see multiple perspectives.

Isn’t that what this blog post is trying to do?

Are native English speakers entitled when we go abroad? Can we become entitled about our native language? What can we do to prevent ourselves from falling into these traps? How can we battle entitlement within ourselves? Feel free to drop me a line below and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

Thank you all for waiting patiently for this post. I haven’t written in exactly a year and one week today (My last post was May 20th, 2015)… which the next blogpost will explain. Thank you, readers, for sticking around and patiently waiting for my writing. I have had a lot of things to work through and a full explanation is coming! Keep your eyes on the horizon… the next post will arrive soon! I’ll be back in my weekly posting routine before we all know it!

If you enjoyed this post, try “Social Justice: What Feminism means to me” or “Somewhere: Travel and Dual Citizenship”.

If you’re interested in my teaching, working, volunteering, and/or travel experience, be sure to check out my LinkedIn profile.

Thanks for dropping by!


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