Dr. Shannon Tanghe is the Program Director and Associate Professor in the Master of Arts in ESL program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Prior to this, she spent approximately sixteen years teaching in South Korea. Her current courses focus on international perspectives of English language teaching and reflective language teaching. Her ongoing research focuses on collaborative co-teaching, World Englishes, and internationalizing teacher education. She was recently recognized as the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year and was named as one of “30 Up and Coming” emerging leaders in the TESOL field.
Interviewers: Ju Seong Lee (John) and Cristina Sánchez-Martín
You were the recipient of the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year Award recognized by TESOL International Association. Congratulations on your recent achievement! To start, please share with our readers a little bit about yourself, and how you became interested in TESOL as a field and as a professional organization.
Thank you! I spent the first half of my life in rural Minnesota, and most of the second half in South Korea. When I was a university student at the University of Minnesota–Morris, I had the chance to have two transformative teaching/learning experiences which had huge impact on my future. The first was a semester I spent working as an English language teaching assistant in a kindergarten classroom in Cairo, Egypt. During that experience, I fell in love with teaching English. The next year, I was able to do my student teaching in Georgetown, Guyana, an experience that solidified my decision to teach internationally. I spent several summers teaching at a summer camp in South Korea, and in 2000 I moved there and stayed for more than 16 years, until recently returning to Minnesota last summer.
I was a member of the local TESOL organization in Korea (KOTESOL) for about a decade before I became involved in the international TESOL organization. I benefitted from the local focus that KOTESOL offered, which was exactly what I needed at that time. As I continued teaching, I began to explore more international perspectives and resources through involvement with the international TESOL organization.
In your study “Integrating World Englishes into a university conversation class in South Korea” (2014), you introduced how language teachers can incorporate World Englishes perspectives into English language teaching and raise students’ perceptions of different varieties of English. Could you briefly explain how teachers can implement this practice in their own instructional contexts?
I think this begins with first re-evaluating traditional ideas about language education and focusing on TESOL pedagogies that can meet the needs of diverse learners in a particular learning context. In the piece you mentioned from English Today, I describe in detail several of the activities that we did in that particular course–including a Quirk/Kachru debate, visual re-constructions of Kachru’s concentric circle model, reflective voice blogs, and cumulative video projects. One resource I really appreciate is Jennifer Jenkins’ “Global Englishes” textbook (2015). I have used this book in graduate courses and have found it to be a great combination of information integrated with pedagogical implications. Aya Matsuda’s “Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language” (2017) is another recommendation, which also includes an extensive resource collection.
Teacher educators and teachers alike benefit from developing an understanding of language in connection to learners’ particular contexts, and to appreciate learners complex and multi-faceted identities, which are shaped by personal lived histories and educational experiences. When an educator focuses on his/her teaching context, one can seek out and usually find spaces to create opportunities for all English language learners to use the language, and to transfer beyond the classroom. Including social justice inquiry projects, critical language awareness activities, and integrating deep level thinking, questioning and communication processes into language education can open spaces for discussions about World Englishes.
You served on the Committee for the “Reintegration of Multiculturalism into Korean Public Middle Schools.” How did you become interested and involved in multilingual and multicultural education, and what specific suggestions can you offer to teacher education programs to promote critical racial awareness in their programs?
Yes, I was fortunate to have been invited to join this committee, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially because there were many opportunities to meet and talk with middle school teachers about challenges and opportunities for integrating multiculturalism into the national curriculum guidelines.
My advice for teacher education programs is to prioritize the messages and concepts that are modeled through delivery in each program, in addition to considering the curriculum and content focus. “Teaching about” critical racial awareness, for example, is very different than actually promoting and implementing critical racial awareness (really “teaching” it), which needs to be modeled and integrated throughout a program. These critical issues need to inform teaching in all areas, and can not be add-ons that can be checked off through a one-day session or a stand-alone unit focus. These philosophies need to be intentionally interwoven throughout a program, not only in word but more importantly, through action. Incorporating aspects of critical pedagogies in daily teaching, and encouraging learners to question their own beliefs and practices while seeking out possibilities for transformative action can open spaces for new ways of thinking and seeing the world. In teacher education programs, I believe it is important for graduates to know and understand ideas that have informed education and the TESOL field, but even more crucially, for teachers to leave a teacher education program being prepared as reflective educators, confident in their abilities to practically apply these concepts in their own individual teaching contexts.
In your recent TESOL blog post, “Making (and Keeping!) New Year’s Resolutions”, you wrote about five strategies TESOL professionals could engage in professional development, namely, joining local and international conferences, taking online courses, engaging in reflective journal writing, being involved in interest groups, and setting concrete goals to stay focused on your interests. How do you implement these practices in your own contexts? What benefits or challenges do you notice with the different strategies?
All five of these are strategies that I shared because I have found them to be very effective in my own personal and professional life. Two of the easiest to begin with are goal-setting and reflective journaling. Goal-setting and working toward specific visions has always been a strategy that I have found very helpful in many different aspects of my own life, and highly recommend. Goal setting is something that anyone can do, and with practice and success in achieving smaller goals can be a powerful motivating.
Of the five I mentioned, I think the one that has had the most significant impact on my own personal and professional growth is reflective journal writing. Each semester, I like to focus on one particular course I am teaching. As the class progresses, I often jot down notes (which I find makes me even more aware of what happens in the class) and then after the class ends I immediately sit down and type my thoughts about what happened (or didn’t happen) during that class. I usually focus on things that went differently than expected, ideas that emerged from the class, possibilities for extensions, and reflect on successes as well as ongoing challenges. I have found this process to be a fantastic way to go back and re-examine the class in a more leisurely manner, processing what happened, thinking more carefully about comments that were made and about interactions during the class. The process of writing also allows space for me to consider alternative possibilities—things I might have done differently and things that I could try in a future class. When I started, this would sometimes take just a few minutes, but as I have continued, these reflections sometimes extend on for more than an hour and have become a process I really look forward to. In writing, I find the introspective process draws out some subconscious attitudes and open new avenues of exploration.
Another form of journaling that I have tried and have become an advocate for is collaborative journaling. Though this can be done in many different ways, I will share a couple of my favorites. I first tried this with a colleague in South Korea, when we taught within the same graduate program, but were each teaching separate courses. We would each keep an individual journal about our individual class, but did it in a collaborative online space, sharing our journals with each other. In the journals, we each focused on personal teaching/classroom goals we were working to improve as the semester progressed. We would read each other’s journals and offer comments and suggestions on particulars we were each struggling with. The outside perspective that someone else was able to offer provided fresh insights and ideas that could be implemented in the classroom and then continually reflected on.
This collaborative journaling experience expanded when the two of us co-taught a semester-long course together. We again used a collaborative journal as a way to plan and reflect on the class. It proved to be a very powerful space which encouraged a lot of reflections that often extended beyond the scope of the class. At the end of the semester, I believe we had about 80 pages of journaling. This also turned out to be great records and data for research, as we were able to publish some of the work we did in that class in a TESOL Quarterly article (Porter & Tanghe, 2016).
In your recent study (Tanghe & Park, 2016), you explore how an international collaboration project between graduate students in the US and South Korea helped students develop intercultural competence, move away from essentialized notions of culture and identity, and rethink their beliefs about educational systems. What suggestions do you have for student-teachers who do not have access to such initiatives but who would like to develop similar principles?
Great question! Here are a few suggestions for student-teachers to get some great experiences in a variety of areas:
- Connect with an organization that facilitates teach abroad opportunities. One of my favorites is educatorsabroad.org
- Explore hands-on teaching opportunities within your own community. Seek out organizations and volunteer with recent immigrants, refugees, or community members.
- Attend local conferences and educational meetings—meet people, hear new ideas!
- Get involved in online telecollaborations. Consider partnering up with a teacher, friend, or student in another country or region. If you don’t have an available partner, there are several websites that specialize in matching collaborating partners, iEARN or epals.com, for example.
- Use the resources available online. There are far too many to list, but here’s a couple of places to start:
- Connect with Facebook groups—Teacher’s Voices or iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) for starters. These two communities are fantastic mixes of novice and experienced educators from all over the world always willing to share ideas and resources.
- Read blogs from teachers and students around the world, or better yet, start your own!
What research and teaching projects are you currently undertaking? What advice would you give to us and other Ph.D. students trying to publish their work?
In July, I accepted a new position as the Program Director of the Master’s of Arts in ESL at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. One of the aspects of this position that I am really enjoying is having the opportunity to influence overall program structures. My own teaching and lived experiences have led me to see many possibilities and benefits associated with internationalizing higher education. I am currently focusing on increasing opportunities available for international student teaching, short-term supervised teach-abroad programs embedded in teacher education programs as a form of “teaching to learn”.
My advice to Ph.D. students trying to publish their work is to keep at it! I am still fairly new to publishing, but I have spent a lot of time writing, re-writing, re-writing and re-writing, and know that I have benefitted enormously from the guidance and support of mentors in the field. Having had opportunities to learn from and conduct research together with more experienced researchers has been very helpful, both in providing guidance through the sometimes overwhelming process and also in increasing my confidence to publish on my own. One hugely influential mentor in my own academic journey has been Dr. Gloria Park, my dissertation advisor and mentor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I have learned so much from the way she models and demonstrates a genuine ethic of caring with her advisees, investing lots of time and energy to help develop teacher-scholars in the field. I encourage people to find and connect with others who share your interests and passions. Get involved and network at conferences, connect with other graduate students and presenters who share similar interests as yourself. Collaborate and talk with others, listening to and learning from experiences.
Also, persevere! The first time I submitted an article to a journal, I remember being very discouraged when it was returned, heavily marked up with all kinds of criticisms. I put it away for awhile and when I got back into it, I could really see how valuable the reviewers’ comments were. I could literally feel myself growing and developing as a writer I worked through re-writes. Every piece that is published (and also those that are not), offers tremendous space to learn and grow from multiple perspectives on your own written scholarship.
What advice do you have for graduate students wanting to enter the job market outside of the U.S./U.K., particularly in the Korean context?
If you have been educated in a very different educational system than the one that you are teaching in, take some time to reflect (and perhaps even articulate in writing), on how your own ideas and experiences with education will influence your teaching. Acknowledge that your experiences, whatever they were, may have been fantastic, may have been terrible, but they were your own personal experiences. Whatever context you were educated in as a young learner is likely very different than the context you are teaching in. I would argue this is true even if you are teaching in the very same school that you attended as a young learner.
Digital literacies, migration patterns, generational gaps, different educational philosophies and expectations continue to change the educational landscape. Dan Lortie (1975) talks about the “apprenticeship of observation” describing how teachers spent thousands and thousands of hours in an apprentice-like mode—in their formative years as students, observing and participating in a particular model of education. Without conscious, intentional efforts to examine the impact of these lived learned experiences, one is likely to teach as one has been taught, for better or worse. Decide to make a conscious choice to reflect on the impact of your own experiences on your teaching. Being open-minded and open to new ideas is a great place to start.
When teaching, keep the main focus on the learners—by first focusing on who the learners are and what their needs are, then by considering how to create opportunities that will encourage to meet their own goals and address their personal needs. Be ready to learn from others around you. Seek out a mentor, perhaps another teacher in your school, who is more experienced in that particular context and who may be able to offer you insights that are not immediately apparent to you.
Also, it is important to be aware that what you have learned in your US or UK teacher education programs may have given you a solid foundation, but all elements may not be immediately applicable to your particular teaching context. As you learn in graduate schools anywhere, dive in, learn about the experiences, theories, and philosophies of TESOL and education scholars, but at the end of the day, you, as a frontline teacher are in the best position to determine what will be beneficial in your own teaching context and how to provide those opportunities to your learners.
Jenkins, J. (2015). Global Englishes: A resource book for students. New York, NY: Routledge.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Matsuda, A. (2017). Preparing teachers to teach English as an International Language. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Porter, C. & Tanghe, S. (2016). Emplaced identities and the materials classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 769-778.
Tanghe, S. (2014). Integrating World Englishes into a university conversation class in South Korea. English Today, 30(2), 18-23.
Tanghe, S. (2016). Promoting critical racial awareness in teacher education in Korea: reflections on a racial discrimination simulation activity. Asia Pacific Education Review, 17, 203-215.
Tanghe, S., & Park, G. (2016). “Build[ing] something which alone we could not have done”: International collaborative teaching and learning in language teacher education. SYSTEM, 57, 1-13.