Professional Update

September 2017 Social Responsibility Interest Section Newsletter: Identity, Inclusion and Advocacy

This post is an overview of my second issue as co-editor of TESOLers for Social Responsibility, the newsletter for TESOL’s Social Responsibility interest section, which is online here.

For this issue, Anastasia Khawaja, my co-editor, and I chose to have a theme: Identity, Inclusion and Advocacy. I think this really resonated with people in SRIS, because the response we got was fantastic, and we were able to publish a full seven articles! We chose the theme for this issue based on the major issues raised by Seullee Talia Lee’s article, NNEST Issues are Not Only About NNESTs, which is a great piece about multicompetence and NNEST identity transformation, as well as the need for NESTs to step up in the movement for NNEST equality. Talia, who was part of my cohort at SIT, initially submitted her article for our first issue, but we decided to hang on to it and build an issues around its core themes, which I think turned out beautifully. We also had articles about integrating queer themes into an ESL class at a community college in the US, protecting children’s rights in Uganda, the way the Israeli occupation has shaped education for Palestinian students in East Jerusalem, and a detailed account of the laws and discourses surrounding undocumented students in the US. We had a special section featuring two reflections as well, one on TESOL’s Advocacy and Policy Summit from an attendee’s perspective and one on the parallels between diversity and inclusion initiatives and TESOL, by former TESOL president Andy Curtis.

From an editorial perspective, this issue was particularly interesting. We wound up having a lot of behind the scenes discussions, on everything from how to handle local/world Englishes, editing work by people we admire, and advocating for inclusivity behind the scenes, given the sensitive topics this issue touched on. It also lead to my first direct interaction with TESOL’s board, who were incredibly supportive and wonderful to work with. Based on my interactions with them regarding this issues that this issue brought up, I’m really proud to be a part of TESOL, and to have the leadership we do, and I think we established some important precedents for the organization.

Our next issue is themed around Social Justice in the Classroom, and will be coming out in December!

Reader Response Journal

“I May Be a Native Speaker, But I’m Not Monolingual”: Reimagining All Teachers’ Linguistic Identities in TESOL by Elizabeth M. Ellis

In this article, Ellis explores teachers’ linguistic identities, beyond the NEST/NNEST dichotomy, which she argues simplifies teachers’ experiences of language, since it focuses exclusively on English. In the NEST v. NNEST mindset, NESTs are presumed to be monolingual and NNESTs are presumed to be bilingual, deficient in English and often speakers of the same language of their students and the dominant model of teaching English in English hides teachers’ other language skills. Ellis elicited personal linguistic narratives from 29 English teachers in 7 countries that contradict these constructs. She found that many of the so-called NESTs were in fact multilingual, with varied language learning experiences that sometimes included being able to speak the same language as their students to a high degree of proficiency. In addition, teachers who were perceived as NNESTS not only had broad linguistic repertoires and varied language learning experiences, they also often considered themselves to be native speakers (sometimes with a caveat about their accents). Ellis draws on traditions such as bilingual life-writing (memoirs such as Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation), plurilingualism (a European approach that takes a broader view of linguistic repertoires than multilingualism, by acknowledging various levels of competence, attrition and relearning across the languages an individual knows), and the move towards recognizing the learner’s L1 as both a learning tool and an important aspect of their identity, to establish a place for teacher’s multilingual learning experiences as an important aspect of their teaching and teacher identity. She envisions a world where teachers will regularly be asked “how rich is your linguistic repertoire and how can this be deployed as a pedagogical resource?” instead of whether they are a native or nonnative speaker or which variety of English they speak (606).

For me, this article was particularly relevant, because I am a multilingual native English speaker, and I often feel like the rest of my linguistic repertoire gets erased or is invisible to my students. I’ve been using much more of a plurilingual approach to teaching here in Ecuador, where my classes are of necessity a hybrid of Spanish and English. But it was only last week that one group of my students thought to ask me if I speak anything else (which I do, to varying levels of competence). I really think that for students to see their teachers as language learning role models is really powerful, and I wish more teachers would include their language histories when they introduce themselves to new classes. For example, I don’t know how any of my previous language teachers learned their languages and I don’t know if any of them spoke languages beyond English and what we were learning. I think that standardizing the “what is your linguistic repertoire” question as part of the hiring process would be really beneficial. I remember when I first arrived here how frustrating it was that my principal just saw me as a deficient Spanish speaker, rather than a multicompetent user of many languages. As a native English speaker, my L1 is valued, but this experience gave me a sense of the frustrations that I hear my NNEST friends talk about, where they are defined by what they aren’t, rather than recognized for the skills and abilities they do have. I really hope Ellis’ ways of conceptualizing language repertoires catch on within the field, and that differentiating childhood home languages from current dominant languages and accounting for both circumstantial and elective language learning experience becomes more common. I know that they languages I speak benefit me hugely as a teacher, and I think that these experiences should be valued throughout the field. By doing this, we can move away from valuing nativeness as the most important factor in a teacher’s linguistic identity, and start creating more accurate and less biased ways of talking about teachers’ language backgrounds. This would also open the way for more plurilingual classroom pedagogy and structured reflection on past language learning experiences as part of teacher training programs, which would better serve our students.

Ellis, E. M. (2016.) “I may be a native speaker, but I’m not monolingual”: Reimagining all teachers’ linguistic identities in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 597-630.

Reader Response Journal

Unpacking the Native Speaker Knapsack: An Autoethnographic Account of Privilege in TESOL by Steve Iams

In this article, Iams begins by laying a foundation for auto ethnography as a valid form of inquiry within TESOL and situates himself in a position of privilege within the field. In the past, the majority of autoethnographic work has been done from the perspective of those with less privilege, so he is filling a gap by providing a personal account of a white, male native speaker. He begins his personal story by recounting how he got his first job in Japan, based on his native speaker status alone. He juxtaposes this with Philipson’s fallacies (monolingual, native speaker, early start, maximum exposure and subtractive fallacies) (1992, 185), but notes that none of this was part of his awareness at the time. He was also not considering himself as embarking on a career in TESOL. Next, he joined the Peace Corps, and was suddenly declared a teacher trainer. While the experience was personally fulfilling, he questioned the “unintended consequences of damaging the quality of English instruction and jeopardizing the professional identity of local non-native English-speaking teachers” (Wang & Lin, 2013, p. 5). He asked himself how does one become a TESOL professional and wound up enrolling at SIT. While there, his language and power project on NNEST issues, which he did with an older Korean woman, opened his eyes to some of these issues. For his project, they did a simulation where participants looked through job ads as if they were native or non-native speakers. In autoethnographic terms, this represented an epiphany for him. Searching for a job after graduation, he wound up training teachers in Korea, a situation where he was positioned as an “ideal language teacher” according to a study of Japanese students’ perspectives. The issues raised by his language and power project became more real when a qualified Korean colleague was not able to fill a real and immediate void in his institution, simply because he was not a native speaker. Despite the volume of research and advocacy devoted to disrupting the native/non-native dichotomy, the linguistic imperialism that Philipson wrote about is still present within the English teaching world. He ends without answering any questions, but expressing his discomfort with some of these tensions.

For me this article was really interesting, in part because I know Steve and I really respect the ways he uses his privilege to be an ally to others. It was also interesting to see how closely our careers paralleled each other, with one year of teaching in East Asia, four years of Peace Corps and then SIT, where the language and power project was a pivotal moment for me as well. Hearing the personal progression of his thinking is important, because issues of equity won’t change without the investment of people in privileged positions working alongside those who are being undervalued by the field. It makes me think of the Sister Scholars and their article Women Faculty of Color in TESOL: Theorizing Our Lived Experiences, where they presented personalized accounts of their positions within the academy. It’s noteworthy, because it’s 6 women of color alongside one white woman. The position of us white native speakers is also informed by race and native speaker status, so including our voices denormalizes white native experience as the assumed norm. From a critical perspective, disrupting the hegemony of privileged teachers is super important in creating a more just profession.

Iams, S. (2017). Unpacking the native speaker knapsack: An autoethnographic account of privilege in TESOL. Korea TESOL Journal, 12(2), 3-22.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wang, L. Y., & Lin, T. B. (2013). The representation of professionalism in native English-speaking teachers recruitment policies: A comparative study of Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 12(3), 5–22.