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.