“I want my English teacher to be a native speaker” is a common attitude when people are looking for an English class. But is a native speaker a better English teacher only because they were born in a certain place? An estimated 80% of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) teachers worldwide do not have English as their first language; are all their students getting a raw deal? Of course not!
When I think about this topic, I remember my own experience of learning Spanish at secondary school. My best teacher was an Englishman who lived round the corner from me (viva Señor Lanzon!!) and my worst one (anonymous) was more Spanish than a plate of paella. This non-native teacher ran the class better, organised an annual trip to Spain, knew how to manage our disciplinary issues (more or less) and taught interesting and dynamic lessons Spanish was not his first language, but as a student I learnt a lot more.
In the end, the most important thing is not nationality, but the training and enthusiasm that each teacher brings to their lessons. ´Lessons with a native-speaking teacher´ are publicised everywhere, but in many cases they are given by a native speaker but not a teacher. David Beckham is also a bona fide native speaker but could he teach a coherent lesson? I doubt it. Many students want an English teacher with a ´British´ accent to imitate, but which one? ´Queen´s English´ (or Received Pronunciation) is spoken by less than 2% of the British population, and there are an estimated 56 accent types in the UK alone.
Moreover, being taught by a non-native teacher can have many advantages. The non-native probably learnt English in a classroom too, so can plan classes using past experience of what worked and didn´t for them; the native teacher can´t relate to this in the same way. Also, English is an international language nowadays, and students must learn to understand a variety of accents other than just those of English-speaking countries.
In fact, I´m far from the only one talking about this issue: there is an ever-strengthening movement against non-native speaker discrimination in my teaching association IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), as many of its members possess excellent qualifications and experience but are not native speakers. For example, last April I was in attendance at Silvana Richardson´s much-lauded plenary at the 2016 IATEFL conference, which debunked the myth that native teachers are always superior to non-natives.
In my current job at IH Riga, not all English teachers are native speakers of English, but all are qualified English teachers with enthusiasm for teaching and improving their teaching practices. In fact, we receive weekly teacher training, and this constant professional development allows us to improve and evolve continually, without ever stagnating or resting on the laurels of our professional practices.
That, in the end, is what makes lessons more interesting, and increases student motivation. So my message is clear regarding any search for an English teacher: