- Thank you for joining me in this conversation. To start, could you tell us about your linguistic and professional background?
Dita Phillips: Thank you for inviting me, Ana. I first started learning English when I was 6 years old. I have been an English teacher for 15 years and a teacher trainer for 7. My mother tongue is Czech.
First, I would like to congratulate Michael Burri on his publications about pronunciation teaching and the preparation of pronunciation instructors, and also on his winning the 2015 TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper of NNEST Issues. Personally, I was very humble when Mr. Burri attended our “Voices from the NNEST Blog: Envisioning Landscapes for Future Generations,” at 2014 TESOL Convention, and am immensely honored for his acceptance of our invitation to feature his interview in this blog.
Dr. Liu: After completing my undergraduate education with a major in English at Jiangxi University (now Nanchang University) in China and teaching at the university for a few years, I came to the U.S. in 1985 to pursue graduate studies, first receiving a master’s degree in TESOL from Oklahoma City University and then a Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University. I taught and served as the Director of MA TESOL at Oklahoma City University from 1991 to 2006 (first as assistant, then associate, and full professor). In 2006, I took the position of Associate Professor (promoted to Full Professor last year) and Coordinator of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the English Department at the University of Alabama because UA is a research university where I would have more resources and time for research, something I enjoy doing very much. As for why I decided to become an educator, I guess it’s my destined professional calling. As just mentioned, I was selected upon graduation by my undergraduate alma mater to stay as an instructor of English. Then, when I was working on my dissertation at Oklahoma State University, I received a call from a former professor at Oklahoma City University encouraging me to apply for their advertised MA TESOL position. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job. And the rest was history. Of course, the main reason I’ve been an educator for two decades now is that I really love teaching and research. I enjoy interacting with students and seeing them learn and grow. I sincerely believe, cliché as it is, teaching is a profession where what you do can truly make a difference in people’s lives.
Dr. Liu: Based on my own experience and observation, the best thing to do is to find (or create) all possible opportunities to interact with individuals of other cultures or ethnic groups in this country. For example, one should try to participate in as many school and community activities as possible, including attending meetings of student organizations, visiting church and political gatherings, and attending/watching sports games. Also, one should try to read newspapers, listen to radio programs, and watch TV. The reason for participating in the aforementioned social, political, and sports activities is that, as I pointed out in my books on idioms, metaphor, and culture (2002, 2008), political, religious, business, and sports activities constitute arguably the most important aspects of American culture. The jargon used in these activities permeates American English (i.e., many English expressions/idioms come from these activities: promised land, touch base with, and the jury is still out [on something]. . .). A good knowledge of these topics will enable us to have a better understanding of the values and beliefs of American people (and also, believe it or not, a better command of American English as a byproduct). It is important to remember, however, that a casual participation and observation would not be enough. You have to be sensitive and pay close attention to what you observe, i.e. to note closely what people do and say. Then you have to reflect on what you observed, thinking about why the people acted the way they did and to what extent what they did and said is similar to or different from what people in your own culture typically do in the same context or situation.
Ana Wu: You have published over 30 journal articles, book chapters, and proceeding articles as well as three books (two authored and one edited). Also, you have served on the Editorial Advisory Boards of The ELT Journal (2001-2004), TESOL Quarterly (2005-2008), Reflections on English Language Teaching (since 2006), and the new TESOL Journal (since 2009). How do you deal with writer’s block and avoid procrastination? Would you share some of your writing rituals?
Dr. Liu: I don’t think I really have a good answer to the question of dealing with writer’s block and avoiding procrastination. I often have to fight these problems myself. One thing that I think may help us in dealing with writer’s block is to always keep an eye on issues that interest or puzzle you in your teaching and learning (as teachers, especially NNEST, we are always learning). If you constantly ask questions and try to find answers, you are likely to come up with a topic worth writing about. Concerning overcoming procrastination, I usually set aside blocks of time and a self-imposed deadline for a writing project.
Ana Wu: You also have remarkable experience holding leadership positions in TESOL. Before being currently coordinator and professor of Applied Linguistics/TESOL in the Department of English at the University of Alabama, you directed and taught the MA TESOL program at Oklahoma City University for 16 years. You were also the President of Oklahoma TESOL (1996-1997) and the Chair-elect/Chair of the Applied Linguistics Interest Section (1994-1996, 2010-2012).
a. How did you prepare yourself for these leadership positions? What kept you motivated when dealing with difficult teachers? What inspired you when feeling marginalized or unsupported?
Dr. Liu: Actually, I didn’t really do anything special in preparing for these positions and I haven’t really had colleagues that are difficult to work with. I think I’ve been just very lucky as I have always had very supportive colleagues and administrators.
b. According to Manrique and Manrique (1999), studies on immigrant non-European faculty demonstrate that 20% of male faculty were discriminated against by colleagues in their departments. Have you ever faced subtle or covert disrespect to your authority? What are your most vivid memories noticing innuendos about your nationality or racial remarks from your peers or administration? How did those events affect your teaching philosophy?
Dr. Liu: I’m afraid I might not be in the 20% mentioned by Manrique and Manrique. As I said above, I’ve been very fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues and administrators, partially as evidenced by my successful tenure/promotional experiences at both OCU and UA. I’m not sure whether I’ve faced subtle or covert disrespect. The reason I’m not sure is perhaps I’ve always tried not to view any comments on my nationality, race, or accent as disrespect or discrimination. Instead, I’ve tried to see such comments in a positive light and use them as a motivation to improve. For example, I remember that, during my interview for the Oklahoma City University job, a few of the search committee members commented on the fact that I was not a native English speaker and the likely implications it might have (e.g., students’ concerns). One member said, “We could say that you [referring to me] are from California.” (I guess the person mentioned California because it’s known as a place with many immigrants). I considered the comment good-natured or good-humored, but I also used it as a constant reminder for me to work harder to prove that I could be as good as anyone else. My effort paid off. In my twenty years of teaching in the U.S., I’ve had very few students complaining about my English. In fact, many of them praised my command of English. Many non-native English speaking students stated in the course evaluations that they viewed me as their role-model and wanted to emulate me.
c. What strategies would you consider essential to NNESTs with foreign background in order to navigate the cultural politics in one’s academic community?
Dr. Liu:I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer because of a lack of real challenges I’ve experienced in this regard. To me, good performance on your job is the most important thing. If you do well on your job, generally your colleagues, administrators, and, most importantly, your students, would appreciate you. I may be wrong on this but it’s the impression I have based on my experience.
Ana Wu: What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? What do you want to be remembered for and why?
Dr. Liu: I may be retired then but even in retirement I probably will still be doing some teaching and writing. I would like to be remembered as a life-long language learner, teacher, and researcher who has had the wonderful opportunity to learn a second language and use it in a very rewarding profession. My reason for wanting to be remembered not only as a language teacher but also a language learner and researcher is that, to me, to be a successful language educator, one must simultaneously be a life-long language learner and researcher.
Ana Wu: Thank you for your contribution to the blog.
Liu, D. (1999). Training non-native speaker TESOL students: The challenges for TESOL teacher education in the West. In G. Braine (Ed.). Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 197-210). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Liu, D. (2002). Metaphor, culture, and worldview: The case of American English and the Chinese language. Lamar, MD, University Press of America.
Liu, D. (2008). Idioms: Description, comprehension, acquisition, and pedagogy. New York: Routledge.
Manrique, C. and Manrique, G. (1999). The Multicultural or Immigrant Faculty in American Society. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press.
a. Would you tell us how and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Norton:This is an interesting question. In many ways, I did not “decide” to become an educator; it was one of the few options available to me as a young woman growing up in a large South African family in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When I observed working women in our society, the few professionals were mainly teachers and nurses. I remember my father saying to me, half-jokingly, “Why do you want to go to university? You are just going to get married and have children.” Because of our family’s limited resources, it was essential that I get a scholarship to fund my university education, and this was available through the education department. Fortunately, I found teaching a meaningful, challenging, and enjoyable profession, and was very happy to become a full-time educator.
Dr. Norton: I have immense curiosity about the world, and find that professional invitations to speak in different countries provide the perfect opportunity to gain insight into a country and its people. Before I leave (and on long plane journeys) I always read about the history of the country I’m visiting, the different groups in the country, its political structure, its cultural practices, its languages. Wherever possible, I seek out English language newspapers, and read these on a regular basis. This helps me to understand the people I meet and the educational practices I observe. I also read novels from authors in the host country, and I’m particularly interested in learning about struggles for greater social justice and educational opportunity.I remember well my visit to beautiful Gramado, which was so different from other regions of Brazil I had visited. In Rio, for example, I jumped on a local bus and visited a favela on the outskirts of the city (my hosts were shocked when they learnt of this activity!). The poverty in the favela reminded me that Brazil remains a country where extreme wealth and extreme poverty co-exist, with disturbing consequences for educational opportunity. Gramado was an idyllic town with an alpine character. Was I really in Brazil?
2. From Young Mi Kim, Assistant Professor of English, Duksung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea
In teaching my university students in Korea, I became interested in the study of ICC (intercultural communicative competence). Byram (1997) said that the goal of ICC is for students to strive to extend their ability to perceive events in a new cultural context, and in this way come to have a broader intercultural identity that will enable them to move fluidly though a range of cultural contexts.
I think it is very important for students to be aware of positive and negative changes in their identity through EFL courses and other events such as watching American television programs ( a variety of American television programs such as ‘CSI,’ ‘Gossip Girl,’ and ‘America’s Top Model’ are available to watch on cable TV in Korea with Korean subtitles). However, during interviews it is very difficult to get students to talk about any changes in their identity. They always say my courses and watching the TV programs don’t effect their identity at all. They don’t think about the relationship between language, media, English learning and identity at all.
First of all, I would like to know whether you think it is better for students to be made aware of changes in their identity through the course explicitly and also to be able to describe these changes in order to increase their communicative competence in English. If it is better, how can I increase their awareness? What kind of strategies can I teach my students to develop their awareness of changes in their identity? In general, in order for my students to have positive development of their identity, what should I do as an EFL teacher at the University level?
Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
Dr. Norton: Thank you for these questions. When I consider issues of “identity” among the students in my classes, I seldom use the term “identity” as such. At some level, this is an abstract term that is difficult to relate to. What I consider, instead, are the ways in which students relate to one another, to classroom practices, to me as a teacher, and to the wider society. As I said in my 2000 book (p.5): “I use the term identity to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how a person understands possibilities for the future.”
Discussions about a student’s relationship to the world, in the different domains of their lives (the home, the classroom, the playground, the workplace etc) all give me insight into a student’s complex and multiple identity. That identity, of course, also changes across time, as students engage with new ideas and relate to different people. The central questions I ask in my classroom are, “What is the student’s investment in the language practices of my classroom? How can I ensure that I structure classroom activities in ways that foster and encourage investment?. A student’s investment is integrally related to their identity: i.e. the way they relate to the world and their hopes for the future. If students have little investment in the language practices of my classroom, they may become bored, resentful, and resistant. A challenge for any teacher!
3. From Terry Doyle, Civic Center Campus of CCSF, ESL Instructor
a. In your article “Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language research” (2006) you mention that in the 1970s and 1980s second language researchers made a distinction between social identity and cultural identity. In recent years you and other researchers have come to the realization that one’s social identity cannot be separated from one’s cultural identity, and in this article you argue for the need to adopt an interdisciplinary and critical approach to identity research which entails studying identity in language education using a sociocultural construct. In your opinion, is such an interdisciplinary approach better able to describe the identity formation of new second language teachers, especially those who are teaching a language other than their “native” language?
Dr. Norton: This is a thoughtful question. Traditional conceptions of “social identity” are associated with the field of sociology, which is in turn primarily concerned with practices in (mainly urban) institutions such as schools, homes, law courts, and hospitals in a given society. Sociology assumes a “top-down” more macro-analytic approach to an investigation and understanding of these institutional practices. “Cultural identity” is associated with the field of anthropology, and assumes a “bottom-up” more micro-analytic approach to cultural practices. Such cultural practices include child rearing, marital conventions, religious belief systems, etc.
More recently, interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge construction have collapsed distinctions between the social and cultural. A second language teacher, for example, works within a given institution, which is part of larger set of social institutions (departments of education etc), but is simultaneously grappling with diverse cultural practices in her classroom (ways of talking, interacting, reading, and writing). In this context, both top-down, macro-level and bottom-up, micro-level analysis is needed to understand her practice. A second language teacher who is teaching in a language other than her native language faces a different set of challenges than a teacher teaching in her native language. Consider, for example, the current challenges faced by non-native English teachers in the state of Arizona, in the USA.
b. In your 1997 article “Language, identity, and the ownership of English” in TESOL Quarterly (1997) your introduction to the special topic issue on “Language and Identity,” there is quite an extensive review of articles on NNEST issues and the ownership of English. Since that time, the literature on both identity and language learning and also NNEST and the ownership issues have developed greatly. In your opinion where do these two literatures intersect? In particular, how may research on identity in second language education inform the education of new second language teachers, especially those who are “non-native” teachers?
Dr. Norton:This is another important question. My first and immediate response is to note that the vast majority of teachers who teach English internationally are not native speakers of the language. Interestingly, it is often in western, English-dominant countries such as the USA and the UK that the “non-native” standing of English teachers is a topic of debate. In many countries in Africa, for example, the English teacher is an English teacher, and not a NNEST. Having said this, however, I am aware that in Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan, many institutions give disproportionate value to the “native speaker,” often causing concern and distress amongst local NNEST. The work of Aneta Pavlenko has been particularly powerful in encouraging NNEST to consider themselves “bilingual teachers” rather than NNEST. Manka Varghese, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Karen Johnson, Margaret Hawkins, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke are other scholars who are grappling with these issues, amongst others. Issues of power are central.
c. I am currently doing research on the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process and the identity formation process of ESL teachers. In particular, I have been thinking about development of collective identity of student ESL teachers. Danielewicz in her book Teaching Selves defines a new teacher’s collective identity as “being recognized by others as a teacher”. She writes that the development of collective identity comes about when a student teacher is working in an actual classroom with a mentor teacher and also that what kind of affiliation occurs between the mentor teacher and student teacher is very influential on that student teachers’ collective identity development. In your opinion, how does collective identity come about for new teachers? How can a mentor teacher encourage and promote collective identity development? What is the role of the mentor teacher in the development of collective identity of student teachers? For example, what kind of feedback might be appropriate after student teacher lessons during the practicum?
Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching Selves: Identity, Pedagogy, and Teacher Education. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Dr. Norton: As someone who has taught for nearly thirty years, and served as a teacher educator for the last 15, I know that I am continually refining my own practice. My own learning has never stopped. Every class I teach offers a new challenge and a new set of possibilities. So in mentoring new teachers, I reassure them that teaching is a journey, and that every class is unique. I make mistakes; I have lapses in judgement. However, what I try to do in every class is to learn more of each student in the class, and seek to establish some kind of relationship with each student, so that I can adapt my practice to students’ needs and investments. This is what I model for my student teachers. In every class with student teachers, I am constantly assessing how the student teachers are responding to my instruction, and determining if I need to adjust my practices. The mentor teacher serves as a model for student teachers, but also seeks to encourage the student teacher to find her own comfort level, and to build on her particular strengths.
Clearly, student teachers have complex and multiple identities, with diverse investments in the language practices of their classrooms. These will likely relate to past experiences of learning and teaching, and their imagined identities as teachers. The mentor needs to seek to understand these investments and identities, so that the mentoring experience is rewarding for both parties. At the same time, the mentor teacher needs to be aware that some of the challenges a student teacher has may have little to do with preparation, energy, and commitment. Sometimes student teachers may be disempowered if their race and/or gender, for example, is not valued in the classroom. These issues relate to dominant social practices in the society at large.
d. Also, how important is how the two participants in this process refer to each other? Danielewicz used the terms “mentor teacher” and “student interns,”but I prefer to refer to both participants in this collaborative process as “co-teachers.”For as Danielewicz points out, it is the act of naming more than experience itself which makes us who we are. What is your opinion about this?
Dr. Norton:This is a complex question. Although both participants are indeed “co-teachers,” there is also a power imbalance between them. It may be most productive to name this difference, rather than assume it doesn’t exist.
e. Related to my previous question about the role of the mentor-student teacher relationship in the teacher education process, and what might be particularly interesting for readers of this blog, is a question about the collective identity development of student teachers who are international students working with teachers in an ESL context.
Can you see any difference in the collective identity development of international (NNES) MA TESOL students and United States-born (NES) MA TESOL students?
Dr. Norton:With regard to collective identity development, issues of “imagined communities” and “imagined identities” might be relevant here. (See Kanno & Norton, 2003; Norton, 2001; Pavlenko & Norton, 2007). If an NNES MA TESOL student wishes to remain in the United States rather than return to the country of origin, the imagined professional community would differ from that of the NNES student who is returning home. Similarly, the NES MA TESOL student who plans to teach internationally rather than in the USA would also likely have different investment in the future than the NES student who plans to remain local.
f. Do you think it is useful and appropriate for new and also experienced teachers to focus consciously on their identity formation? What seminal papers and books would you recommend to NNES and NES professionals to learn more about research on identity in language learning and also in teacher education?
Dr. Norton:As I have noted in my publications, every time a person speaks, reads, or writes, they are engaged in the negotiation of identity. A teacher may not use the term “identity”, but there is no doubt that a teacher’s sense of self is implicated in all classroom exchanges. If students do not listen to a teacher, she will feel discouraged; if students are excited by a class exercise, she will feel happy and successful. Such feelings are all implicated in a the teacher’s sense of “self” and identity.
I have a chapter on Identity in an edited volume by Nancy Hornberger and Sandy McKay, which has just been published by Multilingual Matters (Norton, 2010). My chapter highlights current research on identity and language learning. I have another chapter, co-authored with Margaret Hawkins, on Critical Language Teacher Education. (Hawkins & Norton, 2009). As mentioned above, the work of Aneta Pavlenko, Vaidehi Ramanathan, Manka Varghese, Brian Morgan, Kelleen Toohey, Margaret Hawkins, Karen Johnson, Bill Johnston, Matthew Clarke and others all address identity and teacher education in innovative and intriguing ways.
Ana Wu: It’s a great honor to have you in our blog. Thank you for this informative interview!
Hawkins, M., & Norton, B. (2009). Critical language teacher education. In A. Burns & J. Richards (Eds.), Cambridge guide to second language teacher education. (pp. 30-39) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kanno, Y., & Norton, B. (Guest Eds.). (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities [Special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2(4).
Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, England: Longman/Pearson Education.
Norton, B. (2006). Identity as a sociocultural construct in second language education. In K.Cadman & K. O’Regan (Eds.), TESOL in Context [Special Issue], 22-33.
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.
Norton, B. (2001). Non-participation, imagined communities, and the language classroom. In M. Breen (Ed.), Learner contributions to language learning: New directions in research (pp. 159-171). Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Norton, B. (2010). Language and identity. In N. Hornberger & S. McKay (Eds). Sociolinguistics and language education. (pp. 349-369). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Pavlenko, A., & Norton, B. (2007). Imagined communities, identity, and English language teaching. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 669-680). New York: Springer.
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Li: I was born in a small village in central China, so I speak a local dialect. I learned Mandarin, the standard Chinese, and English as a foreign language in school. I got my undergraduate and MA degree in China and went to Canada (University of Saskatchewan) to pursue my doctoral studies in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in Second Language Literacy. After my PhD, I went to University of British Columbia for a year as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Of Canada post-doctoral fellow. After my post-doc, I was an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at University of Buffalo for five years. In 2006, I joined the Department of Teacher Education as an associate professor at Michigan State University.
Ana Wu: You have edited books and written about female minority scholars from different nations and backgrounds, addressing the sociocultural, political, academic, and personal issues they encounter in higher education. Do male minority scholars face similar issues in the USA? If not, could you briefly tell us what challenges they face in the professoriate?
Dr. Li: Male minority scholars also face some sociocultural, sociopolitical, and personal issues in higher education, e.g., racism and prejudice. However, I think they are struggling at a lesser degree than female minority scholars. Being male is an advantage for them both professionally and personally. For example, According to an Institute of Education Science report (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000), male faculty in general have higher salary and are engaged in more research and administrative activities than their female counter parts. Female full-time faculty spent larger shares of their time in teaching or service activities, and smaller proportions in research or administrative activities, than male faculty. Personally, male minority faculty spent lesson time on childcare and other family related responsibilities than female minority faculty.
Ana Wu: In “Strangers” of the Academy: Asian Women Scholars in Higher Education (2006), you wrote about your frustrations of dealing with Asian female (some of them from China, like you) doctoral students who worked for you as graduate assistants. You said that at that time, you assumed your Asian female students would be more supportive and understanding of your achievement as a minority professor. However, you experienced the reserve: They treated you like a student, negotiating assignments and challenging your authority, and one showed a sharp contrast to the respect she exhibited to your White peers. You also noted that they were older than you. Kubota (2002) in Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom, noted that when working in a teacher preparation program for K-12 Japanese teachers as a foreign language, she met a few Japanese students who treated her with disrespect.
a. How would you explain your students’ attitude towards you?
Dr. Li: First of all, I want to clarify two points. First, this is not the case with all Asian female students—many are very respectful. Second, this phenomenon is not unique with Asian female faculties (I have heard similar incidents with female Korean. I have also heard similar stories from African and Hispanic faculty). My explanation is that female minority faculties are under double or triple disadvantage as viewed by minority students of their own race. As I explained in the article, higher education in both their home country and host country is male dominated; further, in Western cultures, higher education is also very Eurocentric or white dominated. Both our students’ (mine and Kutoba’s and many others’) attitudes reflect these inequalities and disadvantaged positions female minority scholars are in.
b. What advice would you give to novice teachers when being challenged by international students from the same nationality?
Dr. Li: My first advice is not to take it personally. The issue is much rooted in the existing (age-old) racial and structural discourses, and it is not personal. Second, focus on your work—it’s hard to know that someone from your own group does not respect you, but don’t let that affect your work. Third, get to know them more and gradually build trust and break those prejudices.
Ana Wu: In Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom, Rong (2002) tells the story of an Asian scientist and university professor. This instructor believed that besides “having to deal with White hypocrisy, Asian faculty also have to deal with discrimination from a few minority faculty members who have bashed other minority faculty, especially immigrant faculty.” From your research, would you say that among minority groups, there is a racial/ethnic hierarchy in which some groups feel to be more entitled to be valued than others?
Dr. Li: In general, I don’t believe that’s the case. However, I think there is more attention to African American and Hispanic issues in the public discourse. Asians are more in the periphery of discussion when it comes to minority issues.
Ana Wu: Cited in Loo and Ho (2006), Dale Miname, an attorney who has represented many Asian Americans in academic battles, made this observation:
“The academic institution is not immune from political considerations in tenure decision…among my Asian American clients in these situations; I have noticed a common attitude. Invariably, they believe in the merit system: If you work hard, you will be duly rewarded. When faced with an adverse decision based on something other than merit, they have difficulty accepting that reality. All too often, they never understand that politics and racism may have as much to do with a particular decision as merit.” (p.145)
Many people think that being politically savvy means to stab someone in the back or to use someone to get something. From your research, what does it mean to be politically savvy? What is your advice to navigate the politics of the culture of the academia?
Dr. Li: This is a hard one. I agree with the quote that often minorities (Asians and non Asians alike) believe in the merit system and that often backfires on them. The problem is that “work hard and you will realize your dream” is the ethos of the American dream, especially one that is believed by the immigrant minorities. Many often blindly trust in the so called “democracy” and “transparency” popularized in Western culture and fail to recognize the fact that there are politics and “hidden curriculum” everywhere.
Personally, I don’t believe stabbing someone in the back is being politically savvy. I agree with Joan Lloyd (2001) that being politically savvy means that in addition to work hard and know how to do your job well, you also need to know people above you and you get visibility for what you accomplish. This is hard sometimes in a work environment that is racist or biased.
My advice is to work hard but also pay attention to the social networks within the department and college one works in. Get to know more of your colleagues, and if possible, form a support group that you can count on for advice and input.
Ana Wu: In Academic careers of immigrant women professors in the US, Skachkova (2007) talks about the ‘brown-on-brown’ research taboo (Reyes and Halcon 1988), which implies that minority faculty do mainly minority-related research. She says:
“(…) studies find that research conducted by faculty of color and women faculty is not recognized as legitimate by their colleagues or is not recognized at all (Martinez 1995; Turner and Myers 2000). Reyes and Halcon (1988) explain that this ‘brown-on-brown’ research is dismissed as minor or self-serving (…) and that minority researchers cannot be objective in their analyses of those problems which are close to their life experiences.” (p.713)
What do you think about this ‘brown-on-brown’ research taboo?
Dr. Li: I think this “brown-on-brown” research taboo is one of the many ways to reinforce the white dominance/superiority. If minority cannot understand or research themselves or problems close to their own personal experiences, who can? The answer is obviously the white majority people. However, in many cases, non-minority faculties are not interested in the well-being of minority faculty and therefore, important research in these areas may not be done. Further, if minority researchers cannot in any way objectively research themselves, the argument would be that they cannot research the white or non-minority either because they are not in a power position to do so. This can lead to a dangerous conclusion from these lines of argument–minority should not conduct any kind of research. So in sum, I don’t think this brown-on-brown taboo is legitimate at all.
Ana Wu: You are the proud mother of twins. Congratulations! How has it been to balance work with family? Are you working on a new book?
Dr. Li: It has been hard. I really had to prioritize things between work and family. Right now, family is my priority. I have to learn to say to no to different work requests and learn to let go a lot of things. I also have to learn to better manage my time as it is very limited! I just had a new book coming out on best practices in English Language Learners (ELL) Literacy Instruction. I am working on some grant applications and a special journal issue but not a book at the moment.
Ana Wu: Thank you for this intriguing interview!
Kubota, R. (2002). Marginality as an Asset: Toward a Counter-Hegemonic Pedagogy for Diversity. In Lucila Vargas (Ed.) Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom (293- 308). Peter Lang Publishing, New York City.
Li, G. (2006). A Young Asian Female Sholar’s Reflections on Within-Race-and-Gender Interactions. “Strangers ” of the academy: Asian women scholars in higher education. (118 – 133). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Loo, C.M. & Ho, H.Z. (2006). Asian American Women in the Academy. “Strangers ” of the academy: Asian women scholars in higher education. (118 – 133). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
LIyod, J. (2001). Learning to be politically savvy, a must for career advancement. Retried from http://sanantonio.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/stories/2001/11/19/smallb4.html
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Mr. Sadraque: I first started studying English in Revival English School, back in 1994. Then, I went to Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) school, where I studied English language at an advanced level. Between 2000 and 2003, I attended high school where I learned how to teach English as a foreign language.When I graduated in 2004, I decided to be more exposed to English language but in a different field. So I started to study Business English and Letter writing at Cambridge International College. Currently, I’m a student of this institution. It is also worth mentioning that my exposure to English in various workshops and national and international conferences shaped my current linguistic knowledge.Professionally speaking, I’ve been teaching English as Foreign Language (EFL) since 1999 in both private and public schools. I’ve also been highly involved with language associations since that same year.
One of the associations where I am still a member and Vice-president is ANELTA – the Angolan English Language Teachers Association.
After my graduation in 2004, I started sharing my knowledge working as a teacher trainer for private schools of English and to fellows who wanted to teach English.
I decided to pursue a career as a language educator because I strongly believe that this is my direct contribution to the development of Angola. Working with young students gives me opportunity to help them gain important skills (communication, leadership, management, social and teamwork skills) for their everyday life and that of their respective communities. Additionally, I love teaching; it is my passion.
English is an international language, it is now between the third and fourth from the most spoken languages in the world. This is to say that English is one of the languages for globalization, students shouldn’t get lost in communication almost everywhere if they can speak English. Secondly, for academic purposes, it would be very helpful for their research in any area as there are few books written in Portuguese language, which is the language spoken in the country. Third, English gives them more job opportunities. They can apply for a job everywhere. In Angola, there are many companies where one of the main requirement to apply is fluency in English language.
Angola is in a process of development in terms of economy and leadership. As Angola is not apart from the world, it needs to enhance its relations with developed countries and to have a success in this direction needs to use the language.
Ana Wu: You also studied Law. Tell me more about it and how helpful it has been in your TESOL career.
Mr. Sadraque: I would like to stress that due to the luck of opportunity at that time to study English Language Teaching at University, I went to Gregorio Semedo University were I studied Law in 2005 and finished my course in 2008. Up to now, I’ve been working in my dissertation and by October this year I will present (defend) it.English has been my passion since I was a child. I think I can conciliate both things and use my degree in law to help the teachers of English community in my country. While being a lawyer by the next few years, I will always have at least a class to teach English and this is the idea I’ve been passing around to my fellows who have bachelor degree in English Teaching, but are working in other fields.
During the 2010 TESOL convention in Boston, I’ve met some teachers who are also lawyers and teachers of English, so we took advantage to exchange our great experiences – for example, we talked about teaching English for lawyers.
Ana Wu: You are the 2010 TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program Award Recipient, and Brock Brady, the 2010-2011 TESOL President in your assigned mentor. How did winning this recognition affect your career? Tell me about your experience of having Dr. Brady as your mentor.
Mr. Sadraque: Knowing that what I do is recognized outside of Angola made me feel more motivated to promote TEFL/TESOL profession. Meeting and working with Dr. Brady triggered my interest in English for Specific Purpose (ESP). Currently, I’m helping my students learn English for specific purpose. So this nomination helped me bring some innovations to the Instituto Médio Industrial de Luanda (IMIL), the public school where I work. The Principal of the school is really interested in my initiative of teaching ESP and such an initiative is now being reviewed in order to be fully implemented – let’s see!This recognition also enhanced my own reputation as a language professional. The Principal of IMIL counts on my technical contribution to the English language teaching in that school.
In fact, it was a great honor to have Dr. Brady as my mentor. Now I better understand how TESOL works. I’ve learned and acquired some leadership skills from Dr. Brady by observing and interacting with him – something I have been informally sharing with my ANELTA (Angolan English Language Teachers Association) fellows.
Dr. Brady and I have discussed many ideas that ANELTA can implement in partnership with TESOL. These ideas include affiliating ANELTA to TESOL, which is expected to occur in near future. As a result of our discussions, someone in ANELTA was recently appointed to be our TESOL contact within ANELTA – TESOL will hear from him soon.
I must admit that through this Leadership Mentoring Award, I have improved my communication, networking, and interpersonal skills.
Ana Wu: At the age of 16, you and some students founded the United English Speakers Association in Luanda, Angola, an organization that focused on socio-cultural and environmental issues. A few years later, as one of the founding members of the Angolan National English Teacher Association (ANELTA), you served as Secretary General of the association from 2003 to 2006, and have been Vice President since 2007. Allow me to tell our members that you are only 27 years old.a. Why is taking leadership roles important to you? Professionally, what would you like to accomplish in the next 5 and 10 years?
Mr. Sadraque: Taking leadership roles is something that comes automatically, and when I realize I am already taking this role. It happens due to the fact of setting clear goals and doing things by heart. I am also charismatic and I think taking leadership position is a good way to influence others.To help visualize what I posted above, back in 2003-2004 when I was leaving my high school, where I studied English Language Teaching, I could understand the differences from what I learnt and what I saw in some schools I visited. So I realized that teachers needed to enhance their teaching techniques and methodology. It emerged on me a strong need to help though I didn’t have that much to give. In this regard, with the experience I had with previous associations as leader, I spent months planning to organize a big conference in the country where teachers of English should gather and discuss the trends in the field and find the respective solutions. Experienced teachers should give workshops and plenary. People didn’t just believe me because I was very young and plus didn’t have the university level at that time.
In the same year, I met good friends who believed in my plan and supported it so that in 2004 we could organize the first international English Language teachers conference in the country. I would like to have the honor of mentioning them here: Otmar Filipe (who finished his bachelor in ELT) and Nina Bell (from California; her husband used to work for Chevron in Angola and she worked as volunteer teacher in my high school). Other people gathered the group such as, Susanna Lindsey, from Netherland; Paula Duarte, my former methodology teacher; Caetano Domingos, former principal of the school where I studied; and Dana Swain, from California, though she was not a teacher but could contribute for the success of the event. We spent all our time, day and night, and energy for more than 8 months planning and arranging things for this workshop.
In 2004 before the conference, two of our friends (Francisco Aristides and José Iege) suggested that if we were to support in a regular basis the needs of our teachers, it should be good to create an association. That’s what exactly we did. During the first international conference in November 2004, we announced the existence of ANELTA the Angolan English Language Teachers Association, where I worked as general secretary. Don’t you think it should be the best position to achieve the goal of promoting professional development in English language teaching? As the general secretary with the help of the group, I could influence more than 750 teachers around the country to participate in our events, some in the town and other in the provinces. We also could identify leaders to help in the organization of the next conferences and to conduct the organization as board members.
The role of leaders is the key for the development of a community. Leaders have visions; they see beyond the future than everybody else in their community. They help people bring the best they have out of themselves to achieve common good.
Leaders are always preoccupied with common good, that is, the community’s interest or development. They work with people, analyze the environment, identify problems affecting their community, and work hard to find solutions by engaging other people as well. They reframe everyone’s dream(s) in such ways that everyone feels identified with those dreams, and feel energized to do something about it, in order to make them come true for the community’s well being.
Leaders inspire people around them. They help them overcome their weaknesses and maximize or release their potentials. We have in fact good examples of that as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and recently Barack Obama. Leaders are in fact the catalyst of changes in their community or group.
This is why taking leadership position is important to me. It is easier to do the above mentioned when I am in a leadership position. That is the best position where I can do more and better to achieve my goals. To give more examples, below I mention some of my goals to achieve within 5 to 10 years time – which will be easier to accomplish if I am the decision maker.
In terms of accomplishments, I first would like to have ANELTA affiliated to TESOL.
Secondly, I would like to help ANELTA have local representatives in all the 18 provinces of Angola. This project is already in process with collaboration of the current ANELTA board, including its newly appointed president, Mr. Caetano Capitão.
Personally, I intend to support members of ANELTA by organizing workshops, regular training in high schools and universities, publishing articles on ANELTA newsletter and probably on some international newsletters. As I am an attorney, I would like to defend local EFL teachers’ rights.
In order to accomplish my goals effectively, I am looking for further educational opportunities to complete a master degree in TESOL/TEFL.
In 2004, two friends and I created a project called ANELI. The project involves the construction of a building for ANELTA, where we will have various offices dealing with different aspects of TEFL. Unfortunately we haven’t implemented it yet, but we hope in ten years time we will establish the basis for this project.
Also, at the 2010 TESOL Convention in Boston, I spoke to some professors in order to look for ways to implement masters programs in Angola. We will keep studying to figure out how to materialize the idea.
b. Regarding the professional status of the EFL teachers in Angola, what are the most emerging issues?
Mr. Sadraque: A few teachers in Angola have a bachelor’s degree in English Language Teaching. It means that those who don’t have a bachelor’s degree in English Language Teaching – the majority of EFL teachers in the country- need a certificate and certification in EFL. And those graduated in EFL still need to know what current best teaching practices are. The level of spoken English spoken is not high enough for both graduated and non graduated teachers in the field. Teaching is mostly based on grammar.In Luanda province, the capital of Angola, besides the Faculdade de Letras, Universidade Agostinho Neto,where students learn linguistics, including English linguistics, we only have one institution where people can study TEFL in high school in ELT.
In order to overcome these barriers, I strongly believe that not only sharing best practices with Angolan teachers, but also exchanging teaching ideas and having professional development opportunities, such as workshops from institutions like CELTA and DELTA, conferences, seminars, training courses on an ongoing basis, would be of a great help.
Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!