Brock Brady

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the NNEST Caucus

The NNEST Caucus Member
of the Month
October 2008

bbrady [at] american [dot] edu

Ana Wu: Would you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?
Prof. Brady: Sometimes I think TESOL chose me. 🙂 I bounced around a lot. Growing up in Oregon, near Portland, I worked as a farm hand and a grocery clerk during high school. I did a hitch in the Army and served as a paratrooper. The Army G.I. Bill allowed me to go to an elite liberal arts college that I could have never afforded otherwise, Reed College. There, I studied the Western classics and learned how think. To support myself at Reed College, I first continued to work in grocery stores, but I also spent a couple of years working at a pawnshop. While at Reed, I decided that poetry was my calling. When I graduated, I became a construction worker, thinking that that somehow balanced out being a poet. 🙂 I even “ran away” to San Francisco one summer looking for my muse, but she clearly wasn’t there. I returned to Portland Oregon, spending days installing storm windows and working evenings at a convenience store. One day, I saw an ad for Peace Corps Volunteers in Senegal, requiring minimal French to do agricultural work. That sounded a lot better than anything else I was doing then, so I applied, and was sent to Togo, West Africa, where I taught farmers to plow with oxen.

Peace Corps was the most meaningful experience in my life. It changed my view of what it means to live on this planet and what is really important in life. Learning more about culture and interacting with people from other cultures became my true “raison d’ĂŞtre.” When I finished Peace Corps, I crossed the Sahara overland and finally was able to get to Europe, where I spent about six months.

After Peace Corps, I tried to get into Veterinary School, but it didn’t work out. TESOL seemed a good alternative. I had taught English as a secondary project in Togo, teaching English seemed much more practically oriented than becoming an English Lit professor and it situated me clearly in an intercultural milieu. I applied to the TESOL MA Program at Portland State University and my career was launched.

After earning my MA, I received a Fullbright Language Assistantship and spent a year in the suburbs of Paris in a College/Lycée. The following two years I worked for a private language school in Paris, teaching ESP to French executives and engineers.

I returned to the U.S. did additional graduate studies, and taught adult education ESL at a community college. Afterwards I spent two years as a Lecturer in a Science/Technical University in South Korea. It was there I met my wife to be Kyongsook, who was also teaching English.

Following the stay in Korea, I spent four years in first Burkina Faso and then Benin, West Africa, directing English language programs for the United States Information Service. Our daughter Shannon was conceived in Burkina Faso and born a U.S citizen in South Korea.

I was hired by the TESOL Program at American University in Washington, D.C. In teacher education, I had at last found my calling. Trying to figure out how to give graduate students the essential knowledge of linguistics and language teaching, how to get them started engaging in research, and how o create experiences where they can discover who they are and how their identity relates to the role of teacher–it is an incredible challenge. As busy as I can get, I am very grateful. Every day, I learn so much. I teach, I engage in administration, I carry out research, and I am involved in our professional community. I could not ask for anything more.

Ana Wu: With Goedele Gulikers, you wrote the article “Enhancing the MA in TESOL Practicum Course for Nonnative English-speaking Student Teachers” (In L. Kamhi-Stein, editor, Learning and Teaching from Experience, 2004). During a practicum, you said that “when the host instructors and student teachers come from different cultural/educational backgrounds, the potential for misunderstanding can be increased because each participant is bringing different expectations (p.211).” What are the things that the people – host instructors, student teachers, can do to minimize misunderstandings?
Prof. Brady: The problem with practicum placements is that their logistical complications cause great stress. There is never enough time to do all that we want to do. We mean to talk, but then there’s a child to pick up at day care or a bus to catch. The practicum student may be focused on preparing a lesson to videotape at the same time the host instructor is up for a performance review. Additionally, everyone in a practicum situation (at least initially) hesitates to impose. The practicum student hesitates to ask for clarification–the host instructor holds off on a comment. Everyone comes to the experience with so much good will that even when someone senses that something is off, they will restrain themselves from mentioning it. This creates a “communication vacuum,” and too often, especially when logistical constraints begin to create stress, which is easy to attribute problems to others not meeting our expectations–to not holding up their end of the bargain, when in reality everyone is doing their best to do the best in a difficult situation where different participants are pulled many different ways.

Scollon and Scollon in their 2001 text,”Intercultural Communication” posit two rules of intercultural communication: “Increase shared knowledge,” and “Expect Miscommunication.” If both the host instructor and the practicum student accept that they have an obligation to understand each other better and to assume that misunderstandings will arise, potential misunderstandings will get explored together rather than being interpreted individually without discussion. This goes a long way to avoiding perceived disrespect where none was intended.

Or to put it a bit more concretely, we want to encourage the host instructor and practicum student to choose to be a team–a team that will work together to get through this experience successfully regardless of what the teaching institution or the teacher education program are asking them to do. If temporarily, we can create a “the two of us against the world” attitude, that’s very positive. First, honesty is also necessary. The host instructor and the practicum student must agree that no observation or opinion will be off the table, and when differences do arise, they will be resolved through consensus. Second, because they are operating in an unusual situation, the host instructor and practicum student should hedge observations or questions with expressions like, “I don’t know, but…” or “Do you think…?” When the host instructor/practicum student interaction is framed in this way, it helps avoid the plague of many practica: the host instructor and the practicum student becoming mutually judgmental. By seeing themselves as a team, the host instructor and practicum student can focus productively on teaching this class of students well.

Ana Wu: You are one of the forces behind the creation of the NNEST Interest Section, advising, mentoring, sharing your expertise and experience, and contributing in relevant decisions. As a “native speaker,” why did you join the NNEST Caucus? Why is the formation of the NNEST IS so important to you?
Prof. Brady: Almost all my experience in the beginning of my TESOL career was in EFL settings. This means that I worked under, over, and alongside NNESTs. They knew their country, their school, their curriculum, and their students much better than I did. At that time they were often much more knowledgeable about our craft than I was, so how would I see any particular disadvantage to being an NNEST? Indeed, what I found very rewarding was collaboration with my NNEST counterparts–we could counterbalance each others’ limitations and reinforce each other’s strengths. On top of that, I have worked in situations where I have been a nonnative speaker (in several different languages), so I believe I understand the challenges and the anxiety of being a nonnative speaker. Finally, my wife is an NNEST working in public schools in the U.S.; I have had to endure her being “othered” because of her accent and marginalized for being different by administrators whom I would have thought would have been more tolerant of diversity and difference.

When the NNEST Caucus was formed therefore, I was ready. Supporting NNESTs and encouraging NNEST/NEST collaboration had been personal concerns for some time. It was difficult in the beginning. Some members were wary about a native speaker wanting to participate. I think they were understandably worried–was I going to come in and try to run things for them, just as native speakers sometimes interrupt nonnative speakers to tell them what they were really trying to say? I understood their concern, but I cared, and I continued to hang out around the edges of the sessions. Finally, George Braine struck up a conversation with me. We got to know each other, George introduced we around, and I was welcomed and given opportunities to develop my leadership in ways that I had never been given before. I am grateful.

The 2004 Long Beach Convention was also an eye opening experience for me. Through a series of coincidences, I spent almost all of my time in Long Beaching with members of the NNEST Caucus. There was a moment when I realized that I was more comfortable in this group of people than I would be in most groups of Americans. These were my people–they were the ones who shared my perspective and values. Ever since that time I’ve joked about being an NNEST “wannabe.”

In the ten years since the NNEST Caucus was created we have carved out a research area that did not exist before, we have begun to give a voice to a segment of our teaching community that was largely marginalized before, we have done an incredible job in providing professional development to our members, and leadership to TESOL and many teaching institutions. If the Caucuses had to end, the NNEST IS had to be created. We have inspired each other so much, and achieved so much, that we can’t stop yet.

Ana Wu: In July 2008, the NNEST Caucus officially became an Interest Section. As someone who has done extensive research on NNEST issues and gives workshops for the TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program, what would you like to see the NNEST IS leaders and members do or initiate?
Prof. Brady: Most importantly, we must continue to do the excellent job we have done in supporting and scaffolding each other–to engage in research, to publish the research, and to participate as leaders in our communities. In terms of research, we need to go beyond various kinds of perception studies. I think that one crucial area of interest is looking for ways to engage the bulk of NNESTs who are teaching EFL across the globe (often at several different schools just to make ends meet) to discover how to nurture professional development and growth in ways that are meaningful to these teachers and their lives. I think we also have a key role to play in better understanding the interplay of world Englishes, and we seem uniquely well placed to study and describe the English that gets used between nonnative English speakers.

Finally there is much we can do in terms of awareness building. As long as world traveling backpackers or students with a degree in any major are perceived as adequate English language teachers just because they happen to be native English speakers, we will not earn the professional compensation we deserve. If NNESTs can make known to their students and the general public the strengths they bring to teaching and the power of their professional education, then we’ve come a long ways towards having the public realize that being a highly qualified ESL/EFL teacher is about the teacher’s training and education, not the accident of the language that s/he happens to speak at home.

Ana Wu: I am impressed by your different roles: Besides being a professor at the American University and giving summer workshops for TESOL, you are a former Director on the Board of TESOL and former President of WATESOL (a Washington affiliate). Also, you are a Federal Monitor of the Virginia Department of Education and give presentations at the Foreign Service Institute’s Overseas Briefing Center. What advice would you give to NNES novice teachers who are just starting their careers?
Prof. Brady: First, be brave and be strong, especially if you’re starting out in ESL environments. My wife, an NNEST elementary school teacher in our local district, ran into surprising prejudice when she first started out and still runs into it from time to time (if a native speaker makes a mistake on lesson materials, it is viewed as a typo. If my wife is found with a similar mistake, it often results in a talk with the principal). She succeeded by being brave and not letting administrators and student parents discourage her. It took great strength but she got through. This is not a fair situation, but with dedication you can get through it and then begin to advocate for NNEST strengths and rights.

Second, volunteer and put yourself forward in all ways that are culturally appropriate (for example as a NNEST graduate student in the U.S. you would put yourself forward in different ways than you would if you were a Japanese elementary school teacher). I have had many opportunities, I have a lot of positive learning experiences, and I have received much effective mentoring because I always said “yes” when asked, or because when I heard of a good idea I encouraged others to get together and try it out. I am now at a point in my career where I am beginning to have to learn to say “no,” but it makes sense that at different points in your career you need to develop different habits.

Third, having diverse experience is valued in our profession. While you might not hire someone who has had several positions in the same number of years, on the whole I think we tend to value diverse experience over steady experience doing the same kind of teaching. Diversity seems to indicate flexibility and adaptability. Similarly, look for opportunities to get experience in administration and curriculum design. Those of us who hire almost always value teachers that can fill other roles along with teaching.

Fourth, get involved in professional organizations and remind yourself that the minute you take on a role in a professional association, you have become a leader. Our organization needs leaders. After someone has been president or convention chair, they want and deserve a break. So the organization needs to find a replacement. If you have been involved on lower levels of leadership, you typically become the “go to” person and you get tapped. Don’t underestimate the value to your career of volunteering. Through these kinds of networks, you find colleagues in different programs and teaching situations, you find mentors, and you find all kinds of resources and people willing to do you a good turn because you’ve done one for the association. The NNEST Caucus has done a fantastic job of bringing competent members into leadership and getting new scholars published. It happens because we genuinely encourage our newer members to get involved and because we work to make sure that they receive the recognition and opportunities that their involvement merits.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this inspiring interview. I just received my Essential Teacher (a TESOL publication for members) and learned that you are one of the candidates for president (2010-2011). Good luck in your nomination!

References:

Brady, B. and Goedele, G. (2004). “Enhancing the MA in TESOL Practicum Course for Nonnative English-speaking Student Teachers.” In L. Kamhi-Stein (ed.) Learning and Teaching from Experience. Ann Arbor. MI: University of Michigan Press.

Scollon and Scollon (2001) Intercultural Communication. Second edition. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

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