Non Teachers Teaching: Yay or Nay?

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We published a version of this last year. In this edition of education rehash, we wonder if your opinion of non teachers teaching has changed.

Claire Turner teaches Conversation English in Prague.
Claire Turner teaches Conversational English in Prague.

Until one year ago, Claire Turner could not locate Prague, Czech Republic, on a map. She had never spoken a word of Czech, met anyone from Czech Republic, or even watched a movie that mentioned Czech Republic. This was before she joined a large group of non teachers teaching in a foreign land.

That was one year ago, before she received an acceptance letter telling her she would be living in Prague for the next year. The acceptance letter was from AIESEC, an international student-run not-for-profit that assists recent graduates or current students in securing leadership opportunities worldwide. AIESEC is a French acronym for Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, or, in English, International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences.

Claire first learned of AIESEC through a good friend, who had recently been placed in France to teach English, Second Language. Claire applied for the program, figuring that she could find something stateside or perhaps in an English-speaking country.

But nay.

AIESEC sent her to Prague to teach English.

And she went. For you see, she is plagued by an incendiary wanderlust and if her life lacks adventure, then her existence lacks life. How do I know all this? She’s my sister.

After accepting the position, Claire received a heavy manila envelope in the mail from Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. The letter was addressed to Mr. Clairec Tower–a good start for her international journey–and informed her that she would be teaching Conversational English to students at the university’s largely commuter campus.

A few months later I watched as she fruitlessly tried to cram too many clothes into her two suitcases, which we then hauled up to Chicago O’Hare Airport, where we saw her disappear into a crowd of eager Asians heading toward security check-in.

The next time I would see her was via a grainy Skype connection from her dorm room. She shared a two-bedroom suite with two other AIESEC teachers, one from Canada and the other from New Zealand. It was during this Skype call that Claire explained to me the beauty of Prague, the horror of communist-era campus buildings, and what it’s like bathing with a radiator in your shower.

A fall and winter of crappy Skype calls passed, and in spring I packed my bags for a European adventure of my own. I saved a week to visit Claire in Prague, and on April 24, I hugged my crying little sister in the Praha International Airport (Praha is Czech for Prague).

A bus and train ride later and we were headed to her Conversational English class at Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. She explained that English is very common in the Czech Republic, and most kids speak it by the time they reach college. The point of her class was to hone their English skills to be more natural–and who is  more natural at English than a native speaker? But is that enough to qualify someone to be a non teacher teaching college-level students?

Claire teaching at Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.
Claire, the non teacher teaching in Prague.

According to Claire, students prefer a native speaker teacher to a college professor with a Ph.D in linguistics. Not only that, they prefer someone they can relate to. Because Claire is basically a peer of her students (at only 22, some of them are older than she), they are comfortable with her. She maintains an air of casual authority in her classroom, managing to instruct without dictating. Naturally quirky, her humor weaves effortlessly into her lessons, and the class feels more like a study group than a credit hour.

Apart from the crappy salary (nothing new to many teachers), Claire loves her job, and her job loves Claire. The university gets an exceptional teacher while paying next to nothing, just a student scholarship to Claire because she is considered a student.

It is no wonder AIESEC is present in over 113 countries, with a membership of 86,000 and exponential growth. Imagine the money the organization saves by paying these non teachers teaching in foreign countries with just a scholarship. Not only that, the students prefer these “student” teachers to actual professors. Win-win.

But are unlicensed teachers hurting or helping the education system? While the class curriculum is laid out for Claire, she still has to create lesson plans, craft exams, and provide written and oral examinations. It begs the question, is someone with no education experience qualified to do this?

My simple answer is yes. I watched Claire teach, and yes, I’m biased because she is my sister, but it was very similar to most of my college classes. Lecture with a powerpoint based on a reading. If this is the only service a school wishes to give its students, then groups like AIESEC are heaven-sent.

My complex answer is no. At a basic level, people like Claire can absolutely lead a classroom. But teachers provide more than just learning material. They are equipped to deal with a variety of situations and personalities that AIESEC volunteers, like Claire, may struggle with.

It is a well-known fact that not every student learns from the linear model of reading, lecture, notes. Because Claire is smart and creative, I think she could work with students’ individual needs, but she doesn’t have the knowledge of various learning theories, classroom models, lesson plan effectivity rates, and more that an education major might.

Non-teachers still require the support and knowledge of education professionals, so while AIESEC may seem like a win-win, it could ultimately damage the students’ learning environment by providing a very one-dimensional teaching approach.

While Claire is definitely bold, we wonder what you think of non teachers teaching, whether at home or in a foreign land. Please share your thoughts.

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Anna Turner

Anna is a freelance writer/producer based out of San Francisco. Her writing covers several genres, but her passion lies in humor, entertainment, education and culture.

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