Takeshi Kajigaya

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Takeshi Kajigaya is an English Discussion Instructor at the Center for English Discussion Class at Rikkyo University, Japan. He earned his M.A. in Second Language Studies from University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2014. Takeshi taught English in various contexts from private tutoring to a university in Japan, the U.S., and China. His current research interests include Japan’s English language education policy, language ideology, and language and identity.

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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Tanita Saenkhum

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Dr. Saenkhum is Assistant Professor and Director of ESL in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has recently become the TESOL Second Language Writing (SLW) interest section chair-elect.

Interviewer: Cristina Sánchez-Martín

Thank you for joining us on NNEST-of-the-month blog. Could you briefly tell us about your linguistic, academic, and professional background and how you got interested in becoming a second language writing specialist and ESL educator?

I am pleased to be joining the NNEST-of-the-month blog. Thank you for the invitation!

I was born and raised in Thailand, and I grew up speaking Thai as my primary language. My formal exposure to the English language was when I began studying English in Grade 5. I received my undergraduate degree in mass communication, majoring in journalism. While I was working on my master’s degree in journalism, I worked as a columnist for a women’s magazine. I also spent five years working as a journalist for an English newspaper in Thailand. As you see, my background had nothing to do with teaching. However, as I wrote in my book chapter (Saenkhum, 2015),

Through many years of such experience, I discovered how much I loved writing, even though it was challenging to write in a language that was not my mother tongue. As a journalist, I worked under deadlines and pressure, writing on variable subject matters for a wide audience (p. 112).

Reflecting on my career path, I told myself: “Being able to write as a journalist was a big stepping stone to my other career goals” (Saenkhum 2015, p. 112). Then this happened:

… I thought about changing my career since I no longer wanted to write as a reporter; rather I wanted to pass on my knowledge of writing to those who were interested. All of a sudden, the idea of teaching came into sight; I wanted to be a writing teacher. But I did not have a teaching degree; ‘How could that be possible?’ I asked myself (p. 112).

As you may imagine, I decided to quit my job and pursued my second master’s degree in TESOL at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), where I first learned about second language (L2) writing and “the serious journey of my academic career began” (p. 112). After two years at SIUC, I continued my doctoral studies in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics at Arizona State University (ASU), where I specialized in L2 writing with a focus on writing program administration for multilingual writers. At ASU, I had various opportunities to broaden my L2 writing and writing program administration scholarship. For example, I served as ASU’s Assistant Director of Second Language Writing and Associate Chair for the 2009 Symposium on Second Language Writing.

I graduated in Spring 2012 and secured a tenure-track assistant professor position in the Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. At UT Knoxville, in addition to researching and teaching, I have served as the university’s ESL Writing Program since 2013.

In your book Decisions, Agency, and Advising: Key Issues in the Placement of Multilingual Writers into First-Year Composition Courses (Utah State University Press, 2016) you report on a study on the placement of multilingual writers in first-year composition courses. In the study, you found out that students’ attitudes towards their placement in composition courses varied from acceptance to negotiation. You also argued that students’ self-assessment should be a component of their placement. What would an ideal placement process look like? Are there any negative aspects regarding students’ self-assessment?

As I argued in my book, students’ perspectives should be included in the programmatic placement of students into writing courses. We should listen to our students. An effective placement procedure/process should include related placement stakeholders, including students, academic advisors, writing teachers, and writing program administrators. Essentially, students should be informed of all necessary placement information so that they can make well-informed placement decisions.

In my book, I also demonstrated “the essentials of self-assessing in placement decisions” (Saenkhum, 2016, p. 52) to make a case for students’ own agency in their placement decisions. Self-assessing, for example, is an act of agency that students performed while they were in the process of choosing a first-year writing course. For students to be able to self-asses, they must receive complete placement information distributed by various sources, including academic advisors and writing programs.

You are currently the director of the Department of English’s ESL Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. You also teach graduate and undergraduate courses on ESL, second language writing, writing program administration, etc. What have you learned from both administrative and teaching responsibilities? What practical advice would you give to graduate students who would like to follow your career path?

My research informs my teaching and my writing program administration (WPA) work. I use a writing program as a site of my research (Saenkhum, forthcoming), and I have applied what I learned from my research to streamline the placement procedures for multilingual writers at my current institution. In the same book chapter (Saenkhum, 2015) mentioned above, I discussed how I developed some strategies for negotiating the workloads as a tenure-track assistant professor who takes on administrative responsibilities while working toward tenure. As a researcher, teacher, and writing program administrator, “I am learning to strike a balance between research (working on my writing), administrative work, and teaching; at the same time, I want to make sure that I have a well-rounded, healthy life” (p. 123).

My advice for graduate students who are interested in WPA is to understand the nature of the work WPAs do. Ask yourself the following questions: How do I see myself in the next five years? Where do I want to work/teach? At a teaching institution? At a research university? What is my research interest? If you have answers to these questions, you will know what you want to do in your career!

You co-authored the article “Writing Teachers’ Perceptions of the Presence and Needs of Second Language Writers: An Institutional Case Study” (2013) with Paul Kei Matsuda and Steven Accardi. How was the experience of collaborating in writing the article? What advice would you give to emerging scholars who are trying to publish their work in prestigious journals like the Journal of Second Language Writing?

Collaboration is fun and provides great writing experience for me as a researcher and writer. I enjoyed working with Paul and Steve and learned a lot from working with them. I value collaboration and would like to encourage collaborative work. Getting to know the journal you would like to publish your work with is one of the most important things. Also, understanding the nature of work published in such journal is essential. Try co-authoring and submitting to your dream journal!

In that same study, you call for the improvement of teacher training in regards to multilingual writers, since teachers “identified various resource needs, including more professional preparation opportunities, common curriculum and materials, and common diagnostic tools” (p. 81). From your experience, what are the most essential skills that writing instructors should develop in order to work with multilingual writers?

First and foremost, writing instructors should know who their students are. Second, they should be able to address individual students’ needs in the writing classrooms. Third, they should be willing to spend more time working with their multilingual writers.

You are currently working on a study on the history of English writing instruction in Thailand. What are the implications from your study for English teaching?

This is an ongoing project that consists of different phases of data collection. The goal of this study is to generate an understanding of second language writing and the teaching of second language writing in Thailand by considering the country’s development of English language learning and teaching from a historical perspective. I hope the results from my study will provide some implications for English writing instruction in the country.

Finally, congratulations on being the TESOL Second Language Writing (SLW) interest section chair-elect! In your opinion, what are some of the ways in which scholars in the NNESTs and SLW interest sections can work together towards developing scholarship and more just pedagogical principles for the English classrooms?

Thank you! Collaboration between the interest sections should be encouraged. In the past, SLWIS has worked with the NNESTs, putting together panels for InterSection sessions at TESOL. I also think we can collaborate on research projects that seek to understand L2 writing/writers from NNEST perspectives or vice versa.

References

Matsuda, P. K., Saenkhum, T., & Accardi, S. (2013). Writing teachers’ perceptions of the presence and needs of second language writers: An institutional case study. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(1), 68-86.

Saenkhum, T. (2015). Choices in identity building as an L2 writing specialist: Investment and perseverance. In K. McIntosh, C. Pelaez-Morales, & T. Silva (Eds.), Graduate studies in second language writing (pp. 111–125). Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

Saenkhum, T. (2016). Decisions, agency, and advising: Key issues in the placement of multilingual writers into first-year composition courses. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Saenkhum, T. (forthcoming). Working toward being a tenured WPA. In P. K. Matsuda, K. O’Meara, & S. Snyder (Eds.), Professionalizing second language writing. Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

Hyejeong Ahn

Dr. Hyejeong Ahn

Dr. Hyejeong Ahn works as a lecturer at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Her teaching experience spans from teaching English for academic purposes, English as an International Language to intercultural communication skills in professional and academic contexts. Her research interests relate to the field of educational linguistics with a clear focus on teaching English as an International Language (EIL) and World Englishes. Dr. Hyejeong Ahn has published her work on the evaluation of teachers’ awareness of and attitudes towards the inherently evolving pluricentric nature of English. She has argued for developing teacher training courses which inform the current socio and linguistic landscape of English and a reassessment of the notion of English competency for the era of globalization.

Interviewer:  Ju Seong Lee (John)

You were born and raised in Korea but you also spent a great deal of time in Australia for your graduate work. You are currently working in Singapore. What a dynamic career (and life) trajectory! Could you tell us a little bit about your professional background and how it was informed by the different contexts you have lived in?

Yes, I have so far lived and worked in three different countries. I spent my “rough” teenage years in South Korea, a very competitive society. Then, I kind of wanted to escape from the fierce competition for a while and decided to travel around Australia. I instantly fell in love with the country and resided there for almost 15 years. Finally, I moved to Singapore with the added adventure of a new life with my husband.

I graduated with a bachelor of Education from the University of South Australia and started working as a primary school teacher in Adelaide, Australia. I had many challenges to overcome in finding an initial teaching job as a newly graduated non-Australian teacher. I worked at a local school in Adelaide for two years and also at an International school in South Korea for about two years. When I was working in Australia, I felt somehow discriminated against possibly because of my foreign accent, my name or appearance, even though students and staff benefited from my diverse background. When I worked at an International School in South Korea, I felt once again appreciated as well as discriminated against by Korean search committees as they might have been looking for “native” English speaking teachers for their school, at the same time they realized the perks that they may get in employing a Korean Australian teacher.

After working two years at an International School in South Korea, I decided to move back to Australia to complete my Masters degree in TESOL, where I found a passion for English language teaching. Studying the TESOL degree and working as non-native teacher motivated me to pursue a PhD in the area of English as an International Language within the sociolinguistic of World Englishes. After completing my PhD, I was very lucky to gain a job in Singapore.

In my new auto-ethnography chapter (forthcoming) entitled, “Help me”: The English language and voice from a Korean Australian living in Singapore, I talk about the challenges and prejudice that I had to overcome while working in three different countries where “native speakerism” is pervasively and deeply embedded in education, particularly in English language teaching. I give a heartfelt explanation of how I went through the process of constructing and continuously reconstructing my multiple identities which were interwoven with my perception of what an ideal English speaker is and myself as an English language specialist working in Singaporean educational context.

In all of three countries, to different extents, I was both advantaged and disadvantaged by being a non-native speaker of English and I will talk more about this in the answer to the following question.

In two of your recent studies (Ahn, 2013; 2014), you mentioned that a form of Standard English such as American English still appeared to play a significant role in norm orientation among Korean EFL learners. In your opinion, what factors may have informed this phenomenon?

Well, my studies suggest that not many English teachers in South Korea are aware of other varieties of English, and they repeatedly stated that they had only had the opportunity of engaging with American English (AmE). All other varieties of English were considered somehow “wrong” or “deviated”, except for so called “Queen’s English”.

Most of my participants in the studies (high school English teachers) mentioned that they thought all “native” English teachers were associated with America and even Korean English teachers that they had met were either second generation Korean Americans or Koreans who had studied in America. They also reported that Korean people with good “American” English skills, tended to graduate from one of the top universities in Korea and had highly paid and socially well-respected jobs, wearing immaculate suits and dresses.

This probably has led most Korean English teachers to regard AmE as a default variety of English to teach and to learn, although they were never specific about which variety of AmE that they were thinking of. I guess it has been uncritically assumed amongst Korean English teachers that teaching and learning English in Korea means teaching and learning AmE.

More recently, you discussed the important role that English teachers play in influencing the students’ attitudinal changes toward other varieties of Englishes (Ahn, 2015). In reality, however, TESOL practitioners struggle with teaching EIL in their classrooms due to language ideologies, Inner Circle-preferred teaching models, American English-oriented pedagogies, high-stakes English tests, and a lack of opportunities to understand the experiences of diverse EIL users. What pedagogical suggestions do you have for teachers who are interested in implementing EIL?

Needless to say, it is absolutely necessary for teachers of the English language to receive sufficient and systematic professional development training to raise their awareness of varieties of English and the socio-linguistic reality of English speaking context in today’s era. They need to be clearly informed about the skills their students need if the goal of learning English is to become a proficient speaker of the language in international contexts.

It is important to develop a knowledge of the lexico-grammar of a particular variety of English but it is also as critical to have the ability to communicate with millions of bilingual English speakers whose first language is not necessarily English. What I am trying to say here is that having the knowledge of the lexico-grammar of AmE and its cultural values as “teaching a language and its culture should be taught simultaneously” will not be sufficient information for Korean students to become proficient speakers of English as an International Language. Teachers of English in South Korea need to be aware of this, hence, teacher training courses must be comprehensively informed and designed according to rapidly changing student needs.

Regarding the issue of the pervasiveness of language ideologies, I believe it is largely to do with the goals of English teaching. In the case of South Korea, the goal of English education has long been closely associated with “preparing for several English tests” that only include the Inner Circle varieties, particularly AmE, therefore, it may have been appropriate for them to teach the variety that helps students to achieve the high scores for these tests.

However, if the goal of English teaching is to prepare students to communicate proficiently with millions of English speakers, who are most likely bilingual speakers of English they should, as mentioned above, be knowledgeable about what skill sets they need to teach their students and focus on the developing an awareness of the current linguistic landscape of English speaking situations.

The negative attitudes towards Outer and Expanding Circle varieties English have been deeply rooted in South Korea, therefore, it needs a steady and systemic approach to change the attitudes of students and teachers of the English language. In order to do so, as the first step, teachers need to be clearly aware of the changing dynamics of English language speaking contexts such as who their speaking partners are likely to be, what topics they are going to discuss, and what kind of greetings they are going to exchange etc.

Many of my English teacher participants in my studies shared embarrassing experiences of not being able to communicate with taxi drivers or shop keepers in India or Singapore, for example, while their husbands or wives who often went overseas on business trips were much better and more proficient at this type of communication . I think sharing these kinds of “real and authentic experiences” would help teachers to understand the need for exposure to varieties of English and knowledge of the features of the English these speakers are using.

Your book (Ahn, 2017) “Attitudes to World Englishes: Implications for teaching English in South Korea” was just released. What are the main messages you are trying to convey to stakeholders such as program administrators and policymakers?

I was hoping to create an awareness in a majority of English teachers and students in South Korea of the following three points: 1) being able to speak AmE well and communicate well with AmE speakers does not mean that you are a proficient speaker of English as an International Language, 2) the importance of raising awareness of varieties of English speakers and English speaking contexts and, 3) the necessity for the re-examination of the hidden discursive practices embedded in the English education policy in South Korea.

Could you tell us what it is like working in Singapore? What advice would you give to TESOL professionals who are interested in working in Singapore and wish to succeed as instructors and researchers there?

First of all, Singapore is a great country to work in. In particular, for TESOL professionals from so called “Western Countries”, Singapore is a “soft-landing”. Singapore has a lot to offer many TESOL professionals as it is a melting pot of Asia surrounded by varieties of cultures and languages. It is truly a multilingual country.

Social respect for teachers is also great and I also enjoy the pay and low taxes too. I can confidently say that Singapore is one of the best places to work in Asia. Also, one of the greatest perks of living in Singapore is that you can easily travel to many countries in South East Asia. Traveling overseas from Singapore is very easy and affordable.

I have also found Singapore to be very safe. Whenever I happen to finish work late, I have never felt threatened about walking home alone. The streets are well lit and people here tend to watch out for each other’s wellbeing.

Almost all Singaporean students speak English fluently as they grow up speaking English and the working language of schools in Singapore is English but they do need to be taught the features of academic writing. This is where the demand is. If you are interested in teaching English in Singapore, I would say, look for EAP related TESOL positions.

References

Ahn, H. (2013). English policy in South Korea: A role in attaining global competitiveness or a vehicle of social mobility? Journal of English as an International Language, 8(1), 1-20.

Ahn, H. (2014). Teachers’ attitudes towards Korean English in South Korea. World Englishes, 33(2), 195-222.

Ahn, H. (2015). Awareness of and attitudes to Asian Englishes: A study of English teachers in South Korea. Asian Englishes, 17(2), 132-151.

Ahn, H. (2017). Attitudes to World Englishes: Implications for teaching English in South Korea. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shannon Tanghe

TangheShannon

Dr. Shannon Tanghe is the Program Director and Associate Professor in the Master of Arts in ESL program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Prior to this, she spent approximately sixteen years teaching in South Korea. Her current courses focus on international perspectives of English language teaching and reflective language teaching. Her ongoing research focuses on collaborative co-teaching, World Englishes, and internationalizing teacher education. She was recently recognized as the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year and was named as one of “30 Up and Coming” emerging leaders in the TESOL field.

Interviewers:  Ju Seong Lee (John) and Cristina Sánchez-Martín

You were the recipient of the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year Award recognized by TESOL International Association. Congratulations on your recent achievement! To start, please share with our readers a little bit about yourself, and how you became interested in TESOL as a field and as a professional organization.

Thank you! I spent the first half of my life in rural Minnesota, and most of the second half in South Korea. When I was a university student at the University of Minnesota–Morris, I had the chance to have two transformative teaching/learning experiences which had huge impact on my future. The first was a semester I spent working as an English language teaching assistant in a kindergarten classroom in Cairo, Egypt. During that experience, I fell in love with teaching English. The next year, I was able to do my student teaching in Georgetown, Guyana, an experience that solidified my decision to teach internationally. I spent several summers teaching at a summer camp in South Korea, and in 2000 I moved there and stayed for more than 16 years, until recently returning to Minnesota last summer.

I was a member of the local TESOL organization in Korea (KOTESOL) for about a decade before I became involved in the international TESOL organization. I benefitted from the local focus that KOTESOL offered, which was exactly what I needed at that time. As I continued teaching, I began to explore more international perspectives and resources through involvement with the international TESOL organization.

In your study “Integrating World Englishes into a university conversation class in South Korea” (2014), you introduced how language teachers can incorporate World Englishes perspectives into English language teaching and raise students’ perceptions of different varieties of English. Could you briefly explain how teachers can implement this practice in their own instructional contexts?

I think this begins with first re-evaluating traditional ideas about language education and focusing on TESOL pedagogies that can meet the needs of diverse learners in a particular learning context. In the piece you mentioned from English Today, I describe in detail several of the activities that we did in that particular course–including a Quirk/Kachru debate, visual re-constructions of Kachru’s concentric circle model, reflective voice blogs, and cumulative video projects. One resource I really appreciate is Jennifer Jenkins’ “Global Englishes” textbook (2015). I have used this book in graduate courses and have found it to be a great combination of information integrated with pedagogical implications. Aya Matsuda’s “Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language” (2017) is another recommendation, which also includes an extensive resource collection.

Teacher educators and teachers alike benefit from developing an understanding of language in connection to learners’ particular contexts, and to appreciate learners complex and multi-faceted identities, which are shaped by personal lived histories and educational experiences. When an educator focuses on his/her teaching context, one can seek out and usually find spaces to create opportunities for all English language learners to use the language, and to transfer beyond the classroom. Including social justice inquiry projects, critical language awareness activities, and integrating deep level thinking, questioning and communication processes into language education can open spaces for discussions about World Englishes.

You served on the Committee for the “Reintegration of Multiculturalism into Korean Public Middle Schools.” How did you become interested and involved in multilingual and multicultural education, and what specific suggestions can you offer to teacher education programs to promote critical racial awareness in their programs?

Yes, I was fortunate to have been invited to join this committee, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially because there were many opportunities to meet and talk with middle school teachers about challenges and opportunities for integrating multiculturalism into the national curriculum guidelines.

My advice for teacher education programs is to prioritize the messages and concepts that are modeled through delivery in each program, in addition to considering the curriculum and content focus. “Teaching about” critical racial awareness, for example, is very different than actually promoting and implementing critical racial awareness (really “teaching” it), which needs to be modeled and integrated throughout a program. These critical issues need to inform teaching in all areas, and can not be add-ons that can be checked off through a one-day session or a stand-alone unit focus. These philosophies need to be intentionally interwoven throughout a program, not only in word but more importantly, through action. Incorporating aspects of critical pedagogies in daily teaching, and encouraging learners to question their own beliefs and practices while seeking out possibilities for transformative action can open spaces for new ways of thinking and seeing the world. In teacher education programs, I believe it is important for graduates to know and understand ideas that have informed education and the TESOL field, but even more crucially, for teachers to leave a teacher education program being prepared as reflective educators, confident in their abilities to practically apply these concepts in their own individual teaching contexts.

In your recent TESOL blog post, “Making (and Keeping!) New Year’s Resolutions”, you wrote about five strategies TESOL professionals could engage in professional development, namely, joining local and international conferences, taking online courses, engaging in reflective journal writing, being involved in interest groups, and setting concrete goals to stay focused on your interests. How do you implement these practices in your own contexts? What benefits or challenges do you notice with the different strategies?

All five of these are strategies that I shared because I have found them to be very effective in my own personal and professional life. Two of the easiest to begin with are goal-setting and reflective journaling. Goal-setting and working toward specific visions has always been a strategy that I have found very helpful in many different aspects of my own life, and highly recommend. Goal setting is something that anyone can do, and with practice and success in achieving smaller goals can be a powerful motivating.

Of the five I mentioned, I think the one that has had the most significant impact on my own personal and professional growth is reflective journal writing. Each semester, I like to focus on one particular course I am teaching. As the class progresses, I often jot down notes (which I find makes me even more aware of what happens in the class) and then after the class ends I immediately sit down and type my thoughts about what happened (or didn’t happen) during that class. I usually focus on things that went differently than expected, ideas that emerged from the class, possibilities for extensions, and reflect on successes as well as ongoing challenges. I have found this process to be a fantastic way to go back and re-examine the class in a more leisurely manner, processing what happened, thinking more carefully about comments that were made and about interactions during the class. The process of writing also allows space for me to consider alternative possibilities—things I might have done differently and things that I could try in a future class. When I started, this would sometimes take just a few minutes, but as I have continued, these reflections sometimes extend on for more than an hour and have become a process I really look forward to. In writing, I find the introspective process draws out some subconscious attitudes and open new avenues of exploration.

Another form of journaling that I have tried and have become an advocate for is collaborative journaling. Though this can be done in many different ways, I will share a couple of my favorites. I first tried this with a colleague in South Korea, when we taught within the same graduate program, but were each teaching separate courses. We would each keep an individual journal about our individual class, but did it in a collaborative online space, sharing our journals with each other. In the journals, we each focused on personal teaching/classroom goals we were working to improve as the semester progressed. We would read each other’s journals and offer comments and suggestions on particulars we were each struggling with. The outside perspective that someone else was able to offer provided fresh insights and ideas that could be implemented in the classroom and then continually reflected on.

This collaborative journaling experience expanded when the two of us co-taught a semester-long course together. We again used a collaborative journal as a way to plan and reflect on the class. It proved to be a very powerful space which encouraged a lot of reflections that often extended beyond the scope of the class. At the end of the semester, I believe we had about 80 pages of journaling. This also turned out to be great records and data for research, as we were able to publish some of the work we did in that class in a TESOL Quarterly article (Porter & Tanghe, 2016).

In your recent study (Tanghe & Park, 2016), you explore how an international collaboration project between graduate students in the US and South Korea helped students develop intercultural competence, move away from essentialized notions of culture and identity, and rethink their beliefs about educational systems. What suggestions do you have for student-teachers who do not have access to such initiatives but who would like to develop similar principles?

Great question! Here are a few suggestions for student-teachers to get some great experiences in a variety of areas:

  • Connect with an organization that facilitates teach abroad opportunities. One of my favorites is educatorsabroad.org
  • Explore hands-on teaching opportunities within your own community. Seek out organizations and volunteer with recent immigrants, refugees, or community members.
  • Attend local conferences and educational meetings—meet people, hear new ideas!
  • Get involved in online telecollaborations. Consider partnering up with a teacher, friend, or student in another country or region. If you don’t have an available partner, there are several websites that specialize in matching collaborating partners, iEARN or epals.com, for example.
  • Use the resources available online. There are far too many to list, but here’s a couple of places to start:
    • Connect with Facebook groups—Teacher’s Voices or iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) for starters. These two communities are fantastic mixes of novice and experienced educators from all over the world always willing to share ideas and resources.
    • Read blogs from teachers and students around the world, or better yet, start your own!

What research and teaching projects are you currently undertaking? What advice would you give to us and other Ph.D. students trying to publish their work?

In July, I accepted a new position as the Program Director of the Master’s of Arts in ESL at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. One of the aspects of this position that I am really enjoying is having the opportunity to influence overall program structures. My own teaching and lived experiences have led me to see many possibilities and benefits associated with internationalizing higher education. I am currently focusing on increasing opportunities available for international student teaching, short-term supervised teach-abroad programs embedded in teacher education programs as a form of “teaching to learn”.

My advice to Ph.D. students trying to publish their work is to keep at it! I am still fairly new to publishing, but I have spent a lot of time writing, re-writing, re-writing and re-writing, and know that I have benefitted enormously from the guidance and support of mentors in the field. Having had opportunities to learn from and conduct research together with more experienced researchers has been very helpful, both in providing guidance through the sometimes overwhelming process and also in increasing my confidence to publish on my own. One hugely influential mentor in my own academic journey has been Dr. Gloria Park, my dissertation advisor and mentor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I have learned so much from the way she models and demonstrates a genuine ethic of caring with her advisees, investing lots of time and energy to help develop teacher-scholars in the field. I encourage people to find and connect with others who share your interests and passions. Get involved and network at conferences, connect with other graduate students and presenters who share similar interests as yourself. Collaborate and talk with others, listening to and learning from experiences.

Also, persevere! The first time I submitted an article to a journal, I remember being very discouraged when it was returned, heavily marked up with all kinds of criticisms. I put it away for awhile and when I got back into it, I could really see how valuable the reviewers’ comments were. I could literally feel myself growing and developing as a writer I worked through re-writes. Every piece that is published (and also those that are not), offers tremendous space to learn and grow from multiple perspectives on your own written scholarship.

What advice do you have for graduate students wanting to enter the job market outside of the U.S./U.K., particularly in the Korean context?

If you have been educated in a very different educational system than the one that you are teaching in, take some time to reflect (and perhaps even articulate in writing), on how your own ideas and experiences with education will influence your teaching. Acknowledge that your experiences, whatever they were, may have been fantastic, may have been terrible, but they were your own personal experiences. Whatever context you were educated in as a young learner is likely very different than the context you are teaching in. I would argue this is true even if you are teaching in the very same school that you attended as a young learner.

Digital literacies, migration patterns, generational gaps, different educational philosophies and expectations continue to change the educational landscape. Dan Lortie (1975) talks about the “apprenticeship of observation” describing how teachers spent thousands and thousands of hours in an apprentice-like mode—in their formative years as students, observing and participating in a particular model of education. Without conscious, intentional efforts to examine the impact of these lived learned experiences, one is likely to teach as one has been taught, for better or worse. Decide to make a conscious choice to reflect on the impact of your own experiences on your teaching. Being open-minded and open to new ideas is a great place to start.

When teaching, keep the main focus on the learners—by first focusing on who the learners are and what their needs are, then by considering how to create opportunities that will encourage to meet their own goals and address their personal needs. Be ready to learn from others around you. Seek out a mentor, perhaps another teacher in your school, who is more experienced in that particular context and who may be able to offer you insights that are not immediately apparent to you.

Also, it is important to be aware that what you have learned in your US or UK teacher education programs may have given you a solid foundation, but all elements may not be immediately applicable to your particular teaching context. As you learn in graduate schools anywhere, dive in, learn about the experiences, theories, and philosophies of TESOL and education scholars, but at the end of the day, you, as a frontline teacher are in the best position to determine what will be beneficial in your own teaching context and how to provide those opportunities to your learners.

References:

Jenkins, J. (2015). Global Englishes: A resource book for students. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Matsuda, A. (2017). Preparing teachers to teach English as an International Language. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Porter, C. & Tanghe, S. (2016). Emplaced identities and the materials classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 769-778.

Tanghe, S. (2014). Integrating World Englishes into a university conversation class in South Korea. English Today, 30(2), 18-23.

Tanghe, S. (2016). Promoting critical racial awareness in teacher education in Korea: reflections on a racial discrimination simulation activity. Asia Pacific Education Review, 17, 203-215.

Tanghe, S., & Park, G. (2016). “Build[ing] something which alone we could not have done”: International collaborative teaching and learning in language teacher education. SYSTEM, 57, 1-13.

Prithvi Shrestha

 

Dr. Prithvi Shrestha is a Senior Lecturer in English Language Teaching and a Research Convenor of the Applied Linguistics and Literacies Research Group in the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics, The Open University, UK. He holds a BEd, MA in English literature (both Tribhuvan University, Nepal), MA TESOL (University of Lancaster) and EdD (The Open University). Prior to taking up the job in The Open University in 2006, he worked at Goldsmiths, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (all University of London). He taught as an English language teacher in secondary schools and worked as a teacher educator in Nepal over 12 years. He teaches academic literacy, EAP and ESP courses and supervises doctoral students. His research sits broadly within educational and applied linguistics, underpinned by Vygotskian sociocultural theory and systemic functional linguistics. In particular, his work has contributed to the field of academic literacy, language across the curriculum, assessment and educational technology mediated language teacher education in developing countries. He currently leads on an IELTS test impact research project (Bangladesh & Nepal) funded by the British Council and co-leads a TOEFL iBT test validity research project (Nepal and Sweden) funded by Educational Testing Services (USA). He has published books, book chapters and journal articles in the research fields mentioned. He has published articles in Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Assessing Writing, RELC Journal and Curriculum Journal. He is a founding editor of the Journal of Language and Education. He served as a Joint Coordinator of the IATEFL ESP SIG from 2013 to 2016.

Interviewer: Madhukar K. C. 

1.Thank you very much for joining us on NNEST-of-the-month blog. Could you briefly tell us about your linguistic, academic, and professional background and how you got interested in learning language and becoming an educator, especially a teacher of English?

Dr. Shrestha:Thank you very much, Madhukar, for inviting me to be interviewed for the NNEST-of-the-Month Blog. I feel honored and privileged to have this opportunity.

I was born in a remote village of Namjung, Gorkha, Nepal. Though my family comes from an ethnic community called Newars that has its own native language (Newari), I always spoke Nepali as my first language as my parents spoke this language only and was briefly exposed to the Magar language (an indigenous language spoken by Magars in Gorkha) in my early childhood. My formal language learning journey began in a state primary school, located in a remote village of Darbung, Gorkha, Nepal. I went to this Nepali medium school where I started learning English as a foreign language (EFL) at the age of 10. As you may imagine, throughout my school years, I was taught English through a grammar-translation method. Despite this, I had always been very keen to learn this language and one day become proficient in it! With this dream (let’s say intrinsic motivation), I pursued studying an English language degree at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. While studying, I began to realize that there was a shortage of EFL teachers in the country, especially in rural areas. So in this sense, I had both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to learn English and then become an EFL teacher. More importantly, I believe that language education is crucial for social mobility and economic growth.

I began my EFL teaching career in a community secondary school in 1990. As a new EFL teacher, I was eager to apply what I had learned in theory to my classroom practices. This was, however, challenging given the large number of students (over 90) and the lack of any educational resources. Therefore, I had to find new ways of dealing with situations. This meant starting to develop a network of EFL teachers and learn from others as there was no professional EFL organization then. This was possible only at the local level. In 1993, my situation changed drastically when I was offered an EFL teacher’s post at Gandaki Boardking School which is a well-resourced English medium school in Pokhara, Nepal. This is where I had the opportunity to develop professionally and become an English language teacher educator both locally and nationally via NELTA (Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association) which had just been set up to bring all EFL teachers and teacher educators together in Nepal.

Having taught as an EFL teacher in Nepal for 12 years, I moved to the UK to study MA TESOL at the University of Lancaster on a Hornby Scholarship in 2002. Since 2003, I have been working in the British higher education which, for me, is a leap from an ‘Expanding circle’ to the ‘Inner circle’ to use Kachru’s (Kachru, 1998) classification of world Englishes. Currently, I work as Senior Lecturer in School of Languages and Applied Linguistics, The Open University, UK. Here, I lead on designing technology-mediated courses for distance learners. These courses mainly include academic literacy, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). So my working context is very different from traditional higher education settings. There is an open entry policy for undergraduate degrees and increasingly we teach our courses online only. All our students are part-time and most of them are in employment.

As an EAP and ESP leader, I have also served as a Joint Coordinator of the IATEFL ESP SIG (2013 – 2016). It was in recognition of my work in the field and was honored to be the first(?) South Asian to take this role.

2.You have led or co-led a number of research projects. You have worked as an editor for reputed peer-reviewed journals, published your research works, and presented at conferences. Could you highlight your main areas of interest for research, publishing, and presentation at conferences? In what ways do you think your academic publishing and your presentations at conferences contribute to the literature of NNEST issues, World Englishes, and EIL?

Dr. Shrestha: My research sits broadly within educational and applied linguistics, underpinned by Vygotskian sociocultural theory and Systemic Functional Linguistics. In particular, my work has contributed to the field of academic literacy(ies), language across the curriculum, assessment and educational technology mediated language teacher education in developing countries. In academic literacy and language across the curriculum, my key contributions have been understanding how dynamic assessment (a form of learning-oriented assessment) can support distance learners’ academic literacy development (see Shrestha, 2017; Shrestha & Coffin, 2012), how academic literacy contributes to learners’ progression in a discipline (e.g., science and early childhood studies) and how academic literacy embedded assessment can be designed to support distance learners effectively. These aspects are ongoing issues in higher education. Another key focus of my research has been investigating the impact of commercial language tests such as IELTS and TOEFL on different stakeholders in low economy countries (Bangladesh and Nepal). This work contributes to designing English language tests that are context-sensitive. Finally, my research in technology mediated language teacher education in developing countries has been within large donor-funded international development projects (e.g., English in Action in Bangladesh and Teacher Education through School-based Support India (TESS-India) in India). My key contribution is in the area of English language teacher professional development through mobile technologies in low-resourced contexts by developing research-led locally sensitive teacher professional development resources in Bangladesh.

In terms of contributing to the literature of NNEST issues, my research in language testing and assessment, and language teacher education in developing countries are of importance. In language testing and assessment, I am currently investigating the impact of two well-known commercial English language tests, IELTS and TOEFL iBT, on different stakeholders in NNES contexts (Bangladesh, Nepal and Sweden) from a critical perspective. This work has begun to provide insights into how context-sensitive these tests are and what their consequences are for NNES. This advances the debate on the validity of these tests in non-English speaking countries. And through my doctoral supervision, I continue to encourage my NNES students to investigate pertinent issues in their contexts. For example, one of my students has been examining the role of English as a language for business communication among businesses in Greece and its social and economic effects in the society.

My research within language teacher education in developing countries, especially two large-scale projects mentioned above, has addressed issues that NNES teachers face every day. In particular, I have argued that any large donor-funded language teacher education project should be sensitive to local cultural and linguistic diversity of the host country (e.g., see Shrestha, 2012, 2013).

I have been editing peer-reviewed journals for about 10 years. In this work, I have often mentored NNES authors which enabled them to publish in the journal successfully. I find this really rewarding.

3. Could you share with us your memories of some of the challenges you encountered as a consequence of your international identity, more specifically of having an NNES identity as an international graduate student as well as an ESL/EFL professional while pursuing your MA TESOL and doctoral studies in the UK?

Dr. Shrestha: My journey, both as a student and professional, has been full of challenges. Specifically thinking about my study experiences in the UK, it was a huge cultural shift for me to be conversant in UK academic cultures. For example, how I used to write assignments did not meet my needs for the MA TESOL degree at Lancaster. I had to learn certain new conventions which were essential for academic writing in the UK. This continues to be a challenge as I like to maintain my NNES identity and meet the requirements of academic publishing in the West.

As an NNES professional, finding the first job that suited my experience and qualifications was the hardest thing in the UK. However, with perseverance and my ambition to work in a UK university enabled me to find a part-time EAP lecturer post at Goldsmiths University of London (2003) which helped me to have a foothold. Soon after this, I was able to secure a pre-sessional EAP tutor post at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) in 2004. This is where I encountered the first experience of subtle discrimination against myself as an NNEST. I was looked down upon by some EAP tutor colleagues because I was from ‘Nepal’. This experience was extremely upsetting and almost damaging to my career. I turned this experience to fueling my ambition further which paid off as I was able to secure another part-time EAP job at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (University of London). This experience has taught me to be resilient which I continue to develop. This is something perhaps all NNESTs who moved to English speaking countries might have experienced.

4. You are currently Senior Lecturer in English Language Teaching in the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics at The Open University, UK. What are the courses you teach there? As an NNES professional, what opportunities and challenges have you experienced working at your university so far?

Dr. Shrestha: As I explained earlier, my main bulk of teaching involves leading the design and writing of technology-mediated academic literacy, EAP and ESP courses for open and distance students who are mainly UK home students and study part-time. I also collaborate with subject faculties (academics) to embed academic literacy in undergraduate courses (e.g., Science and Early Childhood Studies). I recently led on a university-wide initiative to develop an academic language and literacy practices framework which is now a part of the university curriculum. I currently chair the production of an ESP course for business and management students.

I supervise doctoral students. Currently I have five doctoral students in different stages of their research trajectory. Their research topics range from English for Vocational Purposes, language test impacts, home literacy to Mobile Assisted Language Learning.

In the recent past, I worked as an English language specialist contributing to the academic directions of the large-scale international projects mentioned earlier. These projects were opportunities for me to pay back to South Asia where I spent all of my formative years in my NNEST career.

Working at the Open University (OU) has come with both challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, it was the sheer experience of having to work in a distance education context, which was often painful in the early days, as I was so used to face-to-face teaching till I started my job at the OU. This meant constantly finding innovative ways of teaching and learning and adapting available technological resources and tools to serve student needs in the best possible way. When faced by these challenges, the solution was not often easy but it was a matter of constant research and development and taking risks. I was able to turn these challenges into my opportunities. I have developed my expertise in designing technology-mediated EAP and ESP materials which I couldn’t have done without the OU experience. Likewise, I find the environment conducive to conducting my research as a result of which I have been able to fulfil my research ambitions leading to where I am now. The road ahead is certainly full of challenges due to what is going on in the UK (including Brexit) and globally as the macro environment always affects our working contexts. This has implications for me as an NNEST to grow further.

5. Our May 2016 guest, Prem Phyak argues, “the impacts of ‘native and ‘non-native’ dichotomy are real; this dichotomy still exists through various mechanisms, discourse and governmentalities. It is deeply rooted in our mind, behavior, and practice”. How do you think this assertion of NS-NNS dichotomy that perpetuates bias and discrimination be tackled, and/or resisted?

Dr. Shrestha:I couldn’t agree more with Prem Phyak. In my view, this dichotomy continues to be real and creates barriers to NNESTs both in English dominant countries like the UK and countries where it is used as a lingua franca or a medium of instruction. In countries like the UK, language (education) policies, and teacher recruitment policies are obviously designed to suit the workforce within the country. This means there will always be subtle bias towards NS teachers as my own personal experience shows. However, the most worrying thing is how EFL teachers are recruited in non-English speaking countries. For example, recently in a BALEAP mailing list, there was a heated debate about the use of the term ‘native speakers’ in an EAP job advertisement in Hungary. This shows that policy makers in such countries should be aware of what actually they are looking for so that they don’t inadvertently promote any discrimination against NNESTs despite their rich multilingual experience and EFL expertise which are much needed in this globalized world where translanguaging is increasingly seen as an asset in language education and elsewhere.

In order to minimize the bias towards NNESTs, individuals have their own ways of handling it. More importantly, it is the professional organizations like TESOL and government agencies that need to make employers aware of the potential consequences of this kind of bias.

6. We often come across discriminatory job advertisements on social media, websites of various ELT/TEFL/TESL industry (i.e., universities, colleges, private language and training schools) that tend to perpetuate the ideology of native speakerism. It is evident that discriminatory hiring policies and practices against NNES are still into effect to date despite continuous advocacy efforts from professional association like TESOL International Association, NNEST-IS leaders, NNEST blog team, and TEFL Equity Advocates campaign? How do you think ELT/TESOL educators should address this prevalent issue of bias and discrimination to bring social justice and professional equity?

Dr. Shrestha: As I have just mentioned, professional organizations like TESOL and IATEFL, and government agencies can bring about some positive changes to address the prevalent issue of bias. That can, nevertheless, only help to change recruitment policies at best. It is in fact individuals like ourselves and our NS colleagues who can make a difference. For example, the ‘behind the scene’ work of shortlisting candidates for the EFL job is where the real first step of bias begins. If that can be changed, the bias can be further minimized. Likewise, behaviors of department heads and other NS colleagues towards NNS colleagues may need to change to create an environment which promotes equality and diversity. It is also about changing perceptions of EFL students who often tend to think that they are best taught by NS EFL teachers despite NNSETs being highly experienced and well-qualified. So it is important that we raise awareness of such issues among our students. And it is equally important to use learning materials that are not focused on English speaking countries only but others too that promote linguistic and cultural diversity.

7. Could you tell us briefly about your current writing projects and publications? As a busy ELT/TESOL professional, researcher, and writer, how do you balance your professional and personal lives?

Dr. Shrestha: For the next few years, I plan to focus on writing research articles and publish them in order to meet the demands of next research evaluation exercise in the UK (2021). This puts an extreme pressure on all research active UK university academics and this is even more so for an NNEST like myself. Currently, I am working on a paper that examines micro-genetic academic writing development in formative assessment in relation to tutor feedback for which I employ Systemic Functional Linguistics as an analytical tool. It builds on my previous work on dynamic assessment (a learning oriented assessment approach, see (Shrestha & Coffin, 2012)). I am writing a project report for the IELTS impact study project that examined the IELTS test impact on different test users in Bangladesh and Nepal. And I have three other research projects that will keep me busy for the next few years!

Balancing professional and personal lives (in the way I see them) has always been challenging to me. This is so because, as an NNEST working in an English-speaking country, I strongly feel the need to go ‘an extra mile’ to survive, if not to prosper. This often means a limited time for your personal, social and family life. Despite this, I tend to block some time regularly for family and friends whose support is essential to carry on working in the current environment. And, of course, prioritizing what needs to be done always helps to achieve this balance and keep me going!

References:

Kachru, B. B. (1998). English as an Asian Language. Links & Letters, 5, 89-108.

Shrestha, P. N. (2012). Teacher professional development using mobile technologies in a large-scale project: lessons learned from Bangladesh. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, 2(4), 34–49.

Shrestha, P. N. (2013). English language classroom practices: Bangladeshi primary school children’s perceptions. RELC Journal, 44(2), 147 – 162.

Shrestha, P. N. (2017). Investigating the learning transfer of genre features and conceptual knowledge from an academic literacy course to business studies: Exploring the potential of dynamic assessment. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 25, 1-17. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2016.10.002

Shrestha, P. N., & Coffin, C. (2012). Dynamic assessment, tutor mediation and academic writing development. Assessing Writing, 17(1), 55-70. doi:10.1016/j.asw.2011.11.003

Thank you, Dr. Prithvi Shrestha for taking the time to share your very interesting and insightful experiences, and critical ideas with our readers within the TESOL community and beyond.

 

Ester de Jong

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Ester J. de Jong is Professor in ESOL/Bilingual Education, and the Director of the School of Teaching and Learning. She teaches courses in ESOL/bilingual education and in curriculum, methods, and assessment for English speakers of other languages.  Prior to academia, she worked for the K-12 public schools in Massachusetts as the Assistant Director for Bilingual Education and ESL programs. Her research focuses on two-way bilingual education, language-in-education policy, and mainstream teacher preparation for bilingual students.  Her book “Foundations for Multilingualism in Education: From Principles to Practice” (Caslon Publishing, 2011) addresses policies and practices of responding to increasing linguistic diversities in schools. She is currently co-PI for a Center of Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation grant.  She was recently elected President-Elect for the TESOL International Association.

Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!

  1. Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background? What are your current research areas, and how did they become so?

I completed my master’s degree in Language and Literature Studies at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.  My specialization was in Language and Language Minorities and my thesis focused on teaching vocabulary through picture books.  As part of my studies I became interested in bilingual education as a means to create more equitably schooling opportunities for bilingual learners. So when I had to choose an internship as part of my studies, I wanted to do this somewhere where bilingual programs were in place. At the time, my choices were the UK, Sweden, and the US and I was fortunate that one of my professors had a colleague at the Department of Education in Massachusetts. I did my internship there and learned about two-way immersion programs and realized that this model had an amazing potential for all learners.  Since then, one strand of my research has focused on two-way immersion programs; the other strand has focused on mainstream teacher preparation for English language learners as this is the context where I am working now at the University of Florida.

  1. As an expert in bilingual education and language policy, what intersection do you see (if any) between NNEST issues and those faced by bilingual students?

I believe there are many intersections. One intersection is the power of labels and negotiating the positive and negative associations with different labels and the implications that come when we use labels.  We are bilingual users of multiple languages.  I like that term because it recognizes the bilingualism and multilingualism of the individuals involved. Another shared experience is the constant challenge of not being recognized for who you are and what assets you bring into the classroom. Many bilingual teachers and learners continue to be judged against a standard that reflects a deficit model rather than a model that recognizes linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource. Bilingual learners continue to be measured against a monolingual, native speaker norm just like many teachers who have learned English as an additional language.

  1. A major theme of the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession was reimagining the profession as an agent of change. How do you think individual students, teachers, and teacher educators can resist native speakerism?

I think this begins in our daily interactions: being aware of how monolingual perspectives permeate much of what we do and countering these discourses through our own actions.  Building critical language awareness that helps students and teachers identify how, for example, standard language ideologies and stereotypes as well as fragmented notions of bilingualism are enacted in many ways: through our choices of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment; our research designs and questions; our formal, explicit policies. Examples include: Teacher educators can build better understandings of bilingual development, bilingual language use and the many benefits of bilingualism; teachers can choose children’s literature that reflect multiple experiences in multiple languages and choose to engage students in critical conversations about language, power, and language use. For others, broader engagement with local, state, and national policies may be the way to build this counter discourse.

  1. What abilities and responsibilities do you think TESOL professionals have to support mainstream teachers in working with ELLs?

In the United States, many English language learners find themselves in mainstream classrooms and if the mainstream teacher is lucky, there is an ESL specialist in the school to work with them.  The ELL teacher of today functions in many capacities: the role of coach, professional development provider, co-planner and co-teacher. In other context, co-teaching is also becoming more common. Again, in the United States in particular, the English language teaching specialist is absolutely central to ensuring that ELLs’ needs are met in the context of a mainstream classroom. One of our tasks is to be able to clearly articulate the expertise we bring to the table and work with administrators to support the valuing of this expertise. 

  1. In your article, “Preparing Mainstream Teachers for Multilingual Classrooms”, you advocate for a multilingual orientation in English language education to counterbalance monolingual stances. In your opinion, what are some of the pedagogical practices that the so-called monolingual teachers can engage in to adopt this multilingual orientation? 

Mainstream teachers can do a number of things: include literature from around the world and in different languages; use bilingual books as part of their teaching; allow for students’ use of the native language when working on specific tasks (even though the product may be in English); explore multilingual websites; invite multilingual guest speakers; create spaces (e.g., morning meeting) where everybody learns new key phrases in other languages; promote the value of bilingualism and make a visible effort to learn the language and about the language.

  1. As President-Elect of TESOL International, what opportunities do you see for TESOL as a professional organization to increase equity in the field?

A commitment to diversity and equity is an important value and TESOL works very hard to educate the public, other organizations about English language learning and teaching and the implications for schools, the workplace, and other settings. We have published a number of briefs (http://www.tesol.org/read-and-publish/newsletters-other-publications/tesol-professional-papers-and-briefs) and position statements  (http://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/position-statements) that are resources for our members to use to advocate for equity in resources, in ensuring quality practices, and anti-discriminatory policies.

  1. To build on the previous question – in the NNEST Electronic Village Online session, one question was how we as scholars and advocates can affect change in the private sector. What thoughts do you have on this question?

The private sector often operates on other principles than the public sector and are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities. This can make it difficult to have a direct impact. I think we continue to educate and position ourselves as the go-to resource.  As TESOL and ELT experts we are in a unique position to provide different stakeholders with the information that they can use to inform decision-making. Here is a challenge for our researchers as well as practitioners: what are the policy issues we need to be able to respond to and what kind of research (data) do we need to be able to contribute to identifying solutions for our English language teachers and students?

  1. Many of our readers are young scholars and professionals interested in becoming leaders in professional organizations. What are a few concrete steps they would take to reach this goal?

TESOL has many pathways for member involvement and engagement. Our new MyTESOL Community is one of several wonderful mechanisms to become part of multiple communities. I would encourage young scholars to connect at TESOL to a smaller group, such as the interest sections (http://www.tesol.org/connect/interest-sections), where there are often many mentoring and leadership opportunities. At the convention, attend their business meeting and meet others who share your passions. TESOL also has a call for volunteers for members on professional councils, proposal reviewers, and the like – become a member of these entities to understand what these groups do and be an active contributor. Partake in one of the leadership certificate programs (http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/certificate-leadership-programs). Personally, I started out locally first – I became a member of our state affiliate, Sunshine State TESOL, and had an opportunity to become part of their Board and built many of my initial leadership skills there (http://www.tesol.org/connect/affiliates-regional-organizations). This gave me the confidence to step up to become a member at large in the Bilingual Education Interest Section and then chair of BEIS.  After BEIS leadership, I became member of the Nominating Committee, followed by three years on the Board of Directors. And now, of course, I have the honor of being the President-Elect for TESOL. There’s many ways to become involved and become a leader in TESOL!

Lakshmi Kala Prakash

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The goal of the NNEST of the Month Blog is to showcase the many faces of educators from different countries who promote professional equity in the teaching community.

This month, our guest is Lakshmi Kala Prakash. Lakshmi is completing a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

We met Lakshmi on the NNEST Facebook page, when she told us that she spoke out against the discriminatory job advertisements posted by a company called VIPKID, which advertises “The North American Elementary School experience to Chinese children” and only hires “Native English Speakers from North America.”

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” We have edited some parts of this post, originally published on 2/22/2017, to reflect their change in practices, while still commending Lakshmi on her efforts in NNEST advocacy.

Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!

1)      Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background?

As a lifelong learner, my journey in academics began in India, the country of my birth, where I received a Bachelor of Science. Interested in the field of Medicine, I pursued an Associates in Respiratory Therapy at Wichita State University in the US. Several years later and following a change in career to teaching English to Foreign Language students in Iran, I decided to procure my Masters in TESOL. This desire brought me to Thailand in 2012, where I received an MA in TESOL in 2013 from Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The passion for knowledge and eagerness to share with my colleagues, students, and the public at large guided me into enrolling for a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I have recently submitted my dissertation manuscript to my Faculty of Advisors for their comments. On the professional side, my career has taken me through several disciplines from applying my skills as a Registered Respiratory Therapist, successfully running and establishing a business in clothing and jewelry, to the present and the most rewarding, teaching English. My present career began in 2002 in Tehran, Iran.

2)      You mentioned previously that you got involved in an online discussion with one of VIPKID’s teachers, who seemed to support their discrimination against NNESTs. Speaking out can be intimidating. Could you tell us a bit more about the situation, what you found problematic, and what you did about it?

Finding ways to engage with those who unwittingly appear to support discrimination can be a challenge to anyone. As an educator, I am a strong proponent against discriminatory practices in general and against NNESTs in particular. However, when such instances are blatantly advertised and made to appear as acceptable by everyone, perhaps, the responsibility to speak up against such practices falls on the shoulders of those who hold the minds of the future in our hands. Recently, a posting for an online teaching position on the Facebook page called Chiang Rai Everything, catering to classifieds on any issue, sparked my decision to get more involved and confront the wordings in the posting.

The person who had shared the VIPKID advertisement might have, from his point of view, felt that he was doing a good thing for other Americans currently living in Chiang Rai, Thailand. However, when interacting with him it became clear to me that he was not ready to accept the fact that the wordings in the advertisement were generally discriminatory. The exchange with him was a heated one and I tried to instill some sort of awareness regarding the effects of his involvement with such discriminating organizations. Although I tried to keep the discussion on point, the man involved and in support of him a few other American men, decided to take it personally. My initial steps to try and raise awareness on this issue was apparently turning nasty. I decided that I had to step out of it as it was clear that the person had made up his mind that he was not doing anything that was hurtful or wrong. Yet, I am hopeful that my words would have made an impression on his future actions and thoughts on the topic.

Since the intervention of NNEST and TESOL, the VIPKID posting has been expertly reworded to protect their interests. However, here is a link to an online interaction between a teacher from the online platform VIPKID and English teachers looking for online opportunities from several parts of the World before the changes were made by VIPKID, which support the original advertisement that quirked my interest to face up to the challenge, https://teacheslonlineanywhere.com/join-vipkid/.

3)      How do you think advertisements like this affect TESOL as a scholarly and professional field?

When I was teaching a group of English Major students at a University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I asked them about their future career goals. I was shocked to learn that none of them selected Teaching English. When I probed the reasons for this, they replied, “Teacher have you seen the job advertisements on websites like Ajarn.com, TeachEnglish.com and even the websites of Thai schools or Universities?” They continued, “We have no chance in getting a job in teaching, or earning well teaching English in Thailand.” Furthermore, discussion with people who have no awareness of the negative effects of their actions leads me to believe that discriminatory advertisements, media jokes on the pronunciation skills of Non-native teachers, and little attempt at bridging the widening gap do have a profound effect on the community and their hiring practices in the field of TESOL.

4)      TESOL International entered into a strategic partnership with VIPKID in November 2016. Rosa Aronson, the Executive Director of TESOL International told several leaders in the NNEST community that she’d had extensive conversations with VIPKID prior to entering a partnership, asserting that discrimination against NNESTs was a violation of TESOL International’s core values and dedication to increasing professionalism and equity in the field. She was under the impression that they had changed their ways and was appalled to learn that they had not done so. Now, nearly three months after the original announcement, VIPKID seems to have removed some discriminatory language from their website, but still advertises the North American elementary experience to Chinese children. What action, if any, do you think TESOL should take at this time? Where do we as NNEST advocates go from here?

This is a challenge for any organization and a community of practice in general. Initiating this dialogue with TESOL as the NNEST Interest Section has done was merely the very first step. Following these discussions and bringing to light the advertising practices (not only those by VIPKID), which also reflect, up to a point, the mindset of the people behind it, during seminars, conferences, or TESOL meetings can be further steps that all members of the TESOL community can partake in.

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” The discriminatory language has been removed since the original posting of this blog. 

5) Sometimes students are wary of teachers they perceive as nonnative speakers and question their professional expertise. How can we as TESOL professionals shed light on and change these ideologies?

I believe education is the key to bringing about equal practices or changing present ideologies between the native and nonnative speakers in the mindset of all stakeholders in general. However, organizations such as TESOL, or NNEST, should formally approach the Ministries of Education of countries, where such practices are rampant and request to implement further regulations in the hiring and advertising practices of qualified English language teachers regardless of their nativeness.

6) What other advice would you give to other TESOL professionals and activists in increasing equity in TESOL as a professional and scholarly field?

Professional Development that aligns with increasing informed and positive dialogues on this topic among all stakeholders could help minimize a persisting gap between Native and Nonnative teacher perceptions of each other’s role in the overall production of a truly successful user of English.

Edit (3/3/2017) Since VIPKID has since changed the language on their website, we followed up with Lakshmi to ask one last question. 

7) Since the original publication of this post, VIPKID has revised their website and recruitment materials to advertise “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” As someone who was on the front lines, what are your thoughts on these changes? What will their impact be, and how can we continue to increase equity in the field?” 

Let me first begin with how we can continue to increase equity in the field by sharing with all of you the opinions and suggestions of a colleague. Mrs. Jena Lynch, a native English speaker. After reading my responses on the NNEST blog of the month, she had this to add to the discussion:

“I can study English grammar and use a corpus to back up my intuitions, but I’ll never have the credibility of someone who learned English as an additional language. What I think hiring managers and ministries need to be looking at is: (1) A desire to coach students in the learning process; (2) Teaching methodology and approach in the classroom; (3) Proficiency.

Having the knowledge and skill in English to teach students to be intelligible is obviously important, but there’s no need to be a native speaker (a.k.a. non-learner) to do that. What I’m getting at is I guess the conversation between NNEST and NEST needs to include a more balanced picture. Teachers should be asking each other: (1) How do you teach ______?; (2) Why do you teach it that way?; (3) Have you ever thought of _______?; (4) I understand _____ this way. How do you see it?”

In other words the focus of all those involved in ELT, including of course the administrative stakeholders, need to shift from practices that exclude abilities based on inconsequential features, which marginalize, otherwise, capable practitioners and realign our practices to drawing on the positive traits in each one of us that could ultimately sustain successful English language teaching and learning.

As to my thoughts on the changes made by VIPKID, of course I am quite satisfied with their physical display of words. Everyone deserves a chance to rectify an oversight. Only with time and continued efforts can this negative wave of discrimination be overturned. I would like to leave you all with the famous words by Martin Luther King Jr. as retrieved from searchquotes.com:

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.”