(Un)Learning to Teach Through Intercultural Professional Development

reviewed by Joy Howard & Timberly Baker - December 14, 2018

coverTitle: (Un)Learning to Teach Through Intercultural Professional Development
Author(s): Candace Schlein
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641131314, Pages: 262, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

(Un)Learning to Teach Through Intercultural Professional Development offers insight about issues related to intercultural teacher identity formation. Candace Schlein begins by explaining the focus and context of the study, which consists of a narrative exploration of four Canadian teachers, including the author, who taught English in Japan or Hong Kong for an extended period of time. Schlein outlines the organization of the book, including her use of excerpts from a dream in each section. The reason for incorporating this continuous “dream story” is that it serves to introduce the topics discussed in each chapter. Next, Schlein describes her use of narrative inquiry, then provides a review of relevant literature. This is followed by a detailed description of the contexts of Japan and Hong Kong as well as a substantive discussion of each participant’s background and teacher training in Canada. Halfway through the book, the author presents stories of “panic, survival and coping” (pp. 103-107) relevant to the teachers’ experiences of learning to teach (English) in the contexts of Hong Kong or Japan. After that, she shares stories of re-acculturation to Canada. Finally, Schlein provides insights about the intercultural experiences of herself and her co-participants as well as her perspective on the topic of intercultural teaching.

The book offers deeply contextualized insight about four teachers’ experiences in Asia in a way that is not represented elsewhere in literature. Schlein concludes:

Participating in this narrative inquiry and reflecting on our practices from intercultural curricular situations offered my co-participants and I a way to tease apart and understand how and why we teach in certain ways in relation to the complex and intricate issues related to our fluctuating identities among different cultures and school cultures. (p. 213)

While the book points to the complex issues of teacher identity, the author admits that the study was largely a self-exploration, or a way to “understand how central [intercultural teaching experiences] were for instilling in me and my co-participants multicultural and global perspectives” (p. 210) about teaching. Some teachers and teacher educators may benefit from this first-person narrative approach. Schlein explains several methodological tools for self-exploration specific to issues of teacher identity. Further, Schlein’s discussion of the concept of “home” and its import to how teachers dis/connect within particular school communities as well as the notion of being “culturally in-between” (p. 139) are important considerations for educational researchers studying teacher identity.

The book also provides a sample of a project that endeavors to connect multiple theories and data collection methods into a narrative study. For example, Schlein utilizes narrative profiles, narrative inquiry, interviews, school and classroom observations, individual journals, art-based written exercises, and reflective field notes with participants. Unfortunately, the use and application of various methods were unclearly articulated. Readers are left with questions about the process of analysis for these multiple data sets as well as the potential pitfalls embedded in what seems to be an over-reliance on memory rather than observations of teachers over time.

This choice in data collection methods was likely made out of necessity given the author’s decision to only send “a recruitment letter to several fellow graduate students” (p. 26). While there were presumably benefits to an honest and ongoing dialogue between colleagues, there were also clear limitations to the diversity of perspectives on the topic given the fact that they were all graduate students and three of the four participants were women of European descent while one was a woman of Chinese descent. Further, the author attempts to connect literature from the field of multicultural education to “feminist research” (p. 27), scholarship about “power relationships in education” (p. 50), and more specifically “whiteness” (p. 52). The author attempts to include multiple areas of literature, however, they are only loosely connected to the findings. Thus, the reader is left with questions about the author’s application of theory, specifically with regard to researcher positionality and the interaction between theory and data analysis.

The positionality of the author as both a participant and the researcher was an area that could have been further developed throughout the book. For instance, at times there were conflicts between the author’s voice as a researcher and her voice as a study participant. The author’s analysis and use of her dream story throughout illustrates this conflict of voice and points to an even greater concern. This tension around methods is partially named by the author. For instance, Schlein questions both the gendered nature of interviewing only female participants and her choice of methods based on her familiarity with the methods. She questions if she chose her methods because they were the most effective or “whether they worked because they were more familiar to me. In other words, I am unsure as to the extent of my own influence as a researcher in this area” (p. 33). Concerning issues related to methodology extend throughout the book, and while the author discusses these to some extent, some challenges are not fully acknowledged or analyzed.

Two major tensions could have been developed further throughout the book. Both are embedded in the “dream story” that begins each chapter. One is the role of linguistic imperialism and race in Schlein’s analysis of the narratives of becoming an “intercultural teacher.” Unfortunately, the author does not fully analyze her own linguistic or racial positionality within the dream story. For example, the opening dream vignette begins on a streetcar where, in the dream, the author “notice[s] a young Asian woman. I inspect her appearance and decide… that she is probably a foreign exchange student from Japan. Immediately, I feel connected to this woman” (p. 15). Despite the author’s attempt for the dream story to be an organizing tool, not only does it distract from this goal, it also points to under-analyzed themes, in this case the role of the white gaze in interpreting a racialized other (see Hancock & Warren, 2017). Although the author makes several references to terms such as “antiracism” (see p. 84, p. 123, p. 143, p. 198) and to critical work in the field of multicultural education, the role of race is largely underdeveloped. For example, while Schlein references Lisa Delpit’s notion of “the culture of power” (p. 121), race is only dealt with on a surface level when she discusses teachers’ narratives where race and racism are implicated.

The second tension is around an uninterrogated issue of linguicism. Given the context of a study exploring how English-speaking Canadian teachers experienced teaching English in Japan or Hong Kong, there is a surprising acceptance of the dominance of English globally. There is an overwhelming silence in the analysis of teachers’ stories with regard to linguistic imperialism; the structural and cultural inequities created through the continuous reconstruction of English dominance globally (de Jong, 2012; Phillipson, 1992). Silence on this subject leaves many questions unanswered. Considering the role of both race and linguistic imperialism alongside the formation of intercultural teacher identities would have strengthened potential contributions of this study as to how teachers might grapple with and within the culture of power.

Overall, this book speaks to an important aspect of teacher preparation and the ways in which context informs teacher identities. Preparing teachers to engage with and teach in culturally pluralistic school settings is important work that must be extended. This book offers one possibility of exploring this topic and points to important lessons for future studies. Schlein’s work advances the assertion that teachers who have international and intercultural teaching experiences may be more prepared to connect with students and colleagues who do not share their same culture. This assertion has the potential to extend important conversations in both teacher education and educational research.




de Jong, E. J. (2012). Foundations for multilingualism in education: From principles to practice. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon Publishing.

Hancock, S. & Warren, C. (2017). White women’s work: Examining the intersectionality of teaching, identity, and race. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 14, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22604, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 9:36:07 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review