Gloria Park is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). As a researcher and teacher educator, she is dedicated to helping both English language learners and their teachers to come to understand themselves as knowledgeable, reflective individuals who are critical of how the English language is situated in worldwide contexts. Her research and teaching focuses on educators as professional people whose personal lives outside of the classroom have powerful implications for their evolving identities and work as teachers of the English language. Both within the specific realms of TESOL and Applied Linguistics and in the field of teacher education more broadly, she is interested in understanding how all TESOL teachers’ (especially the ones from diverse linguistic, racial, and cultural backgrounds) constructs of their knowledge, identities, and pedagogies are developed and enacted. [email@example.com] | May Interviewer: Davi S. Reis
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!
chomsky [at] mit [dot] edu
Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco
1. Could you tell us how and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Chomsky: I didn’t really decide. It just happened, like many things in life.
Terry Doyle, City College of San Francisco (Questions 2, 3, and 4)
2. Your name is quite often mentioned in papers about the history of the NS (native speaker) and NNS (non-native speaker) dichotomy among teachers of ESL. For example, Braine (1999) writes “In language pedagogy, the linguistic authority of the native speaker has been further bolstered by Chomsky’s notion of the terms native speaker and competence.(p. xv). Canagarajah (1999) in his well-known article, “Interrogating the native speaker fallacy”, writes, “Noam Chomsky’s linguistic concepts lie at the heart of the discourse that promotes the superiority of the native speaker.” Such statements tend to attribute some responsibility or blame to you for the creation of the NNS-NS dichotomy and the native speaker fallacy. In my opinion, this blame is totally undeserved, especially when we consider how you have spent your life advocating for the rights of people who are economically oppressed. In a later article George Braine (2004) mentioned that you defined the native speaker as an “ideal speaker-listener” and therefore you use the term as an abstraction. Braine seems to allude to the fact that you had no idea that the abstract concept of “native speaker” used in your book Aspects of a Theory of Syntax would take on a life of its own. Could you tell us more about your notion of “native speaker” and “native speaker competence” especially in terms of its relevance to the NS-NNS dichotomy in English and foreign language teaching, the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992) and the discrimination and economic oppression this fallacy has resulted in?
Dr. Chomsky:I do not understand why I am mentioned at all in this connection. The “linguistic authority of the native speaker” was a truism long before I became a college student. The distinction between competence and performance –- what we know versus what we do — should be a truism as well, but it has no bearing on the role of the native speaker, as far as I can see. My notion of “native speaker” is the traditional one, adding nothing new. I have no idea what the fallacy is supposed to be, or how these truisms might relate to oppression. I suspect there must be some serious misunderstanding.
3. My career in linguistics began in the middle 1970s as a graduate student at UC Berkeley in theoretical linguistics. At that time study in applied linguistics was just beginning, and it wasn’t a popular area of study for a young graduate student. Nowadays applied linguistics has grown enormously as a field of study, and it includes separately defined sub areas of studies including everything from applied semiotics to web based instruction, and of course includes non-native teachers issues, the topic of Ms. Wu’s blog. Your work in linguistics has been in theoretical linguistics, but applied linguists often mention your theories and your concepts. How do you explain this enormous interest in applied linguistics and especially sub areas of study such as non-native teacher issues? What do you see as the connection between theoretical and applied linguistics and in particular with the sub area of applied linguistics, non-native teacher issues?
Dr. Chomsky:I presume that applied linguistics developed because there was so much valuable work to do in these areas. Teachers are usually non-native. In the case of indigenous communities, very substantial efforts have been made to provide native speakers with the educational opportunities that would enable them to become teachers, develop educational and cultural programs in their own communities, etc., even in one spectacular case to revive a language that now has its first native speaker in a century (Wampanoag). I am keeping here only to my own department, since the 1960s, under the leadership of the late Ken Hale and now his students. I do not know what other issues there are about native/non-native teachers.
4. Most readers of Ms. Wu’s blog are probably linguists, ESL teachers, or ESL teacher trainers, so we know of your work first of all in linguistics. But for people outside of linguistics and language teaching, you are well known for your research and writing in political science, and especially your arguments for the relevance of an anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism (Chomsky, 2005), which I greatly admire. My reason for asking you the question below in this blog is that I agree with critical linguists such as Pennycook (2001) who view “the inequalities in the relation between the constructs of Native and Non-native teachers” as one manifestation of power and inequality in the field of linguistics. Do you think that the study of political issues such as non-native teacher issues is an area of study for applied linguists, for political scientists, or both? What suggestion would you give to scholars and graduate students who want to study political issues such as non-native teacher issues and also to ordinary ESL teachers, like myself, who want to understand the significance of such issues to our teaching, our profession, and our ESL departments’ personnel and hiring committees’ decisions?
Dr. Chomsky: I do not understand what the “non-native teacher issues” are.The important issues seem to me those I mentioned above.
Ahmar Mahboob, University of Sydney (Questions 5, 6, and 7)
5. In your work on language, you prioritize the formal properties of language in favor of its functional properties (cf work my MAK Halliday and colleagues). While we see that both of these approaches serve useful purposes, we were wondering how they relate to the field of language teaching and learning. How do you see these two approaches to language (formal and functional) in relation to work in the area of language teaching and learning?
Dr. Chomsky: Halliday and others apparently see a conflict between those approaches. I have never seen any. My own work, and that of my colleagues, is both formal and functional. So is Halliday’s, as far as I understand it. There are differences in approach, as one would expect in a complex array of disciplines, but not along this divide, as far as I can see.
6. The use of the concept of a ‘native’ speaker is somewhat understandable in contexts where linguists are trying to study how monolingual speakers of a language construe and realize their language. However, this notion of a ‘native’ speaker is often used in Applied Linguistics and TESOL literature/research as well. How do you evaluate the use of this term in these contexts?
Dr. Chomsky: It should be used where it is relevant. Again, I do not understand the issue.
7. Language descriptions are typically based on language data/intuitions collected from monolingual speakers of the language. Now, we know that the majority of the people in the world are bi/multi-lingual speakers of the language. Are their intuitions not important for describing languages? This becomes quite important in contexts where these ‘monolingual’ descriptions of the language are considered ‘standard’ and other dialects are measured in relation to them (such as in the context of language teaching/learning/assessment). What are your views on the use of native speaker intuitions in language descriptions that are used in language teaching/learning?
Dr. Chomsky:If someone is interested in Spanish, they will not use me as an informant, but rather a native speaker of Spanish, evidently. It is quite true that multilingualism is common -– in fact, ubiquitous if we study individuals very closely. It is an important topic to study. The notion of “standard language” is not a linguistic notion. Rather, it reflects structures of power and authority.
Jayashree Mohanraj, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
8. Entry of English in multilingual countries is gradually and systematically eliminating smaller local languages. Please comment on the hegemony of English.
Dr. Chomsky: That’s true, and it is one aspect of a much broader development. Imposition of the nation-state system in Europe, for example, has led to rapid disappearance of languages, a process still continuing. The spread of English reflects obvious power relations. As I mentioned, my own department has been intensively involved in preserving, in fact resurrecting, indigenous languages and cultures. A great many factors enter into broader decisions -– for example, should efforts be made to preserve the many languages of Italy (called “dialects,” though they are often mutually incomprehensible), or should the spread of a common “Italian” be encouraged. There are no simple formulas for every situation.
Daniel Steve Villarreal, University of Texas at Austin:
9. Does your Universal Grammar theory draw on the work of Karl Jung (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_Unconscious)? Thank you
Dr. Chomsky: I’ve occasionally mentioned some rather loose analogies, nothing beyond that.
Ana Wu: I’d like to thank Dr. Chomsky for this interview. When I sent him the invitation to be a guest in our NNEST of the Month blog, Dr. Chomsky said that he was utterly deluged with interview requests, and couldn’t possibly keep up with more than a fraction. Yet, he graciously agreed on an interview at my proposed deadline. Personally, working with him was not just a pleasure, but a great honor and unforgettable experience.
Braine, G. (1999) Introduction. In Braine, G. (Ed.) Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Braine, G. (2004) The nonnative English-speaking professionals’ movement and its research foundations, In Kamhi-Stein, L. Learning and Teaching from Experience: Perspectives on Nonnative English-speaking Professionals. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Canagarajah, S. A. (1999) Interrogating the “native speaker fallacy”: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In Braine, G. (Ed.) Non-native Educators in English Language Teaching. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Chomsky, N. (1965) Aspects of a Theory of Syntax, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Chomsky, N. (2005) Chomsky on Anarchism. Oakland: AK Press.
Pennycook, A. (2001) Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Nemtchinova:I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. I started learning English when I was seven and fell in love with it, in the large part because the teacher would bring toys to class to introduce new vocabulary- a unique teaching technique in a Soviet school with its strict discipline. As a student of Moscow State Linguistic University (Moskovskij Gosudarstvennyj Lingvisticheskij Universitet; Московский Государственный Лингвистический Университет), I had several opportunities to experience teaching English in a grade school, which made me realize that teaching is an extremely enjoyable and rewarding experience and what I really wanted to do was to teach at a university level. After graduation I worked as a technical translator for two years, all the time looking for a teaching job before getting a position at the University of Friendship of People (Universitet Druzhby Narodov; Университет Дружбы народов) where I taught English as a foreign language for three years.
In 1992 my husband, a physicist, was accepted into the PhD program at SUNY at Stony Brook, and left for the US. I joined him a year later and stayed at home for some time; when the tediousness of being a stay-at-home mom reached the critical point, I applied to the doctoral program in the Department of Linguistics at SUNY. While in the program I taught ESL classes on campus; I also taught methods courses in MA TESOL program during two summers. It took a certain amount of courage and perseverance to teach native speakers of English how to teach their language to people like me, but it turned out to be a very positive experience that came in handy when I interviewed for my current job at Seattle Pacific University.
Ana Wu: You teach methodology and linguistics in a MA-TESOL program, and Russian, your native language, to undergraduate students. With regards of being bilingual and bi-cultural, what are your strengths and challenges as a professor of your second language? What are your strengths and challenges as a teacher of your native language?
Dr. Nemtchinova:My dual teaching responsibilities of a language teacher and teacher educator are a perfect marriage for me. Teaching Russian language provides me with endless real-life examples to support and exemplify theoretical principles we discuss in the methodology and linguistics classes while teaching ESL methods keeps me abreast of new developments in second/foreign language teaching. It also keeps me honest in front of my Russian students and makes me consciously align my instruction with what we talk about in the methods classes.
Another benefit is the constant exchange of ideas and language learning activities with MA TESOL students: as they design and perform ESL mini-lessons as part of their academic requirements for my methods classes, I note the most interesting and innovative activities which could be adapted for my Russian students.
Each of my teaching roles involves a unique set of strengths and challenges. Beyond the proverbial native language model, teaching my native language fills me with everlasting enthusiasm and an immense joy as I see how students’ language skills and appreciation of the culture grow as they progress. Judging from student evaluations this passion is contagious and it motivates them to study better. As to challenges, I often face the problem of relating to my students’ level and not taking things for granted. I also know first-hand how difficult it might be for a native speaker to explain the finer grammar points without special training. Finally, I constantly have to check my urge to use as much Russian as possible in the classroom against students’ level of proficiency and modify my language without mutilating it.
My greatest asset as a teacher educator is my dual experience as a nonnative speaker learning English and as a native speaker teaching her native language. Students appreciate my opinion on what works and what doesn’t in an ESL/EFL classroom; they also benefit from my awareness of hurdles native speakers face in communicating about their native language. Addressing these problems in my classes in the context of some fundamental questions on the nature of language teaching and learning always results in an animated discussion and helps students develop their own approach to classroom teaching. These discussions are a valuable part of learning; however, sometimes graduate students fail to recognize my authority as a professor. Their inability to see beyond my nonnative-English speaking status, age, appearance, and background can impede teaching and communication and affect the classroom atmosphere in a negative way. While these individual attributes cannot be changed (with the exception of age), recognizing the motives underlying such an attitude allows me not to take it personally, to remain professional, and to assume a strong educator role by striving to improve my professional performance.
Ana Wu: You have done research on language learning, teaching education, using technology, and NNEST issues, particularly on the importance of mentoring and collaboration. In a NNEST-NEST collaborative model, what can both parties gain from this peer collaboration?
Dr. Nemtchinova: The importance of effective mentoring and collaboration in teacher education is well documented in the literature, which underscores the reciprocal nature of such a relationship as its primary benefit. Both NES and NNES can gain a lot from working together, and I see in my classes how NES and NNES students enhance each other’s teaching and learning experience as they work side by side towards their MA TESOL degree.
NNES students offer an invaluable insight into a variety of EFL teaching situations, either from the point of view of an EFL student or an EFL teacher, if they had taught in their countries before coming to the US. They also have a unique perspective on NES students’ teaching based on their language learning experience; they usually have a solid judgment about the feasibility of a lesson or an activity and can anticipate potential difficulties. Not only do they offer their opinion on how this or that activity will work in a real-life classroom or whether it is too challenging for a given population of students, they are also the best judges of NES students’ teacher talk which sometimes tends to be too fast and/or too complex because of the vocabulary, idioms and cultural references.
NES students appreciate NNES’s ability to present and explain grammar and vocabulary, an appreciation expressed in their highly positive peer evaluations. There is a lot of interest in language learning strategies that NNES employ; as we discuss the strategies suggested by the textbook NNES students are always asked how they found ways to master different skills.
For their part, NES make an important contribution to collaboration by providing personal and academic support to their NNES peers. They supply encouraging and constructive feedback on their teaching, attend to their language needs, and volunteer as an eager audience to help NNES rehearse their presentations. They encourage NNES to be assertive, ask questions, and participate in a class discussion. NES’s friendly guidance and advice is especially beneficial for those new to the country as it facilitates NNEST students’ socialization into the culture of an American university. As both groups get to know each other better, the NNES’s feeling of personal and academic comfort and self-confidence grows tremendously. I hope these collaborative relations will extend beyond graduate classes and will help both NES and NNES become better teachers.
Ana Wu: The NNEST Caucus became an Interest Section in 2008 and you were its first chair. What would you like to see the leaders and members of the NNEST IS do or initiate?
Dr. Nemtchinova: As a long-time member of NNEST Caucus and Interest Section I find the work done by our community leaders inspiring and encouraging. I would like the Interest Section to continue reaching out to NNS members of TESOL who are still not members of the IS and invite them to join us. As I sat in the NNEST IS Booth at TESOL 2009, I was surprised by the number of nonnative speaking colleagues who did not know who we were. Our strength is in numbers, and the stronger we are, the better we’ll be heard. I also think it is important to enhance the presence of NNES in TESOL through education and research, and to extend our mentoring and support to NNES members in the profession. I hope we will continue working towards increasing the number of conference presentations, single-authored and joint publications, and representation in TESOL, and encouraging on- and off-line networking. On a more practical note, it would be nice to have a column in NNES newsletter devoted to successful classroom techniques, particularly related to NNES issues.
Ana Wu: You are currently writing a series of Russian textbooks. How do you balance your professional life – as a language instructor, professor and writer, mentoring students, giving presentations, writing articles, going to conferences – with your family obligations? What advice would you give to graduate students and new teachers who are also parents and want to have a fulfilling career?
Dr. Nemtchinova: Being a successful professional as well as a caring wife and a devoted mother are both very high on my priority scale, but the balancing act requires a lot of self- discipline, prioritizing and organizing. Preparing classes, grading assignments, providing feedback on student presentations, and actual teaching and advising consume the best part of my waking hours, and then there are demands of being an active scholar and finding time to serve the university and the community. My biggest challenge is to have a fixed block of time for writing once or twice a week. Because I am most focused and alert in the morning, I treat my productive time very carefully and try to arrange my school and home schedule so as to carve a few hours of creative morning freedom for professional writing. This scheduling comes at a price: my “teaching” days are crammed with classes, advising appointments, and meetings to the point of exhaustion. Despite my desire to be substantially involved into university affairs, my options for campus service are limited to committees that only meet once a month; even then I often have to plead with committee members to schedule meetings on my teaching days to avoid a 40-minute commute to campus which will surely ruin my writing productivity. I have to miss university events that take place on my research days and find other ways to increase my visibility and participate in campus life. Nevertheless, having a fixed block of time for writing, even once or twice a week, has proven to be very beneficial for my research.
Family life requires as careful time management and organization as professional life. I have a weekly plan for various family responsibilities and house chores and stick to it. I cannot live without my checklists (one for classes, one for research, one for family, and one for everything else) –they help me remember what needs to be done and stay organized. The most important lesson I have learned while trying to cope with the demands of teaching, research, and family is that it is impossible to be an equally successful and dedicated mother, teacher, and researcher without sacrificing something. I think it’s essential to define your priorities and lower your standards on something you deem less important. My most important priorities are children and work, but I am more relaxed about household responsibilities, particularly cleaning. It’s simply not possible to excel in everything!
My advice to those who are juggling family and career is not to succumb to the feeling of guilt when something is not up to your standards, but be flexible and realistic. Learn to accept that things may not always be perfect, set reasonable goals and have a small celebration when you achieve one of them. It is also important to take time to do things that help you relax and unwind- a hobby, an exercise program, or a stress management practice. Playing tennis, knitting, and listening to audio books help me recharge my batteries when commitments start piling up. After a little break now and then I can focus more effectively on teaching, research, and family.
Ana Wu: Thank you for this delightful interview!