Julia Menard-Warwick on English Language Teachers and her latest book

A couple of months ago we published Julia Menard-Warwick’s latest book English Language Teachers on the Discursive Faultlines. Here, she gives us a bit more detail about the differences between the situations in Chile and California.

English Language Teachers on the Discursive FaultlinesIt is two days after New Year, 2014, and I was just visited in my office by one of my first cohort of MATESOL students, who came to study with me at UCDavis in 2004, the year I first visited Las Peñas, Chile. She has been teaching ESL in California, and most recently implementing evaluation research for a California school district. Frustrated but fascinated by the local policy context, she is thinking about coming back to get a PhD. She congratulated me on publishing my book, and I showed her a copy of English Language Teachers on the Discursive Faultlines.

A theme of our conversation had been the slow pace of research, and how long it takes for researchers in the academy to make any kind of difference in the “real world”. I agreed as it has been 10 years since I first started doing this research, and it is just now coming out as a book. We looked closely at the cover photograph, which my husband took in Las Peñas in 2005 and she asked if the woman with the armload of books in the foreground was someone from my family. I explained that it’s actually just some random person who looks like she is standing on a discursive faultline. We went on to discuss the McDonald’s sign, the Internet sign right next to it and the sign that says  ‘cambio’ – that is for a money-changing place, but it also means ‘change’ in general. And then there is the orange barrier in the middle which shows that the plaza is somehow under construction. As my former student was leaving, she said, “You make a difference in the lives of your students.” “So do you,” I said.

Looking back over the last decade, I am reminded of Caryl Emerson’s quote about research that I used in chapter 1 of my book: “Strictly speaking, I cannot ‘analyze’ the content of another consciousness at all. I can only address it – that is, offer to change it a little and to change myself a little as well by asking a question of it.” I went to Chile in 2004 with questions about the identities of English teachers in a geographical context where the language is little used, and in a historical context where relations with English-speaking countries have often involved cultural, political, and economic imposition. Over the next several years, coming and going from California, I asked questions, I observed classes, I taught workshops, and as a result I made some small differences in the lives of some teachers, and some more substantial differences in my own ways of looking at English teaching. My decision to ask similar questions in my home state of California initially seemed like a practical response to the requirements of my faculty position here – but has led me to a much fuller understanding of English as a global language in a context where it is more commonly thought of as a “basic skill.” As Bakhtin reminds us, when two people “gaze at each other, two different worlds are reflected in the pupils of (their) eyes.”

In August 2013, I was back in Las Peñas for the first time since 2010.  After seven weeks in the much more culturally-different ambience of Andean Bolivia, the Chilean coast felt like home. But of course, I found changes: more English-language graffiti, a new US-funded program to teach English to working-class high school students….The instructors at “Universidad de las Peñas” who participated in my research have changed as well: Norma retiring; Genaro taking over as the director of the department; Paloma developing a large Facebook following for her commentary on English teaching; Alán (at least temporarily) giving up his dreams to get a doctorate in the UK; Azucena directing the new US-funded English program. Since I was mostly visiting the university, I didn’t try to track down the prospective teachers and practicing high school teachers that I had interviewed in 2005-2006 – but I did run into Francesca in another Chilean city, riding her bicycle across a foggy plaza at night. She was on her way to a party and I was leaving on the bus the next morning, so we only spoke for 5 minutes, but I was happy to learn that she is happily teaching English in a private school in that city. Ironically, I have seen less of the California teachers over the last few years – with the exception of Molly, who has stayed involved in my research while teaching composition to “underprepared” students at a state college. My husband and I had dinner with Ruby and her husband, as well as the mutual friends who introduced us, right before I left for South America last summer.

Writing a book – constructing knowledge in the academy – on the surface seems like a process that has a beginning and an end. Starting in 2004, I conducted research in Chile, I conducted similar research in California, I analyzed my data, I wrote articles and presented at conferences, eventually it all turned into a book published in December 2013. Now I can go on to my next project. I even HAVE a “next project,” on bilingual identity development, which is why I keep interviewing Molly because she keeps learning and using Spanish in interesting ways. And yet, it is difficult to feel like my last research project is really over: I have tentative plans to keep teaching in Las Peñas …I continue working with new teachers in California…. The work now reified as English Language Teachers on the Discursive Faultlines has “changed myself a little” and continues to inform the way I think about teaching, teacher education – and bilingual identities. Emerson’s quote about addressing “the content of another consciousness” applies just as much to teaching as it does to research. As I said to my former student this afternoon, we often can’t make a big difference, and often the differences we make happen very slowly, and often the wrong people have power both in the academy and outside it – but none of that is reason to disengage. Both in teaching and research, my goal is to promote dialogue between teachers, students, researchers, administrators, and policy makers. The book is finished, but the dialogue continues.

Gendered Identities and Immigrant Language LearningYou can find more information on Julia’s book here. You might also be interested in Julia’s previous book Gendered Identities and Immigrant Language Learning.

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