IATEFL Plenary – Susan Barduhn

Prof. Barduhn, who gave a talk about expatriate teachers, once said, ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ In her talk entitled Language Dealing, she starts by looking into the definition of ‘the drug’. Are dealers necessarily drug takers themselves? Drugs can serve to imprison but are drugs necessarily bad? Could they not be medicine, which could serve as an anti-exploitation tool?

 

In Hawkins (1974) ‘I-thou’it’ triangle as spreaders of this drug, Prof Barduhn states that ‘I’ refers to the expatriate teacher, the ‘thou’ the students and other expat teachers, and explaining the ‘it’ as the fishing rod in the metaphor ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.

 

Quoting Johnston (1999) talking about the Expatriate Teacher as Postmodern Paladin, these teachers are fighters of a noble cause, not unlike the errant of the medieval knights. He suggest that ELT as a whole is a marginal occupation, expanding on the idea of postmodernity.

 

The original Paladins crossed the seas for adventures with spiritual (self-realisation) and earthly (material gain and acquisition of a good reputation) goals.

The knight errant are those who choose to work outside their own country and the wish to educate, to share knowledge, expertise and skils. It’s also characterised by the ‘restless traveller’, wandering the earth and never settling.

The knights knew what they believed in and why they were venturing forward, and knew that eventually they would go home.

 

So why do ELT teachers keep going to other countries and new ones too?

Are we cultural marginals and do we have an identity group?

Differentially perceptual groups and identity group, Prof Barduhn talks about perceptual groups as how others see you versus the identities given to you, before explaining cultural marginality and highlighting the fact that ELT teachers are often the non-dominant community in a dominant community.

The definition of an encapsulated marginal is one where there is no revognised reference group, conscious of self, troubled by ambiguity and never ‘at home’. The definition of a constructive marginal is one of a marginal reference group, conscious of choice, intrigued by complexity and never not ‘at home’.

Stated by respondent teachers in her research as reasons and motivation for going to live in each country, ‘travel’ , ‘love of teaching’ and ‘career advancement’ occurred frequently, but professional development was highlighted as one of the more common answers.

This challenges the theory that most ELT teachers living overseas are of the back packer variety.

Family was stated at the number one reason why people move back to their own country.

 

When examining the changes in attitude amongst the teachers living overseas, it was clear that most became most tolerant and understanding of their country of origin (and its culture), got involved in more teaching fields e.g. ESP, saw themselves as ambassadors for their own country, thought of the new culture as gradually becoming part of them, and saw their job as important (‘We teach future leaders, We make English more attainable for the masses’) and are happy living abroad.

 

But as Chinese becomes more in the globalising world, would those involved in teaching of Mandarin have the same attitudes and motivation? Are they also on medieval knights’ errants?

Going through her results, here are some findings regarding Chinese expat teachers:

‘I’m more critical of my country but love it more’

‘I have no power to change methodologies’, ‘I’ve become more student-centred, teacher as a guide instead of dictator, to guide learners to see the fun in Chinese and understand the similarities between English and Chinese.’

Growing towards an acceptance of Western values like tolerance, quality orientation, etc.

‘As long as China’s economy keeps growing, it’ll become important as a world language’

Very few non-native Chinese teach Chinese in the UK.

Expat teachers are the only way people can access Chinese culture.

Expat teachers might not have an influence on trends in teacher training but conversely teacher training trends would have an influence on expat teachers.

Belonging to teaching associations and getting conference updates were a common path towards professional development.

 

So what is the drug?

Could the phenomenon of expat teachers be considered a historical and cultural movement?

TESOl culture is seen to equate ‘diversity’, ‘cooperation’ and ‘respect’.

Could these also stand for Chinese language teaching culture?

 

So what are we dealing?

The answer might not be the same for everyone but teacher training needs to delve further in social and economic theory so that we are doing it with more awareness.

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