Charles Danoff

Let's Not Get Started With The He Said She Said:
Effective ALT and JTE Collaboration

In the early summer of 2009, Colt, an American teacher, was working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. He worked at ten schools in a rural town of 4,000 citizens. His role was to assist the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) as we team taught (TT) together.

On Wednesday's Colt taught at a junior high school. The school's JTE asked him to arrive at 08:00 AM. This was earlier than his starting time of 08:30, but he complied in the beginning. When he was in the office; however, she was busy and they rarely spoke. Soon enough, Colt stopped coming early because he did not see the point.

With teachers at some schools he collaborated regularly, but with the junior high JTE, their collaborative preparation was inconsistent. Usually she let Colt know a day or two before class if she wanted him to prepare anything. Occasionally, she did not ask for his help at all. If asked, Colt would prepare what she wanted and sometimes fax it to her before class. Their main communication consisted of a few minutes sometime before class on Wednesday, and infrequently a review after class.

Her English level was high and she was quite cordial when she spoke and greeted Colt in the morning. They did not communicate much, as she seemed to be extremely busy at all times in the office.

One week when the JTE asked Colt to find an activity, he found one that was difficult but he felt could work, and he faxed it to her. When Colt arrived at school the next morning, he asked her about it, and she surprised him saying she understood.

They got to the classroom, Colt handed out the worksheet, gave his explanation in English, then turned to her for the Japanese. She had a blank look on her face, she appeared not to understand. Colt suggested that they simply move on. She said they could not do that. They had to finish because they had already given the students the paper. She changed the activity, said some words in Japanese and the kids did something different than planned, but finished.

Back in the office Colt and the JTE started started talking about what happened, and got into a bit of an argument. A big part was Colt's suggestion to take back the handout. She said in Japan they could not do it, because it would confuse the students and was too big a mistake for a teacher to make. Colt disagreed, she said he did not understand because it was Japan.

Placing the situation beyond Colt's ability to comprehend ticked him off, so he said something about how she said she understood the activity but she did not. She mentioned how Colt was often late, and so on and so on. the conversation ended poorly and they barely spoke for the next few weeks.

Identification of the Central Crisis
What are the inter-professional and cultural factors in teacher collaboration that could have led to the tense situation?

Alternative Explanations to the Crisis
  1. Meeting time for TT planning was not something built into the ALT and JTE's schedule.
  2. The ALT and the JTE were not properly trained in TT.
  3. The ALT was neither a trained, nor experienced teacher so he could not contribute meaningfully to lessons.
  4. The JTE did not properly explain local cultural expectations about work to the ALT.

Contextualization of Explanations
  1. For collaborative preparation to occur, there must first be time alloted. A Kawamura and Sloss (1992) survey's results showed 79.9 percent of JTEs lacked a fixed time for pre-class preparation (as cited in Kachi and Lee, 2001, p. 7). Hord (2009) suggests individuals ranking higher than teachers should seek "teachers' cooperation in finding or creating time for meetings" (p. 42). Considering both of their schedules, including daily staff meetings for the JTE, were given from above, placing the onus on JTEs and ALTs to negotiate their own schedules for meetings makes them far more difficult to occur.
  2. Literature from Tajino & Tajino (1999), notes the lack of TT (as cited in Kachi and Lee, 2001, p. 6). If neither the JTE, nor the ALT have been trained in how to TT it is difficult to expect them to know how to effectively work together.
  3. Colt was one of many ALTs without proper experience or training. Kachi (2001) reported that 79.4% of ATLs are neither trained in teaching English as a Foreign Language, nor experienced. In any field, it is natural that without any professional background or knowledge someone may not be able to contribute meaningfully.
  4. While Colt felt not arriving at 8:00 was not serious, considering he never spoke to his JTE, she felt otherwise. Meerman (2003) wrote how this is a problem for others as well "Cultural differences with respect to working hours, contracts and culturally specific senses of obligation with respect to work expectations are exactly what have been keeping Japanese schools from asking more of their ALTs."

Suggested Pathway of Practice: Individual Accommodation
The most effective that the inter-professional and cultural factors in teacher collaboration leading to the tense situation could have been avoided is through individual accommodation. That is, both the JTE and the ALT make the time and effort to adjust their approach to one another.

Scheduled meeting time from school officials and institutionalized teacher training would be nice, but those are outside the control of JTEs and ALTs. On the part of JTEs this implies making the ALT more aware of how Japanese schools work. Meerman (2003) noted how some are collaborating effectively:

According to JLTs, the ability of the ALT to make an impact on lesson content depends primarily on the ALT’s sense that students are deriving academic benefit from team-teaching lessons, that they feel meaningfully integrated into school life, and that their efforts are helping in some way to strengthen team-teaching as an enduring practice in their school. (p. 104)

In the case of Colt's situation, the JTE could have explained she did not appreciate him coming late earlier on, and why it was important to her for me to arrive when she asked.

From the ALT perspective Laura Wong, a Hokkaido Prefecture ALT, noted that many JTEs felt uncomfortable speaking directly about their thoughts on her performance (personal communication, April 10, 2010). To overcome this obstacle, she created a feedback form (See downloads) she said writing was more comfortable for them than speaking, and she received a great deal of feedback. Eventhough Colt did not take this exact approach, he could have searched for alternative ways to communicate with his JTE.

There are certainly institutional changes that should be made in the JET Program, but in the mean time many of the problems that arise in TT can be effectively negated by consistent and earnest effort by JTEs and ALTs. That way, when things inevitably do not go as planned, there is a history to build upon in addressing the problem and discussing solutions and future actions.

I would like to thank former and current JET ALTs Alex Caron-Schuler, James Bozeman, Clare Sellars, Nic Greaves and especially Laura Wong for answering my questions; classmates Daniel Yi-Chiang Liu and Nanako Matsumoto Hoch for their constructive feedback; Dr. Faridah Pawan for her advice and Hikaru Utada for her lovely song "Apple and Cinnamon" from whose lyrics this paper's title is taken.

  • Hord, S. M. (2009). Professional learning communiities: Educators working together towards a shared purpose-improved student learning. National Staff Development Council, 30(1), 40-43.
  • Kawamura, Y., & Sloss, C. (1992). Japanese english teachers and the JET program: A survey report. The English Teacher, XVI(11), 41-45.
  • Meerman, A. D. (2003). The impact of foreign instructors on lesson content and student learning in japanese junior and senior high schools [Electronic version]. Asia Pacific Education Review, 4(1), 97-105.
  • Reiko, K. and Choon-hwa, L. (2001). Proceedings from the Annual International Conference on Language Teacher Education. Minneapolis, MN.
  • Tajino, A., & Tajino, Y. (2000). Native and non-native: What can they offer? ELT Journal, 54(1), 3-11.


PDF Version of the ALT Feedback Form

Rich Text Format Version of the ALT Feedback Form (You can edit this in most popular word processors).

Jason Dash

Crisis Identified:

Being an EFL teacher in a foreign country can be a complicated endeavor. In addition to simply teaching the classes, it is imperative to coordinate your teaching philosophy with that of your superiors (and their clients). In many countries, EFL is not just a method of education, but big business as well, and the business aspect of this is often reflected in the methods of many institutes. Instead of organizing the classroom in terms of what is best for the improvement of the students’ English knowledge, some schools structure their classrooms (and methodologies therein) for the purpose of making money. For the well-meaning teacher, this can bring about a multi-faceted crisis that raises many questions: Does one hold fast to his/her own teaching philosophy and resist the policies of one’s school? How does teaching within such a system disenfranchise and deprofessionalize the teacher? Are there ways of reconciling the market-driven principles of some schools with the pedagogical principles of the teacher? This issue can manifest itself in a number of ways, with the following example detailing one way in which such a problem may arise.

Jeff, an experienced teacher of Korean academies with no prior teacher-training, had been working for a private academy in Korea for about a half of a year when they switched him from teaching elementary students to one of the higher levels of middle school students. The former teacher, a fully licensed American teacher, had major issues with how the school wanted her to conduct her classroom, and how she felt a classroom should be handled. Jeff ignored this, and accepted his new position without a second thought. At the middle school level, he had a high degree of autonomy, always designed the monthly tests for the students and catered the tests specifically to that month’s content. Once he moved to the middle school level, he was no longer able to design or grade the students’ tests. All he was required to do was hand the students the test papers, stick in a tape, and hit play. His partner teacher took care of all the class evaluations. Furthermore, the administration designed a pretty rigorous curriculum from which he was warned not to stray. He was locked into a draconian schedule with little to no idea what criteria his students were being tested on, or any realistic objectives of what he was supposed to be achieving in class, outside of simply finishing the material.

While his partner teacher was on vacation, Jeff was asked to administer the monthly test in full (along with some new sections they had just added). He discovered that the students were taking old versions of the TOEFL iBT Test, completely unrelated to the material he was asked to teach in class. He was aware the level to which they would graduate would focus on TOEFL skills, but he did not know how or why his classes preceded the TOEFL level. His classes tended to focus more on communicative methods than skills-based learning. Conversation and speech-giving were emphasized, even in the listening and reading classes. He soon learned that his classes were tested in this way because the administration wanted the students to advance to the next level with low test scores on the iBT TOEFL. After being explicitly trained in the test-taking methods by the teachers in the next level, the students’ scores would (theoretically) rise precipitously. Jeff was apoplectic that the school would engage in such disingenuous activities. Not only was he being kept in the dark about what the kids needed to learn to be successful on their tests, but the students were being sacrificed just so the school could say they were positively impacting the kids’ education. Jeff was faced with a crisis. He knew that his school was private, and ultimately founded to make money. He also was invested in giving the students a proper English education. He was forced to either fight through the heavy-handed policies of the school (often transmitted by his partner teacher), or acquiesce and teach in a manner that aided the school’s money-making efforts (which was largely indifferent to the students at best and detrimental at worst).

This incident highlights a crisis that frequently transpires in private academies in Korea (and possibly many other EFL countries). As EFL becomes bigger and bigger as a business, teachers are often asked to approach their classrooms in ways that are more economically beneficial to the organization than pedagogically beneficial to the students. Teachers in these situations must reconcile being both an educator who maintains his/her integrity and accomplishing the goals of the organization that pays them. While it is often impossible to “solve” this kind of personal crisis (without leaving the organization altogether), there are steps one can take to mitigate this sort of deprofessionalizing atmosphere.

Roots of the Crisis

1. Pressures to alter pedagogical practices in high-stakes testing

With the importance of TOEFL and other standardized tests in getting into prestigious high schools/universities, enormous pressure is exerted on the students, teachers, and schools to produce high scores. Academies (as well as most other schools) are forced not only to teach to the tests, but also show that they are proficient in improving students’ skills as conceived by these tests. More than just indicating the results of schooling, these tests radically transform what actually happens within the classroom. Lori Assaf has noted about high-stakes tests, “they can have a powerful impact on teachers’ decision making and teaching practices” (Assaf, 2008, p. 239). The pedagogical practices that teachers learn throughout teacher-training are subsumed to the demands of a system that requires students to meet an imposed standard. Furthermore, that standard often is completely decontextualized from the students’ learning trajectory from which (progressive) teachers often draw to build a relevant classroom environment.

High-stakes tests force the classroom away from student-centered learning and toward skills-centered learning. Instead of enhancing the individual literacies of the students, teachers often are forced into “systematic low-level, drill and skill building instruction in place of integrated, meaning-based approaches” (Assaf, 2008, p. 242). Progressive literacy pedagogy that uses the students’ knowledge base to direct the flow of class is quickly discarded in favor of practices that are more likely to yield immediate results. The result is what Assaf calls “shifting practices,” where teachers are changing the nature of their classrooms playing a constant game of catch-up to ensure that their classrooms are deemed “successful” through the lens of standardized tests (Assaf, 2008, p. 246).

Ironically, Jeff was not forced to teach in a test-centered classroom, but the knowledge that the iBT TOEFL test was the criterion for the success of his students put me into a major predicament about how to best teach the students. Does he continue to teach them in a communicative environment (which he felt ultimately benefited them as English language learners), or does he prepare them for a test that will allow them short-term success both in the academy and society in general? This leads to the next point as to how test-centered private academies can create dilemmas of identity for the EFL teacher.

2. Deprofessionalizing nature of test-driven and EFL classrooms
We have discussed that high-stakes tests force a transformation in classroom practices, but this can also cause a crisis of identity in EFL teachers. As in any job, teachers must feel that they are in control of the content of their work in order to connect their professional lives to their personal identity. If a teacher spends a large amount of time and/or money training to be a teacher, and they are unable to use that training, it becomes much more difficult to integrate one’s sense of self with one’s job. Assaf mentions of a teacher in her study: “A conflict grew in Tina’s imagined professional identity as a teacher… and the externally constructed professional identity she perceived due to the pressures of the test-focused context of her school” (Assaf, 2008, p. 241). High-stakes EFL environments often cause similar deprofessionalizing pressures on teachers, which is often compounded by the nature of EFL teaching.

EFL teachers notoriously move from job to job with little stability. This near-incessant (or at least yearly) mobility of positions mixed with the inability to always control one’s classroom practices make it difficult for EFL teachers to maintain the notion that they are indeed professional teachers. Johnston notes, “A … lack of agency can also be detected in many accounts of how, once in teaching, teachers moved from one job to another” (Johnston, 1997, p. 695). Teachers are increasingly dissociated from their classroom practices and, moreover, increasingly moving from school to school. These factors combine in a way for Johnston to conclude that it can be difficult for EFL teachers to maintain a professional identity, often abandoning EFL teaching as a career. The incident at Jeff’s school created a deep disconnect between him and the administration. They recognized the fluid nature of the academy teacher’s employment, and leveraged this against Jeff’s ability to enact his own professional agency.

3. Lack of teacher collaboration
In Jeff’s example, instead of the teachers actually working together to form a coherent teaching philosophy, there were wide gaps between what the teachers knew about the school’s testing procedures and how a classroom was meant to operate. Lynne Paine and Liping Ma speak of a “broader conception of schools as being places where teachers are connected. Also implicit is an ideal of expertise” (Paine & Ma, 1993, p. 680). Both notions of “connection” and “expertise” were absent in Jeff’s (and many others’) case. Jeff’s academy putatively worked with “partner teachers,” but instead of collaborators, Jeff and his partner teacher were at odds with one another. The partner teacher understood the evaluation and testing process and Jeff upheld the role of friendly (and oblivious) foreign teacher. The only things connecting the two teachers were the students who attended their classes.

A clear delineation of roles and responsibilities was lacking in Jeff’s crisis. Liping and Ma note, “The main purpose of teachers’ working together is to ensure and improve teaching quality… working together is a means to make sure every teacher will know what s/he is supposed to teach and has an appropriate way to teach” (Paine & Ma, 1993, p. 683). Obviously, a classroom can enjoy a high quality of teaching without collaboration, but in a system where the course of the students’ progress is inextricably linked to two teachers supposedly working together, a greater sense of collaboration is necessary. This is often the case in EFL classrooms, where foreign teachers are greatly dependent on their native counterparts to effectively communicate with both the administration and students.

4. The market driven nature of EFL
EFL teaching is highly driven by economic forces, for the student, teacher, and the educational organization. In his article detailing how EFL teachers view themselves as “professionals,” Johnston talks of how many teachers take jobs not because of their great desire to be a teacher, but because it is a readily available economic opportunity, not a career. Teachers in his study often talk of leaving teaching to go on to a “real job:” “I want to have something… more ambitious;” “If I’ve got enough money to stop, I’ll stop. I’ll go to art school” (Johnston, 1997, p. 697; 700). These self-identifying features of EFL teachers are also recognized by the administrators of English schools. The assumed transience of the teachers can represent a lack of professionalism on the teachers’ part (especially among those not formally trained), causing schools to restrict the agency of teachers. Instead of trusting teachers to implement their own teaching strategies, academies often use them as vessels to unquestionably enact the policies of the institute.

Often times, the content of EFL classrooms in private academies is not driven by pedagogical principles, but about bringing in students and portraying a vision of a classroom that they feel parents will approve. Park and Abelmann note the kind of “English Mania” that is transpiring in Korea. Speaking of Korean mothers, “They are only interested in news flashes about the ’13 year-old boy with the perfect TOEFL score’ or the ‘young genius who is attending a university.’ And they think about their own children in relation to these media sensations” (Park & Abelmann, 2004, p. 659). The job of private (for-profit) academies often is to tap into this sensationalist idea of English education. Often times the illusion of effective pedagogy is much more important than its actual implementation. Mothers want high TOEFL scores. Academies want to convince the mothers that their school can provide them. Communicative teaching (as is taught in public schools) is acceptable to a point, but as students approach the age where they must take these high-stakes tests, an academy is only as useful as the products (high test scores) it yields.

Pathway to Practice
There are a variety of steps to mitigate the deprofessionalizing demands of an increasingly market-driven profession. The best way of dealing with a potential crisis that pits your professional integrity against organizational responsibility is to avoid it in the first place: find a school that values your professional autonomy. Although there are numerous schools that place profit above education, it is still possible to find an institution that allows their teachers the latitude to implement their own strategies and maintain a student-centered classroom that values the individual knowledge of the students. Of course to find these institutes, it takes a great amount of forethought, planning, and interaction with people within the institute, but knowing the objectives of a school before joining it can go a long ways in determining what is expected out of you as a teacher before stepping into the classroom.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible (or even probable in certain circumstances). Often times, the deprofessionalizing aspects of a school are not evident until one is firmly entrenched in the school. A school may adopt new strategies to cope with emerging pressures, and often the teacher must modify his/her teaching methods to satisfy these new demands. As previously stated, this often can cause a sense of a loss of agency within one’s classroom and angst about the professional nature of one’s job. A key path to minimizing such crises is the instillation of real professional collaboration throughout the staff. This will not necessarily eliminate the core problem. In Jeff’s situation, no amount of teacher interaction was going to change the nature of the academy. What it could have done, however, is help Jeff gain a clear sense of how to proceed in a less-than-ideal environment. Instead of being confused about how to continue teaching his class, he could have gained greater understanding of what was expected of him. In short, it could have helped develop what Liping and Ma call “a common, well identified, and frequently articulated purpose” (Paine & Ma, 1993, p. 684). In Jeff’s case, he could have theoretically continued classroom strategies that fit accordingly with his sense of how a classroom should be led, but the lack of an “articulated purpose” created confusion. Collaboration in such a crisis is not a cure-all, but instead an opportunity for the teachers to understand where they can maintain their own teaching principles within a compromised situation and where they cannot. It allows the teacher to make the best out of a less than ideal situation.

Overall, it is necessary to follow the lead of teachers who teach “according to a personal sense of ethics, ‘based upon what (we) are able to discern as honorable and necessary amidst conflict and ambiguity’’’ (Rex and Nelson, quoted in Assaf, p. 241). Even when the market-driven nature of EFL teaching compromises our ideals as teachers, we must try to etch out a niche which allows us to teach in a manner that fits our personal style and maintain a sense of autonomy. High-stakes testing and the market-driven atmosphere of EFL can, at times, create doubt about the teacher’s sense of independence and professionalism. These pressures cannot always be avoided, but through careful attention to the kind of learning (or capitalist) institutions at which one teaches and by closely working with other teachers to find spaces in which one can teach in a way that suits him/her, crises like Jeff’s can be alleviated.

  • Assaf, L. C. (2008). Professional identity of a reading teacher: responding to high-stakes testing pressures. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice , 14(3), 239-252.
  • Johnston, B. (1997). Do EFL Teachers Have Careers? TESOL Quarterly , 31 (4), 681-712.
  • Paine, L., & Ma, L. (1993). Teachers Working Together: A Dialogue on Organizational and Cultural Perspectives of Chinese Teachers. International Journal of Educational Research , 19 (8), 675-697.
  • Park, S. J., & Abelmann, N. (2004). Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mothers' Management of English Education in South Korea. Anthropological Quarterly , 77 (4), 645-672.

Nanako Hoch

Torn between Two Worlds – Eric’s Struggle to Find Peace
“Eric” is an 17-year-old with an American father and a Japanese mother. Both English and Japanese were spoken at home. He attended Japanese elementary and junior high schools while living and participating in activities on a US military base. The Japanese elementary school was well-known for its cultural diversity and early introduction of EFL classes in all grades (grades 1-6). In elementary school, Eric's BICS in English was nearly native-level, and he was well ahead of Japanese students in the EFL class.

When he was in the 7th grade, his parents separated, and the father left for the United States. Eric stayed in Japan with the mother. In the 8th grade, Eric's father was missing in action and presumed dead. Eric then transferred to an American school in Japan. He took core subjects except for ESL class which replaced the regular language arts class. Though he took the ESL class, he could not keep up with the classes, and he hung around with students with academic and behavioral issues. After a year, he dropped out and transferred to a Japanese high school with less rigorous academic requirement, where his performance was marginal.

Identification of the central crisis:
What issues could have led to his marginal performance at both Japanese and American schools?

Alternative Explanations to the Crisis:
a. Adolescence issue and cultural expectation of boys keeping him from grieving the parents’ divorce and father’s death.
b. Loss of his father perceived as loss of connection to America resulting in identity crisis.
c. Lack of environment/school for bilingual students to develop academic skills in both languages (e.g. a gap between BICS and CALP).
d. Eric was not valued as a cultural asset or language resource.

Contextualization of Alternatives in research
a. Adolescence is a difficult time for both boys and girls, as the body and the mind are going through drastic changes. Pollack (1998) says that gender stereotype has neglected boys’ emotional needs. The only acceptable ways were either to hold it in or burst out in anger, but there is always sadness behind anger and violence. Pollack also says there are many ways to be a boy and urges us to recognize their nurturing and caring nature. Eric’s behavioral issues also reflect his conflict between cultural/peer expectation and his true self, more sensitive, fragile and kind in nature. In addition to peer pressure, relationship issues with his mother also seem to aggravate the situation. He is still grieving his father’s death but said, “My mom tells me not to cry and be tough. My friends say it’s sissy. I can’t tell anyone about my deep anger and sadness inside.” It is possible that he had to prove his “toughness” by hurting others so that he would not be hurt. Yet, the pain became unbearable when he underwent his parents’ separation followed by the father’s death. Unable to find comfort, his desperate behavior has become more self-destructive. He is drinking, smoking and picking up fights, all of which can get him expelled from the Japanese high school.

b. To Eric, his father was a window to America. Though he has always lived in Japan, he grew up surrounded by Americans and English. This was a vital part of his identity. Prejudice against Americans and dual-heritage (Amerasian) children still persists, and Noro (2004) talks about the situation in Okinawa. Though it is over 10 years old, the following article in the New York Times also describes the traumatizing situation of single mothers and dual-heritage children in Okinawa, whose American fathers have deserted them, and “there are no legal or social mechanisms in Japan or the United States to provide for them.'' The situations around Tokyo may not be as severe today, yet my father remembers when he taught at a Christian high school next to a Naval Base in the early 1960s where he had many “half” students whose American fathers left them. They felt cut off from the father’s culture and language while they suffered prejudice living in the mother’s country. Though Eric lived with his father until early adolescence, he may have felt the connection cut off permanently by his father’s death. This may have lead to identity crisis, and his wish to go to his father’s home state after graduation may be an attempt to find who he is.

c. According to Cummins (2003), BICS (basic interpersonal communicative skills) is less cognitively demanding and more context-embedded while CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency) is more cognitively demanding and less context-embedded. While it takes less years to acquire BICS, CALP takes longer, and the mastery of CALP can lead to academic success. Cummins (2003) also talks about “the sociopolitical framework within which the BICS/CALP distinction was placed” and says that “underachievement among subordinated students was attributed to coercive relations of power operating in the society at large and reflected in schooling practices.” While Eric may have been in an environment where BICS could be naturally acquired, neither American nor Japanese school provided an environment or curriculum that could develop his CALP in both languages. Eric would have benefitted from such curriculum.

d. Rather than seeing bilingualism as a problem, Baker (2006) offers alternative perspectives to bilingualism as an intellectual, cultural, economic, social, communication or citizenship resource. According to Baker, there is a paradox of bilingualism where second language learning at school is highly valued, but minority language (e.g. native language of an immigrant) is undervalued, and “the politics of immigration serve to deny bilingualism; the politics of global trade serve increasingly to demand bilingualism. (p. 391)” With an assimilationist approach, the Japanese junior high school expected Eric to conform to the Japanese standards. He thought the American high school would embrace him, but instead his Japanese schooling was viewed as a negative factor that delayed him academically. Foreign schooling is often linked to the possibility of “being held back,” as other school systems may not be viewed as viable and equal alternatives. How well are these schools preparing bilingual students to meet the demand of globalized economy and business, and more importantly to be part of the global community?

Suggested Pathway of Practice: Increased Awareness and Tolerance of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
“How can Eric pursue a sense of belonging and comfort?”

The single most important pathway is to establish an environment where children of dual-heritage can thrive. First of all, the Japanese law on dual nationality hinders a healthy self-view of these children. “By the age of 22, Amerasians have to choose a Japanese nationality or an American nationality. This article of our country’s law of nationality puts them into a kind of identity crisis, forcing them to abandon their double identities” (Noro, 2004). This is no less cruel than making a child permanently abandon one parent.

In the past decade, there has been an increased awareness of dual-heritage children and the term “double” is used more and more to describe such children in Japan. While the term “half” is still commonly used (mostly non-derogatory), the concept of “double” is more positive than “half” which tends to give an impression that one is neither complete nor whole. According to Noro (2004), “The double education is not the same as a bilingual language education, but it produces people who are able to live in peace and cooperation at least in two different cultures and languages.” This reminds us of a strong bond of culture and language in one’s identity. It is also imperative to develop programs where BICS and CALP in both languages can be developed with strong connection to culture. This can lead to students’ confidence and functionality in both languages, and ultimately positive view of self.

Noro (2004) also argues that neither American nor Japanese schools meet their needs for double education, and the only other option is to homeschool. This is exactly the case for some families in our area, however, many homeschooling families on US bases have also experienced prejudice, and there is a strong sentiment against homeschooling (and dual-language education) among some educational professionals, even though the Department of Defense Education Authority recognizes homeschooling as “a sponsor’s right and can be a legitimate alternative form of education for the sponsor’s dependents” (DODEA, 2002). Japan is still behind in the official recognition of homeschooling, even though the number of homeschoolers is increasing to meet the various needs of individual students. Left with little or no way to develop dual language competency with a solid cultural foundation, dual-heritage families suffer additional stress and burden due to a lack of support and understanding from the school systems.

Legal issues such as divorce and child custody become even more complicated when two different legal systems are involved, and this is another area where the US and Japanese governments need to work together. When dual-heritage children (especially of Japanese single mothers) do not or no longer have access to the resources from the US bases, they are cut off from their familiar “American” culture. In 1998, five frustrated mothers got together to establish the Amerasian School in Okinawa (AASO) where dual-heritage students can receive double education (Noro, 2004). They maintain a close relationship with the US bases, as seen in a Pacific Stars and Stripes (military newspaper) article at the following site: While there are some “bilingual” schools in mainland Japan, I am yet to find the one with “double” education that AASO provides.

Okinawa is unique in that they have a high concentration of Amerasian children in a small geographic area, but there is a genuine need for double education in other parts of Japan, especially in central Tokyo and around US military bases. Many dual-heritage families wish for such school indeed. Yet in the absence of this type of school, most families associated with the US military cannot afford the cost of private bilingual (not necessarily “double”) school or time and effort to homeschool. They usually resort to either American school on base or Japanese school off base. Only few of these students develop BICS and CALP in both languages, usually by way of “cram” school or home support in addition to regular schooling. This takes away much needed leisure time in childhood and adolescence, which many Japanese students also suffer.

Baker (2006) says that a strong form of bilingual education (e.g. Dual Language and Heritage Language education) works toward a high level of bilingualism and biliteracy, which can help establish the minority language and promote its use in a variety of contexts. While establishment of such schools would be ideal, there are various issues such as funding, low student population, and lack of adequate staff. Even within a framework of existing schools, more positive environment can be created with increased awareness and sensitivity to complex needs of dual-heritage students.

Compared with many societies in the world, Japan is a rather homogeneous society. Yet Baker (2006) reminds us that even in the mainstream culture, we are individuals with various backgrounds and preferences (gender, age, region, occupation, politics etc.). We also need to remember that identity is dynamic, and identity crisis can strike anyone. Perhaps, this can help us better relate to the identity issues of dual-heritage students. Another dual-heritage high school senior says, “I never worried about who I am because I always knew. I don’t see my dual heritage as separate things; it’s all together.” Such holistic and integrated view of self can be nurtured by a supportive environment where school and home cooperate in a partnership. In fact, this student has been blessed with and inspired by a few extraordinary educators at both American and Japanese schools. Yet, parents of minority language and culture are sometimes made to believe (often by educators) that they should abandon their heritage and focus on the mainstream language and culture for children’s success. This is a very sad situation, which can cause a devastating effect in the family.

While this CI has focused on the situation involving the dual-heritage of American and Japanese, many aspects of the crisis are also applicable to other dual-heritage, foreign or returnee students. Education of professionals is crucial to meet the students’ academic and emotional needs. Both teachers and counselors should be enlightened on complex issues these students face, as well as recognizing the rich and diverse cultural backgrounds that can be assets in the classroom and community. In fact, all students are assets. Even with an increasing number of dual-heritage students, there are only few professionals that are knowledgeable and experienced in educating or counseling these students. Many of these students fall through cracks without adequate help.

There is a promising change, however. According to the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) site, they are fully aware that many JSL students or Japanese returnee students with high oral proficiency have difficulty understanding the academic contents at school (i.e. a gap between BICS and CALP). And the MEXT recognizes the need for accommodation of these students at school, value of their overseas experience, promotion of each student’s strength and mutual enlightenment through intercultural understanding (MEXT, 2010). All of these can lead to a positive view of these students as resources and assets.

A report from Kobe, Japan on the MEXT site shares the positive outcome of interactions with foreign or returnee students in their school districts: cultural differences viewed as enrichment, and an increased awareness and respect for the global community that we are all part of. They also list various activities that give these students opportunities to share their language and culture which can help them develop a positive self-view. Japan needs to continue with its endeavor toward a tolerant society where everyone is viewed as a valuable member, regardless of one’s background. Professional development of educators and counselors is one small but significant step forward.


Daniel Liu

In the summer of 2006, Jordan came to Japan to teach English as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in a junior high school and three elementary schools in a small town 60 miles west of Tokyo. As excited as his students were, he was very eager to start his new job and the journey of teaching English while experiencing Japanese culture first hand. For the first class with his junior high school students, his plan was to start off the lesson by introducing himself and his hometown in English. Then he would give his students some time to think about their own introduction speeches and have them introduce themselves one by one to end the class.

The first day of school finally came and Jordan went to his first class as scheduled. His introduction went very well with the help of some appealing visual aids (personal favorite items, photo albums and picture). After that, Jordan explained to the students what he wanted from them. That was, to think of unique things about themselves in ten minutes and share them with him and the rest of class orally. Since they were third grade junior high school students who had been learning English for more than two years, Jordan felt they understood his instruction and knew what to do. However, during the ten minute “idea generating period” it was a total silence and no one asked any questions. Jordan was quite surprised at what he saw because it was not something he would expect to see in the discussion time back home. The Japanese teacher of English who he team-taught with also expressed no concern at all.

Ten minutes passed and it was students’ turn to introduce themselves. The first student stood up and went “Hello, my name is OOO. I live in Ichinomiya. My favorite animation is Dragon Ballz. Thank you.” Jordan thought it wasn’t too bad until he started to notice almost all of the students not only used the same sentence format but also they had very similar content. Moreover, many of them looked shy and spoke without much confidence in a small voice. He then interrupted them and stressed the goal of sharing something UNIQUE about themselves in a loud enough voice for all to hear. Not much change took place afterwards. After the class, Jordan expressed his concern to his team-teaching teacher. Her response was “I thought it went very well. All the students finished the task” as if he worried about something that should not be worried.

Identification of the Central Crisis
What are the possible reasons for the differences in the interpretation of how the class went between the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) and ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)?

Alternative Explanations to the Crisis
1. Lack of collaboration and communication between ALT (NS) and JTE (NNS)
2. Differences in teaching expectation due to different cultural and language background
3. Differences in teaching expectation due to different professional experiences, teaching styles and personal opinions
4. Students’ lack of adequate English ability and confidence for more creative language production

Contextualization of Explanations
1. Japan is an interesting country with keen fascination for Western culture and English. The Japanese Ministry of Education realized the importance of communicative English and a change was needed to improve the situation. Since 1987, Japan has recruited thousands of ALTs from various English countries to team-teach English with JTEs in schools across Japan (McConnell, 2000). However, without proper training and communication, it is not uncommon to see an ALT struggles to work effectively with a JTE. In fact, many JTEs have never been abroad and yet many of them have never spoken with a NS before an ALT is assigned to their school. In fact, as Rooks (2004) notes, “because virtually all of the older-generation JTEs came through the grammar-translation/standardized examination English educational system, oral communication was not a priority for their English study” (p.8). Consequently, many JTEs have never been abroad and yet many of them have never spoken with a NS before an ALT is assigned to their school. Moreover, given the busy schedule of JTEs, there is usually not enough time for collaboration between JTEs and ALTs. Because having a good relationship is the key to successful team teaching, the more interaction teachers can have with each other, the better they will perform in class (Bullough, 2003).

2. It is inarguably that there are some distinctive differences between ALT and JTE in terms of cultural and language background. Both of them have their own strengths as well as weaknesses that can be seen in a team-teaching classroom. In this critical incident, the ALT expected students to be as creative as they could in language production and was disappointed that most students just followed the same sentence pattern and imitated each other. However, the JTE seemed to have no problem with this monotonous presentation by the students. According to Barrat and Kontra (2000), NSs can provide an opportunity for students to engage in authentic English use because they carry in-depth knowledge of English that includes wide vocabulary and use of appropriate expressions. Nevertheless, they are often less familiar with local learners and context, and less aware of the typical language problems of their students. NNSs, on the other hand, understand local learners more and have gone through similar process of learning English themselves, which can help them pinpoint students’ language difficulties more easily (Medgyes, 1992).

3. Besides cultural differences, every teacher also varies in professional experience and teaching style. In their study on ALTs in Japan, Chandler and Kootnikoff (1999) stress that “some ALTs who learned how to teach English as a second language, do not realize that teaching English as a second language (ESL) is different from teaching English as a foreign language (EFL)” (p.38). As a Linguistic minor in university in Canada, Jordan studied teaching English as a second language. Prior to his arrival in Japan, he had no knowledge about EFL and thought ESL and EFL are basically equivalent and interchangeable. In reality, in terms of teaching credentials, Tajino and Walker note that the team teaching teachers “in the English language classroom in Japan are not equal in status. One gains certification through examination and is licensed by the local board of education to teach the English language (i.e. the JTE), whereas the other (i.e. the ALT) is uncertified, generally with little formal training or teaching experience” (p.116). Therefore, the JTE and ALT are often not on the same page in terms of professional development, making team teaching difficult due to different view points on a certain issue. As a first time ALT, Jordan might expect his new job to be a real teaching job. However, the JTE or people who are familiar with the ALT system know it is not true. While ALTs are defined as cultural ambassadors and natural resources for native communication in English, JTEs often consider ALTs as ‘tape recorders’ and ‘game machines,’ where the JTEs assume the responsibility of being ‘interpreters’ (Tajino & Walker, 1998). This well explains why the JTE in the critical incident did not offer much help other than translating instruction from English to Japanese.

4. In this critical incident, the students seemed to show their discomfort of speaking English in front of the ALT and the whole class. According to Rooks (2004), another obstacle to be overcome in Japanese classroom is too much one-way communication. In Japan, the teacher-student relationship in the classroom is historically very limited as lecturing and note taking take up most of the class time. Thus, requiring students to speak up in English can be a daunting task. “Cultural codes for respecting authority (like not looking a teacher in the eye when being spoken to) can make things like eye contact and dialogue with a teacher frightening prospects for many students” (p.7). In Japan, students can still be very shy when it comes to public speaking even in their mother tongue. Also, they are afraid of making mistakes and embarrassing themselves, so they always try to play safe and conservative by doing things they are sure are correct. This is totally different from Western schools where creativity and novelty are highly encouraged.

Suggested Pathway of Practice
In this critical incident happened in a Japanese junior high school, Jordan’s expectation from his Japanese students was probably too high. As his first time teaching in Japan, he was not familiar with Japanese school system at all nor did he have any knowledge of his students’ background and English level. According to Carless (2006), a number of these potential disadvantages of native speaker teachers are likely to decrease after they spend a period of time living and working in the target culture. For instance, they may develop an appreciation of local culture, have ability to speak some local language and gain more knowledge of common difficulties faced by local English learners. Just like what Chandler and Kootnikoff (1999) mentions, “don’t be too ambitious at first, and then you will be able to change things little by little” (p.39). Time, however, cannot solve every problem. A better balance and shared responsibility between JTEs and ALTs is also desired. Aside from ALTs being just tape recorders and game machines and JTEs being merely translators, the whole situation should improve if teachers focus more on bringing more energy and interaction opportunities with students to the classroom. Both JTE and ALT are responsible for demonstrating the communicative potential of learning English to motivate and interest their students. Thus, to make things work effectively in the classroom, regular communication between JTE and ALT prior to, during and after class is extremely important.
Furthermore, as there is no rule set by the Ministry of Education to define what ALTs should do and should not do job wise, do not assume certain things must go certain ways for ALTs in Japanese schools. Every situation is different in different schools. The best solution is to be flexible and not avoid direct confrontation. Japan is a country where compromise and humbleness are highly valued. If you can take your time and observe the surroundings with caution, I am sure your ALT experience will be far better than you originally expected.

There is a famous Japanese proverb that goes ichigo ichie (一期一会) which is directly translated as “one particular encounter at one particular time.” In other words, you only have one life and the number of people you can meet during this life time is quite limited. If you were not born at that time in that place, you would never encounter that person. So let’s appreciate the encounters (team teaching) and make the most of the opportunities we are given.

  • Barratt, L. & Kontra, E. (2000). Native English speaking teachers in cultures other than their own. TESOL Journal, 9(3), 19-23.
  • Bullough, R. (2003) Teaching with a Peer: A Comparison of Two Models of Student Teaching. Teaching and teacher education (19), 57-73.Carless, D. (2006). Good Practices in Team Teaching in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 34(3), 341-351.
  • Chandler, D., & Kootnikoff, D. (Eds.). (1999). The JET programme: Getting both feet wet. London: David Chandler.
  • McConnell, D. (2000). Importing diversity: Inside Japan’s JET program. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more? English language teaching journal. 46(4), 340-349.
  • Rooks, M. (2004). Is Team-Teaching an Effective Strategy for English Education in Japan? A Study of the Effects of the JET Program on English Education in Japanese Secondary Schools. Retrieved April 13, 2010
  • Tajino, A. & Walker, L. (1998) Perspectives on Team Teaching by Students and Teachers: Exploring Foundations for Team Learning. Language, Culture and Curriculum (11), 113-131.

Other Relevant Resources
  • Bay, D. (1997) Teaching English in Japan: A Professional Journey. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press. Available:
  • CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities for International Relations). (2002). JET programme looking towards the future after 15 years. Tokyo: Nihon Takarakuji Kyokai.
  • Gorsuch, G. (2002). Assistant foreign language teachers in Japanese high schools: Focus on the hosting of Japanese teachers. JALT Journal, 24 (1), 5-32.
  • Hattori, T. (1998). English language education in Japan: Focusing on team-teaching in Japanese junior high school English classes. Doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute. (UMI Microform, AAT 9822003)
  • Kachi, R. & Lee, C. (2001) A Tandem of Native and Non-Native Teachers: Voices from Japanese and American Teachers in the EFL Classroom in Japan. Minneapolis International Conference on Language Teacher Education.
  • Meerman, A. (2003). The Impact of Foreign Instructors on Lesson Content and Student Learning in Japanese Junior and Senior High Schools. Asia Pacific Education Review. 4(1). 97-107.
  • Tajino, A. and Tajino, Y. (2000) Native and Non-native: What Can They Offer? ELT Journal, 54(1), 3-11.

Hyo-Na Park

Struggles with foreign students
In last year, 2009, a young Korean female teacher visited to Mongolia to teach English to Mongolian students. It was her fifth visit, and she was pretty sure that she knows some Mongolian language and how Mongolian students are like. Most of them were very kind and friendly to Korean people, and when the team which she was involved in went to the school where she taught, many people in the town were gathered to learn English, Computer, and Korean. While visiting five times to Mongolia, the Korean teacher has seen some students who had so much eager on learning something, especially English.

The class that assigned to her was English Intermediate Conversation class, and the students are not college students, but mostly from elementary and middle schools. Moreover, majority were male students. This was her first time to teach English conversation, so she was worried about it at first, but soon she felt relieve because she thought that she knew the Mongolian students well.

However, on the first day of the class, she was frustrated and exhausted because her students were totally out of control. They did never listen to her and could not concentrate at all during the lesson. They were young and energetic, but too mischievous. There were five boys who were troublesome the most. The teacher could never handle the boys because it seemed that they were not there to learn but to play with friends in class. At first, she tried to make them learn and involve in the class, so she let them sit in separate positions, but whenever she did that, they moved their sits by themselves and talked to each other in Mongolian language. It made her mad and frustrated badly. Moreover, there was a boy who asked her to go to bathroom every 15 minutes. She did not allow him to do at first, but he was totally out of control, so she just let him go. As she met and tried to teach how to communicate with English, she was tired to take care of the five boys and she felt a load of responsibility to teach the other students as a ESL teacher. For that reason, what she could do for the best was just leaving them to play themselves and proceeding the lesson without them.

The five students came to the class every day until the Korean teacher left, but obviously she could not take care of them well and deliver what she prepared to the students wholly. When leaving Mongolia, she felt like that she was still an unprepared teacher and she had a long way to go to become a good teacher.

Identification of the central crisis
What are the reasons for the Korean teacher to have troubling dealing the behaviors of students in her class?

Alternative explanation to the crisis
a. The teacher and the students had different cultural attitudes towards class.
b. The five male students were not used to either the foreign teacher or her methods.
c. The five students had no motivation to learn English.
d. The novice teacher actually did not properly deal with the five male students in the troubled situation.

Contextualization of Explanations
a. The teacher and students had different cultural attitudes towards class.

Obviously, there were cultural differences between the teacher and the students. Even though, Korea and Mongolia are close country, they have different cultural backgrounds, economic and educational systems, and different manners to each other. For that reason, Mongolian concepts of manners to class or teachers are different from Korean ones. In an ESL classroom, acknowledgement of cultural differences between a teacher and students, or among students is important because it connects to expected role of a teacher and students like McCargar stating that “Culture also includes expected roles” (193). According to him, cultural differences in role expectation are critical to ESL classroom (201). The teacher was too confident to know about Mongolia, and five visiting is too short to acquire a different culture. She overlooked the importance of cultural differences between her and the Mongolian students and misunderstand that she knows the Mongolian students very well. A wrong belief toward herself made her disappointed and frustrated when she confronted an unexpected situations.

b. The five male students were not used to either the foreign teacher or her methods.
Unaccustomed foreign methods and teacher made the students confused and not concentrated on the lessons. McCargar said that “A teacher who uses unfamiliar methods and does not help students adjust risks having students withdraw or be unhappy when their expectations are violated” (200). The students’ expectation on the teacher may be violated because the teacher has different culture and viewpoint toward lessons. For example, the instruction that let the troubled students sit separately was maybe a very unfamiliar method of class management to the Mongolian students so that they did not catch the implication within the teacher’s instruction because it was the way to handle students used in Korea, not in Mongolia. Therefore, the instruction may be not effective to handle the troubled situation. Moreover, in the methods of teaching, it can be assumed that the Korea teacher’s methods were not so accustomed that the students could not concentrate so much. McCargat mentions that “Expectation that members of a culture have for themselves and others are part of this system of knowledge” (192). Obviously, the teacher is from a different culture so the expectation of the students might be different. The teacher should have caught the expectation toward her from the Mongolian students at the beginning.

c. The five students had no motivation to learn English.
Pintrich (2003) notes about what motivates students in his article. First, he states that “higher levels of interest and intrinsic motivation motivates students” (674). The five male students were too young to know ‘delight of learning’. They were just boys who love to play with the peers. It can be said that it was sort of a mysterious happening that they came to learn English voluntarily. Also, it is definite that they did not have any interest or intrinsic motivation to learn because there were no assessments. Pintrich also mentions that “Goals motivate and direct students” (675). The Korean teacher did not provide any form of assessments which means they had no goals to study or to make efforts. Moreover, the class did not provide any credits or grades for students which could be other goals. Obviously, the students did not need to study so that they did not have to listen what the teacher said in the class and just did what they wanted. It is true that there was no motivation for students and it is a part of the teacher’s faults because she did not provide any assessments that make the students motivated.

d. The novice teacher actually did not properly deal with the five male students in the troubled situation.
When the Korean teacher taught the English conversation class, she was not an experienced and trained teacher yet. Unlike many professional teachers who are currently dealing with diverse students, she did not have any skills to manage the classroom effectively and to deal with the five boys in the troubled situation. It obviously seems that the Korean teacher was a “poorer manager” (Emmer, Evertson, & Anderson) in the classroom. According to the three authors, poorer managers have many differences from better managers. They states that “the poorer managers, like the better managers, had rules. However, there was a great difference in the way the rules were presented and followed up” (227). This is applied into the teacher’s case very much, because there was a big difference of delivering rules that she has created. There were rules in the conversation classroom. If she delivered the rules very well like the better managers, the five boys might not behave like that. Because she was a novice teacher, she did not have a method to make her rules prominent. She was just a ‘poorer manager’ at the time, but after acquiring many experiences in classrooms, then she can become a ‘better manager’ and a good language educator as well.

Pathway of practice: Knowing the culture more and better
It is very obvious that the Korean teacher has had a hard time in the conversation classroom with the Mongolian students. Before teaching the class, she was in full of confidence that she could handle the Mongolian students and the class efficiently. However, the result was totally opposite so that it made her more frustrated. Maybe she had too narrowed sights and imagined the students as she has experienced before. She did not think of any cultural differences or their dispositions as Mongolians. She was just a person of narrow outlook in the classroom at the time.

Now, she needs to admit that she has still a long way to go to become a good language teacher and to have broad mind to accept cultural differences between a teacher and students. Basically, this is a required mind as an EFL/ESL teacher. Duff and Uchida (1997) mention that “Language teachers and students in any setting naturally represent a wide array of social and cultural roles and identities” (451). Especially, since English is a language used in worldwide, considering socio-cultural identities between a teacher and students is necessary. Again, Duff and Uchida quote Kramsch’s mentioning that “sociocultural identities and ideologies are not static, deterministic constructs that EFL teachers and students bring to the classroom and then take away unchanged at the end of a lesson or course” (452). Not only the Korean female teacher but also other English teachers should consider socio-cultural identities seriously, and provide discreet lessons which are suitable for the students with different socio-cultural identities. When an English teacher understands each student’s cultural dispositions, the class will be well-managed and controlled.

This critical incident is partly caused from miscommunication between a teacher and the students, but the miscommunication is from misunderstanding in cultures. If a Mongolian teacher handles the conversation class with much communication, the five boys will not behave like. Language teachers should be aware of that communication in the classroom is so important that they should be ready for the communication.

Giroux (1992) mentions that language teachers are “cultural workers”. Especially, English teachers should be working culturally because now it is a cross-cultural language. The Korean female teacher thought that she knew pretty much about Mongolian cultures, but it may be an arrogant mind at first. If she knew more about Mongolian cultures, she might prevent the lack of motivations of students and could handle the troubled situations more easily and effectively because she would know about what the expected role as a teacher according to the culture. Cultures and languages are connected very closely. Knowing other cultures and accepting the gaps among them are not easy but are necessary for language teachers. Now, the Korean teacher makes progress because she has acquired one of the most important lessons as an English teacher.

  • Duff , P. & Uchida, Y. (1997). The Negotiation of Teachers’ Sociocultural Identities and Practices in Postsecondary EFL Classrooms. TESOL Quarterly. 31(3), 451-486
  • Emmer, E., Evertson, C, & Anderson, L. (1980). Effective Classroom Management at the Beginning of the School Year. The Elementary School Journal. 80(5), 218-231
  • Giroux, H. A. (1992). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. London: Routedge.
  • Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McCargar, D. (1993). Teacher and Student Role Expectations: Cross-Cultural Differences and Implications. The Modern Language Journal. 77(2), 192-207
  • Pintrich, P. (2003). A Motivational Science Perspective on the Role of Student Motivation in Learning and Teaching Contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology. 95(4), 667-686

Holly Sannes


“Sally” was teaching in a private Prek-12th grade international school in Bangkok. This was her second year teaching 5th grade reading and English in the mainstream classroom (i.e. the students had passed an EFL test in order to be mainstreamed). Reading and English could be quite challenging for EFL students even in the mainstream especially since they were using 5th grade level books from the States.
The classes were scored according to weights, as mandated by the school policy. In this school each aspect of a class was weighted differently while contributing to a final end of quarter grade.

• Attendance 10%
• In-class work 20%
• Homework 40%
• Quarter final exams 30%

The way the school system was set up, end of quarter tests were at least 30% of the students’ grades all the way from 1st grade on up to the end of high school. So even if the students had gotten good grades throughout the course, the final exam had the potential to change their grades dramatically.
During the final exam for Sally’s reading class, she noticed “Sam” had brought a blanket to put on her lap, but didn’t really think anything of it (the air conditioner made the room rather cool). Halfway through the test she noticed Sam kept moving her hand under the blanket. She asked to see what was in her hand, and it was the study sheet with answers written on it. The school policy was that if a student was caught cheating on a final exam, they were given 0% and not allowed to continue taking the test. However, the teacher had the exam and answer sheet taken away, and Sam was given a new blank exam to work on.

Identification of Central Crisis:
Even though Sally, the teacher, decided to give Sam another chance, she was very conflicted in her decision to do so. Her knowledge of Sam distressed her and challenged her sense of integrity. What could the teacher have known about Sam that led to the decision that was distressing her and causing her to take a step that she felt may be unfair to other students?

Alternative Explanations for Crisis :
  1. Sally understood Sam felt extensive social, family, and cultural pressure to succeed that led her to cheat. Sally recognized that retaking the exam was only a temporary measure that wouldn’t prevent Sam from cheating in the future. She felt that retaking the exam was necessarily due to those pressures, despite the fact that she was going against the school rules by letting Sam retake the exam.
  2. Sally realized that Sam’s English reading comprehension and level of academic English was such that she didn’t really understand the class work or the test.
  3. Sally mistakenly thought Sam was ready to take this test and felt the need to try to make up for that.
  4. Sally incorrectly identified Sam as having the appropriate reading and test taking strategies needed in order to take and pass this particular reading test, so she felt responsible to help her succeed thus providing her another opportunity to take this exam.

Contextualized Explanations:

1. Sam felt pressure from her friends, family, and even her culture to succeed. Even students who are not EFL learners feel that pressure. According to Kennedy (n.d.) students cheat for one of three reasons:
1) “Everybody does it” (p.1), they think that it is acceptable to cheat because their friends are doing it.
2) “Unrealistic demands for academic achievement [by state and federal education authorities] (p.1)”. It could also be unrealistic demands from the school and setting too high of a standard especially when it comes to EFL learners.
3) “Expectancy or the easy way out” (p.1). Sam could have stayed up late the night before playing on the computer and not studying or just thought she was going to fail, so she didn’t want to take any chances.

2. Sally realized that reading comprehension can be very difficult for EFL students especially for those lacking the necessary reading strategies (Carrell 1983, 1989). Sam had a difficult time with her reading comprehension, which could have set her behind while she was trying to study for the exam.
Academic English can take up to 5 years to develop, while verbal English may be more easily acquired in 2 years or under (Christy, n.d.). Sam had only been learning English for 2 ½ years, so it’s quite possible that even though on the surface she seemed ready to take her exams, she was only being judged by her verbal English and not her academic English.

3. Sally now understood that Sam, an English language learner (ELL), wasn’t really ready for this test. While this test might not qualify for what is traditionally thought of as a standardized test, it was standardized for this particular grade and subject. According to Coltrane (2002), “ If ELLs are not able to demonstrate their knowledge due to the linguistic difficulty of a test, the test results will not be a valid reflection of what the students know and can do” (p.1). So what Sam may have had problems with was not the content of the test, but the wording of it.

4. Coltrane (2002) states, “ Armed with a variety of test-taking skills and strategies, ELLs may be empowered to demonstrate their knowledge on a test, rather than being intimidated by unfamiliar terms and formats” (p.2). Sally hadn’t realized that Sam didn’t have the skills and strategies to take this test. She could help teach those to her students.

Suggested Pathway of Practice : Reading & Comprehension Strategies
Sally was able to help Sam temporarily by letting her retake the test, but felt the need to help her more permanently by re-teaching reading and comprehension strategies. She realizes that Sam’s academic English may develop a little later then her verbal English, but with the help of several reading and comprehension strategies hopefully Sam will develop enhanced understanding and not feel the need to cheat anymore. However, even with the reintroduction of these strategies she may require one on one attention (a tutor) to help enforce these strategies and provide the necessary individual attention that she may not be able to receive in the classroom.
According to Heren & Bickerman (2005) there are six reading strategies that are particularly successful when encountering an unfamiliar word and those strategies work even better if you are practicing partner or shared reading:

  1. Sound it [the word] out
  2. Find the part you know
  3. Check the first letter
  4. [Think] Does it make sense
  5. Look at the picture
  6. Skip it and go back” (p.20) [or forward]

According to Sally’s experience looking up words in a dictionary or a language translation guide can also be successful, but those methods are time consuming especially if you encounter many unfamiliar works. That is why reading comprehension strategies may work out better, especially with older students who are dealing with content area reading, which is usually word heavy and harder to understand then fiction reading.

According to Smith (1997) there are several useful reading comprehension strategies to teach:
  1. Use context clues
  2. Reread
  3. Story mapping
  4. Learn vocabulary
  5. [Do] Prereading activities such as brainstorming & activating prior knowledge” (p.1)

The Wisconsin Educational Communications Board (2006) lists several more reading comprehension strategies:

  1. Using prior knowledge,
  2. Making connections,
  3. Questioning,
  4. Visualizing,
  5. Inferring,
  6. Summarizing,
  7. Evaluating
  8. Synthesizing” (p.1)

Sally has also used several other reading comprehension strategies with some success: teaching students to look at headings, titles, and bold faced words, along with pictures and captions. Sally could not understand why Sam had to cheat because, when studying for this test, all the students including Sam were given a review sheet. Because of the difficulty some students had in finding or understanding the answers, the review sheet was gone over and answered in class. All a student had to do was study the review sheet. However, Sally now realizes that she may have failed Sam by inadequately preparing her for the test. She recognizes that Sam’s academic English was probably lower then she had thought since she equated it with her verbal English, and that Sam didn’t have the appropriate reading and comprehension strategies. She hopes to prevent Sam, or another student’s, cheating in the future by teaching the specific reading and comprehension strategies listed above.


Yi-Niu Tsai

Teacher’s Difficulty
Ms. H taught English in the junior high school located in the rural area of an agricultural county in Taiwan. She had been teaching 5th and 6th grade students for couple years and adults who were interested in learning English. It was the first year for her to teach 8th and 9th grade students in the public school.
One of the 9th grade classes she taught had 23 students and most of them knew nothing about English even though they had learned English for at least two years. In other words, it could say that students had given up to learn English since no one paid more attention on their study or they had no interests in study. Ms. H knew students were in the lowest level of English and realized the textbook didn’t work for them. However, she had responsibility to follow the EFL curriculum and standard to teach students English. Also, students had to take the basic competence test to apply for high school. Therefore, Ms. H tried to do her best to teach them the basic vocabulary and structure of a sentence, meanwhile, she encouraged students trying to learn as much as they can.

One month later, everything didn’t change much. In addition, the new principal of the school talked to her about this situation since the principal had noticed most of these students knew almost nothing about English. There was one thing shocked to him- students didn’t know the word-” family”. “ You have to find out other ways to teach them and use other materials for teaching, they were not in this level.” He said. Ms. H agonized over every aspect she had to face. “ How can I do for my job?”

Identification of the central crisis
What are the reasons for the teacher feeling inadequate and ineffective in her work?

Alternative Explanations to the Crisis:
a. The second language learner need to take about two years to acquire conversation skills and
four to nine years for academic language skills.
b. English is not a big focus in an agricultural town.
c. Textbooks and curriculum are limited in scope.
d. Teacher’s structural approach to teaching language turns students off.

Contextualization of Alternatives in research:

a. One month for the teacher redesigning suitable lesson plans and teaching methods to teach students who have lower level of English is obviously difficult to achieve the goal. García-Vázquez, E., Vázquez, L. A., López, I. C., & Ward, W. (1997) pointed out “ the academic-related aspect of a second language takes five years to develop.” According to the research by Collier (1989,1987) and Cummins (1981), cited in García-Vázquez, E., Vázquez, L. A., López, I. C., & Ward, W. (1997), has said that it takes about two years for the second language learner to acquire conversation skills (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills –BICS) and academic language skills acquires in about four to nine years. These students have learned English at least two years but almost knew nothing about English. Therefore, the teacher should treat them as English learners at the beginning level. One month is simply hard for the students to develop their English to approach the level that they must be in.

b. The incident was in an agriculture town. Most of the students’ parents are farmers or workers with lower educated level. The researchers indicated that one of the reasons affects students’ learning motivation and the success of FL learning comes from parents and community (Gobel & Mori, 2007; Su, 2006). English is the most popular and important second language in Taiwan. However, in a rural area, English might be useless and hard to build an environment for students to practice English in daily lives due to parents and community do not use it. It makes students couldn’t realize benefits and importance of learning English. It could be the reason for students lacking of motivations to learn English even though everyone says that English is very important. Students trust real environments where they are in.

c. There are some researches of textbooks and curriculum cited in Shawer (2010, p175), “ textbooks stifle teacher creativity (Bell, 1993; Bell &Gower, 1998; Bhola, 1999), and lack flexibility to meet student differences. “Students are short-changed in learning about important topics and teachers tend to become followers” ” (Elliott &Woodward, 1990, p. 224). Ms. H could notice the textbooks are designed by the official curriculum but they are not suitable for these students with lower English abilities. It makes Ms. H have a hard time to teach them using the textbooks and following the official curriculum.

d. “ Every instructor starts with an initial theory of language teaching and learning, based on personal experiences as a language learner and, in some cases, reading or training” (Qing, 2009). When students have started learning English at their 5th grade or 7th grade, the previous teachers didn’t elicit their interests in learning English. Perhaps use the wrong methods to teach or students were stressed while learning English. The classroom environment and teacher’s inefficient pedagogy of learning English had turned students off. Therefore, even though Ms. H tried hard to help students, the outcome of students’ English learning didn’t develop much.

Suggested Pathway of Practice
In this critical incident, some external factors are not easy for teachers or students even though school’s principal to change, such as what kind of city do we live for study? The official curriculum is not suitable for some special students’ learning. There are many results we couldn’t expect would go better or worse. Therefore, based on my alternative explanation about teacher’s structural approach to teaching language, I posed a question for the further research. How can teachers do to teach in EFL classes efficiently and avoid turning students off? Listen, feel, think, and change might be the four steps for development of teaching.

In Savignon, S. J., & Wang, C. ’s research, it added that Nunan(1993:4) argues,” teachers should find out what their students think and feel about what they want to learn and how they want to learn” (2003). It refers to the first two steps: listen and feel. Moreover, the article “ The Silent Strugglers” indicated the same concept of getting to know more about students, paying more attention on students’ academic skills and learning difficulties, and considering other possible reasons, such as stressful family life (Scherer, 2006).

The teacher’s professional growth would be the next two steps: think and change. Qing asserted“ teachers must reflect, analyze, and adjust or change their practice whenever it is necessary”(2009). The process of improving teaching and learning is a long-term journey of education. It takes time and also challenges teacher’s patience to achieve the goal of efficient teaching. It is important for teachers to help students succeed in the EFL classroom.

  • García-Vázquez, E., Vázquez, L. A., López, I. C., & Ward, W. (1997). Language proficiency and academic success: Relationships between proficiency in two languages and achievement among Mexican American students. Bilingual Research Journal, 21(4), 334–347.
  • Gobel, P., & Mori, S. (2007). Success and failure in the EFL classroom: Exploring students’ attributional beliefs in language learning. EUROSLA Yearbook, 7, 149-169.
  • Qing, X. (2009). Reflective teaching: An effective path for EFL teacher’s professional development. Canadian Social Science, 5(2), 35-40.
  • Savignon, S. J., & Wang, C. (2003). Communicative language teaching in EFL contexts: Learner attitudes and perceptions. IRAL: International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 41(3), 223-249.
  • Scherer, M. (2006). The silent strugglers. Educational Leadership, 63(5), 7.
  • Shawer, S. F. (2010). Classroom-level curriculum development: EFL teachers as curriculum-developers, curriculum-makers and curriculum- transmitters. Teaching & Teacher Education, 26(2), 173-184.
  • Su. Y. C. (2006). EFL teacher’s perceptions of English language policy at the elementary level in Taiwan. Educational Studies, 32(3), 265-283.

Kelly Wiechart

Learning to know
Mike had recently joined the team at an Intensive Academic English program. He had graduated with an MA TESOL and had worked for several years in Europe and the Middle East in journalism, marketing, and as an EFL teacher. Mike’s previous teaching experience had been largely with beginning level ELLs using audio-lingual and grammar translation methods. As such, he was largely unfamiliar with constructivism and learner-centered models for language education.

Mike’s TESOL training had consisted of courses in the following areas: Principles of Language Teaching, Classroom Observation, Language Analysis, Educational Research Methods, Sociolinguistics, Curriculum Design, and the Structure of English Language. The MA TESOL program that he completed required 15 hours of classroom observation and 10 hours of “practice teaching” in a Portfolio Preparation course. .

While teaching the Bridge Level in a Content-Based Approach to Academic English course with a focus on sociology, Mike was experiencing some frustration. The stated course goals are: development of higher-level critical thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and objective evaluation. Specific course objectives include: vocabulary expansion, recognition and use of various registers of Standard American English, application of higher order thinking skills, (specifically, paraphrasing, analyzing, and synthesizing information), and incorporation of language monitoring and self-correction techniques.
Assessments in the course are a combination of formal and alternative assessments. Presentations, informal speaking evaluations, quizzes, journals, portfolios, and standardized tests are incorporated to reflect the integrative nature of the language experience as well as seamless transfer of newly acquired academic skills.

In a brief exchange with an experienced CBI teacher, Mike expressed some of his frustrations in the course. Mike articulated the following concerns:
“None of the students are majoring in sociology, so why are we bothering to teach them about it?”
“I didn’t cover that section because I didn’t know the right answers…ya know there is no answer key for this textbook… What if a student asked me a question about one of them and I didn’t know the right answer?”
“Well, I don’t really feel comfortable not knowing where the students might go with this. What if they don’t get the right answers?”

Identification of the central crisis:
Mike was very concerned about the details of the classroom administration and management. During the one hour training provided as an introduction to the CBI course, he preferred to focus on issues such as grade calculation, classroom discipline, and writing assignment lengths. At the time of the training, Mike did not express concerns and had no questions about the CBI paradigm. When asked if he was familiar with the concept, he stated that he had “learned about it in grad school.”
What aspects of CBI were difficult for Mike to grasp and implement?

Alternative Explanations for the Crisis

a. Since his TESOL training was largely grounded in linguistic theory, Mike did not feel that he was “expert” enough to be able to teach the concepts of sociology as well. His previous EFL teaching experience had been highly book-oriented with course expectations stipulating mere completion of a text by the end of the semester. Not fully understanding that the subject matter is a vehicle for language learning, Mike felt the need to “teach” sociology. This caused great anxiety as he had never even studied sociology in undergraduate classes. Fearing that he himself did not fully understand the content exacerbated his inclination towards more teacher-centered control in the classroom management.

b. Being exposed to CBI as a part of a smattering of other concepts did not allow for the necessary reflection for full comprehension of the functions and manifestations of CBI.

c. In his previous experiences, Mike had always been the “expert” as he was a native speaker teaching in EFL situations. As a native speaker, he carried unquestioned authority about the grammar and pronunciation of the English language. As a product of teacher-centered learning, it was his natural inclination to model his own classes in this same manner.

d. Having never studied cognitive or educational psychology, Mike was largely unaware of the natural sequencing and rate of cognitive processing in learning.

Contextualization of Explanations

a. TESOL trained teachers do not feel that they have subject-matter expertise to teach the content (Brinton 2000). Many second language teachers feel that their primary purpose it to teach the target language. Having been trained in linguistics and the structure of the target language, they often feel ill-equipped to work in other subject areas.

b. When placed into a CBI course without first actually observing a functional one, teachers may assume that it is merely a transfer of content and misunderstand the purposes of scaffolding. Brinton (2000) calls for specific CBI training for both pre-service and in-service teachers. In Mike’s situation, the one-hour of training was provided in a one-on-one meeting with a practicing CBI teacher. The training was not highly structured and involved no observation of a functioning CBI class.

c. Williams and Burden (1997) explore the role of teachers’ beliefs about learners, learning, and themselves in their examination of constructivism. Mike’s comments reveal traditionally held ideas about the teacher-learner dynamic; whereas, CBI requires teachers to become co-learners as well as co-leaders. Benson (2006) cites White’s (2003) conception of “collaborative control” in the learning process. This decentralization of the teacher is an important foundation in the CBI paradigm and can be quite uncomfortable for those who have only witnessed teacher-centered models.

d. Anderson (2002) identifies EFL/ESL teachers’ role in helping students to “learn to think about what happens during the language learning process” (p. 3). CBI teachers generally use content to model metacognitive strategies so that learners can become more aware of their own repertoire of strategies and the applicability of these strategies t for different learning tasks and situations. Chamot (1986) identifies learning strategy instruction as a “cognitive approach to teaching that helps students learn conscious processes and techniques that facilitate the acquisition and retention of new skills and concepts” (p. 15). Effective CBI involves the explicit teaching of the seven types of metacognitive strategies (Chamot, 1986).

Suggested Pathway of Practice
At the heart of Mike’s discomfort is the belief that teachers convey knowledge to students. Having only experienced audio-lingual and grammar-translation models in his own second language experience, these were the undisputed norms. Although he had been exposed to constructivist theories in graduate classes, the lack of actual experience with a working model left the concepts as complete theoretical abstractions. Brinton (2000) suggests that one of the biggest obstacles for new CBI teachers is “coming to terms with the instructional paradigm” (p.55).

CBI is designed for teachers to guide students in skills acquisition to build greater learner autonomy. In traditional teacher-centered classes, teachers tend to make material accessible to students. In CBI, the teachers’ role is to lead the students to accessibility of existing authentic materials through scaffolding and schemata building. Kirschner (2006) cites lack of teacher guidance as the prime drawback of CBI and all constructivist models. Without fully understanding and embracing the paradigm, CBI can become wholly individualized or merely another carnation of audio-lingual methodology.
Without adequate background in cognitive and/or educational psychology, Mike did not fully understand the value of teacher guidance and scaffolding of learners’ cognition and metacognition in the overall learning process. Thus, it is necessary for teachers to have specific training in both content scaffolding as well as language scaffolding to maximize effective guidance in a CBI model.

From this incident, we can infer that although many ELL teachers are introduced to CBI, they are not benefitting from adequate training to be able to confidently implement the methodology into their classes. Teachers should seek out professional development opportunities to become more familiar and experienced in cognitive and metacognitive strategies, as well as CBI in general. The CALLA model provides extensive explanation in Learning Strategy Instruction and how it could be effectively integrated into the content area (Chamot & O’Malley, 1986). Brinton (2000) has also made a call for experienced CBI instructors to conduct action research to build on the meager research repository and to aid others in their transitions to CBI.

  • Anderson, N. (2002). The role of metacognition in second language teaching and learning. ERIC digest. EDO-FL-01-10
  • Brinton, D. (2000). Out of the mouths of babes: Novice teacher insights into Content-Based Instruction. in Content –based college ESL instruction. Kasper, L. ed. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc: Mahwah, NJ.
  • Benson, P. (2006). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. Language Teaching. 40, 21-40. doi: 10.1017/S0261444806003958.
  • Chamot, A. and O’Malley, J. (1986). A cognitive academic language learning approach: An ESL content-based curriculum. Retrieved from EBSCO April 13, 2010.
  • Kirschner, P., Sweller, J., and Clark, R. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist 41(2), 75-86.
  • Williams, M. and Burden, R. (1997). Psychology for language teachers: A social constructivist approach. Cambridge University Press, UK.

Megan Worcester

Collaborative TEFL Teaching in Madrid or Lack Thereof

I. Introduction
As many teachers know and agree, education and pedagogy are lifelong processes, which "Terri" began at a very young age. She was raised around all teachers, so it was no big surprise she wanted to teach. She attended a university in the midwestern part of the US studying Spanish Education. Terri attended the University for five years to learn the art of teaching a Foreign Language. Once she began her Student Teaching it was quite clear how many teachers worked together to improve the department as a whole. While they didn´t work much formally with the other departments, it was impressive how much help they afforded Terri as the Student Teacher and their colleagues. They met formally every two weeks but informally every day to discuss students and other class related topics. During lunchtime teachers would frequently discuss school related topics. Even though some of the teachers around Terri had been teaching 20+ years they realized the need to continue learning from themselves and others.

Then Terri decided to move to Madrid and these ideas were turned upside down. She took a one-month TEFL Course to learn the art of teaching a Foreign Language. While it was a very good course, the main idea was that if you can speak a language you can teach the language. Once into the work force, teaching in companies and tutoring after schools, Terri realized that very few teachers discussed classes. The lunchtime conversations here were more about personal topics and issues back home, than classes. So there is very little informal discussions between teachers and there is no formal discussions between teachers teaching the same subjects and even at times the same students.

Terri had one opportunity to collaborate with a teacher, on a more formal and ongoing basis, with a student called "José". The other teacher, "Daisy," and Terri share José. They were both told going to their first classes that José was an intermediate student who loved to talk. His previous teacher had completed a Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate book in one year. This made Terri skeptical right off the bat: no one finishes two books in one year. In her first class Terri could tell that he loved to talk, but he wasn’t using complete sentences and after every question Terri asked him, he quickly changed the subject. It took her a couple of classes to figure out that he couldn’t understand a word she was saying and that he was actually an elementary level student. He changed the topic to mask the fact that he didn’t understand her, but when Terri posed the question in his L1 he answered it willingly in his broken English. Terri quickly called a meeting between her boss, Daisy and herself to discuss her findings. Daisy acknowledged that she saw something strange as well, but she didn’t put him was as low as Terri had suggested. They agreed on a game plan and Daisy and Terri discussed him and their classes regularly. He was still hesitant, constantly reverting back to his L1 and trying to turn us against each other, looking for some sort of sympathy, until he realized that Daisy and Terri are friends and regularly meet to discuss things. With this fact and some outside peer pressure, he has made huge strides in his L2 comprehension and his attitude toward learning an L2. In this instance it is obvious how Terri and Daisy's collaboration is helpful, but it can also be very beneficial for teachers in general to discuss and brainstorm for classes that they don’t share with anyone. As Paine and Ma write in their paper Teachers Working Together: A Dialogue on Organizational and Cultural Perspectives of Chinese Teachers, “The main purpose of teachers working together is to ensure and improve teaching quality. This purpose is pursued from several angles. First of all, working together is a means to make sure every teacher will know what s/he is supposed to teach and has an appropriate way to teach. … Secondly, working together makes teachers know students better. … Thirdly, working together facilitates staff development, especially the introduction of new teachers. … Fourth, working together is a reasonable way to take advantage of all the staff” (Paine & Ma, 1993, p. 684). In José’s case it is obvious how Terri's collaboration with Daisy has helped both know what they are teaching and of course it has helped them know José better. Unfortunately José is the only case that Terri collaborate on with another teacher. She had several instances when she had another teacher come to her asking a question or for advice and while she tries to help any and all teachers with whom she has contact, it feels like a one-way street at times. While she believes that most of her colleagues would agree and see the value in Paine and Ma’s second and third points, they may not see that the first point is rather complex, and some may be hesitant of the fourth believing that they either know everything they need to know or that they know nothing worth sharing with other teachers.

II. Crisis Identification
Teaching is a profession, and as such should be developed throughout the course of a lifetime. Unfortunately, in Terri's view, her colleagues see teaching as a job that will only last a couple of years while they are trying to figure out what to do next; so for some of them, a lifetime of learning pedagogy is a laughable idea. Terri views that what they don’t seem to understand is that while learning the art of teaching may be a lifelong process, it doesn’t matter how long you actually teach: one year or 20, it’s what you do in the time there that makes all the difference, and you can always learn from others experiences, both inside and out of the classroom.

III. 4 Possible explanations leading to the crisis
a. Not stressed in Teacher Training
b. Teachers aren´t always together to talk about classes
c. Students/Teachers are set in their ways or the ways they´ve been taught/studied in the past
d. Teachers assume that they either know it all or don’t know who or how to ask for help

IV. Contextualized Explanations
a. Teacher Training

As countries are striving to learn a foreign language as fast as possible, they are looking for native speakers to enter the country and teach their L1. The idea is that if they can speak a language they can teach a language. However, teaching isn’t a job, it’s one of the world’s oldest professions and needs to be developed over a teachers’ time in the field. “The term ‘professional development’ recognizes teaching as a professional enterprise, that is, teaching requires a specialized education”(Syed, 2008, p. 284). As stated in Terri's introduction, in the States to be a Foreign Language Educator she had to study for five years, study abroad, do a semester of observations, complete a semester of Student Teaching, and pass numerous exams. To be a TEFL Educator in Spain, she had to complete a one month intensive course and complete six hours of Student Teaching. While the course was good, focusing primarily on the practical side of teaching rather than the theoretical, it obviously had to leave some information out and simplify other aspects of pedagogy. They stress self-reflection and improvement from class to class through these reflections; unfortunately they don’t stress helping each other to improve classes.

b. Physical proximity
Upon completion of the TEFL Certification new teachers are given jobs teaching primarily in international companies. The employees need to speak with colleagues and clients from across the world. Classes are typically held in conference areas and meeting rooms. The “social areas” of the buildings are meant for visiting businessmen to meet the people who are going to give them tours, etc. There are no teachers’ lounges or meeting areas where teachers can consistently congregate or prepare classes. As Hord states, “We can all agree that the purpose of schools [or classes in general] is ‘student learning,’ and that the most significant factor in whether students learn well is ‘teaching quality.’ … The context most supportive of the learning of professionals is the professional learning community” (Hord, 2009, p. 40). A problem Terri faces in her goal for a professional learning community is partly due to the lack of a common meeting area to be able to meet with a professional learning community. Without consistent common teachers’ lounges or an office where teachers like Terri can meet with other teachers, it is very difficult to connect with each other.

c. Set in their ways
Given that the place where Terri taught has students who are businessmen and women, it should be obvious that they are adults who typically range between 25 and 55 years old. They have been taught English and other subjects throughout their lifetimes by teachers who use a certain methodology, and are less likely to adjust well to change. Most of the Spanish EFL teachers, Terri deduced, especially at the lower levels, simply work through the book with very little planning and virtually no outside resources. The TEFL teachers aren’t much better in their likelihood to change these tendencies. Given the teachers lack of pedagogical education, they tend to imitate teachers they have seen in the past. When you add the two together, the book becomes the only way of managing and calculating the learning of the students. Like their Spanish counterparts, many of Terri's colleagues simply work their way through the books, occasionally incorporating outside resources, but only on rare instances. They are considered “good teachers” by the administration and the students if they finish a book, not necessarily if the students progressed in their English abilities. Such was the case with José’s former teacher.

d. Know-it alls
If a teacher comes across something that students don’t understand and are forced to give more examples or more exercises the teachers may or may not be able to 1) recognize that the students need more help and 2) come up with a way to help them. If they are able to do both, great; if they are only able to recognize the former they need to know where or who to turn to for assistance. Terri works in a company that employs close to 30 teachers, however she only sees four or five other teachers on a regular or semi-regular basis. Some of the teachers know that they can come to Terri for help if they need it, and some do; everyone knows that they can talk to their boss about any problem they are having in class, and some do that as well. However if they don’t see the need for outside help, or if they don’t feel comfortable asking their boss because they feel that it will show a weakness or other underlying problem, then they may feel stranded and alone. As Paine and Ma state, “The ways in which teachers work together take many forms. There are formal and explicit associations of teachers that support collaboration; there are informal associations encouraged by designation of differential status among teachers; there is what Liping Ma calls the invisible relationship among staff in a school; and there are the ways teachers work together without working face to face, chiefly through a flourishing literature of teachers’ stories published in educational journals and books, in what we might consider a kind of distanced collaboration” (Paine & Ma, 1993, p. 684). While Terri personally has a lot of people she can ask for help if she needs it, even if they are all very informal, her colleagues may not. Terri has her boss, former teachers, parents, neighbors in the U.S. and if all else fails the FLTeach listserv, but not everyone has as many connections to the teaching world as she does, and everyone isn’t as open to asking for help as she is. So for the rest of the teachers with whom she works, where can they turn for assistance without looking foolish or reprimanded for not knowing their current trade?

V. Pathway to practice
a. Teacher Training

Since Terri did her TEFL training things have changed slightly. When she did it, students were expected to observe two to three classes and gave their trainers feedback and asked questions, and then they gave their six classes throughout the month where their trainers observed them. Students only talked with other teachers about classes when they were completely lost, but even then, they had their own worries. They spoke almost exclusively with the trainers and only with their classmates after grades came out. Trainees now, not only, have to observe the trainers teach, they also now have to observe some of their classmates teach. Unfortunately since most have never taught a class before, they either don’t know what to look for to try to help each other improve their classes or they don’t want to hurt each others’ feelings so they are more cautious when it comes time for feedback. Therefore they don’t give each other formal feedback. While this is a step in the right direction, Terri wonders if there isn’t more that they can do with these observations. Unfortunately, there is only so much that you can do in four weeks.

b. Agencies
The best place for this cooperative learning would have to fall on the agencies that employ the teachers. Some people may be cautious or nervous talking to their boss, no matter how open the boss is to teachers asking him/her for assistance. Some may also not know they need help or know how to ask for it. Therefore Terri is going to suggest to her boss that they form groups, so they can get together and discuss our classes. Their boss won’t be in attendance, so as to make it more informal, but there will be a lead teacher who will be open to talking with their boss should something come up that she needs to be aware of. There are several logistical questions they could consider about these groups: 1) who, 2) what, 3) where, 4) when. Firstly these groups would be made up of six or seven teachers including a lead teacher who organizes it all and leads discussions. Secondly, teachers would congregate to discuss whatever was on their minds. Hopefully teachers would stick to mainly to business topics (classes, schedules, etc.). Thirdly, since there are no common areas within the companies, the groups can choose a centralized location depending on where they all live and work. Fourth, given the schedules of teachers, the groups can choose a day and time that works best for them, as long as they meet once a month. If they can get all of this accomplished, teachers would have an open forum of people with whom they can discuss frustrations and ask for solutions. Once one teacher presents a problem s/he is having in one class, hopefully, another will reflect back and see that s/he either has a similar situation or that s/he has a possible solution. Ideally, the lead teachers would also meet once a month in a group with their boss so that they can discuss what was brought up in the group meetings. That way they can look for more solutions and their boss could stay more connected with her teachers, even if they are too nervous to come talk to her face-to-face.

VI. Conclusion
Teaching is a profession. Some teachers teach one year, others seven, others 30+; the length of teaching experience doesn´t matter, it´s what you make of your time in the profession that matters. A way to measure this is by students’ achievements. While Terri fully believes that formal meetings to discuss classes and other related topics would be extremely beneficial to herself, her colleagues and their students, Terri won’t know unless these become a reality. She discussed the idea with a couple of her colleagues in preparation for writing this CI, and while they agree with Terri, at least in theory, until their boss and/or Terri steps forward to implement them, Terri and her colleagues won’t see it’s full value.

Works Cited
  • Hord, S. M. (2009). Professional learning communities. National Staff Development Council, 30(1), 40-44.
  • Paine, L. & Ma, L. (1993). Teachers working together: A dialogue on organizational and cultural perspectives of Chinese teachers. International Journal of Educational Research, 19, 8, 675-697.
  • Syed, K. T. (2008). Voicing teachers' perspectives on professional development in literacy education through narrative inquiry. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 54(3), 283-292.