A Dream Coming Into Focus

The class I’m enjoying the most this fall is a research seminar where we basically get time to deeply consider the direction of our work and pursuits. We’ve only had 2 sessions (vs 4 of the other classes) and will only have two more, but in just these two times, I’ve gone from basically being completely uncertain about where to go with my research to pretty well set.

Leaving aside the particulars of quant/qual and the actual work I hope to publish, let me tell you about a dream I have.

These days, most English Language Teachers are, as I’ve said before, Teachers of Standardized English, even if they don’t refer to themselves that way. They’re mostly white, like any group of educators, and there is, in my view, a not-great undercurrent of savior syndrome in the field. It’s not bad for a job to be fulfilling, but too many of us see our job as some sort of charity, and unless we’re volunteering (which some ELT folks are, but still), it’s still a job with professional standards and expectations. I want this image to die.

What I want to do isn’t to make English stop being taught. That’s silly, because, for all the railing I could do about colonialism and racism, people still move to places where the language is spoken and want to acquire it. But imagine this, if you will: An adult moves to New York and, like their relatives before them, is absorbed into a community of their home language. They want to go to school and/or work, so they decide they need to acquire more English. They don’t have the money to pay for a private language academy, and they hear about a nonprofit or another organization that offers free or low-cost classes. So they go and sign up and return for the first day of class. If this was happening now (and it is probably happening literally today), they get to their first class and it’s a smiling white woman, and the student has about a 50/50 chance of leaving before the session ends. But imagine they get to class and there’s a teacher from their own community at the front of the room. Imagine someone who knows their experience existing in a world that oppresses them racially and culturally. The person doesn’t necessarily have to speak their language – in NYC, you can’t be expecting everyone to speak every language, after all – but just that sharead experience would go a long way. I remain convinced – and there’s research backing me up, though not in the same context – that part of the reason my classes were so well-attended at my last job was the shared experience of being something of an outsider, even though it wasn’t always voiced.

I don’t mean to say we should kick out the good teachers we have. No. But there are always new Standardized English teachers being developed, and especially since it’s often a second career type of thing, we have the opporunity – and, I’d argue, the obligation – to change the new faces we place in these spaces.

How do we get there? The work I hope to do would catalogue how often race and other forms of oppression are part of new Standardized English teachers’ syllabi and/or lessons, and then I would speak to professors who emphasize these issues to have them share why these topics are so important for new teachers to learn. From there, if I can publish on these things, I can find work promoting these ideas, and maybe the industry can grow and change in some small way. Maybe.

For now, it’s just a dream, but at the very least, it’s never been clearer and more tangible than it is now.