Tag Archives: professional development

Anna Loseva



Anna Loseva earned her MA in TEFL from Moscow City Pedagogical University in 2008. In Russia, Anna taught English in various contexts to different age groups and language levels before moving to Japan in 2015. She is currently employed by Rikkyo University, where she delivers English discussion classes to students of all majors. Since 2011, Anna has been involved with International Teacher Development Institute as an Associate, Blogger, and Editor of iTDi Blog. Her professional interests include extensive reading, developing cultural awareness, social media in education, mentoring and reflective practice for professional development.

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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Takeshi Kajigaya


Takeshi Kajigaya is an English Discussion Instructor at the Center for English Discussion Class at Rikkyo University, Japan. He earned his M.A. in Second Language Studies from University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2014. Takeshi taught English in various contexts from private tutoring to a university in Japan, the U.S., and China. His current research interests include Japan’s English language education policy, language ideology, and language and identity.

Interviewed by: Hami Suzuki

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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!


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

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!


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 .

Davi S. Reis

NNEST of the Month

July 2009


dsr158 [at] psu [dot] edu

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

Davi Reis: I was born in the mountainous, Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and lived there until I was 22 years old. Portuguese was the only language I knew and spoke until my EFL instruction in the public school system began, in middle school. While in high school and on a vocational track to become an Electronics Technician, I was peer-pressured into learning English, as many of the textbooks in that field were written in English. Although EFL was a required component of my high school curriculum, the general consensus at the time was that to ‘really’ learn English one needed to attend private EFL language schools. So, after much financial scrambling, I enrolled in the locally well-known and established ‘Instituto Cultural Brazil-Estados Unidos’ (ICBEU). Despite my instrumental motivations for enrolling, I started to almost immediately think of myself as a member of an imaginary English-speaking community (Norton, 1995). So from day one, I thoroughly enjoyed each of my classes at ICBEU and always looked forward to them.

With each new semester, the desire to become more and more involved with English grew stronger. After much thinking about just how I could make it happen, the thought of becoming an EFL teacher occurred to me. At first, I didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the idea. After all, I was enrolled in the Business Administration program (a highly profitable career path in Brazil at the time) and certainly did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps (an educator herself) after watching her spend hours and hours planning lessons and grading student work for very little compensation. However, in early 1997, I could no longer ignore my desire to make English a bigger part of my life and the idea of becoming an EFL teacher had considerably grown on me. So despite much protest from my family members and friends, I decided to switch my college major to Letters and Literature in order to become a credentialed EFL teacher. Concurrently, I had decided to take the teacher training course at ICBEU, a two-semester program for those interested in a career path in TESOL. I was now thoroughly enjoying what I was doing and even got hired as an EFL teacher by a few schools despite my lack of both experience and expertise.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I found myself packing my bags. As chance would have it, soon after changing majors, I had the opportunity to apply for a college scholarship in the US and was able to complete my BA in TESOL at the University of Northern Iowa. Later, I completed the Teacher Education program at that same university (along with a Master’s degree in Educational Technology) and became a certified K-12 ESL teacher in that state. My next job took me to Colorado, where I taught middle school ELLs (English Language Learners) both sheltered instruction and ESL classes for a year. After this admittedly challenging experience, I moved back to Brazil in hopes of a new beginning as a now-qualified EFL teacher. To my surprise, however, my professional qualifications and experiences were said to make me overqualified for most EFL teacher positions, yet underqualified to become a university professor at most institutions. Though I did find a couple of jobs for the year, this situation prompted me to apply for a doctoral program. Since 2005, I have been a PhD candidate at Penn State University with the Department of Applied Linguistics. After finishing my dissertation, I hope to become an ESOL teacher educator and researcher, and to help empower my students to live more intentional and meaningful lives.

Ana Wu: You said that with your degree in TESOL and teaching experience, you were considered overqualified to teach EFL in Brazil. Do you think those schools didn’t hire you because they couldn’t pay you fairly or do you think that they were threatened by your qualifications and experience? Do you think that the same schools would have hired less qualified native speakers?

Davi Reis: Regarding your first question, it really is hard to tell. In some cases, the schools where I applied for a job may well have been concerned with how much they were willing to pay me or with whether or not I would be content working for their relatively low wages. In other cases, it may have been that I was unfortunately perceived as a potential threat to their business and pedagogical practices. In several job interviews, the interviewer turned out to be the school’s coordinator or owner. Given the competitive nature of EFL in Brazil and the somewhat provincial nature of many EFL schools in my state, these coordinators and school owners might have felt intimidated by my professional experiences and qualifications. In other words, I may have been perceived as a possible risk to the status quo or at least as an annoying reminder that these schools were not as isolated or autonomous as they wish they were. In addition, back in 2004, my situation was somewhat unusual in that particular context and therefore raised some suspicion (despite my attempts at easing their concerns and being open to the interviewers’ questions). Was I an exchange student returning home? Was I trying to make a buck while working on more ‘ambitious,’ unrelated professional projects? These are the sorts of questions that the schools may have asked themselves in an attempt to place me in one of these existing categories. Teaching EFL for a living, as a qualified professional, was not quite on the radar for many of the schools where I was looking to get a job, unfortunately.

Now, would these same schools have hired less or (un)qualified native speakers? Unfortunately, many of them did, though thankfully not all. The bottom line is that many of these private schools prefer to hire instructors (qualified or otherwise) who will attract students, accept less-than-ideal working conditions without rocking the boat, and be happy with relatively low wages. As we all know, many native speakers of English (though certainly not all) would fit this ‘job description’ if it meant that they would get to experience another country and its culture. In addition, I believe that many school coordinators and owners actually prefer less experienced teachers (especially if they happen to be native speakers), as this allows them (the school administrators) to keep themselves in a position of unchallenged authority.

Ana Wu: From your experience as an EFL teacher, did you feel that Brazilian teachers had a second-class status when working with native speaking teachers (qualified or less qualified)?

Davi Reis: To the best of my knowledge, despite the fact that there were many more NNESTs than NESTs where I was working (Belo Horizonte), the latter group was often exoticized and assigned a higher status than the former. Regardless of their professional qualifications, NESTs were viewed not only as native speakers of English, but also as ‘chic imports’ from inner-circle countries (Kachru, 1981) such as England and the US. It’s almost as if by having a NEST as a teacher students were actually gaining membership to a higher social class. Sadly enough, many Brazilians associate being ‘hip,’ ‘trendy,’ and ‘fashionable’ or ‘wealthy’ with being intrinsically ‘better.’ This cultural assumption permeates many aspects of Brazilian society, including foreign language teaching, and gives NESTs an unfair and dubious advantage. Therefore, as far back as I can remember, NESTs were assigned more prestige and were often perceived as more ‘authentic’ or ‘capable’ than even the most hard-working, experienced, and motivated local teacher. To make matters worse, many of these NESTs did not seem to mind the higher status they were assigned, choosing instead to bask in their perceived superiority rather than attempting to challenge stereotypes and empower the local teachers.

With that said, however, I must also say that a handful of the native speakers teaching in the same schools where I taught were well-qualified, experienced, committed, and extremely helpful. Many of the local teachers were able to work alongside these qualified NESTs, allowing the local teachers to both motivate their students to keep learning English and to become familiar with other English-speaking contexts and cultures. I remember, for example, how a colleague from England was always happy to engage with the local teachers whenever we had any comments or questions about his views of certain cultural tidbits we were working with in a given unit of instruction. I consider these qualified NESTs as strong allies who can help us all, as a field, to weaken the native speaker myth and the NS/NNS dichotomy.

Ana Wu: As an EFL instructor, did you have to integrate American or British culture in your teaching? Did your students demand knowledge in those cultures? Did you think it was necessary (or important) to teach language with reference to the socio-cultural norms and values of an English-speaking country?

Davi Reis: For the most part, yes, I did have to teach cultural aspects of both American and British English. Usually, the schools where I worked did not really have a clear policy on this matter. However, in most schools where I worked the textbooks were selected for my courses without my input, so the textbook’s content ended up dictating how much ‘culture’ I had to teach, whether American or British. More often than not, these textbooks portrayed native speakers of either variety as ideal target models and there was little inclusion of non-native, bilingual, or World English speakers. But I do hope this situation is improving now. When I last taught EFL in Brazil (2004/2005), the popular TV shows ‘Friends’ and ‘The Cosby Show,’ for example, were almost a curricular staple in this one school. I felt as if teachers who were not at least peripherally familiar with these shows were at a serious disadvantage. So whether we liked it or not, when teaching those lessons we had to elaborate on the cultural dimensions brought up in those shows.

In regards to your second question, I believe there is a mismatch between what EFL learners in Brazil (especially school-aged children and young adults) expect from their EFL learning experiences and what they usually end up needing English for. In other words, although most students and parents would concede that English is a lingua franca indispensable for international communication, what they are frequently after is the cultural capital of inner-circle English-speaking cultures as a symbol of higher status. This situation compromises students’ chances of succeeding at learning and using English for intercultural communication, as school administrators often struggle between providing what students want versus what they believe students need in order to succeed in the world.

As to your last question, I did think it was necessary to ‘choose’ either American or British English as a beginning EFL teacher. In my mind, these were the only two desirable options.

I considered English as the language spoken in the US and Great Britain, rather than a language for international communication. In addition, this was also how schools advertised themselves (i.e., as either American English, British English, or both, but rarely as English for international communication). So when I first started teaching EFL, back in 1997, I blindly accepted this dichotomy and ended up trying to emulate both accents depending on the school, probably failing miserably at both. I wish I had been exposed to the notion of World Englishes then, but better late than never!

Ana Wu: Some language centers offer in-house training. How accessible are professional development opportunities for EFL teachers in Brazil? What kind of support do instructors need? Do you think there is a recognizable need for TESOL, Inc. to step in and help close the gap?

Davi Reis: From my experience, professional development opportunities are relatively plentiful in Brazil (at least in Belo Horizonte). However, quantity does not necessarily imply quality in this case, as the nature of these opportunities is many times a reason for concern. More often than not, private schools try to cram a language teacher education program into one or two weeks’ worth of a ‘workshop’ or ‘refresher course.’ These workshops are usually mandatory for all teachers, both old-timers and those new to the school (regardless of their level of expertise or prior experience). Beginning teachers, however, may find themselves overwhelmed by potentially-biased information which the school wants them to accept. As such, these opportunities for professional development often end up training (rather than developing) its teachers on the school’s preferred pedagogical practices and principles, regardless of their pedagogical soundness. In addition, many of these training sessions focused too much on the experiential and practical side of teaching and too little on research, rather than attempting to strike a healthy balance between the two. While working as an EFL teacher in Brazil, I had to attend several of these workshops. Because I was fortunate enough to work for many different institutions, I was exposed to conflicting views on EFL teaching and thus tended to always take in the information with a grain of salt. But the picture is not all grim. A handful of pedagogically-responsible schools (i.e., those which try to strike a balance between the capitalist enterprise that is teaching EFL and their educational goals) offer training sessions that are both requested by their teachers and well-attended. These schools try to ‘think outside the classroom’ and invite the participation of teachers, school administrators, and researchers into their decision making and daily-functioning.

On the whole, however, I believe that more in-depth, ongoing, and transformative types of professional development opportunities are still absent from the private-school, EFL scene in Brazil. Although peer-mentoring and classroom observations are common, the overarching goal of these activities leans more toward evaluation than support. In addition, perhaps due to Brazil’s history, higher authority figures (e.g., teacher supervisor, school coordinator, level chair, etc.) are not necessarily the most prepared, knowledgeable, or helpful, but rather the most influential (often-times wealthy, well-connected, and white individuals).

In this light, I do feel that EFL instructors in Brazil need a lot of support, especially the less experienced ones. Although I believe that TESOL, Inc. has a lot to offer in this context, the Internet may be improving this situation by encouraging local EFL teachers to become more and better connected with other schools and peers, as well as finding relevant information online. In a way, the Internet has made the English-speaking world that many private EFL schools once claimed ownership of, more accessible to all teachers. I should note, however, that Brazil is a country of contrasts and paradoxes. So I would not be surprised if other EFL teachers in Brazil, regardless of native speaker status, may have had very different experiences and diverse views on these issues.

Ana Wu: Teaching middle school in the USA must have been a very rich experience for you, somebody who completed his formal education abroad, a NNEST, and a new immigrant. What were your most vivid memories? What advice would you give to foreign-born graduate students in applied linguistics or TESOL programs who plan to be a K-12 teacher in the USA?

Davi Reis: Professionally-speaking, teaching middle school to at-risk ESL students in Colorado was one of the most challenging experiences I have ever had – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Although I had been teaching English for over six years, teaching full-time at a public school was a completely new businessto me. Thankfully, my internship experiences and student teaching had all been in public schools in the U.S. This helped me tremendously in assessing what I was up against and how I could try to make a difference. There were days when I thought about quitting. But there were also days when I felt like a hero in the classroom! I had a self-contained classroom of over 20 students (mostly from Mexico, but a handful from countries such as Sudan, S. Korea, and the Dominican Republic). The job was physically exhausting because I had to be on my feet from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Given my students’ behavioral difficulties and high energy, sitting down was not an option! Although there were breaks during the day (e.g., lunch and afternoon recess), there was always so much on my plate that I barely had time to plan my lessons! From making photocopies in the library, participating in school-wide activities, or making home visits, there was never a dull moment. In addition, I always had to deal with emergencies such as student fights, calls from concerned parents, and truant students getting caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart! Mentally, as a new public-school teacher, it was extremely draining to try to get used to a new school district, a new school building, and all of the other contextual factors that played a part in my classroom’s day-to-day routine. And finally, the most challenging part by far was the emotional toll of working with at-risk youth and trying to change their lives for the better. It honestly felt like swimming against a strong tide. I remember a mother once who came to me in tears because she simply did not know how else to help her son (one of my most challenging students). Despite our combined efforts (including the principal and the school counselor), “Victor” (a pseudonym) just did not seem to respond to my teaching. But looking back at these experiences, I am happy that my students had someone on their side while I was their teacher – someone they could look up to as a role model. At the end of the year, most of them had come to appreciate our time together and had learned valuable lifelong skills in addition to English.

If your future plans involve working in the public school system, I commend you for taking such a noble step. Whether you are an international student in TESOL or Applied Linguistics, an experienced NNEST, or a new immigrant, the public school system has much to gain from you. But I do have a piece of advice, though I am only able to say this in hindsight myself. I would encourage you to think of ‘difference’ as a source of growth, not deficit. Unfortunately, the native speaker myth and the idealized notion of a native speaker are still quite strong and prevalent in many social and professional contexts in the US. So do expect to be questioned, challenged, or even attacked by others during your college years and/or professional career. But while this is sometimes the case, I have found that in most cases people are in fact open to learning about the issue and considering a different perspective. So we can all become agents of change by helping others to understand why we chose this profession and why we think others can benefit from our professional expertise and insight. If we choose to avoid this topic, perhaps because we understandably tend to feel somewhat otherized or exoticized as individuals and as professionals, we are in fact denying both ourselves and those we interact with a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue that can lead to changes in what we all think, say, and do. And if ever you feel embarrassed because you simply do not (and cannot) know everything, just ask! Although there will always be those who think you should know everything, there are many more who are happy to teach us what they know and even happier to learn something from us, who come from other countries and cultures.

Finally, as a word of caution, I believe it’s crucial that you first identify your long-term career goals and reflect on your strengths as a teacher before committing to an ESL position with the public schools. Unfortunately, though I believe that public schools both deserve and are desperate for ESL teachers (especially those who can teach other content areas as well), it is not for everyone. So try to find out as much as possible about the school district where you are applying in order to make sure that you will be a good fit. For example, find out what kind of ESL instruction the district provides. Is it pull-in, pull-out, or sheltered? How many other ESL teachers/specialists are there in the district? What kinds of resources would be available to you if you got the position? Figuring out the answer to these questions before accepting the job offer will help not only you, but the students you will eventually have in your classroom. Also, as a word of encouragement, despite the hard work, stress, and low pay involved with ‘working in the trenches,’ I believe that TESOL professionals in general, and NNESTs in particular have a tremendous amount of experience and expertise that, sadly enough, doesn’t usually make its way to the public school context. So if you’re up to the challenge, the better you’ll be for taking it, and the more enriched your students’ lives will be.

Ana Wu: As a foreign-born NNES master degree candidate with extensive teaching experience and a second degree in another field, what challenges did you have during your graduate studies and how did you overcome them? What advice would you give to people with similar background as yours who are considering studying in the USA?

Davi Reis: Graduate school did present a series of challenges. First of all, I was also going through my teacher education program. Although this allowed me to add a K-12 ESL teaching certification to my BA in TESOL, it made for a more labor-intensive graduate school experience. Secondly, although Educational Technology is a major strand in the general field of education, it took me a while to figure out how I would converge my interests in TESOL with those in Educational Technology. Third, becoming comfortable presenting in front of others did not come naturally to me, so I had to work at it. Finally, learning the genre of academic writing well enough to write my master’s thesis wasn’t easy. Up to that point, my writing skills were extremely weak and I just could not envision myself as someone who would eventually be able to finish it. In trying to overcome all of these challenges, I found it absolutely essential to identify role models whom I could try to emulate. I was fortunate enough to have more capable peers and professors who helped me to become more comfortable in my skin and a better writer. So learning from and collaborating with peers and professors is a must. But the most difficult challenge during that period was trying to cope with the stress from attempting to balance my graduate classes and my work as a graduate assistant. After a few unproductive all-nighters, I realized that having an established routine and ways to consistently release stress (e.g., spending time with your family, going for a walk, or playing with your pet) worked much better for me than short-term solutions. My thinking goes something like this: if we must make time every day to sleep, shower, and eat, we can also make time for taking healthy breaks and enjoying life. Tending to all aspects of your life will likely have a positive impact on your professional life as well. If even Barack Obama finds time for his daily gym routine, so can we!

In terms of advice for those considering study in the US, it is important to keep in mind that it can be a challenging and taxing experience, filled with unexpected twists and turns. At some point, no matter how well you might be doing academically, you are likely to feel homesick and may start wondering why you chose to do it. During those times, remember that these are understandable feelings and yes, you CAN get through it. All in all, studying in the US can be a very worthwhile, mind-broadening experience that may change how you see the world. So embrace the opportunity! On a practical level, my advice is that you try to identify your short- and long-term career and personal goals before committing to such a big step. Think about what you feel strongly motivated to do or pursue. It should see you through.

Ana Wu: I learned a lot from the wisdom and knowledge you acquired through your experience. Thank you for such inspiring and insightful interview!

Davi Reis: Thank you, Ana, for the opportunity to share some of my personal and professional experiences with the NNEST community. I feel truly honored. I hope my narrative can both encourage and inspire other teachers to pursue the transformative world of teaching and learning, regardless of their background.



Kachru, B. (1981). Models for non-native Englishes. In B. Kachru (Ed.). The other tongue: English across cultures (pp. 31–57). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Norton-Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 9-31.

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!

Marinus Stephan

NNEST of the Month
March 2009


marinus [underscore] stephan [at] hotmail [dot] com

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

Dr. Stephan: Since my linguistic background and professional career is inextricably linked with Suriname, my native country, and the name “Suriname” isn’t likely to ring a bell with many people, allow me to provide some basic facts about the country. Suriname is located on the northeast coast of South America; it borders the Atlantic Ocean in the north, Brazil in the south, French Guyana in the east, and Guyana in the west. It was colonized in 1650 by the English who, in 1667, handed it over to the Dutch; it remained Dutch territory until it gained independence in 1975. The population is made up of Amerindians, the nation’s indigenous people, and descendants of Dutch colonists, African slaves, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese indentured laborers, and Lebanese immigrants. As of 2007, Suriname has a population of about 493,000. In all, 18 different languages are spoken, the most prominent of which are Dutch and Sranan. The former is the country’s official language, while the latter, an English-based Creole, is the nation’s lingua franca. Like many other countries, Suriname has a centralized education system which currently breaks down into elementary school (six years), middle school (four years), and high school (three years).

Growing up in the 1960s, I primarily spoke Dutch at home, but with my friends in the neighborhood and on the school playground I spoke both Dutch and Sranan (for much of the last century, Sranan was considered the language of the lower class and parents of every social class, including those who would be considered poor and uneducated, would discourage their children from speaking it at home). In addition, like all Surinamese kids in those days, I had informal exposure to English, thanks to radio and television. Virtually all the songs on the radio were—and still are—in English, and when television arrived in Suriname in the mid 60s, the vast majority of the programs that aired originated from the US. And since there was no dubbing and there were no subtitles, I had direct exposure to the English language. Formal exposure to English came when I started middle school at age 12 (in Suriname, English has been a component of the middle school curriculum for over a century; over the years, various elementary schools took it upon themselves to offer it to their students and currently efforts are underway to make it a fixed component of the elementary school curriculum).

In my first year of middle school, I fell head-over-heels in love with Spanish, a language that doesn’t figure prominently in Surinamese society at large. This may seem surprising, particularly given the country’s geographic location; the fact is that historically, demographically, and culturally Suriname has much more in common with English-speaking Caribbean nations like Guyana and Trinidad than with the Spanish speaking countries of South America. Back in the 60s, though, Spanish, like English, was a required course at middle and high schools in Suriname. Over the course of my years in middle school, I developed such an affinity for Spanish that by the time I was about to attend high school, I had made up my mind to become an interpreter specializing in Spanish. But then, to quote the late John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Since Suriname did not—and does not—have a program for training interpreters, I consulted the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) of the Ministry of Education. I learned that the only way of achieving my goal was to first enroll in a general teacher training program and then specialize in Spanish, an endeavor that would take six years. That is precisely what I did . . . only to learn at the end of those six years that I had been misinformed by the DSA official. By then I was 22, and family circumstances dictated that I enter the work force and so I started teaching. Additionally, due to changes in the educational policies of Suriname, one of which was that Spanish no longer was a required course at middle and high school, I had switched allegiance from Spanish to English. So, in essence, I became an English teacher by mere circumstance rather than by my own volition or some higher calling.

Ana Wu: I read with great interest your article “Musings of a Black ESL Instructor” (2006) because it offers a new dimension to the definition of the TESOL professional.

In the first paragraph (p.107), you wrote that in your homecountry, Suriname, a racially diverse society, the concept of racial profiling is totally alien. If you were arrested by a police officer of a different race and claim that you were the victim of a racial profiling, people would not believe in you.

You also wrote that while teaching EFL in Suriname, you had no reason to believe that your students were racially biased against you (p.114), that they would not question your teaching abilities based on your racial background.

It was only after teaching ESL and receiving unsatisfactory performance evaluation from your students who were primary from Asian origins that you started perceiving an association between your racial and professional identity.

What advice would you give to ESL professionals who grew up in a society like yours and now want to teach ESL in an English-spoken country where they are identified as a person “of color”?

Dr. Stephan: Let me preface my response by pointing out that Suriname is not devoid of ethnic strife. Currently, the Hindustanis and the Creoles, i.e., those whose ancestors came from India and Africa respectively, make up the two largest ethnic groups in the country. There has been ethnic tension between them groups for decades, as in the immediate run-up to Suriname’s independence. While both Creoles and Hindustanis left the country for the Netherlands, fearing the country’s economic collapse upon independence, Hindustanis had an additional reason for leaving: the fear of being ruled over by Creoles. Fortunately, over the years, politicians of all ethnicities have largely refrained from playing up ethnic tension, and as a result, Suriname has never seen a major ethnic upheaval.

Let me now address the question. I don’t know if it is possible to prepare individuals who, like me, come from a society where race and ethnicity go largely unnoticed in daily life. No matter how much you read or hear about the experiences of others on this matter, you are unlikely to grasp the full extent of it until you actually live it. It’s maybe comparable to the rollercoaster experience: I myself have never been on one—and don’t plan to do so any time soon since just seeing the speed with which the cars and the people in it come down makes my stomach turn. So it’s hard for me to understand the exhilaration and excitement of those brave souls.

I do have one piece of advice for ESL instructors who find themselves in a situation in which they believe their capabilities are being questioned because of the color of your skin: avoid paranoia and do not look for an enemy behind every bush and tree! Rather, consider every situation and every individual involved in it on their merits. I always try to find a reasonable explanation for what happened, starting with questioning my own behavior. What did I say or do—or didn’t say or do—to elicit that particular reaction from the person? Did the person perhaps misunderstand my well-meaning intentions? Did the person have a bad day and was it my misfortune to become his or her scapegoat? It is, of course, also possible that a person’s dislike for another has nothing whatsoever to do with the other’s skin color; we all know at least one person we don’t like simply because our personalities clash. It’s important to consider all these possibilities and more before thinking the worst about the other human being.

Ana Wu: What do you think of the term “TESOL professional of color”? How would you name a TESOL professional of color who is also a non-native speaker?

Dr. Stephan: I appreciate the fact that the term “TESOL professional of color” makes some people uneasy or offends them; the reason is that it seemingly injects the issue of race in our profession, pitting, in essence, White ESL instructors against their non-White counterpart. We want to believe that ours is a colorblind profession, devoid of politics in the same way that we believe that, say, the teaching of math or physical education is. However, if scholars such as Pennycook, Phillipson, and Tollefson have taught us anything, it is that politics is engrained in the history of the English language and that of English language teaching (ELT). Moreover, TESOL, presumably the largest organization of ESL professionals in the world, is not only based in the United States but also has a largely US-based membership. The United States has a long history of uneasy race relations that stretches back as far as the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620; it is, therefore, inevitable that issues of race will permeate the nation’s sub communities. Thus, with regard to the “racialization of ELT” the professional ESL community cannot afford to adopt an “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” attitude; rather, it ought to confront the matter head-on.

Perceptions of and ideas about race are deeply embedded in English language teaching. Traditionally, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are considered “the core English-speaking countries,” a term coined by Phillipson in his famous—some would say, infamous—work, Linguistic Imperialism. Demographically, the dominant group in these nations have been White people; and because these nations are often perceived as exclusively English-speaking, the English language has historically been perceived as the “property” of the White natives; put differently, Whites have been granted “ownership” of the language. Consequently, it is not surprising that when the average ESL student envisages a typical ESL instructor, the image that is conjured up is that of a blond, blue-eyed, female (female, because education the world over, particularly at primary and secondary level, is a female-dominated field).

This perception has implications for ESL instructors who are not White: some students and employers perceive ESL instructors who happen to be of color as less “authentic” in comparison to their White counterparts; that is, the former are considered less reliable and trustworthy in meeting the linguistic needs of students than the latter. Therefore, when an ESL instructor of color enters the classroom on the very first day of the semester, she or he is already at a disadvantage before having uttered a single word. To earn the respect, trust, and recognition of their students—and in some cases even that of their White colleagues—, they need to demonstrate that they fully master all aspects of the language, often much more so than White ESL instructors (this claim has been documented by ESL professionals of color like Nazut Amin, Angel Lin, and Anam Govhardan). Thus, given these circumstances, there is a need among ESL practitioners who do not conform to the stereotypical image of the ESL instructor to create an identity for themselves and to share their experiences with their professional community. The label “TESOL professional of color” calls attention to the fact that there is a tension between being a person of color and being an ESL professional. Therefore, I wholeheartedly embrace the label.

The second part of the question—what name I would give to a TESOL professional of color who is also a non-native speaker—reflects, I believe, two misconceptions. The first is that the term “TESOL professional of color” only applies to non-White citizens of core English-speaking nations. Presumably, the term is analogous to “people of color,” a label commonly applied in the United States to individuals who do not identify themselves as white or are not identified by members of their society as such. Note that the phrase “people of color” distinguishes people on the basis race, not on linguistic background. Consequently, I’d argue then that the term “TESOL professional of color” applies to(a) non-White ESL instructors who were born, raised, and educated in countries where English is spoken as a first or second language and (b) non-White English language teachers who were born, raised, and educated in nations where English is by and large acquired in an academic setting.

The second misconception is that the White/non-White dichotomy and the native/non-native speaker dichotomy are two independent entities. However, as I have pointed out in my discussion about “ownership” of the English language and its implication for TESOL professionals of color, these two dichotomies are clearly intertwined in the same way that, for instance, race and gender are in many societies, including the United States. Perhaps no other linguistic feature is more salient in marking the distinction between native and nonnative speakers than accent. More often than not, a person’s accent becomes the means by which his or her interlocutors create a social picture of the speaker: the person’s nationality, native language, social class, educational attainment, and type of job. In addition, if the speaker is heard rather than seen, attempts are often made to determine the speaker’s race or ethnicity.

In her work English with an Accent, Rosina Lippi-Green provides an in-depth analysis of the inextricable relationship between an individual’s accent and the racial attitudes towards him or her. Of interest is also the study conducted by Yuko Goto Butler, who examined the attitudes of sixth-grade students toward teachers with American-accented English and Korean-accented English (in actuality, both accents were produced by a Korean American). Her study revealed, among other things, that the students believed that the “American” individual had a better pronunciation and displayed a greater degree of confidence than the “Korean” individual; the students also preferred the former to the latter as their English teacher.

The studies by Lippi-Green and Butler do more than highlight the accent-race connection; they also shed a distinctive light on the native/nonnative speaker debate. For if we accept the position that (a) accent is the most salient marker distinguishing a native from a nonnative speaker, and (b) having a nonnative accent has social implications, then it is apparent that the native/nonnative speaker debate is a social rather than a linguistic issue. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the issue of native versus nonnative speaker of English is, in essence, not rooted in linguistics but rather in sociopolitics. This assertion is not new; in his book The Native Speaker is Dead!, Thomas Paikeday cites David Guralnik, an American lexicographer, who claimed that the question of the native speaker had more sociopolitical than linguistic overtones. He went on to say, according to Paikeday, that those who adhered to the idea of native speaker intuition are motivated by elitist or perhaps even racist notions.

Consequently, to frame the native/nonnative speaker debate largely or exclusively in terms of linguistics is, in my opinion, wholly unproductive. A proper understanding of the issue demands that careful consideration is given to the extent to which race, and perhaps even gender and class, inform the debate.

Ana Wu: You also conducted a research (Stephan, 2001) in which students had to order rank ESL teachers based on geographic origin and linguistic background. You explained that all the instructors had equal teaching experience, abilities, and qualifications.

You found out that 74% of the participants preferred native English speaking professionals from Europe and 45% rated non-native English speaking professionals from Africa as “the last resort” (In this study, you had 138 Asians, 14 Europeans, 9 Africans, 8 Middle Easterners, and 5 South Americans. It was also assumed that students associated the terms African, Asian and European to Black, Mongoloid and White).

How did this experience affect – pedagogically and emotionally – how you teach? Did you start discussing social issues in your class?Did you share your experience as a visible minority in the ESL teaching community?

Dr. Stephan: To some extent, my experiences have shaped my professional personality. On a personal level, there was a time when, in introducing myself, I would tell the students where I come from and what my linguistic background is. After two rather painful incidents in the late 1990s, I decided to create a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of my own: if the students do not ask me about my background, I do not tell them about it. And even if they do, I generally do not tell them the whole truth. While it pains me to betray my own identity, I have learned that, in this respect, being less than forthcoming benefits the interaction between the students and me.

On a professional level, because of my experiences, I am more inclined to address social issues in the ESL classroom but I let the circumstances dictate the extent to which I do, if at all. For instance, in 1999, I was teaching two different groups of students at two different schools. At one school, the students who enrolled in the ESL program were primarily “international students,” i.e., students who upon graduation were likely to return to their home country. For many of them, the goal of enrolling in the ESL program was to develop and improve their English language skills so that they could write a decent paper in their field of study. I often had the sense that their attitude towards the ESL class was, “Well, if this is what it takes to get my degree, fine, but don’t expect me to like it.” I just did not think that these students would be open to discussing social issues; all they were interested in were issues of grammar and style, so the content of the course was largely if not strictly pedagogical.

At the other school, the vast majority of students who enrolled in the ESL program were immigrant students. Obviously, they had a vital stake in studying English: for them, developing and improving their English language skills was of major importance in earning a decent living. At the same time, I believed that mastery of the English language alone was insufficient to enable them to successfully integrate and function in American society. They also needed insight in what makes the United States the country it is; and since I am an immigrant to the United States myself, I saw it as my duty to assist them in navigating the sometimes troubled waters of American culture. Therefore, we frequently discussed matters that tend to baffle newcomers to the country, ranging from the more mondane issues such as dating to more complexing and controversial issues such abortion and racism.

Ana Wu: In Ahmar Mahboobs article, “Confessions of an Enraced TESOL professional,” (2006), he says that one of the presenters at 2005 TESOL convention confined that she felt she didn’t belong in the NNEST community. She was the only Black professional and felt left out.

As the former chair of the International Black Professionals and Friends in TESOL (IBPFT) Caucus, how do you think both communities, NNEST and IBPFT, can work together to create an environment in which members gain equal status and are recognized for their professional qualities, instead of race or nativeness? Which topics for research can we work collaboratively?

Dr. Stephan: To begin with, “status” is often not something individuals bestow on themselves; rather, it is something that society or segments thereof bestow upon them. To illustrate, as recently as five years ago, whenever the then state senator Obama walked into a room full of strangers, undoubtedly everyone in the room would have thought, “That is a Black man.” We now know differently: Mr. Obama is, in fact, biracial. Yet, the fast majority of people do not refer to him not as the first biracial president of the United States, but as the first black president of the country. That is because society has developed certain beliefs about what a black person is supposed to look like.

And so, while I believe that nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color must work towards greater recognition, that recognition will only come when all involved in the education process— employers, students, parents, and colleagues—perceive of them as authentic.

My response to the earlier question makes readily apparent that, from a professional perspective, I do not see a clear distinction between nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color. As I have claimed, issues of race and (non) native speakerness are not two separate, competing forces but rather intertwined axes rooted in the same phenomenon: social inequality. Therefore, in a perfect world, it probably would be best if both the NNEST and the IBPFT were to be disbanded and TESOL professionals of all stripes were to band together to question how race, native speakerness, and other social forces shape and impact English language teaching and learning. I believe that that would be the most effective way of achieving synergy, that is, producing a result that no group of ESL professionals, working as an independent entity, is likely to achieve. Alas, there is no such thing as a perfect world! So what is next?

First, the NNEST and IBPTF chairs ought to put their heads together and develop strategies aimed at constructive cooperation. During my tenure as Chair of the IBPFT, I attempted to reach out to the NNEST Caucus through the then Chair Lucie Moussu. I suggested that the two caucuses present a joint colloquium; Lucie did put out the request but, unfortunately, no one within the NNEST responded. One reason beyond sheer anxiety of giving a presentation might have been the assumption on the part of NNEST caucus members that they have little or nothing in common with members of the IBPFT. I think leaders of both caucuses should do more to raise awareness among their members that the concerns of the NNEST are not vastly different from those of the IBPFT and vice versa, and that the two groups have more in common than may be apparent at face value.

It is a well-known fact that there a far more countries where English is spoken as a foreign language than as a first language, which means that most speakers of English are nonnatives; among them, there are many are people of color. Consequently, like no other TESOL caucus, the NNEST and the IBPFT are uniquely positioned to raise awareness among employers, students, and parents about the value of NNEST and ESL professionals of color. I readily admit that at the time of this writing I have no clue how exactly one would go about in doing that; this is another reason why the leaders of the two caucuses should consult one another.

One way, however, might be for the two caucuses, possibly in cooperation with the other caucuses, to petition the TESOL organization to have its annual convention held outside the United States, maybe every other year or so. It strikes me as odd that an organization that has the globe as its logo has never held its convention, arguably the largest of its kind, outside of the Americas (and I’m using the phrase “the Americas” broadly here since of the 43 conventions—this year’s included—two were held in Canada (1983 and 1992) while Mexico hosted the 1978 convention). Compare this, for instance, to FIFA, the world soccer federation, which every four years organizes what undoubtedly is the major sports event in the world, the World Cup. While this body has its headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland, the World Cup was only once held in that country . . . in 1954! If FIFA held every single World Cup competition in Switzerland, it would be safe to assume that not many non-Europeans would be able to attend one or more games.

The year 2009, marked by economic turmoil of immense proportions, is probably not the best time to call for TESOL to spread its wings and fly. I ackowledge, furthermore, that TESOL regularly organizes regional conferences, but those may not necessarily contribute to breaking down the barriers nonnative ESL professionals and ESL professionals of color face, precisely because they are regional. Therefore, for TESOL to assist these and other groups of ESL professionals in breaking down barriers, it is important that it looks for ways of taming its convention on the road, so to speak.

As for a research agenda, we need more insight into how social forces in general—nativeness, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and the like—impact the teaching and learning of English.

Ana Wu: In the field of race, color, nativeness, and ESL/EFL teaching, what seminal papers inspired you? Which ones do you recommend graduate students in applied linguistic or TESOL programs read?

Dr. Stephan: In some of my answers to previous questions, I mentioned some of the works that sparked my interest in the relationship between ELT and politics in general and issues of race in particular. I can’t say that they influenced my day-to-day teaching, but they certainly hightened my consciousness regarding the role ESL professionals, myself included, play in bringing the English language to the masses.

Much criticism that has been leveled at Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism since its publication in 1992; for me, however, it will forever be one of the best works I have read on the politics ofELT. Other works that I thoroughly enjoyed reading were James Tollefson’s “Planning Language, Planning inequality” and Alistair Pennycook’s The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language.

When I started my dissertation research in 1997, it gradually dawned on me that published articles on the ELT – race connection were virtually nonexistent. In fact, the only article I managed to find after weeks of perusing a wide variety of journals was Race and the Identity of the Nonnative ESL Teacher by Nazut Amin, published in 1997 in the TESOL Quarterly. So in order to be able to place race in the context of ESL teaching, I studied, among other things, the perceptions of race and racial identity in the countries where the fast majority of ESL students I was teaching at the time came from, i.e., China, Japan, and Korea. Two works I found very informative were The Discourse of Race in Modern China and The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, both written by Frank Dikötter. These works provided me with a general idea of perceptions of race and racial identity in Chinese and Japanese society at large. Rosina Lippi-Green’s English with an Accent and Cornel West’s Race Matters also make for fascinating reading.

For students in ESL programs who are interested in investigating how social issues such as race impact English language teaching and learning, I would suggest that they enroll in courses that provide them with some of theissue themselves before they start their investigation into how it may affect ELT. To illustrate, when I initially conceived of my dissertation research, my goal was to investigate why few Black Americans seem interested in career in ESL. I based my belief on the fact that during my MA and PhD studies there had been only one African American in my classes. Since I am not an African American, I felt I needed to develop an understanding of African American history. To that end, I took a number of courses in the Department of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University, where I did my doctoral work; the knowledge gained in those courses served me well during my dissertation research and beyond.

Ana Wu: You are currently working at Educational Testing Services. Do you miss teaching ESL? Do you have any plans for going back to being an instructor?

Dr. Stephan: As an assessment developer at ETS, my primary duty is creating test items for the reading section of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

To be quite honest, I don’t miss teaching the technical aspects of ESL, i.e., grammar, spelling, reading and writing, and so on. I began my career as an ESL instructor in 1977 and by the time ETS offered me the position in 2002, I’d been in the field for roughly twenty-five years. With the advent of the new millennium in 2000, I was ready for something different. Obviously, I still have a connection with the English language through my work at ETS; in part, of course, it was because of my knowledge of the language that the company recruited me.

What I do miss by not being in an academic setting is the opportunity to conduct classroom research. I would love to investigate the race – ELT connection in greater depth but that is not feasible precisely since I am not in a classroom setting.

At this point, I see no full-time teaching position in my future; I would welcome the opportunity, though, to teach as an adjunct and hope to land such a position in the near future.

Ana Wu: Thank you for such inspiring interview. I hope to have a chance to meet you at the TESOL Annual Convention in Denver!


Butler, Y.G. (2007). How are nonnative English speaking teachers perceived by young learners? TESOL Quarterly, 41 (4).

Mahboob, A. (2006). Confessions of an Enraced TESOL professional. In Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Teaching Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stephan, M. H. (2006). Musings of a Black ESL Instructor. In Curtis, A. & Romney, M. (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Teaching Language Teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stephan, M.H. (2001). Lifting the veil of silence: An inquiry into race as a feature of the social and pedagogical dimensions of the English as a second language classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University, Columbus.