May 2014
Baburhan Uzum, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA

In line with the increasing rate of globalization, language teachers find themselves working in diverse educational contexts. This trend has been common for English-speaking teachers going to other countries, but it is becoming increasingly more common for teachers of Chinese, Arabic, and other critical languages, who are coming to the United States to teach their first language. In multilingual classrooms, the cultural differences between teachers and students may create potential conflicts in classroom interactions. Teachers and students may have different communication routines and instructional expectations due to different past schooling experiences. These experiences are often formed throughout one’s schooling years. Lortie (1975) refers to this process as apprenticeship of observation. Before new teachers start teacher education programs, they spend thousands of hours learning from their own teachers, not only the content of a class but also ways of being and thinking, thereby establishing a model of teaching. These experiences inevitably shape their beliefs about teaching and learning. Because the Fulbright language teaching assistants (FLTAs) have different schooling experiences than their respective American students, the differences between the host culture and that of the FLTAs’ home countries might create potential communication breakdowns in teacher-student relationships. In order to address these communication problems and create a cohesive classroom community, FLTAs go through a professional socialization process in which they revisit their biographical experiences in an effort to address the needs of their current institution and students.

Literature Review

Early teacher socialization research in the 1980s examined student-teachers during their transition from preservice to in-service, and argued for limited effect of teacher education programs in comparison to students’ initial socialization into the profession of teaching as past-students (Lortie, 1975). In the 1990s, several literature reviews and meta-analysis studies appeared, summarizing the findings of the empirical studies conducted over two decades. These reviews (e.g., Zeichner & Gore, 1990; Staton & Hunt, 1992) synthesized the changes in teachers’ beliefs and methods in preservice and in-service settings and argued for an interactional (Zeichner & Gore, 1990) or a communicative (Staton & Hunt, 1992) analysis that focuses on the language used in the classroom discourse to understand the nature and the functions of the talk between the teachers and various agents (e.g., students, colleagues, administrators). To date, there is still a paucity of research investigating teacher socialization at an intercultural level. In the present study, I aim to contribute to the literature by studying FLTAs who are not only transitioning between institutions but also different language communities.

Research Design

The study is qualitative in nature and follows an ethnographic multiple case study design, using content and discourse analysis methods. The context of the study is a less-commonly-taught-languages program at a Midwestern university. The participants are Turkish and Uzbek FLTAs (pseudonyms: Sebahat, Nargiz, and Bakhrom) and students enrolled in these classes, who are all White American. Turkish and Uzbek classes are chosen because, as the researcher, I am familiar with these languages and will be able to translate and analyze classroom observations. Data for the study were drawn from multiple sources such as interviews with teachers and students, video-recorded classroom observations, field notes, and classroom materials. The written documents and interview data were analyzed using a content analysis method, by coding and categorizing emerging themes within and across participants. These themes were used as a basis to identify supporting excerpts in the classroom interaction data.

Research Findings

The research findings indicated that FLTAs’ cultural experiences shape their interpretations of and interactions with the new educational context. Sebahat, Nargiz, and Bakhrom all interacted with their new educational context, drawing from their past cultural experiences.

Sebahat’s Story

Sebahat is a female in her late 20s, and she worked as an EFL teacher in an adult education program for 4 years and at an intensive English language program at a major university in Turkey for 2 years. She taught Turkish language in the Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 semesters at a Midwestern university in the United States. Sebahat's experiences as a language learner and EFL teacher shaped how she understood the new educational context. According to her past experience, good language teaching practice creates affective change and develops positive student attitudes. To accomplish this, she needed to establish close relationships with the students. She needed to understand their needs and interests and be able to talk to them about their problems and concerns. Sebahat wanted to be receptive and responsive to students' needs and expectations, as she had been when she taught in Turkey. When Sebahat started teaching in the United States and explored the differences between her biographical experience and the contextual requirements, she initially yielded to the contextual requirements, keeping a professional distance from students’ personal lives. In the course of the semester, she was able to create a middle ground to blend her biographical experience with the contextual requirements.

Nargiz’s Story

Nargiz is a female in her late 20s and worked as an EFL teacher in a World Languages program in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for 2 years. She came to the United States in fall 2011 while she was enrolled in a PhD program at her university. Nargiz's biographical experience also shaped her understanding of the U.S. educational context. She believed that as long as students worked hard and were motivated, they could learn any language, as she learnt Russian, English, and German. Her biographical experience as a learner of multiple languages and an EFL teacher determined what she expected from the students. When the students in the U.S. classroom did not live up to her expectations of error-free and fluent language production, she was initially disappointed and frustrated, but later understood that there may be other reasons: (a) It may be difficult for English speakers to learn Uzbek because it is from a different language family, and (b) students may not have a lot of opportunities to practice Uzbek because there are not many speakers around them. Therefore, while her biography initially informed her experience in the U.S. context, her interactions with the students and the institutional resources later shaped her transforming understanding of language teaching and learning.

Bakhrom’s Story

Bakhrom is a male in his 30s, and he worked as an EFL teacher and Uzbek language teacher in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for more than 6 years prior to his participation in the Fulbright program. He came to the United States in fall 2010 and started teaching intermediate Uzbek language classes. Bakhrom's biographical experience also effected how he interacted with the new educational context. In his past teaching experience, Bakhrom was fascinated by the use of technologies in the classroom. Although he strived to use these methods in his classes in Uzbekistan, he did not have the chance due to limited access to instructional technologies. When he came to the United States, he immediately found out which technological resources were available to teachers and started to experiment with them. The good and bad examples in his schooling experience, such as the traditional approach using chalk and board versus modern approaches using SMARTboards and PowerPoint, informed his curricular decisions in the U.S. classroom. He looked for opportunities to integrate technology in his lessons, such as document projectors, video cameras, and audio recorders. Bakhrom’s biographical experiences and personal interests were reflected in the ways he taught his lessons in the U.S. educational context.


In summary, all three teachers come from different educational backgrounds than their students. Therefore, their biographical experiences effected how they interacted with the students, understood the educational context, and made curricular decisions. Their biographies were dynamic and evolved with their new experiences in the U.S. educational context. These biographical experiences often interacted with the contextual factors and helped shape and reshape the teachers’ beliefs and practices. For example, all three teachers reflected on their previous experiences by making comparisons between students in the United States and in their home countries. Moving beyond these comparisons and making connections between past (biography) and present (context), they gained a better understanding of themselves as language teachers and their students in both educational contexts.


The study will contribute to the knowledge base of international teaching assistant education, exploring the cultural influences at the intersection of biography and context. In improving teachers' socialization process into a new educational context, reflection on past experiences is a key element in bringing teachers' thoughts and implicit beliefs to the level of conscious analysis. The findings from the study can be implemented in international teaching assistant orientation programs and ongoing professional development workshops for language teaching assistants.


Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Staton, A., & Hunt, S. L. (1992). Teacher socialization: Review and conceptualization. Communication Education, 41, 109–138.

Zeichner, K., & Gore, J. (1990). Teacher socialization. In W. R. Houston, R. Howsam, & J. Sikula (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: A project of the Association of Teacher Educators (pp. 329–348). New York, NY: Macmillan.

Baburhan Uzum teaches in the Language, Literacy, and Special Populations Program at Sam Houston State University. His research is on teacher identity development and teacher professionalization.