This article examines the ways in which two teachers engaged their Asian non-native speaking teacher education students in counter-storytelling to create a space for them to explore their experiences with racial and linguistic marginalization in academia. This class was a part of a program specifically designed for language-minority teacher candidates, which is important given the disparity between US student and teacher demographics, where 40% of students are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to just 16% of teachers (Kohli, 2014). After explaining the basics of critical race theory, linguicism and counter-storytelling, Cho describes the context of her research. Her study took place in Hawaii and included five undergraduate students, all of whom were non-native English speakers (3 Korean, 1 Chinese and 1 Samoan), as well as herself, a Korean non-native English speaker, and a white native English speaking teacher, who also spoke Spanish. She describes how she encouraged students to tell counter-stories, which included they ways their peers and teachers positioned them as deficient because of their non-native speaking status, despite their academic success, which allowed them to challenge the linguicism they faced. This was done to investigate the ways race and language are enacted in dominant school practices. She then examines the differences in the students’ response to herself, an Asian NNEST, compared to her co-teacher, a white NEST. When the white teacher first brought up issues of race, the students initially defended the white teachers they had, which Cho hypothesizes might be because of the power balance and students not wanting to cause conflict with the white teacher. They also asked the white teacher questions about teaching non-native speakers instead of her own language learning experiences, while they asked Cho about her experiences as a NNES student, and felt like she could relate and empathize with what they were going through, because she was one of them. The students found validation in the way Cho elicited and responded to their stories. In contrast, the white teacher was cognizant of being separate from the rest of the group, due to her racial and linguistic identity. Conscious of not wanting to gloss over her white privilege or influence the students’ ideas as a result, she used race-conscious discourse to denormalize white native speakers as the unmarked default and lessen the power of her own white identity. Cho found that the collaboration between herself and the white teacher was productive because they could explore the differences in the students’ responses. Having a white NEST exposed the students to a white anti-racist and reinforced he idea that these issues are important for everyone to engage with, not just minorities. Having an Asian NNEST created a space where the students more actively engaged with issues of racism and linguicism and lead to increased solidarity due to their shared experiences. While Cho didn’t use the terms counter-storytelling with her students, she recommends using the term in the future, so students understand that their stories have a grounding in critical race theory.
The juxtaposition of the experiences of the white NEST and Asian NNEST experiences were really interesting to me. One of the things I was struck by was the way Cho’s students noticed and felt valued by her reactions to their stories, such as note taking, responding in depth and showing non-verbal support, which are concrete actions that teachers of any race or language background could use. It was also interesting the way Cho foregrounded the white teacher’s bilingualism and language learning experiences, which the students didn’t really engage with. It makes me wonder how much the dominant narrative of white native speakers as being monolingual affected the students relationship to her. Perhaps, solidarity and empathy could have been built up here along language learning lines, with a recognition of the fact that white and non-white language learners are not treated the same in societal discourse. It was also useful for me to see an example of how simple counter-storytelling can be, which makes them seem more accessible, since it’s basically just creating a space for students to discuss their experiences together and encouraging them to engage with racial and linguistic issues as they do. I think mentally framing conversations about personal experiences as counter-stories gives them more weight. It makes me wonder if the students would have perceived them differently if they had been given the label, or if it would have felt heavier somehow and made it more difficult to discuss. Especially, since I have the distance of being a white native speaker already. I wonder when in the process Cho would give students the term counter-storytelling and explain the CRT framework behind it.
Cho, H. (2016). Racism and linguicism: Engaging language minority pre-service teachers in counter-storytelling. Race, Ethnicity and Education. Advance online publication.
Kohli, R. (2014). Unpacking internalized racism: Teachers of color and their challenge to racial hierarchies in the classroom. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 367–387.