Sojourning ELTs in Qatar

Yesterday, I enthusiastically read a recently published article written by James Scotland about sojourning ELTs in Qatar.  I was not disappointed in the reading.

Book cover to Appadurai's Modernity at Large, 1996First, I liked how the author framed the study through the lens of global contact zones and professional identity.  I’m using the same framework of global contact zones for a paper that I am writing now, so it was encouraging to read a paper with the same framework and the same general target population: sojourning ELTs.  This article and others refer to Appadurai’s book Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimension of Globalization as the main source of this framework.  As for professional identity, I have seen that as an emerging theme in my literature review of sojourning ELTs.  And I’d like to explore further the relationship between cultural adjustment or cultural learning and professional identity.  Scotland’s article is a great start.

I also had personal, professional, and research interests in sojourning ELTs in Qatar.  My personal and professional interests are mainly due to the fact that I had the opportunity to become a sojourning ELT in Qatar in 2006.  I was looking forward to learning a new culture and a new approach to ELT there, but I instead became a Senior English Language Fellow in Russia.  One of my research interests, of course, is the cultural and professional learning of English language teachers.  So far, my literature review includes nothing from the Arabian peninsula even though that area of the world has become a top destination for sojourning ELTs in the past few years.

Summary of Findings

James Scotland’s findings were similar to what inspired me to conduct my dissertation research study: changing one’s pedagogy to accommodate the local expectations of English language teaching by using “more culturally appropriate topics.”  This meant that the change in question was avoiding rather than engaging in controversial issues to stimulate discussion.  Through his exploratory qualitative study, Scotland was able to categorize the 10 sojourning ELTs (new to Qatar) from many parts of the world into 3 categories based on their pedagogy.

  1. The first group had already stopped using controversial issues prior to arriving in Qatar.
  2. The second group changed to more culturally appropriate topics but the sojourning ELTs in this group did not feel that it changed their professional identity
  3. The third group also changed to more culturally appropriate topics but the sojourning ELTs in this group did in fact feel it changed their professional identity

Part of the discussion following the findings is that, at least for some teachers, there is a connection between one’s pedagogy and one’s professional identity.  My ELT experience and some of the literature I reviewed also backs these claims.  I also believe that this is not unique to sojourning ELTs.  What makes it unique is that sojourning ELTs are immersed in institutions and societies that more likely have different values and expectations about pedagogy.  How much of one’s pedagogy and/or professional identity is the sojourning ELT willing to change to meet these values and expectations?

I’d like to close with a quote from the article that continues to motivate my research interest: “[Sojourning English language teaching] creates situations where teachers are continually encouraged to adapt and reinvent their teaching identities.” 

What do you think?  How are these findings unique to Qatar?  How are they similar to English language teaching in another contexts?  If you are an English language teacher, how important is your professional identity to you?

Scotland, J. (2014). Operating in global educational contact zones: how pedagogical adaptation to local contexts may result in the renegotiation of the professional identities of English language teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 37, 33-43.


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