Madhukar K.C., a graduate in ELT from Kathmandu University, Nepal, is an English instructor for English the Access Microscholarship Program, a U.S. Department of State/U.S. Embassy program implemented in partnership with Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA). He is a dedicated EFL professional with wide experience in teaching K-12 English classes for the last 10 years from Kindergarten to the Higher Secondary Level. He has also worked as a teacher trainer and supervisor in these schools. His areas of interest include using literature the language classroom, content-based language teaching, NNES teacher professional development, NNES teachers’ role and identity, World Englishes, and EIL. He has given presentations at TESOL and IATEFL Conferences as well as at conferences in Nepal. | June Interviewer: Terry Doyle
1. I welcome you as one of the new members of our NNEST of the Month blog team. And thank you for taking time to introduce yourself in this interview at what is I know a busy time in your school year. Can you tell us about your educational, linguistic, and teaching background? For example, what was your major as an undergraduate and graduate student in your university? Why did you decide on that major? When did you start working at your current position? Did you work at any other teaching (or non-teaching jobs) before this? Also, what experiences have you had as a student and a teacher which might be interesting to readers of this blog? Finally, when did you start learning English, and what other languages do you know?
First of all, I express my heartfelt thanks to you, Terry, for inviting me to this interview. Let me begin with my school days. I had the privilege of learning English at an English medium school run by the Nepal Police Department in my home district starting in kindergarten. But the tragedy was that we were taught through the Grammar Translation (GT) method which in no way helped me to improve my English language skills, especially my speaking skills. I had a really hard time in developing my English language proficiency during my high school days. Thus, I chose to pursue the English language and literature course after my S.L.C. (School Leaving Certificate). I became fascinated with the English language and literature and decided to pursue this major when I was pretty sure that I would join the teaching profession right after my S.L.C. I thought this major would be beneficial to me while working as a teacher.
Nepal is a multilingual country with 123 languages in existence. As a language teacher, I am aware of the fact that being multilingual is a great privilege and an important asset. In addition to the Nepali and English languages, I know the Hindi and Tharu languages. Tharu is the local language spoken by Tharu ethnic groups who are the main and the oldest inhabitants of my home district, Dang.
Regarding my educational background, I defended my dissertation entitled ‘Using Literary texts for Creative Writing in EFL classrooms: A Study in the Lalitpur District’ last January for my Master’s degree in English Language Teaching (ELT) at Kathmandu University (KU). Before joining the M.Ed program in ELT at KU, I was pursuing my Master’s degree majoring in English Literature at Tribhuwan University (TU). Actually, I started this English Literature major from the Intermediate level and continued through the undergraduate (Bachelor study) and graduate levels until my ELT background finally pulled me towards ELT since I had already been into the teaching profession for more than a decade. But I continued my graduate study in both universities, English Literature at TU and ELT at KU, and completed the coursework in both programs successfully. Studying jargon-ridden, theoretical, and abstract concepts of literary theories ranging from Plato to the present i.e., Rationalism, Idealism, Didacticism, Marxism, Feminism, Structuralism, Poststructuralism, Deconstruction, Postmodernism, New Historicism rendered me some critical insights to think critically about the world around me. However, my passion for teaching gave me a way to look into English Language Teaching methodologies, language teachers’ professional development, materials development, language learners’ styles and strategies of learning, motivational orientations etc. Because of my greater interest in the latter, I switched to the language learning and teaching field later on.
In retrospect, my teaching trajectory dates back to the time when I joined the profession simply due to my obligation to support my family and continue my studies after completing my School Leaving Certificate (S.L.C). My teaching career started after S.L.C. when I was offered a part time teaching job to teach English and Social Studies to the primary level kids by the head teacher of the school from which I graduated. I was just 17 when I first started teaching. Since then my teaching career has continued over the years until I completed my M.Ed in ELT. During the time I was pursuing my graduate studies, I also worked as an Instructional Supervisor (IS) in one of the prominent private schools in the capital city, Kathmandu, where I supervised, mentored, trained teachers from primary to secondary level. I have taught English to Grade 11 and 12 students in some private higher secondary schools in the Kathmandu Valley. At present, I work for the English Access Microscholarship Program based at the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association central office as an English instructor. I teach 13-16 year old talented and economically challenged kids from community schools in Nepal.
2. You are now an instructor at the Access Kathmandu Center, which is part of the English Access Microscholarship program of Nepal? Can you tell us more about this program? Why did you decide to work in this center?
Yes, I am an instructor for English Access Microscholarship Program at the Access Kathmandu Center based at the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) central office. This is a U.S. Department of State’s program implemented in partnership with NELTA. The program is intended for 13-16 year old multi-level, mixed ability economically challenged groups from the public schools of Nepal to make them independent, critical and creative learners by giving them a foundation of English language skills, culture-integrated instruction, leadership skills, and volunteerism.
The learners in Access classrooms who come from diversified socio-politico-cultural and linguistic settings form a microcosm of multilingual, multicultural, and multi-religious society. In addition to learning English language, the culture-integrated classroom sessions help learners develop tolerance of, respect for, and interest in other cultures, thereby developing intercultural harmony among them.
The gender-balanced classrooms guided by the teaching methodology of co-teaching (two teachers in a class) are centered on developing the leadership skills of the learners. The learners develop their leadership skills and personality development through their participation in a week-long youth leadership camp and their engagement in various community service activities such as cleaning parks, hospitals, and streets, painting public bridges and park trees, cooperating with traffic management and disaster preparedness awareness followed by report writing activities to develop their leadership skills with the sense of volunteerism in the community. Most of the regular classroom instruction also concentrates on enhancing their leadership skills through group/collaborative work, public speaking activity, and students’ presentations. While these Access students do not have many opportunities to learn in technology-integrated classrooms in their schools, they do have the privilege of practicing their basic computer skills, learning about email communication, and enjoying audio-visual classrooms and social media in Access classes.
3. I am sure that like me, many of our readers do not know much about Nepal? Can you introduce your home country to us, and tell us in particular those aspects of interest to applied linguists and educator who might read this blog?
Sandwiched between the two economic giants of China and India, Nepal is a small beautiful landlocked country with an abundance of natural resources. It is a diversified multilingual, multi-cultural country and is home to 123 languages spoken as a mother tongue as reported in the census of 2011. Nepali is used as an official language. Recently, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Nepal has endorsed a policy of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) switching all community schools to EMI. However, the MOE articulates a flexible Medium of Instruction (MOI) policy according to which Nepali, English or both languages shall be the MOI for school education and also primary education can be imparted in children’s mother tongue. However, there is realization that this endorsement was made somewhat in haste without first putting in place appropriate training, policy support and professional development for EMI which have become a daunting task for teachers from community schools. The Ministry of Education (MOE) of Nepal has also introduced English as a mandatory subject from Grade One onwards ‘to cater for the immediate needs of children learning English and building a basic foundation for their further studies in and through English’ (CDC, 2008). It is now taught as a compulsory subject from Grade 1 through Secondary to university level both as a compulsory and a major subject. English as a foreign language occupies a dominant space in education, mass media, information communication technology (ICT) and business due to the widespread influence of globalization in the context of Nepal, as is true in other contexts through the world. Needless to say, there is still much to be done in the field of language planning, education, and policy.
4. You have volunteered to join our NNEST blog interviewer team. What sparked your interest in wanting to work with us?
I guess the major spark was when I had a chance to go through the interview of my Professor Laxman Gnawali at Kathmandu University who was interviewed by Isabela in August, 2011. I was a graduate student at KU then. Since then I have been a regular reader of all the interviews posted on the blog. Last year, I joined TESOL as a new member. A few months back, I received an email about a call for new interviewers by Dr. Davi Reis. Without giving it a second thought, I applied to be an interviewer to be a part of such a wonderful research community. The zeal to work on the blog grew intense when I attended online orientation(s) with blog colleagues Ana Wu, Ana T, Davi, Shu-Chun, and of course with you Terry too one evening despite the time difference. I was already working as an active volunteer at NELTA during different events such as at an international conference held every year in February and other professional trainings and workshops organized by NELTA. As I wanted to get connected with like-minded professionals through professional networking, I found this NNEST blog a good platform to share and explore some more research issues on NNEST identities and professional development opportunities and bring out what NNEST colleagues across the globe are doing in the field. The other thing was that I found NNEST blog’s colleagues very professional. What could be more interesting than to meet wonderful blog colleagues Ana Wu, Ana T, and Isabela in person at the 2014 TESOL convention? I could also attend the NNEST open meeting and join the social dinner party with leaders like Ali Fuad Selvi and Bedrettin Yazan to name a few later in the evening during the TESOL convention in Portland in March.
5. What memory in your childhood sticks out as important to the reason that influenced your decision to go into the field of education?
During my childhood days, I was admitted to a school run by the Nepal Police Department as a hostel student. Whenever I had a chance to go to my home to see my parents during a month-long summer vacation, I would try to speak English with my relatives. It would give me immense pleasure when I would receive appreciation from them. Speaking in English had a great charm and a unique prestige in my village (and it still does). Gradually, the passion to learn the English language and to speak English increased. While studying at the secondary level, I was doing better in language subjects than other subjects such as Mathematics and Science. I still remember telling my classmates that I would rather study a subject where I would not have to bother doing any sort of calculation or learn any dry scientific theories. Eventually, I ended up pursuing the language and literature major starting from my higher secondary level of study. According to the education system in Nepal, students go into different disciplines/streams of study after their S.L.C. graduation. Almost all my friends planned their academic journey to the capital city, Kathmandu, to pursue their higher study in various disciplines whereas I joined the Higher Secondary Level in my home district. Meanwhile, I started working as a teacher to teach the kindergarten and primary level students in the same school from which I had graduated. While in Grade 10, I was pretty much determined to work as a teacher to support my family and continue my academic journey ahead. That’s how I got into education and the teaching field. Now I am in a position where I cannot think of going beyond the education and the teaching field and I am pretty sure that I am going to continue in this field all my life. In one sentence, I would say, ‘I am proud to be a teacher as always’.
6. You recently gave a presentation at the 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference and Exhibition in Harrogate, UK as well as a poster presentation at the 48th Annual TESOL Conference in Portland, Oregon. What was the topic of this presentation? Can you share details of this presentation which might be of interest to our readers? In what ways do you think the research projects/presentations you mentioned above will add to the literature of NNEST issues?
This year I was the recipient of Gillian Porter-Ladousse Scholarship to present my paper at the 48th Annual International IATEFL Conference and Exhibition held at Harrogate, UK from April 2 to 5. I also attended the Pre-conference Event (PCE) on Teacher Training and Education Sig facilitated by prominent teacher trainer and educator, Tessa Wood, on April 1. The topic of my presentation was ‘Dancing with a colleague in EFL classrooms: a co-teaching reflection’ where I discussed my own co-teaching experience for a year in a mixed ability, multi-level class at the Access Center and how it contributed to our professional development (PD). The ‘dancing’ metaphor is used because in co-teaching maintaining a proper balance of steps and acts in a classroom while teaching together with a co-teacher is very important. I also shared, in general, the opportunities that co-teaching affords such as mutual growth, managing disruptive behaviors, power sharing for leadership, collaboration, support and care, quality instruction, platform for reflective practice and teaching, and also challenges such as lack of mutual trust, lack of collaboration, overlapping in the instruction, problem of turn-taking, problems of leadership, lack of supportive relationships, a belief about co-teaching as a cut-throat competition, fear of defeat and challenges, lack of confidence and belief, and shyness in co-teaching. All of these were discussed in particular with reference to my experiences of co-teaching in the Access Center classes.
In addition to this presentation, I also presented a poster at the TESOL Master Student Forum event at the 2014 TESOL convention in Portland. My poster highlighted the curriculum of the Access program in Nepal and the successful implementation of this program by NELTA in empowering students from community schools in Nepal by providing these students with the foundation of English language skills, culture integrated instruction, leadership skills, and volunteerism. The title of the poster was ‘Unsilencing the Silenced through Access Program’. I also had an opportunity to volunteer for the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Intersection (CALL-IS) at the TESOL 2014 Electronic Village event where I also had a chance to network with the experts in the field and other volunteers out there.
Since exploring options for professional development of EFL teachers is one of my areas of interest, I decided to submit the proposal on co-teaching and how it contributes to PD to the organizers of the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, UK. Actually, I don’t think my presentation at the IATEFL adds directly to the literature of NNEST issues. But the outstanding presence of NNES teachers/researchers in equilibrium with NES teachers/researchers in their talks, workshops, and poster sessions on the global platforms of TESOL International in the USA and IATEFL in the UK is a good sign. It has inspired me to explore more research issues on NNEST issues especially on NNEST professional development opportunities and challenges and World Englishes in glocal (global+local) contexts and to try to contribute significantly to the Nepalese EFL community at large.
7. What issues in regard to NNEST, World English, and EIL (English as an International Language) are most important to you? What issues do you think are particularly important to most other teachers in Nepal? Do you feel that native English speaking teachers enjoy more benefits than non-native speaking teachers in Nepal, as sometimes happens in other countries?
Being an NNEST and a member of the TESOL NNEST-IS community, the issues of the identities of NNESTs, professional development, advocacy for equal career paths for NNES/NES teachers, positioning Nenglish (Nepalese English) with a distinct identity in the arena of World English(es) seem the most significant issues to me. So far as the issues that matter most to teachers of Nepal in general are concerned, most are solely concentrated on classroom teaching and learning about pedagogical issues, teaching methodologies, learners’ motivation, learners’ styles and strategies, and teachers’ professional developments. Since teachers in Nepal mostly concentrate on teaching and learning in the classroom, they rarely orient towards exploring various research issues outside of their teaching experiences, opportunities, and challenges. Literally, Nepalese teachers seem to have good theoretical understanding of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), but they end up resorting to traditional methodologies of teaching, using even some aspects from GT method. They also seem to be much focused on developing language skills, esp. speaking skills with correct pronunciation and accent. Lack of research tradition, lack of resources for research and publication, lack of scholars with research knowledge and expertise are pertinent to the Nepalese ELT community. Thus, there is a dire need in the Nepalese ELT community to form a strong research community to explore research issues related to World Englishes, EIL, and NNESTs and bring them to the forefront of the global context.
In Nepal, the presence of NESTs is very much limited to a few schools, organizations, and diplomatic missions. They don’t seem to be engaged in teaching English for a long time here. They come here for short time for some sort of volunteer work, workshops, and trainings on different occasions. For example: the Fulbright grantees from the U.S.A. come here every year in certain numbers to volunteer, do research, and gain experience in teaching English in under-resourced, low-tech, large classrooms in a country like Nepal. However, the feeling that NESs are certainly better than NNESTs in terms of teaching English skills among various stakeholders is still dominant. The stereotypical discourse that NESTs are better than NNESTs cannot be ignored in the Nepalese ELT scenario. But I don’t think, in a country like Nepal, NESTs can replace NNESTs in the ELT field. Another thing is that the Nepalese ELT job market does not seem lucrative for the NEST, which is why there is no significant presence of NESTs in Nepal in teaching field.
8. What is your “best of all worlds” dream concerning the status of non-native teachers 20 years from now?
Let’s hope that the issues of ‘native speakerism’ and ‘native-like-proficiency’ will no longer be alarming research issues and hot topics for discussion and debate. For that to be true, these issues need to overpowered by the issues of World English(es), multilingualism, teachers’ professional development and so on worldwide. I hope that the varieties of English(es) spoken over the world will come to have distinct and respected positions and the identities of their speakers will be equal to those of speakers in BANA settings (America, Australia, UK, Canada, New Zealand). I anticipate that more universities and colleges in BANA countries will hire professors not on the basis of their native/non-native status, but on the content of their character, qualifications, research, and publications they have.
9. In the middle of your school year and also just when you were preparing to go to conferences in the United States and in Britain, you volunteered to be one of the new interviewers for our NNEST of the Month blog. What strategies do you employ to keep focused and motivated in your professional activities? How do you unwind in order to relieve stress? How do you build on your strengths and uniqueness?
Self-motivation is itself the greatest motivator of all to me. As I mentioned earlier, I love to volunteer, enjoy working in a community of professionals/researchers through networking and add a little contribution to the community at large. Here in a country like Nepal, we do not have many opportunities for research, professional development, and networking. Being a part of the NNEST blog team would enable me to explore more areas of research pertinent to NNEST issues. As I also believe that professional networking plays an instrumental role in professional development, I always try to attend conferences, workshops, trainings in my home country to get connected with like-minded professionals through personal and professional conversations. Attending two conferences, TESOL in the United States and IATEFL in the UK, were two significant professional platforms to get connected with the professionals across the world that added much motivation to my professional career. I also had a chance to volunteer for few hours at Electronic Village Event at TESOL.
Teaching, of course, is a rewarding profession. Yet teachers very often undergo some challenging and stressful situations. To get rid of stress and stay focused and much motivated towards the profession, I make time to spend with my intimate childhood mates to go hiking, river rafting, and travelling to the countryside for relaxation and relief. I also try to manage my time so that I can read books and go to the theatre for movies and dramas with colleagues. I also spare time to meet some of my mentors, teachers, and professional colleagues to share insights and inspirations. And it always inspires me when I come across success stories of Nepalese teachers being given Education awards from the Ministry of Education in Nepal or winning the prestigious K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Awards in the United States owing to their dedication in the field of teaching and education.