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The Career Trajectories of English Language Teachers

reviewed by Megan Madigan Peercy & Tabitha Kidwell - February 14, 2017

coverTitle: The Career Trajectories of English Language Teachers
Author(s): Penny Haworth & Cheryl Craig (Eds.)
Publisher: Symposium Books, Oxford
ISBN: 1873927878, Pages: 256, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

For at least two decades, the education literature has examined the implications of the growth of linguistically and culturally diverse learners in schools around the world. This research has argued for the importance of supporting these learners’ specific needs and providing them with unique resources (e.g., August & Hakuta, 1997; Graddol, 2006; Harper & de Jong, 2004; Warschauer 2000). This has meant that additional attention has been directed to the learning experiences and achievement of English language learners (ELLs). Since that time, the field has also witnessed increased focus on teachers of ELLs as learners (e.g., Johnson, 2006; Johnson & Golombek, 2003; Peercy, Martin-Beltrán, Silverman, & Daniel, 2015; Peercy, Martin-Beltrán, Silverman, & Nunn, 2015). This research draws on sociocultural framings to examine the contextual factors that mediate teacher learning and development (e.g., Johnson, 2009; Little, 2002; Putnam & Borko, 2000; Wesely, 2013). In The Career Trajectories of English Language Teachers, editors Penny Haworth and Cheryl Craig bring to light a relatively unexplored dimension of teacher development for teachers of ELLs. Specifically, they examine the impact of the situatedness of the work of these educators. Also, they investigate how these situated contexts shape the career paths that unfold as teachers journey across a widely varying landscape to help them understand what it means to teach ELLs.

The first section of the book is comprised of eight chapters. It focuses on the career path stories of English language teachers and teacher educators. To accomplish this, the section includes methodological lenses such as self-study, narrative inquiry, and the rivers of life approach. In the following ten chapters that make up the second section, the authors shift their focus to the sociopolitical contexts of teaching and teacher education that impact educators’ identity development and career trajectories. The authors use narrative inquiry, case studies, critical incidents, and emancipatory reflective practitioner action research to explore their situated experiences. The teaching and teacher education contexts included in the book span across countries from around the world. This includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Greece, Iceland, India, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Within both sections of the book, several themes become present. They include the role of context in shaping diverse professional trajectories; the importance of collaboration; the development of new pedagogies for teacher education; the influence of policy; and the impact of professional challenges beyond the control of individual practitioners. We discuss each chapter according to its dominant theme. However, it should be noted that these themes are not exclusive to any individual chapter, but are interwoven throughout the book.

The most evident theme is the different ways context plays an important role in shaping the varied paths taken by English language teachers throughout their career trajectories. For example, in Chapter Two, Liping Wei uses narrative inquiry to examine the tensions in her autobiographical narratives of being an English as a foreign language (EFL) learner and teacher in China. She also discusses her experiences being an English as a second language (ESL) learner and teacher in the United States. Wei highlights the major tensions in her cross-cultural journey as teacher and learner. She also explores her growth as a teacher educator with experiences that are situated within these tensions. In Chapter Five, Tara Ratnam uses a Bakhtinian framework to examine her developmental trajectory from novice to mature ESL teacher. For example, she illustrates how she is forced to question her comfortable self-image as a good teacher when she is required to teach a population of culturally diverse students who struggle academically in India. Ratnam notes how these experiences force her to question her earlier assumption that, “student learning was the direct result of [her] teaching” (p. 65). She also shares the painful sense of loss this self-reflection creates for her. Ratnam explains how these experiences cause her to move away from a monologic stance in teaching to one that is more heteroglossic. To achieve this, she draws on the lived experiences of her students. Ratnam articulates the potential of all educators to grow when she notes that each time she is faced with new challenges, she “step[s] into and out of a naïve and insecure position. Every regression is a stepping stone for new development” (p. 72). Finally, editor Haworth draws upon the rivers of life approach in Chapter Eighteen to describe her 35-year-long career trajectory. She also chronicles the trajectory of another teacher named Suzie. In both narratives, Haworth finds evidence for three motivating factors within the teaching profession: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. She argues that these factors are embedded and interconnected from the beginning of English language teachers’ trajectories.

No man is an island and no teacher develops on his or her own. Several chapters speak to how collegial collaboration contributes to English language teachers’ career trajectories. In Chapter One, author John McKeown explores his professional trajectory as an English language teacher. For example, he moved from being an opera singer to an elementary teacher of ELLs in Canada. McKeown also taught English and served in administrative roles in Abu Dhabi, Angola, Qatar, and Turkey. He eventually becomes involved with teacher education endeavors in Bahrain and Turkey. McKeown describes the transformative power of his experiences with collaborative professional development by using questions related to his team of teaching colleagues and in relation to a critical friend. In Chapter Thirteen, Telma Gimenez, Nora Basurto-Santos, Amanda Howard, Amira Traish, and Michael F. McMurray share a collective self-study examining each of their professional trajectories. Though the authors come from different geographical contexts (e.g., Latin America, the Middle East, and the U.K.), their narratives reveal the importance of communities of practice, the value of serendipitous circumstances, the power of technology, and usefulness of shared purpose.

In addition to opportunities for collaboration, teacher education plays a central role in supporting English language teachers’ career trajectories. Four chapters share methods, techniques, and ideas to support teachers as they begin their careers. In Chapter Nine, Steven Z. Athanases, Joanna W. Wong, and Leslie C. Banes examine the use of self-reflexive inquiry with prospective teachers. They find that linguistic and cultural inquiries can support learning and teaching in multicultural education. This particularly benefits bilingual preservice teachers of color who work with linguistically diverse learners. Athanases, Wong, and Banes are able to reflect on the value of multilingualism, the cost of language loss, and the possibility of recasting linguistic shame to resist linguicism. The authors recommend that all preservice teachers engage in a self-reflexive inquiry of their culture, language, and identity. In Chapter Ten, Eva Minaříková, Michaela Píšová, and Tomáš Janík discuss the use of a video-based e-learning environment with experienced and inexperienced student teachers in the Czech Republic. The backgrounds of their student teachers vary greatly because of the rapid increase in the need for English teachers following the fall of communism, which results in the employment of many unqualified teachers. As a result, these experienced teachers are now mixed with novice teachers in certification programs. The researchers find that the use of video case studies supports the development of teachers’ professional vision. In addition, the experienced and inexperienced teachers learn differently through the same content, but both groups still find it meaningful.

Though they work in vastly different contexts, the authors of Chapter Eleven (Mary Jane Abrahams and Pablo Silva Ríos) and Chapter Twelve (Zhilian Zheng and Jianfen Ying) describe policy demands that will be familiar to many international educators. Specifically, it is the mandated implementation of communicative language teaching techniques in settings where many teachers are accustomed to traditional grammar-based techniques. In Chile, Abrahams and Ríos describe the evolution of their teacher education program. It integrates English language learning by using a tutorial program and portfolio assessments to connect program components. In the Chinese context, Zheng and Ying describe a curricular innovation that supports student learning. It places learners at the center of the curriculum, encourages active learning, uses objectives to guide instruction, and gives teachers autonomy. Both chapters share a model that teacher education programs in diverse settings could adapt when confronted with the need to shift to a more communications-oriented curriculum. As a whole, these chapters offer fresh ideas for teacher educators confronting challenging policy demands.

However, the impact of education policy goes beyond teacher education as revealed in several chapters. In Chapter Three, authors Johanna Boone, Ramona Maile Cutri, and Stefinee Pinnegar work together as critical friends to examine how teachers sustain themselves. They do this by exploring what guides Boone’s pedagogical decisions and how they are balanced with policy mandates to help her find satisfaction in her teaching. Using narratives from her teaching experience, Boone, Cutri, and Pinnegar examine the competing stories teachers experience in wanting to support, advocate for, and form relationships with ELLs. At the same time, the authors also need to meet accountability mandates in the form of high-stakes testing. Boone, Cutri, and Pinnegar argue that finding a balance between these competing stories can allow teachers to find a place of productive tension in their practice.

The fourth chapter, by Ida Fatimawati Bt Adi Badiozaman, shares the author’s story of being an English language teacher in Malaysia. It also illustrates how language policies are an important dimension of Malaysian teacher career trajectories and identity development. This chapter illuminates the importance of the mismatch between a teacher’s own goals and the policy context in which she finds herself, an issue that is also highlighted in Chapter Three. In Chapter Six, Luxin Yang explores the impact of Chinese foreign language education policy on the trajectory of Huiwen, an experienced senior high school EFL teacher and teacher supervisor in China. Yang illustrates how Huiwen’s development as an English language teacher has been deeply influenced by the sociopolitical status of English as a foreign language in China. Despite China’s shift to a national curriculum that focuses on authentic language use and interaction, Yang highlights how university exams play an important role in teachers’ practice in China. She notes that the existing examination system continues to focus on students’ English language knowledge, rather than language use. Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir similarly explores how a new national English curriculum in Iceland shapes teacher practice in Chapter Seven. Ingvarsdóttir uses the rivers of life approach (Pope & Denicolo, 2001) to explore critical incidents in the career trajectory of Birna, an experienced secondary EFL teacher. This includes the impact of the affordances and demands of the new curriculum.

As English language teachers navigate through professional rivers of life, their trajectories are often influenced by factors beyond their control. Several chapters in the book focus on the impact of professional challenges and individual teachers' responses to these difficulties. These chapters offer important implications for administrators and policymakers who have the power to impact teachers' careers, often in unanticipated ways. For example, in Chapter Eight, Jill Brown examines improving Australian Aboriginal access to a high-quality education, which includes instruction in English. She examines the narratives of two teachers to explore why one stayed in her position, while another left in less than a year. Brown points to a number of differences in the teachers' experiences. This includes teacher development of their own professional support networks since they were not formal support mechanisms already in place. She highlights ongoing support for educators to adjust to the requirements of teaching in high-needs areas. In Chapter Fourteen, Parussaya Kiatkheeree shares a qualitative case study focused on difficulties faced by university English lecturers in Thailand. Though research is a required duty, many Thai lecturers are unable to publish their studies because of low English proficiency, high workload, limited funding, insufficient professional development, and competing institutional priorities (e.g., greater resources devoted to science and technology). Kiatkheeree's findings illustrate that more equitable access to resources in universities like the one discussed would support lecturers as they attempt to publish research across disciplines.

The focus of Phiona Stanley’s Chapter Fifteen is a challenge faced by teachers worldwide: low wages. At private language schools in Australia, “a teaching job pays less than waitressing” (p. 185). Stanley notes that new teachers do not make enough to pay off their training costs. Remuneration is even insufficient to reward more experienced teachers. There is also a pervasive belief that any proficient English speaker could be an educator. Nevertheless, many teachers make sacrifices to allow themselves to meet the needs of their students. Stanley argues that administrators and policy makers should advocate for salaries at a sufficient level that rewards teachers. In Chapter Sixteen, Stavroula Kaldi, Emmanuel Konsolas, and Joanna Syriou use qualitative methods to share the life histories of six English teachers who are Greek. These researchers find that Greek teachers’ professional development is shaped by stark contrasts between better-resourced private schools and under-resourced public sector schools. They also find that there is a greater opportunity to meet student needs at the primary level than at the secondary level. Further, there is the possibility of growth and professional identity development throughout their careers. Kaldi, Konsolas, and Syriou argue that teacher support should be distributed more equitably across settings. They also believe that teachers should be supported as they continue to develop professionally throughout their career. Finally, in Chapter Seventeen, Leslie Gauna uses narrative methods to share the story of Oscar. He is a linguistically diverse novice teacher who speaks Spanish at home, but is unable to pass the Spanish proficiency test required for bilingual certification because of his use of non-standard Spanish. Oscar eventually obtains certification and employment as an ESL teacher. In this position, he is able to use his language skills to connect with students and help them develop their full linguistic repertoire. Gauna argues that linguistically diverse teachers like Oscar should be celebrated for the strengths they bring to the classroom. She also illustrates that if schools are going to have a diverse population of teachers, there must be mechanisms in place to support their entry into the classroom.

Taken together, the chapters in The Career Trajectories of English Language Teachers represent a deep examination of English language teachers’ experiences. They also explore the contexts and complex factors that shape these same experiences. The book’s findings offer important implications for teacher educators, policy makers, and teachers themselves. This edited volume highlights the salience of autonomy, collaboration, challenges, teacher reflection, and self-study of practice to support English language teachers’ ongoing growth as professionals. By following these practices, educators can find teaching to be rewarding over the course of their rich and varied trajectories. These findings ask teacher educators, administrators, and policy makers in contexts around the world to “be humble in the face of teacher knowledge” (Xu & Connelly, 2009, p. 226). They also make a call to respect the importance of English language teachers’ stories as fundamental to informing their work with students and their continued development as learners.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 14, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21825, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:06:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Megan Peercy
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    MEGAN MADIGAN PEERCY is Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics & Language Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on the preparation and development of teachers throughout their careers, as they work with linguistically and culturally diverse learners. Dr. Peercy’s recent work brings together scholarship in self-study of practice and practice-based teacher education to examine the opportunities and challenges in using core practices as a framework for preparing teachers to work with English language learners. Her recent research appears in venues such as Teaching and Teacher Education, TESOL Journal, International Multilingual Research Journal, Professional Development in Education, Teacher Education Quarterly, and Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice. Dr. Peercy has experience as an ESOL and Spanish teacher across a variety of ages and contexts, ranging from pre-K through adults.
  • Tabitha Kidwell
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    TABITHA KIDWELL is a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics & Language Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland. She is a member of the Maryland TESOL board and the Standards Professional Council for TESOL International. Her research interests focus on language teacher education, particularly how language teachers are prepared to address and integrate culture. She has published in Professional Development in Education and has contributed to the TESOL Teacher Education Interest Section newsletter. She has taught French, Spanish, and English on five continents to students ranging from pre-schoolers to adults.
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