Why Do Sojourning ELTs Need Attention?

we-pay-attention-when-the-teacher-is-talking

I’m not talking about the egos of sojourning ELTs or that they have difficulty keeping students’ attention; I’m referring to making a case for sojourning ELTs to receive more attention as a target population in TESOL research. This is an updated extension to my post on another blog at http://jesl1.blogspot.com/2014/01/another-argument-for-research-on.html.

One reason is, through my observations and experience, that the world of sojourning ELTs is quite different from ELTs who teach in their own country. Sojourning ELTs, particularly new and/or young ELTs, do not seem to be taken seriously by the rest of the professional English language teaching community.  Because many of them come straight out of college and into the English language classroom overseas, they do not have much in common with their local counterparts.

Education

To help illustrate the gap between sojourning ELTs and local ELTs, I like to use two groups of local ELTs.  For example, I will compare an American sojourning ELT in South Korea to an American teaching English language learners in the US public school system and a Korean teaching English in the Korean public school system. First of all, the biggest difference is the training.  Both local teachers require a degree, even a graduate degree in education, to teach English in the public school system.  For the most part, the American sojourning ELT only needs a bachelor’s degree in any field. So the bar to gain entrance to the English language teaching profession is set lower for most sojourning ELTs.

Privilege (exoticism)

Another difference, which only affects the white “native speaking” sojourning ELT, is privilege.  Both local types of ELTs do not enjoy the same level of privilege that comes to sojourning ELTs, who are a more exotic to language learners. (Since I haven’t been teaching abroad for a decade now, I wonder if this exoticism is wearing out/thin in some countries). Privilege is most enjoyed by the white “native speaking” ELT who is commodified as the prototypical authentic English language teacher (Seargeant, 2009). The young or new sojourning ELT straight out of college may not understand that language teachers usually get the least respect in the field of education. So another gap between these two populations is represented by an inequality of perceived prestige.  The local teachers who often receive more education in English language pedagogy and applied linguistics do not get the same amount of respect and, often likely, pay as their less educated and often younger counterparts, who may not even consider English teaching as a real job.

Professional Identity

Because most local ELTs have more preparation to become teachers, they have spent more time and effort into developing a professional identity. I posit that this professional identity is the main reason local ELTs and their contexts have been given a lot more attention in the research literature. I assume most researchers prefer to investigate ELTs who have received some sort of education or training and who teach in a more controlled environment, such as a classroom in a public/accredited school or program. In this context, the teacher and the researcher are both academic professionals as opposed to the sojourning ELT who may not care about the profession or be too new to have any rationale for his or her teaching approach.

I think back to my experiences as a new sojourning ELT in Japan.  My form of professional development came as on-the-job training. No research was presented to us, but I assumed my school’s method had a research-informed methodology. I didn’t know it was a combination of the direct method and the audio-lingual method (disguised as the communicative language approach) until I attended graduate courses in TESOL afterwards. I didn’t even know that Japan had professional teaching organizations such as JALT (Japan Association of Language Teaching) until I left. I wanted to grow professionally, but I was in a private/corporate language school that wanted teachers to teach their way and employed many people who were not serious about the profession beyond the business.

The Learner’s Perspective

My final argument is that sojourning ELTs need more attention in research because, for many English language learners all over the world, these sojourning ELTs represent the profession as it relates to the rest of the world. Back to my first example, the Korean student may see their Korean English teacher as just another teacher at his or her school like the math teacher and the history teacher, but he or she sees the sojourning ELT representing English teachers outside of the school context.  Through the eyes of this Korean English language learner, the sojourning ELT represents the ELT profession internationally.  And for this reason, for the sake of our profession, we should give more attention to sojourning ELTs.

Reference

Seargeant, P. (2009).  The idea of English in Japan: ideology and the evolution of a global language.  Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

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