Language Teacher Identity Negotiation: A Case Study of a Heritage Thai Language Class in a Thai Buddhist School in the United States
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The purpose of this qualitative case study is to research power relations of Thai heritage language teaching (HLT) in a Thai community-based Buddhist school in the United States, called the Temple of Wisdom, or TOW. Participants were six Thai diaspora teachers––four secular teachers and two monks. Teacher identity negotiation was explored as a critical reflection of power relations in this school context. Foucault’s power theory and Gee’s discourse analysis were employed as a theoretical lens. This research demonstrated how power is visible through discourse and relational networks of interaction between teachers and other people. The four areas of discourse were: schooling, language, culture, and religion. This study found that TOW created a new mixture of Thai and American cultures for bilingual students to learn about culture, norms, and community values. Teachers combined Thai and American culture into their instruction. This harmonization was a strategy to anchor bilingual students in both cultures. However, English privilege and language hierarchies prevailed even within this context of Thai HLT. Teachers reinforced linguistic discrimination and legitimized native speakers over non-native speakers. Teachers perceived different languages as commercialized products based on their economic benefits. This perception discouraged Thai language users by situating Thai as inferior and less prioritized among other powerful languages. One of the significant findings was that teachers developed strong senses of professionalism by negotiating their own cultural and spiritual identity, despite losing a sense of teacher authority through students’ resistance in classroom. Teachers represented themselves as cultural experts who followed Buddhist principles. They applied Buddhist morality to guide them in their roles as good teachers. Additionally, teachers built up social capital as a way to help their community members bond together. There was no evidence that teachers employed Buddhism as a political tool; instead, they used it to teach morality and humanity. This study suggests including a socio-cultural-political perspective to HLT and raises critical awareness of that perspective within teacher training and instructional contexts. To empower teachers in HLT, language policy should include all voices and reflect the needs of communities. HLT should not be grounded only in linguistic development but also in the development of community cooperation, culture, humanity, and morality.
- Education - Seattle