Aiden Yeh is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages, Taiwan. She received her PhD in Applied Linguistics from University of Birmingham (UK) and MSc in English Language Teaching Management from Surrey University (UK). Her research interests include online teacher professional development, NNEST issues, CALL and emerging technologies for language. | April Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
Aiden Yeh: Before I answer these questions, I would like to thank the NNEST Blog Team for this opportunity to share a little bit about myself, my research, and my perspectives on NNEST issues.
Isabela Villas Boas: Could you please describe your educational and professional background. What led you to become an educator?
Aiden Yeh: I’m an Asst. Professor at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages inTaiwan. I earned my Master’s degree in English Language Teaching (ELT) Management from the University of Surrey (UK) in 1999, and in 2011 I received my Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham (UK).
To be honest, I never dreamed of becoming a teacher. Back in college, I was pursuing dual degrees in Bachelor of Arts and Commerce majoring in Mass Communications and Marketing Management, minors in Advertising and Creative Writing. I was literally groomed to work in Advertising; my parents, back in the 80s, owned an Ad agency inManila. When I was young, I would hang out with my dad and his creative team in his office. I guess, seeing brilliant minds at work and how they produced ad lay-out studies, how the words and the visuals (if blended well) come alive, made me so passionate about anything creative. I started working in the Copy Department, and then moving on to Accounts. I just loved writing ad copies and pitching big ideas on various ad campaigns. That’s how I developed my craft in creative writing. However, I had to give it all up when I moved toTaiwan. Oh, that was one of the most painful things that I had to do. The first few years inTaiwanwere extremely difficult because my Mandarin at that time was pretty mediocre, despite the language courses that I took before I leftManila. It was also a conscious decision to be a stay-at-home mom, well at least for the first 6-7 years. It was only when my children started to attend school that I considered getting a job. And the only job available for people like me who couldn’t really speak Mandarin inTaiwanwas to become an English teacher. I started my teaching career as an English teacher in an English kindergarten school that also offered tutorial services for students in primary school.
Isabela Villas Boas: You are an active NNEST Interest Section member, having chaired the IS. What sparked your interest in the NNEST issues?
Aiden Yeh: My own interests in pursuing research studies on NNEST issues can be attributed to the fact that I could personally relate to the discrimination that many Taiwanese EFL teachers experience. When I started working in an English kindergarten school, that was also the first time I ever encountered subtle forms of discrimination. Because of my foreign status, I was assigned to teach advanced levels (Grades 5-6, students with satisfactory English proficiency), yet my monthly salary was lower compared to my foreign co-teachers but higher than my local Taiwanese colleagues; I was indiscriminately placed in the middle. I was always reminded that I was a foreigner but I was and never could be ‘foreign’ enough; my black hair, brown eyes, and a mild fair complexion did little to help. I was simply out of the inner circle (cf. Kachru, 1992).
The only teacher training provided was a two-day observation of classes conducted by other teachers, after which I was given my own EFL classes. The Internet back then was in its early stages, but I was able to download teaching resources, language learning exercises, etc. In one of my searches, I came across articles about EFL teaching, theory and pedagogy. I knew that if I were to be a real EFL teacher, I needed to learn more about the field that I was in and get the most out of my new career as a language professional. This led me to pursue a Master’s degree in ELT Management; and using the bitter-sweet experience that I had with my two-year stint in a kindergarten/buxiban school, I decided to focus my Master’s thesis on discussing the significant differences in pay and reward systems, the NNESTs’ low self-esteem, low morale and de-motivation in the workplace based on Human Resources Management’s fairness and equity theory (Adams, 1965). My post-graduate degree was my stepping stone to teach in colleges and universities inTaiwan, and it served as a springboard to pursue my own professional development.
Isabela Villas Boas: You conducted a six-week Electronic Village Online session, together with this blog’s creator and mentor, Ana Wu, entitled NNEST – Networking Solutions for Professional Development. Could you briefly describe this experience and mention some of the highlights of this NNEST EVO program?
Aiden Yeh: Before I share with you the highlights of the 2009 NNEST-EVO session, I would first like to tell a little bit more about what inspired me to do an EVO session way back in 2002.
My MSc research study findings and results depicted a deplorable story that needed to be told. In 2002, my proposal “Managing NS-NNS Teachers of English: Maintaining Equality in the Workplace” – an online discussion workshop was accepted and offered at the TESOL CALL-IS’s Electronic Village Online (EVO) Session. EVO provides free online professional development for language teachers all over the globe; The EVO coordinating team oversees the online training for session moderators whose proposals have been accepted; the six-week training helps these moderators to effectively run and manage an EVO session. The 2002 online workshop included online discussions with invited guest speakers where participants looked at the role of EFL teachers and their contribution to the success of a school both as an organization and an institution. Weekly topics ranged from the importance of human resources in ELT, hiring and training of EFL teachers (both NES and NNEST), discrimination in teachers’ pay and benefits, sensing de-motivation in the workplace, eliminating inequality without affecting profitability, and strategies for NNESTs to aim high and make a difference.
My objective in presenting the 2002 NNEST-EVO session was to open the discussions on the discrimination among NNESTs in ELT, but the focus was rather on the management of human resources where educational institutions have control on the hiring and placement of teachers. Five years had passed and my views on this matter have slightly changed. Yes, the schools still have the same responsibilities; however, I began to question what the teachers are doing to help them alleviate their situations. It is so easy to put blame on others, while we sometimes neglect our own responsibility to enhance our professional development. I reckoned it was time to shift focus on personal accountability.
So in early 2009, I co-moderated/facilitated with Ana Wu an online discussion workshop, ‘NNEST-IS: Networking Solutions for Professional Development‘, which was sponsored by the TESOL NNEST Interest Section (IS), hence the title. This session provided an overview of past research and current issues facing NNESTs. Together with invited field-experts as guest speakers, session participants engaged in asynchronous and weekly synchronous discussions on various topics ranging from becoming successful language educators to navigating professional challenges and growth.
My exposure to EVO online workshops has opened my eyes on the potential use of online technology to empower language teachers; and my membership and active participation in TESOL has allowed me to expand my horizons and broaden my professional connections, which enabled me to keep on telling not just my story, but also the plight of non-native EFL teachers in Taiwan and other parts of the world where employment discrimination, unfortunately, still exists.
Isabela Villas Boas: For your Ph.D. thesis (Yeh, 2011), you conducted a longitudinal study of an online Teacher Professional Development (TPD) program geared towards private supplementary school (buxibans) teachers in Taiwan. You mention in your introduction that Taiwanese English teachers in these supplementary schools are oftenmarginalized and that “English teachers who possess Asian/Chinese physical attributes find it rather difficult in gaining employment compared to those who look like native speakers of English” (p. 18). You also explain that native speakers or foreign-looking teachers earn twice as much as Taiwanese ones. I have a few questions related to this:
a) Is this true particularly of private supplementary schools or is it a reality in public primary and secondary schools as well as higher education?
b) Do you see signs of this unfortunate status of NNEST in Taiwan changing any time soon?
c) What do you think needs to be done to change this scenario?
d) Have you yourself faced the same discrimination?
Aiden Yeh: The hiring and training of English teachers in the cram school sector is not included in the MOE‘s Teacher Education Act (MOE3), which is limited to teachers at the senior high school level (and below) and kindergarten school teachers, to augment the supply of teachers, and to advance their professional expertise (GIO, 2010). Since the Ministry of Education (MOE) approved colleges and universities can now offer EFL teacher education courses, this policy has opened the doors to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in EFL teaching. However, there were reports that despite the MOE’s efforts to supply qualified English teachers in the primary schools through the Primary School English Teacher Training Program (PSETTP), there is still a shortage (Chen, 1996a). Out of 45,495 applicants who took the English proficiency test (in March 1999) interested in enrolling in the PSETTP to become certified elementary school English teachers, only 3,596 passed the test (Shih, 2001). And only 1,922 of the 3,563 candidates who completed the entire program became certified teachers, while only 1,476 still teach in elementary schools, mostly in the urban areas (Chang, 2006). Teng (2001) reports that schools resort to either “employing foreign teachers on an hourly basis or made staff sharing arrangements with private language schools (n.p.)” In some cases, local teachers from these private language schools were also asked to teach English classes in primary schools (Chen, 2005). Elementary schools are not the only ones who collaborate with private language institutions; some local high schools also make private arrangements with them to provide English instruction to their students and training of their teaching staff (Gloria, 2006; Infoedu.org, n.d.). It is, therefore, not surprising that the recruited teachers have varying qualifications, levels of training, and teaching experience. It is also very alarming to see that some local primary schools count on the assistance of private language schools to have their teaching staff (both native and Taiwanese English teachers) teach mainstream English classes. This practice defeats the purpose and diminishes the value of the MOE’s English teacher training and certification program. I honestly believe that the lack of provisions concerning the hiring and training of English language teachers in the private sector creates a huge discrepancy in the standards and quality of teaching.
Taiwanese English teachers in supplementary schools are often marginalized. In a research study conducted by Tsui & Fang (2007), they claim that English teachers who possess Asian/Chinese physical attributes find it rather difficult in gaining employment compared to those who are or who look like native speakers of English. Such form of ethnic discrimination is widespread in Taiwan where people hold a strong misconception that only those whose physical features and outward appearance pass as foreigners “can be considered as true” native English speaker teachers (NESTs) (Ho & Lin, 2006 in Tsui & Fang, 2007, p. 83). In addition, the Taiwanese teachers’ lack of proficiency in the English language is also one of the reasons why they are discriminated in the workplace. Tiangco (2005) posits that Taiwanese English teachers need to strive harder in improving their English proficiency. It is that lack of nativeness either on proficiency and physical attributes that makes Taiwanese English teachers vulnerable to peripheral treatment by school administrators and students’ parents (Yeh, 2001). Unfortunately, cram/supplementary-school owners take advantage of the professed prejudicial attitudes many Taiwanese parents have toward local English teachers which are clearly manifested in their hiring policies. The hourly and monthly salary of local English teachers is half of what native speakers or foreign-looking teachers receive.
My Ph.D. research was geared primarily towards teachers in private supplementary schools, and based on this study I can confidently say that this issue of pay discrimination was and unfortunately, still is being practiced today. In my own opinion, these discriminatory practices won’t be resolved easily. From a business perspective, it gives the cram school owners a leverage to lower down their operational costs. Second, until cram school English teachers improve their language proficiency, these owners will always have a reason to justify their actions. We all know that achieving near-native language proficiency is doable and achievable; however, it requires time and a tremendous amount of work. And if teachers have already acquired this level of proficiency with an M.A. (or a Ph.D.) degree to boot, they would rather move on to teaching in secondary schools or colleges for better benefits and employment security. Third, I strongly argue the need to have some sort of teaching certification for those who want to teach English, and this certificate can be used when applying for jobs either in the private sector or public schools. In this way, teachers gain protection and security knowing that they can demand for better remuneration and this piece of paper can somehow make them feel that they are no less ‘valuable’ than teachers in public schools. I am not saying though that cram school teachers are less privileged; there are some who make more money in a month compared to others. However, for those Chinese/Taiwanese teachers in buxiban who are over-worked and underpaid, and those who are thrusted into that situation because of their lack of confidence (which can be attributed to lack of training and education) and experience, any accreditation that they can get from the Ministry of Education can certainly catapult positive changes to their line of work.
For higher education, the hiring practices are different as universities require proof of high level of educational status, whether you are a local teacher or a native speaker. However, there are other issues concerning this matter, i.e. employment of NS/NNS teachers in higher education, that remain unknown; thus further research is needed.
Isabela Villas Boas: Wen-Hsing Luo, our blog’s June 2012 guest, advises NNEST in Taiwan to invest in professional development and states that “only when local English teachers think they are on an equal footing with NESTs in English teaching profession, do they find confidence in what they teach and consider themselves professional.” Could you summarize the results of your research, especially when it comes to professional development of NNEST in private supplementary schools, and discuss whether you felt that the TDP implemented helped improve the participants’ confidence in their English and teaching skills to the point of considering themselves in equal footing with NEST?
Aiden Yeah: Investigating sensitive issues concerning the teacher training, learning, and professional competency of Taiwanese EFL teachers in cram schools is/was not an easy task. To actually have them participate in professional development activities and have them apply what they have learned, and to reflect on the outcome as they look at the changes (if there were any) on their attitude and practices were major challenges that my PhD research was able to cover due to its longitudinal and empirical nature and the sheer determination and motivation of these teachers to engage in their own TPD.
Given the fact that the opportunities and resources allocated for EFL teachers in this sector are very limited and inadequate, the online teacher professional development (oTPD) framework suggested in this study could provide school administrators and teachers alternative means in pursuing/delivering professional development. Emphasis is given to how access to oTPD can be afforded simply by networking and participating in community of practice (CoP); despite the informal nature of oTPD involved, the structure and core features of the professional development activity were carefully planned and implemented. The forms of oTPD included various online platforms and Web 2.0 tools which served as the media instruments for meaningful communication and discussions bridging the transfer and construction of knowledge.
The steps undertaken by the teachers who participated in this study also provide an in-depth look at the role of cognitive apprenticeship and informal mentoring in online learning environments. This study puts online teacher learning and development in a new perspective by examining the possibilities of what and how Taiwanese EFL teachers can learn from the invited experts and experienced teachers during online synchronous and asynchronous meetings and discussions. This study also sought to examine how collaborative activities afford teachers opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills, and sustain their drive to pursue continuous professional growth within a CoP and network of like-minded people. The teachers were asked to look at their own teaching context and to see which aspect of their teaching skills they wished to enhance or if there were teaching issues that they hoped to resolve. They had to have a sense of awareness of what their teaching/learning needs were, and in doing so, they had to resort to what Richards and Farrells (2005) call “self-inquiry”, where they look at their teaching situation and ask question/s about their teaching practices (p. 14); these needs are normally associated with a problem/dilemma that requires solution. For instance, in the EFL teachers‘ Yahoo! Group, the teachers were asked to look at their teaching needs and it was only when they expressed what their teaching issues were that other members were motivated to post something to the discussion list, either by offering suggestions or comments. Teacher-experts invited to the online group were able to compose their responses that addressed the problems more directly. For the two case studies, particularly in the early stages of planning the synchronous online meeting or webconference, knowing what their learning needs were helped me in scouting for teacher-experts who were knowledgeable about the area/s of interest. Engaging in oTPD also requires awareness that it is goal-driven and determination to get involved in the process. The outcome of the oTPD experiences for the teachers who participated in this study also revealed how much learning took place based on the time and effort they put in it.
The content/s or subject matter of the online discussions for the focus-group in YG and the case studies online sessions with the experts/mentors were all based on their personal preference, which was highly influenced by their professional need. Some of the topics that were raised in the focus group were: being a good teacher, motivating students, etc. In the first case study, the teachers wanted to learn more about teaching strategies that she could apply when teaching young learners English writing. The teacher for the second case study’s main concern was how to provide opportunities for her senior-citizen students to speak English; she felt that learning instructional strategies in teaching speaking would be more appropriate. Defining what they needed early on in the planning stage was helpful in designing the online TPD activities that they would find meaningful in their own teaching context. The oTPD activities required active participation from the participants; the outcome greatly depended on their effort and willingness to engage in active learning. Online activities must be geared towards the active participation of teachers, which allowed the exploration of cognitive apprenticeship where they learn from the outcomes of modeling, coaching, and scaffolding with experts, mentors, and experienced colleagues, and from the outcomes of implementing the change in their classroom practices and from the changes in students‘ learning. Aligning the oTPD activities to what their needs are made the process coherent with their teaching goals.
One of the positive gains achieved in the synchronous chat was that these teachers were able to meet teacher-experts online, to talk to them and engage in an extended synchronous discussion, and gain additional knowledge i.e. teaching strategies and learning activities. In conversing with the teacher-experts in English, they were also able to actively use the target language without resorting to Chinese; this was a rare teacher professional development opportunity where she could actually talk with the teacher-experts. The invited guests did not take over the discussion floor. As a matter of fact, there were plenty of instances where they were taking turns in talking, expressing their opinions, sharing ideas, and describing various learning activities. Through these online web conference meetings, they did not have to spend anything on travel expenses or conference fees. This learning opportunity was free and voluntary, and was made possible by a group of enthusiastic teachers who were active members of the Webheads online community of practice.
The case study approach was used to observe the oTPD process and behavior of Taiwanese EFL teachers in online community of practice (CoP). This method also allowed me to successfully implement oTPD activities and document the process of change using text analysis of 1) the asynchronous discussions that transpired in the teachers Yahoo! Group (YG) and Facebook, and 2) audio and/or video recordings of the pre and post online-session classroom observations and synchronous web meeting. This qualitative study helped me to understand the complex inter-relationships between the Taiwanese teachers (mentees) and the invited experts (mentors). The examples discussed in the study were grounded on real-life teaching practices and they allowed me to probe deeper into the planning and implementation of the oTPD activities applied in this study. The research findings prove that oTPD activities played an instrumental role in the transfer of knowledge (learning) and in affecting change in their attitudes and behavior toward professional development.
The five categories used in the reporting of findings for the pre-online and post-online sessions class observations: class materials, language used in the classroom, classroom management, instructional methods and strategies, and student participation. The main objective was to observe what particular knowledge or skill/s gained from the online session with the mentors that they practiced or carried out in their classroom and how effective they were in terms of their impact on students’ learning. For example, the first case study made use of the storytelling activity that she learned from the online session with the experts. She also learned to make her lessons or language used in the classroom easier for her students to understand. Thus, although she liked the cartoon with dialogue box idea and the fill-in-blank activity she learned from the chat session, she adapted them and made changes in her class activities that would be more suitable for her students. In her email she commented on her own teaching styles as she watched her video recording. This shows the advantages of using video recording in the classroom as it gave her the opportunity to watch herself teaching and her actions, mannerisms, language skills, and discover the aspects of her teaching that needs improvement (cf. Davis, 2009). In one of her blog posts, she wrote that despite her busy schedule and physical exhaustion from a long day’s work, she invested in improving herself to become a better teacher. With experience and good skills, she felt that she had earned a bargaining power to demand for a higher pay. She also acknowledged that achieving a “higher salary/better treatment” in the workplace should not only be the chief motivator to enhance one‘s skills. She deemed that as an English teacher, having the right skills both in teaching and target language skills does not only benefit herself but her students as well; she believed that continuous development helps students learn effectively as teachers become more effective.
By the end of this study, the teachers who took part in it have expressed that they have learned new teaching skills and that they felt confident and empowered specially after having tried the things that they have learned from their oTPD. Seeing themselves putting acquired knowledge into practice gives them a different perspective of their own abilities. They felt good about themselves and they felt motivated to keep on learning. During the oTPD, where mentoring and coaching took place, there was a hierarchy of status i.e. mentor-mentee/expert-novice that took place. The Taiwanese teachers knew that they were taking on the roles of in-service teachers who were in the process of learning and engaging in professional development. Only in prolonged mentoring process, as was in the case of the other Taiwanese teacher, where the roles of mentor-mentee slowly transformed into a non-hierarchical, more collegial relationship which transpired during the continued exchanged of emails where both were seen as co-mentoring/peer coaching each other (c.f. Bona, Rinehart, & Volbrecht, 1995; Singh, Bains, & Vinnicombe, 2002).
Another positive effect on this experience was how it influenced their attitude towards developing their own skills.
Improving language proficiency was not the objective of this oTPD, but it is an important subject that requires attention, particularly for many Taiwanese teachers teaching in cram schools.
Isabela Villas Boas: Our January 2013 guest, Pei-Chia Liao, talks about the role of agency in helping NNESTs reposition themselves from a marginalized to a powerful position. Do you feel that your two case study subjects were able to develop such agency and redefine their identities as NNESTs?
Aiden Yeah: I cannot confidently answer this question since my research was not geared towards achieving/presenting shifts in identities. For these teachers, they value their non-nativeness. They are/were aware of the differences and difficulties that are associated with their non-native status, but they also realized that it is more important to focus on their professional skills. To be able to see the change in their behavior after implementing what they have learned in their own teaching classrooms, gave these teachers the chance to actually experience change in themselves in relation to their own specified learning need and goal. The ‘identity’ that was impacted in this study the most was the Taiwanese teachers’ ‘professional identity’- as teachers who underwent oTPD where learning took place as evident in the changes in their attitudes and practices. Perception of self and professional self, in particular, how we perceive ourselves as educators is the first thing that needs changing if ever NNESTs want to have an equal (or even surpass) footing with NS teachers.
If you rephrased the question to whether or not there was change in behavior and attitude towards practices and TPD, then I can confidently say ‘Yes’. Changes in behavior could be a consequential outcome of previous experiences (Jehu, 1975); but what really matters is the quality of experience that took place. It is imperative to look at the process of learning, the activities that the Taiwanese EFL teachers engaged in, and the social nature of the learning environment that bring about the acquisition of new skills and/or knowledge (Gaskins & Gaskins, 1997). The high level of social interactions that took place in this study allowed the construction of new knowledge (various concepts and skills in EFL pedagogy). Adopting the principles of Vygostky‘s (1978; Aubert & Soler, 2008) zone of proximal development theory, the presence and valuable contributions of teacher-experts during the process served as a learning scaffold to guide the professional growth of the Taiwanese EFL teachers. The Taiwanese teachers had the chance to review their situation before adopting a teaching strategy that they learnt from the online discussions with the teacher-experts. The planning and actual implementation of their chosen strategy signifies a change in their practice; refining their own teaching style, they adopted a strategy that they felt would benefit their students practice becomes evident when teachers carry out the suggestions and/or ideas given by the expert teachers (Richardson, 1994) and normally entail doing something that was never done before (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1992). It was evident that those teachers who exerted effort in performing what they have learned and/or gained from the oTPD in their classroom reported back either through the YG list, email sent to me, and posted blog entries acknowledging the positive experience.
Isabela Villas Boas: In your thesis, you also touch upon the important role of Communities of Practice in teacher development. In fact, you are a participant of the Webheads in Action (WiA) community (Almeida d’Eça, 2004). Could you explain how this and other CoPs have helped shape who you are as an educator and also how they can help empower NNEST?
Aiden Yeh: Webheads in Action (WiA) is an online community that embodies the characteristics of a successful Community of Practice based on Wenger’s three criteria: promotes knowledge of a domain, revolves around a practice, and forms spontaneously, voluntarily. Webheads in Action was formed as an Electronic Village Online (EVO) Session in 2002 (EVO is a TESOL Computer Assisted Language Learning Interest Section [CALL-IS] project which provides 5-week free courses/online professional development for language teachers every year).
According to its creator/lead moderator, Vance Stevens, most of the members of WiA are language teachers who engage in helping each other pursue lifelong, just-in-time, informal learning through experimentation in use of social-media and computer mediated communications tools. (2009, para. 9). One factor that makes WiA a successful CoP is the fact that many of the members who joined the community as complete novices in the use of technology end up being experts and greatly influencing their own careers and professional development. Members’ own success stories and how much WiA has influenced their academic profession are documented in articles and conference presentations (Verschoor, Cruvinel, & Izquierdo, 2009; Almeida d’Eça, 2004; Gonzalez, 2003).
In other words, Webheads explore new tools, join and belong to many communities, create/maintain multiple interactions between places (groups or networks), and yet they are able to manage polarity or what Wenger calls “multiplicity of places” (or having online presence in various online groups or networks) without losing the voice of the group (WiA) which they strongly identify themselves with. The glue that binds WiA is the people that helped shape what the community is today. A number of academic research study and papers have been written studying how this vibrant online group thrives as an online community of practice (Almeida d’Eça, 2006; Costa, 2009).
In my Ph.D. study teacher experts from the Webheads and EVO were invited to serve as e-mentors; their participation in the oTPD process was also voluntary. The level of collaboration and quality of e-mentoring were very much patterned to the Webheads’ way of sharing, providing help, and engaging in collegial collaborative discussions, which are highly consistent with the constructivist paradigm. The online professional development activities would not be possible without the collaborative efforts of the experts and experienced teachers who were invited to participate in my study to act as online mentors or coach/es. A call for participation was sent out to the Webheads Yahoo! Groups (YG) and in a matter of days, teachers who are members of this online group had responded to my posting offering to help and share their knowledge. For the first group of teachers, Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Arnold Mühren, Michael B. responded and took part in the asynchronous discussions. For the individual first case study, four teachers had agreed to participate in the live discussion/webconference: Dafne from Venezuela, Teresa from Portugal, Gladys and Alejandra from Argentina. The same process was performed in inviting guest experts/mentors/coach for the second case study. An invitation message was posted on the Webheads YG and also on the NNEST Electronic Village Online (EVO) 2009 session’s YG. Since the topic of interest concerns teaching speaking to seniors, the open invitation included a brief description of what was needed for this web conference. Terry Doyle, a participant of the NNEST EVO 2009 session, responded to my posting and expressed interest in participating in the web conference and was very keen on sharing his experience in teaching seniors.
What I have learned from conducting this study was that it has reaffirmed my beliefs in the potential use of online technology to empower language teachers. My membership and active participation in TESOL, EVO, and IATEFL has allowed me to expand my horizons and broaden my professional connections, which enabled me to serve as catalyst providing oTPD access to non-native EFL teachers in Taiwan.
NNEST teachers can easily gain access to various free online professional development workshops such as those being offered by the TESOL Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section’s (CALL-IS) Electronic Village Online (EVO) sessions. Joining social networks and other professional communities of practice (CoP), such as the Webheads, to engage in continuous teacher learning through e-mentoring, collaborative class projects, webinars, etc. is a must if we wish to stay updated and better connected to professional/social learning networks.
Isabela Villas Boas: You are currently Assistant Professor at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages, where you teach ESP (Advertising, Public Speaking, Internet English) and oral communication classes, among others. Wu and Ke (2009) argue that native speakers are still in a privileged position in higher education in Taiwan. Do you agree? What are your students’ expectations towards EFL instruction and what are your main challenges as a professor?
Aiden Yeh: I very much agree with Wu and Ke’s (2009) research findings. Being a native speaker of English brings certain special privileges i.e. preferential treatment at work, better remuneration package, etc. However, in time, it still boils down to performance assessment based on students’ evaluation, academic endeavors i.e. publications and research, and commitment to professional development. This is not limited to foreign teachers as local Taiwanese teachers have to go through the same evaluation. So I guess, in the end, all of us will be evaluated based on what we do as teachers and how we do it.
Students in higher education know better that being a good teacher takes more than just the color of his/her skin or accent. I believe that they expect teachers to 1) be credible- they know what they’re teaching and they are practicing what they’re teaching. It’s hard to be a Research Writing teacher if one hasn’t had any experience in conducting research; 2) know to have fun in class- I’m not referring to teachers being comedians, but it helps the class atmosphere when students get to laugh/smile as this tells me that they are enjoying my class and that my presence and their presence in the classroom creates a positive learning environment for everybody. ‘Fun’ could also mean meaningful learning activities that students enjoy; and 3) be fair and reasonable- I play by the rules, and my students know when I’m serious about deadlines. I always remind students about the consequences of their behavior i.e. absences and missed exams, and how they could affect their overall grade performance. When it comes to assignments and projects, I give students enough time to do them, and I make sure that task requirements (including due dates) are clear; and lastly 4) not be a sage on the stage. Remember, it’s not all about you. It’s the students who need to shine and should be given their share of exposure. In my class, I do this during open discussion (in small groups or whole class) and project presentations; we have to guide students out of their comfort zone (as speaking in class can be overwhelming sometimes). To be able to do this, we have to let them know and make them feel that the classroom is a safe place to share. We have to show them that it is a learning environment where mistakes do happen, and when they do, they are acknowledged and corrected in a way that is constructive and less threatening.
Isabela Villas Boas: You finished your Ph.D. studies quite recently. Are you engaged in any special projects at the moment? What are your future professional plans?
Aiden Yeh: At present I am writing two book chapters: one on Online Mentoring and the other on EFL teachers’ attitudes towards professional development. If all goes well, the book will probably be published late this year or early 2014.
Regarding class projects, I’m very much engaged in the Poetry Writing project that I’m doing this semester. My students have been putting in a lot of effort in writing various poetry styles and genre. We have already 64 poems in total, that’s 4 poems per student, and we just started our school term! I can’t wait to see the full collection of students’ poetry by the end of the semester.
As many of my friends in NNEST know, I’m very much involved with EVO. Our call for proposals will be out in June-July this year. And I’m excited to see another EVO-NNEST 2014 in the offering. I’ve gathered plenty of ideas based on the discussions we’ve had during the NNEST-IS business meeting led by Ali Fuad Salvi. I support Ali in his plans for NNEST, and I would like to see more activities such as the mentoring opportunities for our members that Lia Kamhi-Stein and Luciana de Oliveira started many years ago. So yes, I believe it’s going to be another great year for NNEST-IS.
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