The Professional Legitimacy of the Taiwan-educated versus US-educated Taiwanese English Teachers
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The professional legitimacy of in-service non-native English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) in English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) contexts is underrepresented in the literature of TESOL and language teacher education. Professional legitimacy of NNESTs in this study refers to the credibility of NNESTs as English teaching professionals. In addition, growing numbers of NNESTs obtain their degrees abroad in English-speaking countries and return to their home countries to teach in EFL contexts (Brutt-Griffler & Samimy, 1999; Liu, 1999) alongside NNESTs who have been educated domestically. Despite this growing global mobility of NNESTs, the number of studies on NNESTs who have been educated in English-speaking countries and have returned to their home countries has been limited. Additionally, little is known about how NNESTs educated domestically in EFL countries assert their professional legitimacy as English language educators especially when they encounter colleagues who have been educated in English-speaking countries or who are native English speakers. Using the concepts of capital (Bourdieu, 1977, 1986, 1991) and agency (Giddens, 1979; Sewell, 1992), this qualitative case study illuminates the perspectives of six in-service Taiwan-educated versus US-educated Taiwanese English teachers on their professional legitimacy as English language educators at a postsecondary level. Using interviews, class observations, and document analyses, the researcher has analyzed the resources that these Taiwan-educated versus US-educated Taiwanese English teachers gained access to and drew upon to conceptualize their perceptions of professional legitimacy. In addition to analyzing the resources available to them, she also explored other means that these teachers used to claim their professional legitimacy. This study found that the larger institutional and sociopolitical context of Taiwan that the teachers all shared, plus their varying teaching contexts, together shaped these teachers' beliefs about what they regarded as high-value capital in their own teaching contexts and also shaped their perceptions of professional legitimacy. In other words, it was the Taiwanese teaching contexts that influenced these teachers' perceptions of what they regarded as important capital beneficial to their teaching in those contexts. Thus owning those kinds of capital helped these teachers claim their professional legitimacy. More importantly, this study found that these teachers' strengths, including the varying forms and amount of capital to which they had access and other means that they developed, influenced them in the construction of their perceptions of professional legitimacy. The means common to all these teachers influencing this construction of these teachers' professional legitimacy was the efforts they made in creating positive student-teacher interactions. In addition, the Taiwan-educated teachers were highly engaged in self-learning in order to be competitive in their teaching contexts. Furthermore, among cultural, linguistic, and symbolic capital that this study centered on, all the Taiwanese teachers in this study believed their linguistic capital of the English language to be an essential credential for being legitimate English teaching professionals in Taiwan. Also, they all unanimously emphasized the importance of having English speaking competence. In addition, this study confirmed the recursive loop involving capital and agency: the teachers' capital promoted their agency which enabled them to teach creatively in their teaching contexts, and their agency also shaped their capital. This study also confirmed Sewell's (1992) point that teachers' educational backgrounds assist them to gain access to varying kinds and amount of capital. Furthermore, this study also showed that the Taiwanese English teaching contexts propelled these teachers to gain highly-valued capital. Gaining those kinds of highly-value capital and being able to teach creatively by using their accessible kinds of capital in their teaching contexts also supported these Taiwanese English teachers to claim their professional legitimacy. Furthermore, this study showed that these Taiwanese English teachers did not think they shared in the ownership of the English language. First, they all reaffirmed any ownership of linguistic capital of the English language based on the perspectives and evaluation of their NEST colleagues. Secondly, two teachers in this study specifically stated that it was necessary to acquire or produce "native-like" or "authentic" English. Thirdly, two teachers in this study evaluated their own English language competence based on their intelligibility to native English speakers. Lastly, all six teachers in this study automatically compared their English language competence to that of native English speakers when asked to rate their own English language skills. In short, the teachers in this study agreed with the myth that the English language to some large extent belongs to traditionally native English speaking contexts or inner-circle countries. This study also showed that the capital to which these teachers had access mediated their level of confidence. More importantly, this study unveiled the conflicted perspectives of self-confidence of the Taiwanese English teachers. This study showed that even though these teachers in this study conceptualized their perceptions of professional legitimacy by drawing on their accessible capital and other means and they all rated their English speaking skills at an advanced level, all the teachers were not as confident in asserting their professional legitimacy in teaching spoken English. Implications for NNESTs, pre-service and in-service teacher educators of NNESTs are suggested. The concept of professional legitimacy can be addressed explicitly in language teacher education programs and professional development for NNESTs. In addition, teacher educators can help student teachers explore their own strengths and encourage student teachers to capitalize on their strengths and construct their perceptions of professional legitimacy based on their strengths. Like the Taiwanese English teachers in this study, they can establish their own strengths based on their available capital and other means, for example, creating positive student-teacher interaction. Additionally, being able to identify the resources available to NNESTs also helps them generate a greater sense of agency. Furthermore, the English language proficiency of non-native English-speaking student teachers should be strengthened in English language teacher education programs. English language proficiency of in-service NNESTs should also be supported in teacher professional development. By examining and supporting NNESTs' English language proficiency in terms of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), this step helps NNESTs reflect on what forms of capital are at their disposal and how they can make best use of these resources. Lastly, I suggest that preparation of English teachers can scaffold the development of confidence as a skill to be internalized as part of one's professional expertise in TESOL, especially for student teachers in EFL contexts. One way to do this is to strengthen NNESTs' confidence in asserting their ownership of English.
- Education - Seattle