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.” 

 

Xuemei Li

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Dr. Xuemei Li is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Her research interests include TESL/TEFL curriculum and methodology, second/additional language writing, ESL support in schools and communities, migration and newcomer integration, and identity issues in additional language contexts. She teaches, supervises, and publishes in these areas. Dr Li’s current SSHRC-funded projects investigate language and social support for newcomers (immigrant, refugee, & international student) in Canada, and particularly in Newfoundland. She also explores EAP (English for Academic Purposes) writing instruction and teacher education in Chinese universities.

Interviewed by: Khalid Al Hariri and Hami Suzuki

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Andy Gao

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Dr. Andy Gao is an associate professor in the Division of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong. His research includes Teacher Development, Higher Education, Sociolinguistics and Learner Autonomy. He was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Research Award from the University of Hong Kong. 

Interview by: Ju Seong Lee (John) and Cristina Sánchez-Martín  Continue reading

Hye Jin Lee

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HyeJin always strives for the best in every aspect of life. Throughout her education, she has excelled in all of her courses. She received her bachelor’s in English education within three years (145 credits in total), and pursued to earn her M.A. in TESOL. HyeJin earned her doctorate in Foreign and Second Language Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. As a Summa Cum Laude graduate, HyeJin was awarded the President’s Prize in Korean college (B.A.) and was granted membership in the Phi Kappa Phi (M.A.) as well as Golden Key Honour Societies (Ph.D.) in U.S. graduate programs. Being a beneficiary of great teachers throughout her life, HyeJin believes that educators can change the world for the better, and she is excited to be a part of the process. Her research interests include teacher training and professional development, World Englishes, and teaching English as a foreign language.

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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