Mingyue Wang is a graduate of the M.S.Ed Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at Penn GSE, and now works as an EFL instructor at an International Program in a secondary school in Beijing, China. She taught EFL in China before she came to the U.S., and has taught adult English language learners in PEDAL@GSE in Philadelphia for two years. She also taught ESL to lower school students for one year at a local after school program in Philadelphia. Students she has taught came from various parts of the world, such as Korea, Turkey, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.
Mingyue, thank you again for being the NNEST of the Month! Below are some questions for you to answer at your convenience and return to us along with a brief bio with the soft deadline of Nov. 20. You are welcome to respond either in writing, or in the form of an audio/video recorded file. If you choose to respond in text, please also include a photograph that we can upload with your interview. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns in the meantime!
- Thank you very much for joining us on the NNEST Blog, Mingyue. To start, could you tell us a bit about your personal and professional background, and how you got interested in language education?
I got my bachelor’s degree in English education in a teacher training university in China. I had taught in a local public senior high school for about half a year before I came to the US to pursue my master’s degree, which I obtained my M.S.Ed in TESOL in 2015 Spring. I started tutoring when I was a sophomore and it was since then that I discovered my interest in language teaching as well as working with students.
2. What surprised you most when you first came to the US for your graduate study?
As most of my courses were discussion-based, different from the ones I experienced in my undergraduate, I found it surprisingly common have discussion, group work or project in the class, which took a large part in our course performance. I clearly remember that in the introductory course Language for Specific Purposes, which all international graduate students are required to take, I did one group research project, wrote two short papers and one large paper as the final assignment. Meanwhile, all class discussions and presentations took up a large part of entire grade for this course. I think this is part of the manifestation of student-centered education. This was new to me at that time, and it took me nearly a semester to adjust to this mode of class learning environment and overall assessment system. It drove me to handle every assignment, no matter how tiny it was, with attention and efficiency, otherwise I could not manage all the projects and small assignments in all courses.
4. As a TESOL student at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania (PennGSE), you worked closely with a program called Practical English for Daily Living (PEDAL). Could you tell us a bit about the program, its structure, and how it helped support you in your professional development?
PEDAL@GSE is a program sponsored by the Penn GSE Educational Linguistics division, which offers free ESL classes to adult family members of staff, students, professors, scholars, and post-docs of University of Pennsylvania. For students within the M.S.Ed TESOL program, it is an environment in which we as students grow our teaching skills by connecting the theories and readings of our courses with hands-on practice in a supported classroom setting. In PEDAL, teams of novice first-year TESOL students work with a second-year TESOL student to create and instruct communicative and pragmatic English lessons. Over the course of the semester, the more experienced teacher slowly steps back, and the majority of the planning and instruction process becomes the responsibility of the novice PEDAL team members.
I joined PEDAL in my first year in TESOL program as a facilitator in the novice class, where I learned from my lead facilitator, who was a second-year TESOL student. I learned a lot in terms of lesson planning, instructions delivering, classroom management, etc. The hands-on practice really helped me connect the theories I read in readings and textbooks to the real classroom. I then became a lead facilitator in my second year in TESOL and I started to work closely with four first-year TESOL students in helping them grow, helping me strengthen the practical knowledge in teaching and lesson planning, as well as a little bit of mentoring novice teachers.
5. Earlier this year, you presented with me a translingual writing project (full video available here; see also Canagarajah, 2013) in which you wrote a series of drafts of a project using multiple different languages and also submitted reflections with each draft justifying your stylistic choices. Could you talk briefly about how that project made you think differently about your language or language use? How did it inform your teaching (if at all)?
The translingual writing project was such a great experience to me! Firstly, I personally enjoyed writing the three drafts. Secondly, it indeed changed some of my ideas in language learning and teaching as well. Having had the interview with my professor while I was doing the project, I learned that as long as I could justify my use of language, my writing piece was communicative regardless of the variety of elements in the language, i.e. pictures, symbols, use of Mandarin Chinese. This impacted me as a language teacher that students’ use of language, whether it is right or wrong according to the convention of the language use, is legitimate in some ways. As I was marking my students’ writing now, I tended to follow their thoughts in how they organize the sentences, especially the ones with grammatical errors. Those sentences were absolutely communicative. For instance, one of my students wrote: My name is Kennedy. This name is my mom gives it to me when I was young. This sentence is phrased based on the Chinese logic, which I could understand but it was grammatically incorrect. Given the larger context where I am working now, I need to correct my students and teach him the correct way of phrasing this sentences. However, what I see the greatest benefit I had from the translingual writing piece was that I started to think from students’ perspective, adopting an emic approach, and try to understand the reason behind their language use.
6. What are your core teaching philosophy values considering the personal and professional background you have?
I believe my core values are student-centeredness and communicative language teaching. For me, controlling teacher talking time was among the first lessons I learned about teaching and it still remains a very important guideline in my current teaching job. As a language teacher, cramming method is not an effective and engaging method for students, which disables a class to be student-centered. I try to design the lesson so as to create as many possibilities for students to communicate in the target language as possible. On the other hand, having students share and talk more in the class promotes my language class to be more communicative. This is particularly important in my current teaching position as most of my students will sit standardized language tests, so they spend much time on test skills, adept at taking tests but afraid of interacting with foreign strangers. That is why I value a communicative language classroom immensely.
7. You recently found a job teaching English in a private language program in China, and mentioned to me that most of your colleagues are from overseas. Many scholars have considered how collaboration among teachers from different backgrounds can be beneficial, not only for students, but also for teachers. Can you think of any instances in your experience when you, a colleague, or a student benefited from such exchanges? How do you think that teacher educators or administrators can facilitate this process?
I agree with the conception that collaboration among teachers from different background can be beneficial. I have colleagues from US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Students benefit immensely from the different cultures their teachers bring in to their classes, for example, in showing students different popular magazines and newspapers in their own countries when students were learning the unit – Newspaper. Besides, students are exposed to a variety use of English, not merely the British English or American English. For me, I benefit from learning a variety of cultures as well.
Personally, teacher educators benefit from working with colleagues from overseas, with their distinct cultural assets. Also, different educational backgrounds in different parts of world give us a broadened view of teaching philosophy and pedagogy, which also would benefit not only the students, but also the educators as well.
8. Many practitioners and scholars have mentioned that finding an English Language Teaching (ELT) position in China can be challenging for so-called “nonnative English speakers” — or really for people who are not Caucasian. Have you ever experienced this kind of discrimination? If so, how did you overcome it? What would you suggest that graduate students who are going on the job market do to increase their chances of success?
To be honest, when I was job hunting earlier this year, a lot of schools or language programs said they would only hire native speakers. Fortunately, the language program where I am working with now values the bilingual teachers, who are fluent in both Mandarin Chinese and English. Some of my colleagues who are native speakers are also fluent in Mandarin. I think being a bilingual is a tremendous asset to students who share the same mother tongue with us, and our administers speak highly of us bilingual teachers regarding the unparalleled support we could offer to students.
I suggest graduate students view their bilingual ability rationally. Bilingual teachers are still in great demand, but I do agree with the idea that your second language ability really counts in your job hunting. Therefore, if you are an outstanding ESL teacher with a relatively good English ability, the chances of discrimination in the job market are much lower.
9. On that note, others (including Liming Deng, our Nov. 2013 interviewee) have noted that the privileged status afforded to “native speakers” in China has declined, especially in universities. Do you feel that these trends are also true in private schools? How do you think “NNESTs” contribute to ELT in China now compared to the past?
I feel that the privileged status of native speakers is still there, but not as superior as it was in the past. In the past, few students had access to foreign people and cultures, at the same time, there were not many native speaker English teachers living and working in China, therefore, they were valued in the past. However, time has changed, as many students had the experience of travelling abroad, or having access to multiple social media where sources from different cultures and countries emerge and conflict, their perspective in decision making, judgment and leadership is massively different compared to the one in the past. That is probably one of the reasons why native speakers are not as popular as they used to be. Also, parents are becoming more and more aware of the pros and cons of eastern and western learning and teaching environment. They tend to realize that not all western things are good. “NNESTs” contribute to ELT in China in a way that bonds the eastern and western learning styles together, choosing the best in two and eliminating the inappropriate ones.
10. US-based TESOL programs have been critiqued for not meeting the needs of students who would go on to teach internationally. Based on your experience, do you think this is true? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had learned as a graduate student?
My experience in TESOL program in GSE was not only helpful and enjoyable to me, but also very enlightening. I figured out what I was good at and what I was not. The technical skills, such as lesson planning, in-class teaching, classroom management, etc. are valuable in every class that I am teaching now. Even though I was taught in the ESL context, and all my past teaching practices were conducted in ESL context, I did not think it varied a lot from the current EFL context I am working with. The major difference now is that the use of first language in my class is possible considering the fact that my students and I share the same L1. However, I do wish I had learned how to manage teaching and learning by using more technological tools as a graduate student.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. I’m sure our readers, especially current and aspiring language teachers, will benefit greatly from your responses.