Brief Hiatus for Spring 2017

I have just started two research projects. One of them overlaps with my research interest in sojourning ELTs. It’s about social media for professional development, which includes culture learning. I’m in the data collection phase of this study right now.

The second research project does not overlap with research on sojourning ELTs. It’s about extensive reading, and I’ve blogged about that at https://jesl1.blogspot.com/2016/08/what-is-so-great-about-extensive-reading.html and at https://medium.com/@jdslagoski/whats-so-great-about-extensive-reading-39067c50f003.

I’m also reading more literature on cultural sociology and sociocultural anthropology to diversify my knowledge of theoretical frameworks. Once I start finding strong connections of these theories to sojourning ELTs, I may start blogging. However, I have found that blog posts on theories are less read than blog posts that present data or practical applications of the research.

If you’re curious to learn who I’m reading. It’s two dead white men:

and

I don’t anticipate writing another blog post until later this summer. However, I may post sooner depending on the review of one of my manuscripts that I have submitted for publication.

ELT Group Cultures and Subcultures

This post is part three of my continuing note-taking series from the Handbook of Cultural Sociology from Routledge International Handbooks, and it shares my thoughts on Gary Alan Fine’s chapter on group cultures and subcultures. I am fascinated by this topic because I have been considering if ELTs or a subset of ELTs can be a culture. I have been theorizing this since I entered the field and gained a stronger sense of this when I stepped out of the field for two years to work as an instructional designer.

A Prescriptive Definition of Culture

Culture should be conceptualized as a set of actions, material objects, and forms of discourse held and used by groups of individuals. In this view culture is a tool that is situated in particular communities of action, shaping the contours of civic life (Fine and Harrington, 2004). As a result, culture is tied to the existence of shared pasts and prospective futures. – Fine, p.213

The first and third sentences are quite general and could be applied to nearly any group of individuals. The second sentence is more specific saying that culture shapes the contours of civic life. As educators, ELTs somewhat do this but I doubt most are aware of the extent they do. From this definition, ELTs are not necessarily a culture unless they affect a larger community or nation.

On the next page of the chapter, Fine suggests that “the study of culture properly belongs to the analysis of groups (clubs, teams, cliques) to networked segments that are tied together through their ongoing interaction, communication, spatial co-presence, or consumption.” In this regard, the analysis of groups pertains to ELTs teaching in the same context (school, program, institution) and the analysis of networks pertains to ELTs connected through social media, conferences, and other types of professional development.

ELT Groups and Idiocultures

Reading through the section of “Groups and idiocultures” reminded me of my first experiences as a sojourning ELTs, specifically in the second paragraph:

Any fully sociological understanding of the creation of group cultures must recognize the extensive institutional influences that impact the local scene, providing the conditions for shared action. The backgrounds (both demographic and habitus) of participants, coupled with the expectations that stem from group interaction, contribute to the expansion of a group’s meaning system when a triggering event occurs–an event that sparks a recognition of collective experiences. – Fine, p.214-215

The extensive institutional influences refers to how the school or program shapes ELTs’ perspectives on the local scene. As a new ELT in Japan, I can confidently claim that my experiences with my colleagues within and outside strongly influenced my perceptions of Japan, at least initially. During my first year especially, there were many triggering events in the school and in the local area that seemed to solidify my identity as a sojourning ELT. This is similar to my doctoral dissertation findings as well.

An idioculture is a term coined by the author in 1979 as “a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as the basis of further interaction” (Fine, 1979, p.734). As a new sojourning ELT the idioculture was mainly developed by the institution and its employees with some underpinnings from the greater ELT community. Now, nearly 20 years later, this idioculture is much more based on scholarly work and experiences across different national and institutional contexts. In short, I’m working with a different idioculture from my early days, so my culture has shifted away from exclusively new sojourning ELTs in Japan to the professional ELT community.

Incidentally this shift has helped me develop a greater awareness between the ELT industry and the ELT profession, categories made clear to me only recently by an online exchange on Twitter. The main difference between these two groups is that the ELT industry is profit-driven and the ELT profession in research-driven. However, the privatization of education is blurring this distinction.

The last paragraph is an example of theoretical problems in the sociology of culture. Fine states that “By understanding the dynamics of community and the creation of collective identities, an emphasis on local culture stands ad the critical and often unexplored junction of of the individual and the institutional, thus addressing forms of cohesion as well as disaffiliation” (Fine, p. 216). My example shows I am attempting to disaffiliate myself from the ELT industry, although I work in an institution that depends on student enrollment and retention to keep me employed.

ELT Networks and Their Subcultures

For me, ELT networks refers to professional learning networks, however this is not the direction Fine takes. In this case networks refer to what connects a larger culture group, such as ELTs, in terms of subdivisions. For ELTs, these subdivisions can be classified as special interests (material writing, technology integration, English for Academic Purposes, etc.) and as types of teachers (young learners, EFL, non-native speakers, etc.). This prompted me to design a graphic representation of my networks.

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The network is overly simplified because the subgroups should be interconnected. For example, native-speaker should be a part of all of those. (However, I dislike the privilege of native speakers given my advocacy for ELT diversity and equity.) Also, I could have included broader subgroups like EFL that would pertain to my subgroups of English Language Fellows, eikaiwa teachers in Japan, and EFL teacher trainers in Korea. Creating this network helps me to reflect my sense of belonging to each subculture, but I’m not sure how useful this reflection is in the long run.

This map also helps to demonstrate Fine’s four interlocks (or social connections) that “create a shared universe of discourse that can serve as the referent for each local establishment of culture:” multiple-group membership, weak ties, structural roles, and specialized media diffusion.

Multiple Group Membership

The map clearly demonstrates this through my personal example. Currently, I am a member of the following groups: ELT adminstrators, IEP teachers in the US Midwest, native speakers, TESOL members, advocates for ELT diversity & equity, and ELT researchers. I use these linkages to help benefit the whole group, transcending boundaries.

Weak Ties

Most of these subcultures are bounded by weak ties. The strongest may be TESOL members because we must pay to be members, but the group is so large that there’s little cohesion across the whole subculture. The transient nature of our lives and our students’ lives makes many of the ties weak. However, my current IEP culture has several teachers who have worked together for 8+ years, but this does not mean they have stronger ties to each other or the institution.

Structural Roles

This is about the ability to spread information across groups. For example, my role as a researcher puts me in a position to spread more evidence-based information to the IEP teachers where I work. And my role as a TESOL member helps me promote professional development opportunities to my colleagues.

Media Diffusion

This blog is an example of how media can reach several groups simultaneously. Itis part of the ELT researchers subculture and the EFL subcultures, so I am hoping that it spreads information across these groups. I’m not sure how much interest the other subcultures have with the structural role of this blog.

Conclusion

Although I find learning how cultural sociology can help describe multiple ELT groups and contexts personally rewarding, I’m concerned that it has little benefit for most ELTs. I am left to wonder if it is worth pursuing this interest if there is only a small audience. I am torn between practical research pursuits and the goal of learning for learning’s sake. I am not sure what others will gain by this.

Reference

Fine, G.A. (2010). Group cultures and subcultures. In Hall, J.R., Grindstaff, L., & Lo, M-C. (eds). Handbook of Cultural Sociology. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.

What Do ELTs Write and Say Online?

Ever since I started my dissertation data collection as early as the fall of 2010, I have been following ELTs online. Back then, I was primarily looking at blogs, and I was especially interested in ones that contained narratives about the first year or two of living and teaching abroad. There were many of those, but it seemed like at least half of them would stop writing or delete their blog before the end of the first year.

In terms of online data, my dissertation only looked at blogs written by ELTs in Japan and Korea, published between 2011 and 2013. However, near the end of the my data collection, I learned that Twitter was a more efficient way of finding ELT bloggers than using a search engine like Google. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of data collection and analysis and did not want to start over because “a good dissertation is a done dissertation.”

And then, after completing my data collection and in the midst of data analysis, I learned about an online group of vloggers in Japan and Korea. Searching for ELT vloggers through YouTube was nearly as efficient as searching for ELT bloggers on Twitter, but the results were different. There was a higher frequency of ELT YouTubers vlogging about cultural matters and experiences whereas there was a higher frequency of ELT bloggers writing about professional teaching matters.

Since this discovery, I’ve been overloaded by the amount of data because I’ve become better at collection plus there are more ELTs on YouTube and Twitter now than six years ago. Looking back, it almost seems like there’s a completely new generation of ELTs online than when I first started. Many of my most reliable ELT bloggers and YouTubers between 2010 and 2016 went back home and/or stopped publishing narratives about teaching and the host culture.

Unobtrusive Research

Since I completed my dissertation research in 2014, I’ve been unobtrusively collecting public data on this topic while being distracted by life (changing jobs, moving, learning the new job, etc.). It hasn’t been until now that I’m learning how to focus this informal research for the purposes of formal research and publication. So I’m reading “Collecting Data from Social Networking Web Sites and Blogs” by Elizabeth Mazur, in a chapter of the book Advanced Methods for Conducting Online Behavioral Research.

How can I organize my voluminous collection of data?

Broadly

  • Categorize by textual, visual, and oral content
  • Investigate narratives “that often disclose information about [ELTs] that offline would normally be part of a slower and more private process of acquaintanceship but online are posted frequently and often in full public view” (p.78)
  • Study technology-integrated communication
  • Study “processes of communication on the Internet” (p.78-79)
  • Investigate specific aspects of the blogosphere, such as various issues raised about the host culture, teaching English, and using research

Specifically

  • Mine for “data on oral and visual culture, presentation of self-identity, language use, and interactive social dynamics” (p.78)
  • Analyze blogs written by persons of persons who share demographic commonalities, such as newly arrived sojourning ELTs, long-term immigrant ELTs, online community leaders, ELTs advocating for specific causes (equity, teachers as workers)
  • Collect data “about individuals’ or groups’ perceptions of naturally occurring historical events,” such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which occurred during my early data collection period (p.79)

The rest of the chapter informs the reader with issues that I’ve become aware of, such as accessibility and the differences of data richness across types of online writing (blogs vs. social network pages). It also reminds me of the drawbacks of this type of research, that I as a research may need to mistrust the credibility of some bloggers. However, I don’t believe this applies to most ELT bloggers. I’ve only run across a few that have had dubious stories, but humans have a tendency to exaggerate for the sake of entertainment.

So what are ELTs writing and saying online?

The short answer is “everything.” They–we write about our personal lives, our professional lives, our likes and dislikes, our concerns and issues, etc. When looking at all ELTs online there may or may not be a pattern that makes us unique from anyone else, however I notice a gap between my ELTs online and ELTs offline.

Most if not all of my colleagues at my current job do not use social media or blogs for professional purposes. I’m friends with them on Facebook where they write about their lives and local events, but not much about teaching English. Many of them find it strange or funny that I can learn from other ELTs on Twitter and YouTube.

It’s more interesting to me to see low public online participation from ELTs in higher education in the United States. I have found most people in this category collaborating in closed online groups, which makes me self-conscious about my public practices online. However, even in these closed groups, it seems that a low number of ELTs are participating.

My own professional learning network (PLN) consists of ELTs mainly outside the United States. And most of the ones in the United States have had experience teaching overseas.  My PLN has changed since I started growing it in 2011. It started with the target population of this blog in Japan and Korea, and now it’s mainly ELTs writing for professional learning. I’m interested in if and how ELTs online for professional purposes differ from those who are not in terms of teacher identity and professional goals. How are ELTs online helping, growing, or hurting the profession? Are ELTs online unintentionally shutting other ELTs out of the conversation?

For the last question, I’m thinking mainly of identity. How tightly connected and/or open are some ELTs online in terms of professional training (e.g., CELTA) or teaching context (e.g., ELTs in Japanese universities)? These are areas I’d like to explore very soon. I’m just waiting for IRB approval to start collecting data formally.

ELTs in Cultural Sociology

My interest in sojourning ELTs is a multi-disciplinary interest. It seems obvious that the fields of TESOL and applied linguistics are at the center of this interest. Broadly speaking, TESOL (or TEFL) focuses the practices of ELTs and applied linguistics focuses on the knowledge of ELTs. Of course, most TESOL and applied linguistics programs focus on a mix of these areas. However, I find that these areas do not help provide me with theoretical frameworks when studying adjustment processes and the culture learning of ELTs. For these, I need to look into the fields of psychology and sociocultural anthropology, the latter of which was my cognate area in my doctoral studies. Recently, I have been revisiting cultural sociology. More specifically, I have started reading Routledge International’s Handbook of Cultural Sociology, edited by John R. Hall, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-Cheng Lo (2010).

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The introduction is helping me develop a new perspective on ELT research, specifically one paragraph on page 5.

Most basically, a cultural sociology ought to be grounded in the analysis of everyday social life. As Georg Simmel recognized a century ago–and Charles Tilley (1984) reminded us more recently–“society” is not a thing. Instead, the social consists of networked relationships that develop through face-to-face and mediated interactions. All people live in the lifeworld–or, more accurately, in lifeworlds (plural)–where we enact our lives socially, episodically, in relation to other people.

As a novice in this field, these statements seems quite obvious but the framing helps me look at ELTs in a new light. I believe that ELTs, specifically those who teach far from home, enact their lives differently than most other people. The authors of this introduction, indicate this point has two implications.

First, whatever the ways in which culture exists outside lifeworlds (an important topic in itself), culture that has any specifically sociological bearing would have to come into play within lifeworlds, that is where “society happens.”

How does culture exist outside lifeworlds? Perhaps this is the inner working of ELTs’ minds. This helped me to revisit the concept of “imagined communities,” in which we assume that everyone in our community shares similar values and beliefs. They are imagined because they are not true. So here’s what I believe are the shared values and beliefs of the ELT community, specifically the sojourning ELT community:

  • We believe that immersing ourselves in another culture improves our understanding of humanity
  • We have a strong commitment to improving communication and relations between peoples of different cultures and backgrounds
  • Our strong interest in languages drives our interest in cultures, or (vice-versa) our strong interest in cultures drives our interest in languages
  • Although financial security is important, satisfying our linguistic and/or cultural curiosity is often more important; hence, we are lifelong learners

For some of us, these values and beliefs may only represent a phase of our lives. But for others, they may be the driving force of our lives. Additionally, perhaps it is just one culture that we seek to understand and integrate into, such as the case for some sojourning ELTs. As I’m spending more time in my own country now, I see ELTs here with an equal commitment to a diverse group of cultures.

Second, given the diversity of social phenomena that manifest in lifeworlds (work, leisure activities, bureaucracy, religion, markets, war, social movements, and so on), Simmel’s (and our) concept of the social warrants the shift we have already described, to a cultural sociology concerned with all venues, processes, and meaningful activities in social life.

This last statement illustrates why I believe ELTs deserve more focus in the field of cultural sociology. We are one of the unique areas where we observe social change immediately in our classrooms. Let’s take the recent election of Donald Trump as an example and apply it to the social phenomena listed in the above quote:

  • Work – Our work depends on students’ interest in learning English and the society’s needs for more English language speakers. With a sudden increase in hostility towards immigrants, perhaps many students are not interested in coming to the United States for their (English language) education.
  • Leisure activities – Many ELTs love to travel. With new travel restrictions emerging as actions and reactions to Trump’s policies, travel may become less appealing.
  • Bureaucracy – Visa rules and regulations as well as education systems in many countries. Keeping up with the requirements for both can sometimes overwhelm ELTs.
  • Religion – Muslim ELTs and ELTs of Muslim students are the most obviously affected by recent events
  • Markets – The trend towards privatizing public schools and the ease of teaching and learning English through technology is making the market more competitive. Job security is shrinking, but learning opportunities are expanding. At this point, it’s also hard to determine if the growing supply of ELTs is faster than the growing need of English language skills.
  • War – Compassion for refugees is diminishing in governments that used to provide English language education as part of their services. War also increases mobility of some ELTs while decreasing mobility of others.
  • Social movements – The ELT field is becoming more politicized to defend our beliefs and values as professionals and to advocate for our students

This is what I got out of one paragraph of this 690 page book. At this rate, I may retire before I finish the book.

Practical Applications

So what? The field of TESOL is only marginally interested in this area of study. Knowing teachers doesn’t necessarily improve pedagogy. It also doesn’t add much to the discourse of applied linguistics. Because this is about teachers, I’m sure some teachers are interested, but what about students and administrators?

Since I’m only on page 5 of the handbook, I’ll look into seeing if the fields associated with cultural sociology will benefit from study. As I stated above, I believe ELTs are worthwhile because we are at the crossroads of global social phenomena.

Transnational English Language Teachers?

Up until this posting, the subtitle for this blog has been “Global Citizens, Migrant Workers, Transnationals.” I included the word “transnationals” because it was a buzzword that appealed to me at the time, but what does it actually mean?

I have found that “transnational” is most often used to describe organizations or corporations rather than people, but I’ve been finding the term more in the social science and humanities. I’m currently reading through a fascinating overview of the term being used in the study of history in the book below.

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However it does not give me a clear definition of the term, especially to describe people. The purpose of the book is to give example of how “transnational” is used to describe history and studies of history.

So far, the best I could find is from the book Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges, which presents the model of transnational competence to higher education institutions as a model for 21st century learning. (Some of us ELTs are quite aware of how “21st century learning” is used to promote certain types of agendas and/or technology in our schools.) Here’s how the book attempts to define transnational in its second chapter:

Transnational phenomena and dynamics “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries”

“Transnational” directs attention to activities that traverse and interlink levels (urban, rural, national, regional) at the same time that it recognizes the permeable status of physical borders and intangible boundaries that have not disappeared.

“Transnational” also galvanizes change and transforms curricular visions by explicitly integrating and building on the efforts and advances contributed by advocates of internationalizing higher education and of multicultural education.

“Transnational” captures the diversity and multiplicity of contemporary domestic-foreign boundary exchanges without requiring global reach.

Koehn & Rosenau (2010), pp. 5-6

None of these describe people, but the first sentence indicates that it describes phenomena and dynamics. So if ELTs cannot be transnational, then how about our profession? This book suggests that all higher education learning outcomes should be transnational because we will be living transnational lives in the near future if not now.

English in Transnational History

The previous section points out that English language teaching is an act of transnational education as ELTs are preparing students to “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries.” But the book that failed to provide a definition of “transnational,” provides an example of the role of English in transnational history.

What would cultural globalization do to indigenous cultural traditions?

…globalization has seemed to promote, and to be promoted by, the near universal use of English as the language of communication. It has become the language not only of diplomatic negotiations and transnational business transactions but also of cultural activities.

Above all, English has become the chief medium of scholarly production and communication. Academic conferences of scientists as well as humanities scholars, regardless of where they are held, are usually conducted in English. Universities are ranked by the number of English-speaking publications by their faculty and courses are frequently taught in countries such as China, Korea, and Turkey in English–even by instructors whose native language is something else.

Iriye (2013), p.49

Through this point of view, these are major reasons for our students to learn English. Higher education or English for Academic Purposes is means to these ends, so could we propose English for Transnational Purposes?

A Transcultural Historical Perspective on English Language Teaching

In the last chapter of the book, Iriye writes that he expects non-national identities and groups will continue to attract the attention of historians. He provides youth groups and “the transnational coming together of individuals and groups of people pursuing their shared avocations, be they scholarship, music, and other cultural activities, sport, or traveling” as examples of these non-national groups (p.73). I believe English language learners and teachers fit into this category as many of us are at the epicenter of scholarship and cultural activities.

Furthermore, Iriye is also interested in the most obvious aspect of our profession, traveling across borders to either teach English language learners abroad to learn English in an immersive experience abroad. This transnational phenomenon has been rapidly increasing since the 1990s, however he hasn’t seen many studies in this area:

…few scholars seem to have examined this quintessentially transnational phenomenon in historical perspective. Students of global history would be particularly interested in this topic inasmuch as an increasing number of cross-border travelers began to originate in non-Western parts of the world such as the Middle-East and East Asia in the last decades of the twentieth century. What such transnational experiences do to individual tourists’ view of themselves, of others, and of the world is a fascinating to explore, the more so since the tourism industry in all countries has assumed a position of great significance in their economic affairs. Economic globalization in a sense goes together with social globalization.

Iriye (2013), p.75

I believe we can extend this to the education industry, which is becoming more internationalized in many countries all over the world. A certain degree of English language education still acts as a key to enter the broader world of higher education at the international level.

Teaching English for Transnational Purposes

Now let’s turn from taking an outward look at our profession and toward an inward look at our profession. How can we integrated transnationalism into our curriculum? Our profession has a myriad of purposes and approaches to teaching and learning the English language. I assume there is room for one more, here is my proposal with a model to work from, the transnational competence model from Koehn & Rosenau (2010).

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How could we adopt this model to English language teaching practices? I don’t think it would be too hard to demonstrate how one’s current EAP curriculum already is an ETP curriculum. Perhaps it would be better to contextualize this question in classrooms that provide opportunities for English language learners to interact with the community.

Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew with this last question, but I think English language teachers and programs should reflect on how they can contribute to the needs, if any, for transnational competence. I am unsure of how many universities are transforming their mission statements to develop this type of competence, but I am more sure that many English language teachers have the skills to help universities and other schools reach these goals.

So, back to the title question, “Are English language teachers transnational?” No, but are teaching objectives can be and the lifestyles for many of us are. To secure our way of life in the future, if the future continues to be both more globalized and more localized, I argue that we should market ourselves as leaders or models in transnational competence.

References

Iriye, A. (2013). Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Koehn, P.H. & Rosenau, J.N. (2010). Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Who’s Still Blogging?

Every January I go through my list of sojourning ELTs who blog or bloggers who teach English abroad. I started this list in 2010 as part of my doctoral dissertation research project. You can view a part of it in the tab above, Active Bloggers. On that page, I divide the active bloggers into three subgroups: well-established blogs, current and relevant blogs, and other topics. Today I revisited the blogs of the first two subgroups.

Well-Established & Still Blogging

Four of the six sojourning ELTs with well-established blogs are still blogging.

Busan Kevin is still blogging and moved his Just Japan podcast materials to a different site. The last time I explored, his Just Japan podcast dominated the site and I couldn’t tell how frequently he was still blogging.

Michael Griffin’s ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections blog is still going strong. It’s one of my favorites because we have similar views on the ELT profession and experience teaching in Korea.

English Teacher X is still raunchy.

Baye McNeil’s Loco in Yokohama is also still doing very well. I’m also a fan of this blog because of Baye’s engaging writing style and he’s not afraid of addressing issues of race in an informed and respectful manner. Many ELTs get tripped up when addressing race and ethnicity in a country they are not from, but not Baye for the most part.

Current, Relevant, & Still Blogging

Fifteen of the twenty-eight blogs that I considered current and relevant last year are still current, relevant, and active this year. Because there’s a higher number of those, I will just list them below.

  1. Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.
  2. Christina Sky Box
  3. Reflections of a Teacher and Learner – now in Bahrain
  4. Don’s ESL Adventure!
  5. EFL Notes – less active now, now contributing to ELT Research Bites
  6. Japanese Rule of 7
  7. JimmyESL – functions more like a website now
  8. Evidence Based EFL
  9. Nashboroguy3
  10. Sandy Millin
  11. sendaiben
  12. Shea in Japan
  13. The Japan Guy – functions more like a website now
  14. The Teacher James – less active now
  15. Throwing Back Tokens – less active now

What makes these not well-established? I’m asking myself the same question. My criteria is outdated because I have less time exploring how well connected the bloggers were to the sojourning ELT community. If appearances were the determining factor, a few of these blogs seem more well-established than the well-established blogs. I may merge these two subgroups into one category.

Who Stopped Blogging?

Of the two well-established blogs, one of them stopped because she left Korea. I’m unsure if she’s continuing to teach English or not. The others, Evan and Rachel, stopped blogging and now communicate with their audience through Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. They also left Korea and are now Peace Corps volunteers in Indonesia.

This brings me to the rest of my list of sojourning ELT bloggers. On my Active Bloggers pages, I have one more subgroup, Other Topics. Additionally, I have two more categories: inactive blogs and abandoned/expired blogs.

  • Other topics blog – the blogger used to blog about teaching English in their host country but now writes about travel, another hobby of theirs, or tips to live and/or work in the host country
  • Inactive blog – the blogger hasn’t published a new post for 6-12 months and hasn’t signaled that he or she is leaving the country, leaving the profession, or ending the blog
  • Abandoned blog – the same as inactive but the blogger hasn’t published a new post for over a year. Or the blogger announces that they are leaving the country or ending the blog but they leave the blog up on the web. This is the case for Smiling Seoul. Once in a while some bloggers will return to their abandoned blog.
  • Expired blog – the URL doesn’t work, the server is down for an extended period of time, and/or the blogger shut it down or deleted it

From blog to website

Evan and Rachel‘s blog is an example of a growing trend of blogs changing their format to function more like websites. A couple other bloggers in the current & relevant subgroup did the same: JimmyESL and The Japan Guy. The Japan Guy’s site moved away from the blog format over a year ago, but it wasn’t a trend yet. Both JimmyESL and The Japan Guy’s site now function like many of the other topics blogs, so I will likely place them there.

Other topics

There were three other blogs that used to be current and relevant that also fit into the category of other topics for other reasons.

  1. Gordsellar.com – writes about his hobbies and fiction writing
  2. Kanadajin3 – writes about living in Japan but not about ELT as she left the profession
  3. Lonna Lisa Williams – has left China and is now back in the United States, not teaching at the moment

Relevant but not current (inactive)

  1. Kimmy on a Quest – last posted in May 2016
  2. The Lives of Teachers – last posted in February 2016 (a very good blog)
  3. Roboseyo – last posted in August 2016 (16 years of blogging!)
  4. TEFL Reflections – last posted in September 2016

Abandoned blogs (ended in 2015)

  1. Search for Dead Memory
  2. The Fellow in Lombok
  3. Warmoth_Strat

Expired blogs

  1. A Geek in Korea – the server is down today but it could come back up. I know he’s still active because I follow him on Twitter.
  2. Teach Them English – the server is down today but it could come back up
  3. Waegook Tom – blank page

Life Happens

Why do people stop blogging? As one of my dissertation committee members said flatly, “Life happens.” I understand most of the reasons to stop blogging. I wasn’t able to blog much since October 2016 because my life got filled up with other responsibilities.

I’m more interested in why ELTs leave their host country, but I’m even more interested in why ELTs leave the profession. My belief is that the strength of our profession is measured in the demand for our work and the well-being of teachers. My concern is that many good teachers leave because of undesirable working conditions abroad and at home. When good teachers leave, the profession is left with mediocre and poor teachers, and that is detrimental to the students. Where do the good teachers go? I am noticing that very few go on to be successful bloggers and writers. I myself am heading down the researcher/administrator path, but I still have opportunities to teach.

New Bloggers

After this stage of catching up on sojourning ELT bloggers, I go look for more. I was able to find more new bloggers in 2016 than 2015 and 2014. I hope to report on the new bloggers I find plus inactive and abandoned blogs that have come back to life. Let me know if I missed any well-established or active blogs about teaching English abroad. Maybe you’re one of them?

2016 JALT Presentation & Learning

Culture Learning

On Monday, November 28th, I gave a presentation summarizing my doctoral dissertation. You can view the full Prezi here. It’s basically the same Prezi I used during my dissertation defense with a few modifications, the biggest one being the change of title to Culture Learning of Sojourning ELTs from the Adjustment Process of Sojourning ELTs in order to better frame it in terms of professional development instead of psychological adjustment.

It was over five years since my last visit to Japan, when I taught at the International University of Japan’s summer intensive English program. Many of the faculty there were generous enough to allow me to present an early draft of my dissertation proposal, and I was happy to receive feedback from people similar to the participants in my study during both times. The best advice I received during my JALT presentation was to seek out dispatching companies, such as Interac, for future participants and possible collaboration. Those companies may share a similar interest in the culture learning of their clients.

Professional Learning

Although giving my presentation in Japan was rewarding, I found the spontaneous discussion that developed around an absent presenter’s topic very insightful. The day before, I was looking forward to attending Daniel Parsons’ presentation on “Migrant Teachers in Japan,” a topic very similar to mine. In his description, he posed the question, “What does it mean to be a foreigner, professional educator, and settled in Japan?” He used post-structuralist theory from Julia Kristeva to ask new questions about cosmopolitan, migrant, and transnational professional identities. I’m not familiar with Kristeva’s work, so I will check that out soon.

Daniel had a larger turnout than my presentation, and our audience seized the opportunity to hold an impromptu discussion based on his presentation’s discussion. I co-lead the discussion because of my background on the topic, and I found it completely rewarding and wished I could have recorded it with everyone’s permission. I did not record it, but I want to share what I learned based on my jet-lagged memory:

  • “When are you going back home?” was a common question that many of the participants heard when many of them did not plan on going “back home” any time soon. I completely forgot about this phenomenon until this discussion. It reminded me of when I returned to Japan in 2011 and my ex-landlord was surprised that I was still teaching English. Can you make a career out of that?
  • We wondered why the term “migrant” was chosen. I told them I decided against using the term migrant because it was closely linked to economics and that the word suggests that migrants work abroad because they cannot find work (that pays enough) in their home country.
  • I learned that many of the participants represented many at the conference in that they wouldn’t fit my classification as “sojourners” because they did not intend on returning to their home country any time soon.  Before this conference, I had assumed there were only a few ELTs in Japan with 15+ years there. I felt mildly judged when they learned that I “traveled the world” teaching English. I was more intrigued than hurt by this feeling as it raises an invisible barrier between types of teachers.
  • We briefly discussed being marginalized as “migrant” teachers, but I could sense that this was a sensitive issue that only a couple participants wanted to discuss more deeply. I agree that it borders on complaining, which can lead to negative unprofessional talk. I felt equipped with the skills to keep the talk professional, but I could not convey this to them.

I wonder if anyone left the room feeling as good as I did. I’m afraid the discussion may have made some of them feel worse, but uncertainty is the nature of our field.

Participant-Driven Learning

I also enjoyed having the opportunity to meet many of the ELTs that I have been following on social media, primarily Twitter. I especially enjoyed attending the presentations by Anna Loseva and Michael Griffin. I didn’t get a chance to tell them this but I believe their efforts towards participant-driven learning online and through social media have probably made them better, more confident presenters at traditional professional development conferences like JALT. I also learn a lot more from them online than in one of their presentations. Is that just me?

I would like to explore more on how we can help transform conferences like JALT and TESOL to bridge the gap between sage-on-the-stage and participant-driven learning. Both are valuable and do not have to be mutually exclusive. Now that I am back in the United States, it’s mostly the English language teachers in Japan (and other countries) who use social media that I continue to learn from.

What’s Next?

My presentation at JALT represented the end of this part of my career, talking about my dissertation research findings. I am now ready to move beyond my dissertation to the next stages of my research agenda, hints of which are given in previous posts. After earning my PhD two years ago, I have a better idea of what directions I can go towards and what directions to avoid. My experience at JALT put a great punctuation mark on this realization, and I’m looking forward to the next stages of my career in research.

YouTube Comments for Sojourning ELTs, Part 2

I finally read through and analyzed all of the comments on kanadajin3’s video above. As I stated in my previous post, her video had 1,408 comments as of August 20, 2016 whereas the video with the second highest number of comments was Regan the Vegan’s with 215 comments. I wanted to see to what extent the types of comments in kanadajin3’s video differed from the other 3 videos.

How did the comments compare?

The most common type of comment was questions: 33% for Regan, 30% for Shea Roberts, and 52% for Gina Bear. Shea also received a very high proportion of compliments (29%) compared to Regan (17%) and Gina (14%). All three of these videos were upbeat with comments about their positive perspectives. Most of the questions for these three videos were about visa requirements for people wanting to work in Japan, part-time in Regan’s case.

For kanadajin3’s video, just a bit over 25% of the comments were questions, a lower proportion than the other three.But for a video with 617 direct comments, that’s 158 questions. 23 of those questions were about visa requirements, 9 about language requirements, and 3 about education requirements to work (mostly as ELTs) in Japan. Additionally, 33 questions were about the types of jobs (mostly not ELT jobs) available to foreigners in Japan.

The proportion of complimentary comments were similar to Regan’s and Gina’s at about 15%. The majority (22) of these compliments were general or non-specific, such as “I love this video.” For specific compliments, 20 found her video funny or hilarious, 15 provided compliments on her physical appearance, and another 15 provided compliments on the video’s content, such as it being “the truth.”

Although kanadajin3’s video comments did not differ from the others in terms of the most common types of comments, she had a few other categories that had slightly fewer comments than compliments. Just under 15% of the comments were categorized as additional statements (87 comments), concerns (90 comments), and comments (92) of YouTubers relating their experiences to her video and situation. With the exception of Gina Bear’s comments categorized as additional statements (16%), kanadajin3’s video had a higher proportion of these categories, and thus a greater variation in types of comments. It is in these next three categories that the negative tone of kanadajin3’s video affects the type of comments.

Additional Statements

The majority (23%) of additional statements were YouTubers providing their two cents about pedagogy. Some were genuinely trying to help or explain kanadajin3’s struggles with teaching English, such as being patient with teaching kids and accepting that repetition is a necessary requirement for teachers and learners of language. Other YouTubers were adding information to demonstrate that her experiences are not unique and that her issues are commonplace in other teaching contexts.

The next subcategory (16%) were YouTubers explaining English language teaching contexts through their experiences and observations. A smaller subset (4%) of YouTubers provided additional information regarding their experiences as assistant language teachers in Japan. A larger subset (10%) provided additional information about why offering private English lessons in Japan can be dangerous.

Concerns

The sentiment about dangerous private English lessons carry over into this category with 9% of this subset of YouTubers sharing their concerns about kanadajin3’s safety and the safety of other ELTs. Unfortunately for kanadajin3, the largest majority of concerns (21%) were about her attitude towards the English language teaching profession and her students, but this should not be surprising given the title of her video.

More sympathetic concerns (18%) were about her cold, apparently made evident in a video she made prior to this one. At least 16 YouTubers expressed their happiness to see that she had recovered. On the flip side of sympathy, 11% of concerns were about her language skills, with YouTubers pointing out the grammar mistakes she made on the video. And 9% of concerns were about her teaching skills, echoing the concern about her attitude. YouTubers here made the assumption that her negative attitude made her a bad teacher.

Relating Experiences

Many comments were of YouTubers relating to kanadajin3’s experience, especially English language teaching experience (28% of the subset). Many of these relating experiences are other (former) ELTs in Japan whereas others were positive reactions to her experiences, in which they found her descriptions of teaching English in Japan “fun” or “awesome” regardless of the video’s title.

9% of the subset compared her ELT experience to their language teaching experiences in other countries (such as Brazil and Mexico) or periods of time in Japan. Another 9% found her descriptions of Japanese culture similar to theirs or their friends’ descriptions. As suggested by the title of her video, most of these were negative descriptions.

Wait…There’s More!

While writing this blog post, I’m realizing that I could probably write a 10-20 page paper on the 617 comments of just this one YouTube video, and there are hundreds if not thousands of videos on teaching English in Japan.

One of my favorite subcategories, which is found in the categories of concern and relating experiences is a theme which I coded as “difficult.” This is where the YouTubers either come to the conclusion or use her video as evidence that teaching is hard. I would like to share screenshots of these comments as well as other comments above, but searching through the 617 comments for them is difficult too.

Actually it’s not that difficult, it’s just tedious. As part of my data collection process, I recorded in reverse chronological order where each comment appeared. Research like this is time-consuming to track, log, code, and describe each comment. It took me about 6 weeks for this one video, and I know there must be a faster way of collecting YouTube comment data. In my next post, I will share specific examples of some of these categories plus more.

Another thing that I did not do was collect and code the responses to some of the comments. In my collection process, I highlighted the comments that received at least one response. I noticed that some responses had at least 10 responses, and a few had more than 30 responses. It would be interesting to also investigate them and analyze the discourse of those responses, some of which may behave more like conversations.

Finally, I’d like to add that as of this posting her video has had 1,430 comments, which is 22 more since I started collecting data 6 weeks ago. I did not include those 22 new comments in this collection process. I wanted my data set to represent the number of comments for each video in mid-August 2016. I realize, however, that kanadajin3 can also delete comments as well, and I believe she may have deleted at least one that I collected and coded. The YouTuber’s control of comments is another interesting aspect of this research process.

Do you think videos like these help the English language teaching profession in general? .Stay tuned for more analyses and discussions on this topic, and let me know if you’d like more. 

YouTube Comments for Sojourning ELTs, Part 1

What sort of comments do YouTubers who are sojourning ELTs get? I’m interested in this question to see if and how YouTube helps the English language teaching profession in general. I’ve noticed that YouTube seems to be used more now than blogs, Twitter, and reddit for sojourning ELTs to communicate to the general public.

I’m just dipping my toe in the vast ocean of YouTube video and comments about teaching English overseas. I decided to start by searching the way I started my career, so I did a YouTube video search for “Teaching English in Japan.”  The top four results are below. If you’re interested in how I collected the data, scroll below.

As of today (August 19, 2016), this video had 215 comments with 118 direct comments. The majority (33%) of his comments were questions, split between questions about English language teaching and personal questions about the vlogger, Regan the Vegan. He also received a large proportion of compliments (17%) about the video content and his personal appearance. Many questions and concerns were about his situation, teaching part-time through a working holiday visa, which is an opportunity for Australians but not Americans.

Shea Roberts’ video had 110 comments with 76 of them commenting directly about the video and not other comments. Like Regan’s video, the majority of his comments were questions (30%) and compliments (29%). Most of his questions were about English language teaching in Japan, such as degree requirements and native speaker and non-native speaker issues. There were more compliments about the quality and content of the video, but he still received a fair share of compliments on his appearance.

kanadajin3’s video received 1,408 comments, which is more than these other videos combined. I decided to postpone analyzing her comments, but I’m interested in the reason for such a high number of comments. The most logical assumption is that her video has been on YouTube longer than the other three, but I’m also wondering if the tone of her title also attracted more comments. I’m interested in exploring the difference between positive and negative videos. The other three videos are more on the positive or objective side, but I haven’t watched her video yet. So maybe her title is a misnomer? Also, because I have been following sojourning ELTs on social media for nearly six years now, I’m familiar with kanadajin through the J-vlogging/Japan YouTubers community.

Gina Bear’s video has been online for the shortest period of time, which may contribute to the lower number in comments, 124 (50 direct comments). However, she had more recent comments than the others. She also seemed to be a lot more interactive with her YouTube followers and/or comments. Many of the 74 comments not directed at the video were her replies. She also received a high proportion of questions (52%), but her proportion of compliments was lower (14%). Unlike the first two videos, Gina Bear had a higher proportion of comments (16%) with people adding more information or their “two cents” as commentary.

Similarities

Right now, I’m more interested in finding similarities across the videos to see if there are any patterns worth investigating. Like I mentioned earlier, my main interest is to see if and how these videos benefit the English language teaching profession. I was happy to see many comments with questions, concerns, or additional information regarding ELT. Many of these were country-specific. Many questions and concerns were about the qualifications to become an ELT, specifically about visa, language, and education requirements. Although pedagogy was mentioned, most comments were not about teaching approaches. On the plus side, each video had at least one well-informed and insightful comment about English language teaching.

I’ve only looked at three threads of comments, so I’m interested in finding more patterns as I analyze more. I also need to analyze these comments more in depth. I’m not interested in differences between the comment threads right now because the sample size is so small (3).

The Nitty-Gritty

If you’re easily bored by research data analysis, please skip this section. I’d also like to say that this is preliminary research. This is an exercise to determine if this is something worth my time to investigate. I have two other research projects going on right now, but this one is closest to my research agenda I planned out a few years ago.

Video Selection – Simple. I went to YouTube and searched for “Teaching English in Japan” and selected the top videos to appear. I am quite aware that this search process may change depending on the day and the account. I used my YouTube account that I created for research purposes only, so Google may have used an algorithm to select videos to match my profile/interests/search history.

Comment Data Collection – For each comment thread, I selected the option “newest first” as shown below to collect the data in reverse chronological order.

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I am aware that YouTubers can delete comments, so I know I am not seeing all of them. I interpret this as comments that the YouTubers deem appropriate for their audience. Because of Gina Bear’s high level of interaction, I assume she manages her comment thread very well. I did not record any comments made by trolls. The other two YouTubers had a few troll comments.

Comment Data Coding – I created an Excel spreadsheet to record the following information: the name (YouTube ID) of the commentator, the main purpose of the comment, and a short description of the comment. I only recorded comments directly about the video and not the responses to comments. Those that had responses were highlighted in yellow. See below the example from Regan the Vegan’s video commentary:

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Initial Analysis – This is where I am now, far from being a completed study. You’re looking at it. If you like quantitative data more, here’s what I can give you now. I can explain more when I get more data.

Data

 Questions

This investigative process has created more questions than answered, so I’m still motivated to continue this investigative process. But I’m also interested in the bigger picture, the field of English language teaching, TEFL, and TESOL.

So who is interested in learning more about how YouTube can help the English language teaching profession in terms of professional and cultural learning? Is there something that you would like me to turn more attention to? Is there something important that I missed in my preliminary data? Do you think this would be useful for other English language teachers, their supervisors, teacher educators, etc.?

In my next post, I will answer your questions and have kanadajin3’s video analyzed perhaps with some others. Stay tuned.

To What Extent is Intercultural Competence Necessary?

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After reviewing some literature on intercultural competence, I’ve been asking myself to what extent is intercultural competence necessary for sojourning English language teachers? The figure above comes from a study by Darla K. Deardorff entitled, “Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization” published 10 years ago in the Journal of Studies in International Education. It starts with the premise that the development of interculturally competent students is one meaningful outcome of internationalization. But what about interculturally competent teachers? Do you need them to develop the same type of students? How do you hire or develop interculturally competent teachers?

Do administrators and hiring committees overseas have the same concerns when hiring international faculty for their internationalized university? And this brings me to my question concerning the field of English language education specifically. For the schools that seek “native speakers,” how important is their intercultural competence compared to their linguistic competence or their teaching abilities? Do many assume that most competent English language teachers are also interculturally competent?

I bring up “native speakers” because of the central issues raised by my colleagues at https://teflequityadvocates.com/. It is known that many “native speakers” are hired for their image as a native speaker, which is often Anglo-American-centric and even racist. Because some employers prefer image over teaching ability and experience, do they also disregard or care less about intercultural competence of the “native speaker?”

I assume even the least interculturally competent “native speaker” would develop some competence while living and teaching overseas, but is there any incentive for this type of person to further develop their intercultural competence? If they want to keep their job, they probably need to get to know their students better, so this brings up another question about sojourning ELTs: Does learning about one’s students overseas automatically develop one’s intercultural competence?

My experience as an intercultural communication trainer in my previous job tells me, “No.” This is because teachers can select what they want to learn about their students, which can be very narrow and superficial like what their favorite movies are. Are employers satisfied with their teachers having a superficial understanding of their students? I assume most employers don’t even know what type of understanding their teachers have of their students.

What about “non-native speakers?” If they share the same cultural and/or linguistic background as their students, they may know their students better, but does that make them more interculturally competent. To what extent does speaking and teaching in another language help develop one’s intercultural competence? I’m sure it contributes, but is it the intercultural competence that employers want more than their language and teaching abilities?

Why all these questions?

interpersonal_skills

I am seeking out to know the extent to which employers and/or school administrators value the intercultural competence of their English language teachers. I’m interested to learn if they believe a high degree of intercultural competence is the positive side effect of teaching English to students of other languages and cultures. If I am a supervisor with a teacher that has excellent rapport with their students, do I care how interculturally competent they are? Furthermore, if I have a teacher with terrible rapport, would I invest in training to develop their intercultural competence or would it be easier to fire that teacher?

I strongly believe in culturally responsive teaching and that one’s intercultural competence improves rapport and pedagogy, but that can be difficult to screen for during a hiring process and is more difficult to develop in teachers, already working for you, that resist or don’t believe in the training. Furthermore, intercultural competence is more than establishing and maintaining rapport with the students. Sojourning ELTs work with faculty and staff from many other cultures as well. So finally, from a supervisor’s perspective, what is the difference between intercultural competence and interpersonal skills?