Tag Archives: leadership

Vicente Sadraque

NNEST of the Month
November, 2010
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
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!

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Isabela Villas Boas

 

NNEST of the Month
September 2010

Ana Wu: Could you tell us your linguistic and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?
Dr. Villas Boas:I’ve always loved English. I learned it when I was eight and moved to the U.S. to spend three years while my Dad got his Ph. D in Architecture from Rice University, in Houston, Texas. When I came back to Brazil, in order to keep up the English I had learned, I was enrolled in an ELT institute called Casa Thomas Jefferson (CTJ), a binational center in Brasília, Brazil, where I am now the General Academic Coordinator. I didn’t intend to be a teacher at first. I majored in Journalism. But while I was still going to university, I also took the Teacher Training Course at CTJ and ended up getting a teaching job here. After I graduated, I worked for six months as a journalist, but it didn’t quite suit me. Then I was invited to become the Intermediate Course Supervisor and was happy to give up my career as a journalist. However, I felt I needed to invest in my professional development, so in 1998, encouraged by my husband, I got into the MATESL Program at Arizona State University (ASU). I already had two children, aged 2 and 6 at that time. My husband had the opportunity to get a six-month paid leave from his position at the Bank of Brazil, and then a one-year unpaid leave. We invested our savings in this unforgettable opportunity to live abroad with our family and we don’t regret it at all. We fell in love with the desert.I learned a lot during my MATESL program and focused my studies on two areas: testing and the teaching of writing, developing an applied project around the use of writing portfolios. I chose the ASU program because of the flexibility it offered in the choice of electives. Thus, besides the mandatory courses, such as Research Methods, Introduction to Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition and Methodology, I also took classes that contributed to strengthening my knowledge of English and English Linguistics itself –such as Syntax, Phonetics and Phonology, and Pragmatics and Discourse Theory – while also contributing to broadening my knowledge on teaching and learning in general – such as Testing (including Psychometrics) and Educational Psychology.Back to Brazil, I resumed my job at CTJ, where I was a Pedagogical Consultant before I had left. I made a point of attending and presenting in local, national and international conferences –TESOL being one of them – and decided to pursue a Ph.D in Education in 2005, focusing on Literacy Studies. My doctorate also consisted of interdisciplinary studies, providing me the opportunity to study the History of Education in Brazil more deeply, Interactional Sociolinguistics, Epistemology and Research in the Social Sciences, Institutional Evaluation, and Subjectivity and Education, with a strong focus on Vygotsky, among others.

In 2007, I became the General Academic Coordinator of the institution, and in 2008 I finished my Doctorate. My field of research is the teaching of writing, contrasting the product approach predominant in our regular schools and a process approach to teaching EFL writing. Writing is the thread that has woven my academic background, from learning a lot about writing in my undergraduate studies and researching this topic for my master’s and doctorate studies. Managerially speaking, with a B.A. in Journalism, a MATESL Degree and a Doctorate in Education, I believe I’ve gained the necessary breadth and depth to face the challenges involved in coordinating a large ELT Institute, where I have to use my knowledge about English, English Language Teaching, Education, Philosophy, and Communication on a daily basis.

Ana Wu: You have a master degree in TEFL and a Ph.D in Education. How did you develop your management and leadership skills? What advice would you give to faculty members who are promoted to leadership positions? What inspires you on a difficult day?
Dr. Villas Boas: I would say my leadership and management skills are a work in progress. It is not easy to move from a teaching position to a management position. I was lucky, though, that the institution where I work invested in providing leadership and management training for its academic coordinators through a renowned management school in Brazil which provided the basics of marketing, finances, strategic planning, human resources, managing processes, and other skills. For example, we worked on SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) matrixes and learned about the Balanced Scorecard Methodology. We even developed indicators and designed a system to measure them. An indicator that we identified as important was student satisfaction with our academic services, so we developed a system to measure this by administering a survey, analyzing the results, and acting upon them in order to improve our services. We have been following the same process every semester, always comparing results from previous surveys, identifying tendencies, and addressing specific concerns with teachers, for example. This training has helped me a lot. I also tried to focus my reading on management issues, but that was hard because I was still working on my doctoral thesis! I learned a lot by also observing more experienced peers who were already in management positions. But I never gave up teaching. I insist on teaching at least one group a year, and that’s exactly what inspires me on a difficult day. I love working with students, especially teens. Not long ago a student of mine came to me and said that she was getting better grades on her compositions at school because of what I was teaching her about writing in her English class! There’s no difficult day after this!!!

However, I still have a lot to learn. I think anyone who moves from a teaching to a managerial position should try to learn more about management but making sure they keep a balance between their academic and their managerial facets. I believe academic coordinators or directors are not like company directors. They can never lose sight of their academic background. That’s what makes us so sensitive and versatile, after all!!!

Ana Wu: You are the General Academic Coordinator of a large non-profit binational center in Brasília, Brazil, with over 14,000 students ranging from children to adults, beginners to advanced learners.
a. Could you tell us the percentage of NNES and NES professionals currently working at your institute? Has this ratio changed recently?
Dr. Villas Boas:We have very, very few NES on our staff, currently three out of the almost 200 teachers, supervisors and coordinators. We used to have more, but two instructors moved away and a couple of them had their contracts discontinued because they didn’t adapt to the institution. However, our NNES instructors are highly proficient. Most of our teachers have spent time abroad and are near-native speakers of English.

Besides, our students obtain excellent results at the end of their studies. An example is a fourteen-year-old student who has just finished our Advanced Course, obtained a score of 650 on the paper-based TOEFL and passed the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English, a standardized advanced-level English as a Foreign Language examination, developed by the University of Michigan, with two high passes, one of them being Listening. She has never lived abroad and she never had a single native-speaking teacher during her studies with us. This hasn’t stopped her from developing near-native fluency . Thus, though we have very few NES on our staff, the fact that our NNES instructors are very proficient in the language has led us to achieve excellent results with our students.

b. Over the past years, have you noticed any changes in the profile of the native speaking applicants in terms of teaching experience, educational background, and teaching expectations?
Dr. Villas Boas: With some exceptions, most of our native-speaking applicants have usually been people who married Brazilians and moved to Brazil but didn’t have any formal training in TESOL. Then they took our Teacher Development Course – a 234-hour Certificate Program – and some eventually joined our staff. In other words, they received their training here. The TDC is open to the community and not all graduates from the program are necessarily hired; they have to go through our hiring process and pass all stages. Recently, however, we had a teacher from Australia who was already an ESL teacher when she applied and we actually hired her under a special two-year contract for foreigners. But this is a very bureaucratic process in Brazil and we only managed to obtain this special work permit because her boyfriend was a lawyer and helped out. We also had another very qualified applicant from England, but she ended up not going through the whole hiring process because she didn’t have many available hours to teach. At our institution, we require that our teachers have at least a 20-hour workload per week, so as to guarantee that teaching is really their profession, not just something they’re doing as a hobby or a temporary gig while they don’t get a “better” job.

Though we don’t think that native speakers are necessarily better than non-native speakers as teachers, of course we would like to have more native speakers on our staff, but academically qualified ones, people who chose TEFL as their career. For one thing, the presence of native English speakers forces us to speak English more frequently in the teachers’ room, for example, helping us keep up with the language. They also help us enrich our cultural knowledge and enhance our awareness of intercultural issues. In addition, though students don’t seem to find it essential, they do tend to appreciate having classes with native speakers of the language they are learning, at least from time to time. However, the salaries in Brazil are lower than those in the U.S. in all areas, and teaching is not an exception, so it’s hard to attract this sort of applicant. Besides the lower salary which makes it difficult to attract professionally trained NES, there’s the hiring restriction I mentioned above. Some ELT Institutes, especially smaller ones, don’t necessarily abide by labor laws and hire these teachers informally. We don’t do that. We go by the book.

c. According to BridgeTEFLJobs.com, in Brazil, the largest country in South America, the need for native-speaking English teachers is booming. Do you agree with the statement? Please explain.
Dr. Villas Boas: There’s definitely a shortage of English teachers in Brazil, so I think the need for highly proficient and academically qualified teachers of English is booming, which includes native speakers but doesn’t exclude non-native ones.

d. What advice would you give to NES whose profession is not teaching, but who are considering teaching English in Brazil?
Dr. Villas Boas: I suggest they enroll in a TESOL Certificate program to become professionals in the field. Teaching is not just a job. We have the power to change people’s lives and we have to use it responsibly. To do so, we have to know what we’re doing. Knowledge of Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Educational Psychology and ELT methodology are essential, as well as knowledge about educational technology nowadays.

Ana Wu: When discussing the status of NNEST in Intensive English Programs, researchers have pointed out that administrators generally prefer hiring NES to NNEST because they perceive that students do not want NNEST as their teachers (cited in Mahboob, 2004). Mahboob states that administrators’ perceptions have not been systematically studied, and that there are only a few studies of students’ perceptions (page 122).
Based on your experience as coordinator and in-house surveys, could you share some of the students comments (positive or negative) or expectations regarding having NNEST and NEST teachers. Also, how did those comments affect the instructors’ training and your role as administrator?
Dr. Villas Boas: I’ve noticed that this is a big issue in other countries, but I don’t feel it’s a big issue here in Brazil. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever come across students who didn’t enroll in our institute or who cancelled their registration because the teachers were not native. This doesn’t seem to be a big issue here. Today, with multimedia resources at our disposal, including podcasts and Youtube, we can provide authentic input to students all the time and work with it in a pedagogically sound way. What’s the use of a native speaker who provides this input naturally but doesn’t know anything about ELT pedagogy? I have noticed, though, that students who hire private teachers seem to prefer native ones.

Maybe it is a big issue in countries where English is the native language, especially in Intensive English Programs with international students, rather than immigrants, because these students might have chosen to spend time abroad to have a more naturalistic experience with the language, and when they come across a non-native teacher, they might be frustrated. They shouldn’t be, though, if this teacher is proficient in the language and a qualified professional. Besides, they will naturally have the chance to interact with other native speakers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be their ESL teacher!

When I got my Master’s in the U.S., two of my most favorite professors were foreigners. I confess I was surprised at myself at first, for I had looked forward to the opportunity to perfect my English, but then I came to appreciate the varieties of Englishes not only from some of my professors, but also from many of my NNES colleagues who came from different parts of the world. I guess I “perfected” my English in a different way, becoming more aware of the fact that English has truly become a global language.

Ana Wu: Your institute organizes a two-and-a-half-day annual TEFL seminar, with international guests, open to the EFL community in the country. Could you tell us what other professional development opportunities are given to your instructors, novice and seniors? Do you offer different coaching or mentoring to NNES or NES?
Dr. Villas Boas: We provide a series of professional development opportunities. We have our Teacher Development Course, open not only to our teachers but prospective teachers or teachers from the community.

We also offer, though a grant from the State Department, a one-year, 120-hour Public School Teacher Development Program aimed at advancing competence in English and also knowledge of EFL Methodology. We’ve been holding this program since 2002.

Besides our yearly TEFL Seminar, we also have in-service workshops and pedagogical meetings every semester. In addition, we encourage teachers to participate and present in local, national and international conferences. This year, our school sent fifteen teachers and staff members to attend the TESOL annual convention in Boston, ten of which gave presentations. Five of our staff members presented in a conference in Argentina, back in February. We’ve just had our National Braz-TESOL Conference in São Paulo and thirteen teachers and management staff presented in it as well. In these three cases, the presenters received travel grants from the Casa Thomas Jefferson. We feel that when teachers choose a topic, research it, experiment in class and then put together a talk or workshop, they learn immensely and can share this knowledge with others. It also increases their self-worth. I’m truly proud of our staff!

Once or twice a year we also receive ELT specialists from the State Department, who give talks or workshops to a selected group of teachers, according to their field of expertise. These specialists are selected by the Regional English Language Office in Brazil and sent to different parts of the country to give workshops. We also encourage our faculty staff to attend one-day events featuring renowned authors organized by publishers.

In addition, we conduct a yearly Teacher Evaluation, and one of the standards in the evaluation is Investment in Academic Development. It is one of the most valued items in the evaluation system, and teachers’ participation in all the aforementioned programs and opportunities is considered.

For novice teachers at the institution, we provide a pre-service program offering the basic knowledge they need to start teaching in our institution. Then they are coached by a group of three highly experienced professionals, who observe their classes, give feedback, provide academic and emotional support – everything a new teacher in an institution needs in order to adapt and feel comfortable. Then, teachers are observed at least twice a semester, by way of a formative process that includes a pre-observation meeting, the observation itself, a post-observation meeting, and the completion of an observation report.

In sum, there’s always room for improvement, and I believe we nurture lifelong learning in our institution.

Ana Wu: Thank you very much for this informative interview!
Dr. Villas Boas: It’s my pleasure and honor to be able to share my experience with colleagues from around the world!

Reference:

Mahboob, A. (2004). Native or nonnative: What do students enrolled in an Intensive English program think? In L. Kamhi-Stein (Ed.), Learning and teaching from experience (pp. 121-149). Ann Arbor. MI: University of Michigan Press.

Teaching English in Brazil, http://www.tefljobplacement.com/brazil.php

Shondel Nero

 

NNEST of the Month
August 2010

In Guyana, we have what linguists call a “Creole Continuum” where everyday language use ranges from the most Creole forms (called “Creolese” by local people) to standardized Guyanese English. Typically, you’ll here more Creolese spoken among rural folk or those from lower socioeconomic classes with less formal education, and conversely more standardized English among urban, middle class, educated folk, but that is not an absolute. Most Guyanese move back and forth along the continuum depending on the context, topic, and purpose of communication, and often people speak Creolese as a marker of “true” Guyanese identity, or to show ethnic solidarity or difference. Creolese is often used for humor or in informal situations.

In my household, my parents were very different linguistically. Even though my parents were both from a rural village, my mother’s speech was much more Creolized than my father’s. My father is a truly British colonial man, and his speech and writing reflects that. So I was exposed to the full spectrum of language in my household.

I went to a very good high school – actually the top high school in the country. So, while getting very colorful Creole language from my mother at home, I was also getting a dose of British grammar school language and education as well. My generation was the first post-independence generation in Guyana. Guyana got independence in 1966 from the British (I was in high school during the 1970s). So, while there was an early attempt to introduce more Caribbean content into the curriculum during my time, we were still largely experiencing an entirely British curriculum – British textbooks, British exams, etc.

I developed an early interest in language at high school. I starting learning French at age 10, and immediately fell in love with it. The following year, I picked up Spanish. So, I chose the foreign language track in high school, and vigorously pursued language study at both “O” level and “A” levels (Note: These are British exams. There were two levels of British exams – the “O” level, meaning “Ordinary” level, taken at the end of your fifth year in high school. Then, if you passed O levels with a high grade, you could then apply to take “A” levels, meaning “Advanced” level exams a year or two later. Typically, you needed to pass at least five subjects at O levels to be eligible to take A levels). After graduating from high school, I worked for one year at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guyana. I wanted that experience, as my first career choice was to become a diplomat in the Guyanese Foreign Service. However, during that year, I quickly realized the politics and economic problems in the Guyanese foreign service, so I thought maybe I can use my language skills in other diplomatic organizations such as the United Nations. With that in mind, I applied to college overseas, and I was accepted to Concordia University in Montréal, Canada to major in French and Spanish. So, I left Guyana in 1981 and moved to Montréal for college. I loved Montréal, except for the weather! You can imagine that I experienced my first winter at 19 years old! What a shock that was. Anyway, I graduated from college in 1984, then moved to New York to accept a job at Air Canada’s New York reservations office to be a customer service agent at the “French Desk”, obviously because of my French-speaking skills. However, I quickly realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life talking to passengers on the phone, and prospects for working at the UN seemed bleak, so I decided I needed to find a way to use my language skills, but in a multicultural setting, as I always loved language and cultural diversity. Also, I always enjoyed school, as I had a very positive high school experience. So, I decided that teaching immigrant children might be interesting since I’ll have a multicultural classroom.

So, this is how I came to be an educator. I decided to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree in TESOL, while I was working at Air Canada. I went to Teachers College (TC), Columbia University part-time for my MA in TESOL. I graduated from TC with my MA in TESOL in 1990, and immediately got my first teaching job at a high school in East Harlem, New York. I taught ESL – beginner, immediate, and advanced. I also taught two sections of French.
After teaching one year in high school, an opportunity came up to teach ESL writing in the English department at Long Island University (LIU), Brooklyn Campus. I was lucky enough to get the position. During my time at LIU, I became more committed to a career in academia, so I went back to TC and pursued a doctorate in Applied Linguistics. My dissertation focused on the acquisition of standard English by speakers of Caribbean Creole English (CCE). The interest in CCE came about because there were a growing number of students from the “English-speaking” Caribbean such as Jamaica and Guyana (Guyana is considered culturally Caribbean, even though it’s in South America) at LIU who were being placed in ESL classes, and I wanted to understand this phenomenon. It raised a number of interesting linguistic questions such as who is a “native” speaker of English? On what basis are placement decisions made for ESL classes? Is Creole English a separate language or a dialect of English? What are the appropriate pedagogical approaches for speakers of nonstandard varieties of English? These questions have fueled my research over the past 20 years, and I continue to wrestle with these questions and write about them.

After I left LIU, I taught at St. John’s University in their graduate program in TESOL/Bilingual Education from 1998 – 2007. Then I left St. John’s and joined the faculty at New York University (NYU) in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in September 2007. I’m currently director of our unit in Multilingual/Multicultural Studies, which encompasses graduate and undegraduate programs in TESOL, Bilingual Education, and Foreign Language Education. It’s a challenging but wonderful position. We have a large program, approximately 200 students, about half of whom are international students, mostly from Asia. I teach graduate courses in Second Language Theory and Research, and Doctoral Seminars in Educational Linguistics, and World Englishes and Dialects in Education. So far, I’m enjoying being at NYU.

Ana Wu: Despite the fact that you were born and raised in Guyana, the only officially English-speaking country in South America, you wrote in “An Exceptional Voice: Working as a TESOL Professional of Color” that the combination of being immigrant and Black tends to create an assumption of nonnativeness, specially among White peers (Nero, 2006).

a. As an educator, how has this assumption affected your pedagogical practices?

b. In the same chapter, you wrote about being an “exception” in the professional context, meaning attending to and living with a host of ambivalent (often contradictory) attitudes and expectations from students and colleagues alike (p. 25). What advice would you give to teachers who see themselves as being “exceptions” in their workplace?

Ana Wu: You have done extensive research about language and identity, second dialect speakers and Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD). We know that a variety of Englishes have emerged worldwide, yet current educational practices generally do not allow students’ creole or vernacular varieties of English in the classroom.

a. What do you think about this practice?

b. You have researched and documented cases of speakers of varieties of English being (mis) placed in ESL classes (Nero 2000 and 2001). How do you think we can better prepare prospective language instructors in teaching training programs to understand the nature of World Englishes and question stereotypes?

Ana Wu: You majored in French and Spanish, and taught ESL and French at a public high school. What were your strengths as a French instructor? What did you enjoy the most as an ESL instructor and as a French teacher? How different were your students’ expectations?

As far as being an ESL instructor in high school, most of my students at that time were Dominican. I had known very little about the DR back then, so one of the things I enjoyed was learning about the DR from them. They loved their country, and every opportunity they got to speak or write about it, they would do take advantage of it. I also really enjoyed the students’ optimism – they were new immigrants, and they had an abiding faith in America. They all said that once they mastered English, they felt they could accomplish anything in America. My husband, who’s American, always says that immigration by definition is an optimistic idea. The immigrant always believes s/he can do better in the new country. When I looked at my ESL students, I saw that. Many of my ESL students were from poor families, and had low levels of literacy in Spanish, but still had high expectations for themselves and for me. They felt that their ESL teacher could best help them to overcome the language barrier, so they were highly motivated. I hope that I was able to help them in some small way achieve their dream.

Ana Wu: Thank you for your time and for this insightful interview!

References
Nero, S. (2000). The changing faces of English: A Caribbean perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 483-510.

Nero, S. (2001). Englishes in contact: Anglophone Caribbean students in an urban college. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

Nero, S. (2006). An Exceptional Voice: Working as a TESOL Professional of Color. Curtis, A., & Romney, M. (Eds.). Color, race and English language teaching: Shades of meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

John Liang

NNEST of the Month
March 2010
    Medium liang john faculty
john [dot] liang [at] biola [dot] edu
Ana Wu: Could you please tell us a bit about your linguistic, academic and professional background?
Dr. Liang: I am originally from China. I grew up speaking three languages in China: Mandarin, Hokien, and Cantonese. As for foreign language, English was my first and Japanese my second. (I have to say, though, I can now speak only a little Japanese.)I came to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies a year after I graduated from college. I received a B.A. in English from Jinan University, Guangzhou, China, and I received an M.A. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania. In 1997, I obtained a Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education with a concentration on TESL from the University of Texas at Austin.Soon after I finished my doctoral studies, I joined University of California, Riverside and supervised the university’s ESL program in the Learning Center. I joined the MA TESOL program at Biola University in 2001, and have ever since then been doing teacher training in TESOL.Ana Wu: In one of your workshops, you said that Chinese people would compliment on your English and ask why you did not go to an MBA program. How did you respond to this compliment? Why did you decide to become an educator?
Dr. Liang: While in graduate school in the U.S., many of my Chinese friends complimented on my English communication skills. Some of them couldn’t understand why I would pursue studies in English rather than seek training that is more practical, like an MBA degree. I don’t blame them. For many of my Chinese friends, they didn’t choose their field of studies because they were interested in it or were passionate about it. Rather, they chose it because it could easily help them land on a job. At that time, many of my Chinese friends chose either business or computer science – whether they liked it or not.

For some time, I was really seriously considering changing my career choice as well. I had a lot of doubt of my credibility as a non-native speaker of English. In fact, many of my friends laughed at me when they heard that I was studying English. Their comment, though not friendly at all, sounded realistically correct! Why would an ESL program hire a non-native speaker of English to teach English? One day, a very close friend of mine, who was also an administrator of an ESL program, confided that if he had an interview with me on the phone, he would hire me right away since he could barely detect any sign of non-native accent. But if it was a face-to-face interview, he would hesitate since my skin color had betrayed my true identity – I am not a Caucasian.

While I was thinking about switching to pursuing a business degree, I received a postcard from a past student of mine in China. In the postcard, she said that at their graduation party a classmate of hers commented that I was her only best college instructor in her four years of studies and she really benefited a great deal from my classes. That postcard was a timely note of encouragement. As I revisited my decision to come to the U.S. for graduate studies in English and language education, I found renewed strength. I came because I wanted to be better trained in the language and language pedagogy so I could return to be a better language teacher. That postcard marked a turning point in my teaching career and teaching life. It affirmed my passion! At the same time, I remembered another encouraging comment by a young Canadian English professor I enjoyed in one of my college English classes back in China. He wasn’t really religious, but in one of his class meetings, as he explained the difference in meaning between the two words, “confidence” and “faith,” he commented that one shall live by faith – with a belief in something that is invisible but you know is there – rather than live by sight, such as by confidence as a result from knowing that you are for sure capable of doing something. I guess I made a decision to choose the English teaching career with a conviction coupled with my passion – I believed I could be a good English teacher that can benefit many even though I am not a native speaker of English.

Ana Wu: You came to the US for an MA in English, with a BA in English and Literature from China. As a graduate student, was it difficult to be accepted by the people surrounding you – Chinese and non-Chinese students and professors? Did you constantly find yourself changing roles and identities in order to be accepted among peers? How?
Dr. Liang: I am indebted to an American professor who taught me in college in China for her influence on my perspectives on cross-cultural identity. I remember one day when I told her on the phone that I was going to see her in her hotel room (at that time all of our English professors from America or Canada were given a studio in a university-owned hotel). To my surprise, she said that was her home. I said that her home was thousands of miles away in Chicago, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, but to my further surprise, she commented, “Where I’m, that’s my home.” So, when I came to America, I said to myself, “This is going to be my new home, so I will need to learn to be an American in my professional life – while I will continue to remain Chinese in my private life.”

Also, as I had already been a bilingual when I came to America, I felt that a bilingual or multilingual and multicultural spirit would help me rather than inhibit my career development. So, in school, I was very open to making friends with my American classmates and with my international classmates from other countries, i.e. from Turkey, Palestine, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, etc. I enjoyed spending time with them during the breaks and during the weekends.

However, it was interesting that while many of my Asian classmates were fine with me socializing with my international friends, some of them were upset that I got too close to my American classmates. One day, a Thai doctoral student came to me warning me not to spend too much time with my American classmates since, in her words, we are Asian not American. Ironically, one time I overheard a conversation between two of my Japanese classmates. The older student in her forties warned the younger one in her early twenties not to be too close to other international students and American students. While somewhat upsetting, these two incidents actually strengthened my belief in multiculturalism. As a teacher trainee, I needed to be open to different cultures as this would only enhance rather than inhibit our classroom teaching and it would increase my intercultural sensitivity as well as my intercultural understanding. So, I continued to socialize with both my American classmates and international classmates.

Ana Wu: You have been very active in the teaching field and professional organizations, specially taking leadership roles at the California – TESOL organization (CATESOL). Having served on the CATESOL Board in various capacities, what advice would you give to graduate students who seem themselves as NNES and want to pursue a fulfilling career as an ESL/EFL instructor?
Dr. Liang: As a language teacher, our teaching world is not confined within the classroom walls. Instead, it extends way beyond the classroom. This means while our students do represent an immediate teaching and learning community, as teachers, we are also members of a much larger community: a community of professionals that have the same kind of passion for the well-being of students. Therefore, connecting with this larger community is crucial to our professional growth. It will not only inspires us with new pedagogical perspectives but will also deepen our commitment and sustain our spirit of service.

Ana Wu: As an associate professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL, training international graduate students, NNES and NES, what are the things that you do (if any) to address the needs and concerns of the international and NNES students? Why?
Dr. Liang: In my classes, I have both NES and NNES graduate students. While they have different needs, I don’t treat them differently in the sense that they both need encouragement, genuine care, and investment. When they are down or disoriented, or showing lack of confidence, timely encouragement helps them see their strengths in the positive light. Aside from verbal encouragement, your demonstrated passion for what you are doing represents another dimension of encouragement. Your sharing of your personal development and professional growth often makes good narratives that will renew their strengths and confidence. Furthermore, making yourself available beyond the office hours breaks the wall between the teacher and student, and creates a trusting relationship that enables them to be open to your advice and guidance. Last and perhaps the most important, invest in them. This can be accomplished by providing feedback on their work, spending time counseling them, offering advice on their classroom teaching and research projects, and guiding their preparation for professional work such as conference presentations. True investment motivates them and strengthens their determination to take on challenges. All in all, developing a trusting relationship with them is crucial to fostering their growth as a professional language teacher. These are the main principles I adhere to when I interact with our graduate students.

Ana Wu: Thank you for this interesting interview!

Ali Shehadeh

NNEST of the Month
September 2009

Ali Shehadeh

li [dot] shehadeh [at] uaeu [dot] ac [dot] ae

Ana Wu: Could you tell us about your background and why you decided to be an educator?

Dr. Shehadeh: I developed an interest in languages, especially English, when I was 13 years old in the middle school. In my country, Syria, English is taught as a foreign language. Several of my middle and high school teachers inspired me to like the language. As soon as I graduated from high school, I enrolled in the Department of English at Aleppo University, Syria, in 1977. Even at the age of 17, when I was still a first year student at university, I excelled in my English studies, started to give private English lessons and short courses at private institutions. On graduation from university in 1981, I was one of the honour students who were offered Graduate-Assistant positions at the university to teach English to university students majoring in English.

How I became an educator was a peculiar story, but a rewarding one. One day, a group of the middle school students I was teaching -when I was still a student at university- came to me and said: “We really like you as a caring and enthusiastic teacher. We also like the way you deal with us and treat us, but sometimes your language goes over our heads! We need more accessible and simple language which we can easily understand.” Ever since, I was convinced that incomprehensible input or output is of less value no matter how important it is or the message it carries, unless it is understood by your audience. Since that time too, I would give equal weight, importance and planning to How to teach, or the methodology I use in my teaching, as much as to What to teach (It comes no surprise therefore that my doctoral dissertation (1991) was on comprehensible output!).

This reconsideration of the teaching method paid off. On several occasions, both when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in Syria or my graduate degrees in the UK, my classmates would ask me to assist them in their lessons, to re-explain lessons for them, or to give them my own notes. Some of my classmates and professors would describe me as ‘born to be a teacher?” This is how I became an educator.

Ana Wu: You have given workshops and extensively published in the second language acquisition field, especially about the task-based learning approach. Also, you got the 2006 TESOL Award for a Teacher as a Classroom Action Researcher. What advice would you give to NNES novice teachers who are just starting their career?

Dr. Shehadeh:My advice to NNES novice teachers is to always aim at and maintain a high level of dedication and commitment to their teaching, learning, research and professionalism. This can be achieved in at least two ways: First, NNESTs should know that what matters for real success is not ‘who you are’ (native or non-native), but rather ‘what you know’ (your competence and your knowledge). Second, I would encourage these NNES novice teachers, when something goes wrong in their teaching or classroom, to move away from ‘Why don’t they understand me?!’ to ‘How can I make myself understood?’

Ana Wu: You were once a member of the NNEST Caucus and the 2008-2009 chair of the Applied Linguistic Interest Section at TESOL. What other leadership positions have you taken? Why is taking a leadership position important to you? Would you encourage young professionals to take a leadership position? Why or why not?

Dr. Shehadeh:Actually I’m still a member of the NNEST Interest Section and I am on the NNEST IS email list.

On leadership positions, besides the Applied Linguistic Interest Section leadership role, I have served or have been serving TESOL and TESOL Arabia, my regional TESOL affiliate, in a number of other ways too: Member of TESOL’s Awards and Grants Standing Committee, Coordinator of TESOL’s Ruth Crymes Academy Fellowship Awards, Member of TESOL’s Publications Standing Committee, Member of TESOL’s Research Standing Committee, Member of TESOL Arabia Research Grants Committee, and Member of TESOL Arabia Travel Grants Committee. I have also been serving on TESOL Quarterly’s Editorial Board for a number of years now, initially as a manuscript reviewer and evaluator, and now as a major section co-editor, Brief Reports and Summaries.

It is very important for NNESTs to take leadership roles in TESOL for a number of reasons: 1) NNESTs outnumber NESTs in the world. Actually they make more than two-thirds of all English language teachers worldwide (Crystal, 2003). 2) Being ex-learners who went through the same journey of L2 learning which their students are taking, NNESTs are in a better position to understand and appreciate the difficulties their students face; they are more sensitive to their students’ needs and wants; and they are better positioned to assist their students in the L2 learning journey. 3) NNESTs bring a sense of multiculturalism and multilingualism to the profession of TESOL. Unlike NESTs, every NNEST comes to the TESOL profession with at least two languages, his and the English language, and two cultures, his and the English culture. It is imperative therefore that NNESTs take active and leading roles in TESOL if their voices were to be represented and heard, and if TESOL were to be a truly international, multilingual and multicultural association.

Ana Wu: As someone who has taught at universities and academic institutions in many countries, what do you think the NNEST IS or TESOL can do to fight against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace?

Dr. Shehadeh: I think that TESOL and the NNEST IS can do a lot to fight against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace. The most important thing to do is to change the baseless, but popular assumption that the teachers most acceptable are native speakers. For instance, in the last 3-4 years I gave a number of presentations, keynote speeches, featured sessions, and discussion groups on the topic, both individually and in collaboration with other NEST and NNEST professionals, in regional and international conferences, symposiums, and workshops. Research shows, I would report to my audience, that the popular assumption by administrators, recruiting agencies/personnel, the public, students, and even some teachers that the target language is best taught by the native speakers of that language is not accurate and therefore it is changing.

Concerned people are now more aware that what matters most is no more ‘who you are’ but rather ‘what you know,’ and ‘what you can do.’ I would report to my audience that studies of what makes a good teacher (administered to students, teacher trainees, and school administrators) have specified several attributes of what makes a good teacher, including caring, committed, confident, creative, culturally aware, decisive, disciplined, energetic, enthusiastic, flexible, funny/humorous, knowledgeable (language and SLA), knowledgeable (methods), open-minded, organized, patient, punctual, reflective, respectful, self-aware, and well-planned (for a review of studies, see Thompson, 2007). None was cited as being a NEST or NNEST. TESOL as a global profession, the NNEST IS, and even individual professionals and members can all play an active role too in fighting against hiring discrimination and discrimination in the workplace by falsifying such baseless assumptions.

5. What advice would you give graduate students or novice teachers who may not conform to the native speaker image in appearance and language?

Dr. Shehadeh: The advice I would give graduate students or novice teachers is to prove to all stakeholders (mainly students, administrators, and parents), in deeds not words, that what matters most -more than anything else- is genuine professionalism, namely: 1) teacher’s competence, 2) teacher’s expertise, 3) whether and to what degree the teacher achieves learning and teaching goals, and 4) whether and to what degree the teacher possesses the qualities of a good teacher mentioned above.

Ana Wu: Thank you very much for this interesting interview!

References:

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language (2nd Edition). Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Shehadeh, A. (1991). Comprehension and Performance in Second Language Acquisition: A Study of Second Language Learners’ Production of Modified Comprehensible Output. Department of English Language and Linguistics, University of Durham , UK .

Thompson, S. (2007) What Makes a ‘Good Teacher’ in a Communicative Class-centered EFL Classroom? MA Dissertation. Centre for English Language Studies, Department of English, University of Birmingham , UK .

Andy Curtis

NNEST of the Month
June 2009
Andy Curtis, Ph.D.
andycurtis [at] cuhk [dot] edu [dot] hk

Ana Wu: Would you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?

Dr. Curtis: Originally, I was scheduled to become a medical doctor, not an English teacher! This was partly because my parents – who left Guyana and went to England in the 1950s as part of what I call “the colonially choreographed migration”, when the Great British Empire was moving its subjects around as needed – had the typical aspirations of so many new immigrants at that time (and possibly today as well). They wanted their children to “do well”, which meant obtaining high-income jobs and occupying prestigious positions in society. My dad worked in a chemical plant and my mum in the local hospital, so adding all those factors together, myself, my brother and my sister were all funneled towards the Sciences. But we all left the Sciences eventually. Needless to say, my parents, who had dreams of being able one day to say “my son the doctor” were understandably very upset when I gave up a generous medical scholarship to become – of all things – a teacher?! One reason I left the Sciences was a growing suspicion of the “objectivity” of the Western Scientific Method, and one of the reasons I went into Education was because teaching and learning are not objective and not scientific, whatever some proponents of the scientific approach to language teaching-learning may still claim. But because of my traditional scientific upbringing, I did initially think that teaching and learning were primarily head-level, cognitive, intellectual events. After some time, I realized that teaching and learning – especially language teaching and learning – are, for me at least, primarily heart-level, affective, emotional events. As for language teaching rather than science teaching, which would’ve been more in-line with my background and educational upbringing, one of my professors pointed out that my assignments and papers were becoming more and more focused on the language of science rather than the methods. This came about because I noticed that there appeared to be an interesting and important analogy between a patient and a doctor communicating, and a native speaker of a target language and a non-native speaker communicating. I know that probably sounds odd to many ears, but I believe that a situation in which a patient is trying to understand what is happening to them and what the doctor is saying has many similarities to a communicative event between a native and a non-native speaker, especially if the doctor is using a lot of technical language, not understood by the patient, though they are both using “the same language”. So, although it certainly was not a typical career path – entering the field of TESOL via Medicine – it made sense to me, if not to many others, including my family and friends at the time.

Ana Wu: You were a TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program Award recipient. How important was this recognition? How did it help you in your career?

Dr. Curtis: I think I was one of the first TESOL Leadership Mentoring Program Award recipients, and it had an extremely important influence on my career in TESOL. In fact, looking back, I would say I did not really realize how important it was at the time, and only later fully realized the great difference that receiving that award made. I must, though, confess that I failed the first time. My initial application to the LMP program, put forward in 1998, was turned down, and I remember being very disappointed. But I was extremely fortunate to have Kathleen Bailey, a TESOL Past President, as the person supporting my application. So, much as I wanted to just forget about the LMP award after being rejected, Kathi would not let me give up, and insisted that I apply again the following year. So, that was one of the first of a great many life-changing lessons I have learned from her over the ten years since 1999 when I received the LMP award.

If it had not been for Kathi and for the LMP award, I might have left the TESOL, Inc. not because of my disappointment at being unsuccessful my first time around , but more because, having been born and raised in England, the IATEFL association seemed like a more natural or logical choice. But the TESOL LMP award, which I think was started during David Nunan’s term as TESOL President, helped me stop and think about my role in TESOL – the field and the association. Kathi, David and I went on to write a book on professional development together, called Pursuing Professional Development: The self as source (Heinle, 2001) and to collaborate on many projects over the years. I am extremely grateful to both of them for their encouragement and support over the years, and I appreciate this opportunity, in this interview, to share with your readers just how grateful I am to both of them, as well as to other TESOL Past Presidents from that time, including MaryAnn Christison and Denise Murray, who have recently co-edited a book titled Leadership in Language Education (Routledge, 2009) to which I contributed a chapter on Leading from the Periphery. This idea, of leading from the edge, has become an important part of my work in the area of leadership and management in language education, which I now realize started with the LMP award.

Ana Wu: In the beginning of your career, you taught academic writing in Hong Kong. In your book Colour, Race and English Language Teaching: Shades of Meaning (2006), you describe the expectations and attitude of some of your students on the first day of class.

a. How did those incidents affect you in lesson planning?

b. What advice would you give new teachers who may be in the same situation as you were, not conforming to the native speaker image in language and appearance?

Dr. Curtis: There was not really a one-to-one correlation between the incidents I describe in my Dark Matter chapter in Colour, Race and English Language Teaching: Shades of Meaning (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006) which I co-edited with Mary Romney, and my lesson planning. But the experience of some students being so surprised to find that their English teacher was not a white, male Englishman certainly did have an impact on me, as it helped me realize the power of the images that still exist in some countries about what it means to be an English teacher. Although we have come a long way since the incidents I describe in Hong Kong more than a decade ago, we still have some way to go in this area to fully move past what I call the Aryan Super Race Model of ELT.

The Aryan Super Race Model of ELT is a fairly controversial term, and as such it has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. But one of the reasons I left Medicine and became an language teacher and learner was because of my awareness of the power of words, and a phrase like The Aryan Super Race Model of ELT certainly does get people’s attention and provokes thought and discussion of questions such as: Why is it that in some places still all you need to be an English teacher is to be tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed and you’re in? And how much longer will we need to wait before the Native Speaker Myth finally dies its long-overdue and inevitable death?

So, over the years, I have learned to make use of my experiences of not being what people expect, to help them challenge the stereotypes, distorted images and colorful expectation they have of who is a Native Speaker of English and who should be a Teacher of English. One of the ways I have been doing this is to deliberately use material in my language teaching that highlight the fact that the majority of users of English in the world today are not native speakers of the language, and the fact that the majority of teachers of English today are not native speakers of the language either. So, native speakers of English are, by definition, a minority, making the linguistic norms for English, then, logically, non-native.

It is difficult to give to new teachers who may be in the same situation as I was, not conforming to the native speaker image in language and appearance, without lapsing into clichés. But I do strongly encourage teachers in that situation not to fall into the trap of trying to be someone else to meet the expectations of others. If you are not a native speaker of English and you are not white-skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, there is no need to apologize for not being those things! We are not the ones who need to change in those situations – it is the expectations of the others that need to change.

Ana Wu: Besides being the director of the Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a consultant working with Prof. Kathleen Bailey, and a workshop facilitator, you have written books and served on many committees. In your career, is there any unfulfilled dream? How do you balance your career with family?

Dr. Curtis: I recently asked some local colleagues in Hong Kong if there is a Cantonese expression for “work-life balance”. Not surprisingly, we found there is no such phrase, because here Work Is Life, so the notion of balance makes no sense! Consequently, one of my difficulties with balancing career and family is the nature of work in Hong Kong – but it’s not fair to blame it all on Hong Kong. As one of my friends here pointed out sometime ago “It’s not Hong Kong, Andy. It’s you!” Like most people I know who have achieved some degree of professional success over time, including the TESOL Past Presidents I thanked above, professional success can sometimes come at the price of success in our personal lives, if we always prioritize our work-life over all the other aspects of our life. So, I am now trying to learn how to be better at balancing work life and real life, the professional and the personal, which really means working less and living more. Spending a little less time at the computer, working on texts, and a little more time talking with family and friends. It’s been noted by many others that nobody on their death-bed says: “If only I’d spent more time in the office”. But many people do say the opposite, “If only I’d spent more time with family and friends”.

This brings me to the other part of your question about whether or not there are any unfulfilled dreams in my career. The short answer is that I have, at this point, barely scratched the surface of what I had hoped to achieve in my career! In terms of quantity, I recently saw my one hundredth publication come out, a chapter in another book on leadership in our field (edited by Neil Anderson, Mary Lou McCloskey, also TESOL Past Presidents, and Christine Coombe and Lauren Stephenson) published last year (2008) by Michigan University Press. Although 100 hundred of anything is a fairly arbitrary number, it represented a milestone for me. But it also made me stop and think about quantity versus quality and the impact of the work that we do. Most of us became educators because wanted to have a positive impact on the world, to help make things better, in the case of language teachers, by enabling better communication between people from different places, using different languages and drawing on different cultures. But I believe that my most important work may still be ahead of me, as there is still so much that I would like to do as a language educator, to help make a real difference in what appears to be an increasingly fractured and divided world. I’ve been told that I’m over-optimistic to the point of romantic naïveté, but I still believe that language teachers do more to improve the quantity and quality of communication globally than so-called world leaders or multinational corporations.

Ana Wu: You have worked with thousands of language teaching professionals in dozens of countries and territories, and given hundreds of presentations worldwide. Would you share some of your most vivid experiences, positive or negative? As a Brazilian I needed to ask this question: What was your impression of Brazil and the TESOL professionals?

Dr. Curtis: My most recent experience was presenting in Penang, Malaysia at the local TESOL PELLTA affiliate conference, and it was a very positive experience of coming full circle (if you’ll forgive the cliché!) in the sense that the conference was attended by fewer than 200 participants and presenters, but representing nearly 20 countries, which is the kind of relatively small conference that I used to attend when I first became active as a presenter. But with the big annual TESOL Association Convention in the US, attended by thousands and thousands of people, and some of the big conferences here in this part of the world, such as Cambodia TESOL, which now attracts around a 1,000 people each year, it’s hard to find conferences of a couple of hundred. So in Penang, I was reminded of how much I enjoy that, and how much easier it is to get to know the participants and presenters with these relatively small numbers. I should also add that the reputation for Malaysian hospitality and great food were both absolutely true in my experience of being there, so I was grateful to the TESOL Executive Committee for asking me to go to the conference, to represent the TESOL Association.

But many of my most positive experiences as a presenter have been in South and Central America. Maybe it’s because my parents come from that part of the world, so I have some special affection for the languages, cultures and peoples in that part of the world. Plus, because of my skin (color), I am usually mistaken for a local person at some point during my time in Brazil, Peru, Mexico, etc. And interestingly, if I am not all dressed up as a conference presenter or participant, and if I am mistaken for a local person, the assumption is usually that I am a local worker, probably working outdoors, on the land and in the fields, because in most of those countries – and in my experience, in most countries of the world – the darker the skin, the poorer the person, as dark skin is associated with physical work outdoors, laboring under the sun, whereas fair skin is often associated with more professional work indoors, in offices, etc. But I am always happy to be taken for a local, as I believe that that is an important part of experiencing another language and culture.

And as for your question about my impressions of Brazil and the TESOL professionals there, I am going to risk upsetting some people in some other countries and say that Brazil is one of my favourite countries of all that I’ve spent time in! I have not been there recently, as it takes up to 40 hours to get there from here in Hong Kong, but I have many very fond memories of working with enthusiastic, energetic and interactive TESOL professionals at different Brazil TESOL conventions and others conferences there. So, I hope to be heading back that way again this year, if possible!

Ana Wu: Thank you for this delightful interview!