Does a Language Teacher’s Identity Matter?

Next month we are publishing Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart. In this post the author explains how the book came about and what readers will learn from it. 

Does a language teacher’s identity matter? What about the case of Filipino teachers of English working in Japan?

Filipinos used to be denied access to jobs as English teachers in Japan because they weren’t regarded as “native speakers”, and hence not the right kind of people to teach English. Nowadays, they are being hired in large numbers to work across the range of public and private schools, particularly in elementary and preschool education. What has changed? And how has this affected the lives of Filipinos living in Japan?

I first came across a group of Filipino English teachers a decade ago and have been following the group’s activities and progress since then. The successes of many of the group’s members inspired me to start collecting their stories. Through the narratives of eight women and one man, we can see how the changing social conditions of Japan – from migration patterns to educational reforms to shifts in ideologies about language and identity – are reflected in the career paths and aspirations, the disappointments and the triumphs, of Filipino teachers in Japan.

Seven of the teachers belong to an organization, Filipino English Teacher in Japan (FETJ), which supports and trains would-be English teachers. The different narratives allow us to trace the various, at times conflicting, interests and motivations that have propelled the rapid growth of this organization from informal study group to social activism on behalf of a marginalized minority in Japan to teacher training NPO and conduit to potential employers.

Identity is a hot topic in language education research these days, but this is the first time that it has been explored through the lens of Recognition Theory. In the book I’ve attempted to explain why recognition deserves our attention, how it differs from the poststructuralist approach that currently dominates the field, and how it can underpin a “moral turn” in the field. A focus on mutual recognition in different social domains – between those we care for, in large social groups, and in society at large – places social justice firmly at the center of our research endeavors.

The narratives of the nine Filipino teachers, and my own story as well, are presented in their entirety. This too is a break away from current research practices. Readers will find their own resonances in the stories, but I have used them as stepping-stones into discussions on privilege and marginalization, on language teacher associations, on language teaching as a career, and on the very language that we use to talk about identity in language education research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.

Exploring Feminist Pedagogy in TESOL

This month we published The Socially Responsible Feminist EFL Classroom by Reiko Yoshihara. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book and what we can expect from reading it.

The main purpose of the book is to explore feminist pedagogy in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Although I focus on the teaching practices of self-identified feminist EFL educators in Japanese universities, I hope to make connections to TESOL more broadly. To obtain a deep understanding of their feminist teaching practices, I explored the feminist teachers’ identities and teaching beliefs. The idea for The Socially Responsible Feminist EFL Classroom grew out of the frustration I experienced when I saw and heard of hesitation, resistance and accusations against feminist teaching from other ESL/EFL (English as a second language/English as a foreign language) teachers. What are our responsibilities as university ESL/EFL teachers? What can we do as ESL/EFL teachers to prepare students for their future? Should we teach only English grammar, vocabulary and linguistic information, and have students improve their English proficiency? I believe that our responsibility is to teach social equality and justice along with the language practice and to educate our language students to become socially responsible world citizens. To promote social equality and justice, teaching about global issues, environmental problems, and human rights and gender issues in ESL/EFL classes should be paid attention to.

In order to understand what is going on in the feminist EFL classroom in Japanese universities, I worked with eight participants who were self-identified feminist teachers (three American women, one American man, one British woman, two Japanese women, one Japan-born Korean women) who taught EFL at university level in Japan. To accomplish this goal, I conducted feminist narrative research. Drawing on poststructural feminist theory of identity, I examined the construction of their feminist teacher identities in social and cultural contexts. I also examined stories addressing the questions of what teaching beliefs individual feminist teachers held, how their feminist identities connected with their teaching beliefs and practices, and how they reflected their teaching beliefs in their teaching practices. This examination provided many major and minor ways of feminist teaching in Japanese university EFL classrooms. On the other hand, I found some incompatibility among feminist teacher identities, teaching beliefs and classroom practices. Poststructural feminist views helped examine incompatible relationships between identities, beliefs and practices.

My hope is that this book will succeed in establishing a new direction in language education research by drawing attention to a powerful, yet under-researched group of teachers. Readers with a passion for learning more about feminist pedagogy in TESOL will find inspiration and ideas for moving forward in this pursuit. In addition, I hope ESL/EFL researchers who are interested in feminist teaching will see this book as an invitation to continue the scholarly conversation and to build a research space for investigating feminist pedagogy within the TESOL field.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo and Being and Becoming a Speaker of Japanese by Andrea Simon-Maeda.

Reflective Practice as Professional Development

This month we are publishing Reflective Practice as Professional Development by Atsuko Watanabe. In this post, Atsuko explains a bit more about the background to the book.

Reflective Practice as Professional DevelopmentThis book attempts to fill an important gap in the professional development of English teachers in Japan.

In March 2003, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan announced an action plan, Japanese with English Abilities, to foster the English abilities of Japanese nationals. The action plan had an unprecedented impact on the nation’s extensive English language teaching sectors, one of which was a compulsory teacher training seminar for all the English language teachers of public junior and senior high schools in Japan to improve their ‘teaching ability’ of English. MEXT was influenced by the business community which promoted the importance of improving teachers’ English proficiency in order to compete at an international level. What was missing from the teacher training seminar was taking account of the teachers’ experiences. Reflective practice, which encourages the teachers to look back and examine their ideas and experiences of teaching, is an essential element of professional development.

This book illustrates a study of reflective practice which was conducted with a group of in-service teachers. By looking back at one’s teaching, reflective practice also allows teachers to enhance self-awareness and to foster autonomy.

As reflective practice was a new concept in Japan, the book took into account some Japanese conventions which are deeply rooted in the culture, such as tatemae (official front) and honne (real intent) in communication, and hansei (self-critical reflection). As a researcher, I attempted not to influence the honne of the participants and not to engage them in hansei. This approach involved the teachers in different types of dialogue: with the researcher, with other teachers, and with themselves. The book also explores what it means to reflect, and examines whether reflection follows a hierarchical sequence and specific stages. The book discusses the following:

  • The reflective continuum as opposed to hierarchical stages of reflection
  • Consolidation of professional identity for novice teachers
  • Consolidation of professional identity for experienced teachers
  • Teachers’ exploration of teacher cognition
  • Teachers’ engagement in reflective interventions, focus group discussion, journal writing, and interviews.

This book outlines a novel approach of allowing teachers to look at their teaching through different perspectives which lead them to develop professionally through shaping and reshaping their professional identity and teacher cognition. Through the illustration of the researcher’s engagement in reflection and reflexivity, the book is also useful for researchers who are interested in conducting a study of reflective practice. Reflective practice is an essential part of professional development and this book will help all teachers to understand reflective practice and engage in it in their teaching contexts.

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor further information about the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in our other title Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.