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Shannon Tanghe

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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.

References:

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.

Lakshmi Kala Prakash

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The goal of the NNEST of the Month Blog is to showcase the many faces of educators from different countries who promote professional equity in the teaching community.

This month, our guest is Lakshmi Kala Prakash. Lakshmi is completing a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

We met Lakshmi on the NNEST Facebook page, when she told us that she spoke out against the discriminatory job advertisements posted by a company called VIPKID, which advertises “The North American Elementary School experience to Chinese children” and only hires “Native English Speakers from North America.”

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” We have edited some parts of this post, originally published on 2/22/2017, to reflect their change in practices, while still commending Lakshmi on her efforts in NNEST advocacy.

Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!

1)      Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background?

As a lifelong learner, my journey in academics began in India, the country of my birth, where I received a Bachelor of Science. Interested in the field of Medicine, I pursued an Associates in Respiratory Therapy at Wichita State University in the US. Several years later and following a change in career to teaching English to Foreign Language students in Iran, I decided to procure my Masters in TESOL. This desire brought me to Thailand in 2012, where I received an MA in TESOL in 2013 from Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The passion for knowledge and eagerness to share with my colleagues, students, and the public at large guided me into enrolling for a Ph.D. in English for Professional Development at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I have recently submitted my dissertation manuscript to my Faculty of Advisors for their comments. On the professional side, my career has taken me through several disciplines from applying my skills as a Registered Respiratory Therapist, successfully running and establishing a business in clothing and jewelry, to the present and the most rewarding, teaching English. My present career began in 2002 in Tehran, Iran.

2)      You mentioned previously that you got involved in an online discussion with one of VIPKID’s teachers, who seemed to support their discrimination against NNESTs. Speaking out can be intimidating. Could you tell us a bit more about the situation, what you found problematic, and what you did about it?

Finding ways to engage with those who unwittingly appear to support discrimination can be a challenge to anyone. As an educator, I am a strong proponent against discriminatory practices in general and against NNESTs in particular. However, when such instances are blatantly advertised and made to appear as acceptable by everyone, perhaps, the responsibility to speak up against such practices falls on the shoulders of those who hold the minds of the future in our hands. Recently, a posting for an online teaching position on the Facebook page called Chiang Rai Everything, catering to classifieds on any issue, sparked my decision to get more involved and confront the wordings in the posting.

The person who had shared the VIPKID advertisement might have, from his point of view, felt that he was doing a good thing for other Americans currently living in Chiang Rai, Thailand. However, when interacting with him it became clear to me that he was not ready to accept the fact that the wordings in the advertisement were generally discriminatory. The exchange with him was a heated one and I tried to instill some sort of awareness regarding the effects of his involvement with such discriminating organizations. Although I tried to keep the discussion on point, the man involved and in support of him a few other American men, decided to take it personally. My initial steps to try and raise awareness on this issue was apparently turning nasty. I decided that I had to step out of it as it was clear that the person had made up his mind that he was not doing anything that was hurtful or wrong. Yet, I am hopeful that my words would have made an impression on his future actions and thoughts on the topic.

Since the intervention of NNEST and TESOL, the VIPKID posting has been expertly reworded to protect their interests. However, here is a link to an online interaction between a teacher from the online platform VIPKID and English teachers looking for online opportunities from several parts of the World before the changes were made by VIPKID, which support the original advertisement that quirked my interest to face up to the challenge, https://teacheslonlineanywhere.com/join-vipkid/.

3)      How do you think advertisements like this affect TESOL as a scholarly and professional field?

When I was teaching a group of English Major students at a University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I asked them about their future career goals. I was shocked to learn that none of them selected Teaching English. When I probed the reasons for this, they replied, “Teacher have you seen the job advertisements on websites like Ajarn.com, TeachEnglish.com and even the websites of Thai schools or Universities?” They continued, “We have no chance in getting a job in teaching, or earning well teaching English in Thailand.” Furthermore, discussion with people who have no awareness of the negative effects of their actions leads me to believe that discriminatory advertisements, media jokes on the pronunciation skills of Non-native teachers, and little attempt at bridging the widening gap do have a profound effect on the community and their hiring practices in the field of TESOL.

4)      TESOL International entered into a strategic partnership with VIPKID in November 2016. Rosa Aronson, the Executive Director of TESOL International told several leaders in the NNEST community that she’d had extensive conversations with VIPKID prior to entering a partnership, asserting that discrimination against NNESTs was a violation of TESOL International’s core values and dedication to increasing professionalism and equity in the field. She was under the impression that they had changed their ways and was appalled to learn that they had not done so. Now, nearly three months after the original announcement, VIPKID seems to have removed some discriminatory language from their website, but still advertises the North American elementary experience to Chinese children. What action, if any, do you think TESOL should take at this time? Where do we as NNEST advocates go from here?

This is a challenge for any organization and a community of practice in general. Initiating this dialogue with TESOL as the NNEST Interest Section has done was merely the very first step. Following these discussions and bringing to light the advertising practices (not only those by VIPKID), which also reflect, up to a point, the mindset of the people behind it, during seminars, conferences, or TESOL meetings can be further steps that all members of the TESOL community can partake in.

Edit (3/2/2017): Rosa Aronson, Executive Director of TESOL International, has informed us that VIPKID now advertises “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” The discriminatory language has been removed since the original posting of this blog. 

5) Sometimes students are wary of teachers they perceive as nonnative speakers and question their professional expertise. How can we as TESOL professionals shed light on and change these ideologies?

I believe education is the key to bringing about equal practices or changing present ideologies between the native and nonnative speakers in the mindset of all stakeholders in general. However, organizations such as TESOL, or NNEST, should formally approach the Ministries of Education of countries, where such practices are rampant and request to implement further regulations in the hiring and advertising practices of qualified English language teachers regardless of their nativeness.

6) What other advice would you give to other TESOL professionals and activists in increasing equity in TESOL as a professional and scholarly field?

Professional Development that aligns with increasing informed and positive dialogues on this topic among all stakeholders could help minimize a persisting gap between Native and Nonnative teacher perceptions of each other’s role in the overall production of a truly successful user of English.

Edit (3/3/2017) Since VIPKID has since changed the language on their website, we followed up with Lakshmi to ask one last question. 

7) Since the original publication of this post, VIPKID has revised their website and recruitment materials to advertise “an international learning experience” and “passionate, qualified teachers.” As someone who was on the front lines, what are your thoughts on these changes? What will their impact be, and how can we continue to increase equity in the field?” 

Let me first begin with how we can continue to increase equity in the field by sharing with all of you the opinions and suggestions of a colleague. Mrs. Jena Lynch, a native English speaker. After reading my responses on the NNEST blog of the month, she had this to add to the discussion:

“I can study English grammar and use a corpus to back up my intuitions, but I’ll never have the credibility of someone who learned English as an additional language. What I think hiring managers and ministries need to be looking at is: (1) A desire to coach students in the learning process; (2) Teaching methodology and approach in the classroom; (3) Proficiency.

Having the knowledge and skill in English to teach students to be intelligible is obviously important, but there’s no need to be a native speaker (a.k.a. non-learner) to do that. What I’m getting at is I guess the conversation between NNEST and NEST needs to include a more balanced picture. Teachers should be asking each other: (1) How do you teach ______?; (2) Why do you teach it that way?; (3) Have you ever thought of _______?; (4) I understand _____ this way. How do you see it?”

In other words the focus of all those involved in ELT, including of course the administrative stakeholders, need to shift from practices that exclude abilities based on inconsequential features, which marginalize, otherwise, capable practitioners and realign our practices to drawing on the positive traits in each one of us that could ultimately sustain successful English language teaching and learning.

As to my thoughts on the changes made by VIPKID, of course I am quite satisfied with their physical display of words. Everyone deserves a chance to rectify an oversight. Only with time and continued efforts can this negative wave of discrimination be overturned. I would like to leave you all with the famous words by Martin Luther King Jr. as retrieved from searchquotes.com:

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.” 

 

Andy Gao

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Dr. Andy Gao is an associate professor in the Division of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong. His research includes Teacher Development, Higher Education, Sociolinguistics and Learner Autonomy. He was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Research Award from the University of Hong Kong. 

Interview by: Ju Seong Lee (John) and Cristina Sánchez-Martín  Continue reading