March 2018
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Inggrit O. Tanasale, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA

My poetic redemption showcases different layers of my emotions from multidimensional experiences embodied in my identity as a nonnative-English-speaking teacher (NNEST). My teaching trajectory has evolved through the shift of my learning experience, and this process influences my teaching practice in the classroom. Song (2016) highlights stories: Cover and Secret stories can reveal the vulnerability of teachers but also, in my opinion, enhance maturity. A cover story is a portrayal of a teacher as the expert in the curriculum whereas a secret story is a story about anxiety or fear that is shared only in a safe place among teachers (Song, 2016). The silence was my moment of numbness in language learning and teaching, but years later it became my strategy to contemplate my students and their learning experiences calmly. Departing from Song’s (2016) theory, I share my life narrative in each stanza of my poem. I used poetry to recount my secret and cover stories because poetry unravels inner emotions and feelings in search of understanding my identity as a language teacher.

In the first stanza, I describe my secret story as a language learner in my undergraduate program. My strong regional accent from the eastern part of Indonesia became a point of ridicule among my peers. This humiliating experience turned out to be a hurdle and interrupted my oral performance in English. This situation reveals my vulnerability as a nonnative English speaker with a feeling of insecurity and inferiority when I had to speak in English. My EFL context privileged American English and British English as the dominant standards of English over my regional accent.

In my second stanza, I cultivate emotional labors from lack of confidence in my early teaching career when I got a bachelor’s degree in an English program. I bought into the false belief of a teacher-who-knows-all and struggled to build my persona as a good model of an English teacher. Later, after the completion of my master’s program in Australia, as I narrate in my third stanza, I developed my self-confidence. However, I found myself conflicted with the EFL curriculum, emphasizing teaching to the test. I felt sometimes frustrated with my role as an educator versus an institutional agent. This situation prevented me from doing as much as I could to creatively empower my students as language users because of my status as curriculum transmitter. These two stanzas reveal the vulnerability in my cover stories as an NNEST who wrestled with the school curriculum and my discursive position as an educator in my EFL context.

The last stanza discloses my future aspiration. I am currently a PhD student at Indiana University, immersing in the teaching and scholarship of composition and applied linguistics. One day, my return to my home country after completing my study will reflect the maturity of the educational process that I have gone through. This phase will bring another level of emotional encounter with me being more open to vulnerability. I believe some issues about students and curriculum remain the same, but at least I can be open-minded to set an example of being a teacher and a guide for my students to find their own learning path like I did.

I choose to be silent

I used to come to campus
As a diligent student
I brought a bag of books and nervousness
Thinking about my oral performance
Could I say something eloquent in my class?
Recalling my past experience
Having some oblivious comments
The class could be a battle
As an English student with cultural identities
I choose to be silent
To mask my self-helpless soul


Every time I came to campus,
As a fresh undergraduate teacher
I’d bring a box of mixed feelings
Pondering my teaching
Could I teach them?
Being bombarded by all the questions
Revealing some frowning faces
The questions can be challenging
Questioning my competence
As the all-knowing master
I choose to be silent
To cover my weakness


When I come to campus
As a teacher with master’s degree
I’d carry a box of self-confidence
Thinking for some changes
Could I change them?
Facing the ignorance and incapability
Showing some puzzling faces
Having self-conflict in the class
As the curriculum transmitter vs. educator
I choose to be silent
To conceal my frustrations


If I come to campus one day
As a competent and well-equipped professor
I’d carry the box of openness and knowledge
Reflecting my strength and weakness
Can I educate them?
Facing the resistance by the attitude
Demonstrating some struggles
(When) Start interrogating themselves
As a future educator
I choose to be silent
To hide my generic help
To learn that they are growing
To understand that they are transforming
Those experiences mirroring mine
When they find their way
In this moment of learning


Song, J. (2016). Emotions and language teacher identity: Conflicts, vulnerability, and transformation. TESOL Quarterly, 50, 631–654. doi:

Inggrit O. Tanasale is a lecturer in an English Education Program at Pattimura University, Maluku-Indonesia. She is currently pursuing her PhD degree in the Composition and Applied Linguistic Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include language teacher identity, NNEST issues, second language writing, and art-based research.

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