August 2013
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PERSONAL ACCOUNT
NOVICE AND "NONNATIVE": INTERNATIONAL TESOL STUDENTS AS EMERGING TEACHERS
Geeta Aneja, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

For the last several months, I have been collecting ethnographic data in a university-based English program that provides 11 first-year international TESOL MA students the opportunity to develop their classroom pedagogy skills by facilitating a conversational English class. In doing so, the program positions facilitators primarily as emerging teachers, rather than as deficient nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs). However, far from denying facilitators’ possible unfamiliarity with the lessons’ U.S.-centric linguistic or cultural content, program administrators help facilitators access relevant local social norms and interactive scripts. Such a model eases the facilitators’ adjustment to the classroom as well as to the U.S. context more generally by implicitly framing their experience in terms of familiarity and expertise rather than lack of membership in the imprecisely defined “native speaker” community.

Intentionally establishing such channels to cultivate the communicative repertoires relevant to teaching in diverse contexts is becoming increasingly necessary given the rising enrollment of international students in U.S.-based TESOL MA and certificate programs. Because most international students are not authorized to work in the United States, their teaching placements are often in community-run organizations teaching survival English, despite their own relative unfamiliarity with U.S. communicative contexts. Because the linguistic demands of such a class are so embedded in cultural familiarity, a cultural knowledge gap may in practice be interpreted as a language deficiency caused by NNEST status.

However, despite this program’s affirmation of facilitators’ legitimacy, the facilitators continued to attribute their difficulties in lesson planning and classroom management to nonnative rather than emerging teacher status. On one occasion, a facilitator whose task instructions were received by students’ blank stares told me, “I am supposed to teach English, but I also do not speak English! Students do not understand me!” When I replied that many emerging teachers have similar problems, regardless of home language, the facilitator was shocked. Her self-conceptualization is even more surprising given her academic familiarity with literatures problematizing native speaker ideologies, including the disinvention of languages (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007), the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992), and the racialization of the native speaker (Shuck, 2006).

For a time, I was thoroughly perplexed. This first-year student has the opportunities to diversify her communicative repertoires, develop her teaching expertise (Rampton, 1990), and critically unpack the invalidity of native speakerism (Holliday, 2006). Why then would she continue to revert to NNEST status when processing her difficulties in the classroom?

My tentative response is that emerging NNESTs may perceive their NNEST status as more salient than emerging teacher status in part because of the extent to which native speaker ideologies pervade their lived experiences. While the program’s lead teachers and administrators may not distinguish facilitators based on accent or ethnicity, many job descriptions value “native speaker status” over teaching experience or pedagogical expertise. Furthermore, students’ academic coursework tends to dichotomize native and nonnative status without consistently providing a viable alternative, at least in their first year.

The experiences and identity formation of emerging NNESTs of English differs from those of emerging teachers, NNESTs of other subjects, and of experienced NNESTs of English. Nonetheless, while each of these has established and growing literatures, very few studies have unpacked the experiences of those at the nexus: emerging NNESTs of English. Understanding the identities and needs of people at this nexus is becoming increasingly important as the international student enrollment of U.S.-based MA TESOL programs continues to rise. The learning curve of monolingual English teachers is attributed to emerging teacherhood, and their needs are appropriately met. Their plurilingual colleagues, such as the emerging NNESTs with whom I work, deserve appropriate support systems and legitimization as well.

References

Holliday, M. (2006). Native speakerism. ELT Journal, 60(4), 385–387.

Makoni, S., & Pennycook, A. (2007). Disinventing and reconstituting languages. Clevedon, United Kingdon: Multilingual Matters.

Phillipson, R. (1992). ELT: The native speaker’s burden? ELT Journal, 46(1), 12–18.

Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the ‘native speaker’: Expertise, affiliation and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44 (2), 97–101.

Shuck, G. (2006). Racializing the nonnative English speaker. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 5, 259–276.


Geeta Aneja is a second-year PhD student in educational linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the identity negotiation of emerging teachers, issues in teacher education, construction of learning environments, and heritage language education.

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