The NNEST Caucus Member of the Month
Question: Could you please tell us a bit about your linguistic, academic and professional background?
Terry: I have been an ESL teacher since the 1970s. Since 1980 I have been an ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco, and I also taught credit classes at Lincoln University in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s. At City College of San Francisco I have taught mostly non-credit classes for new immigrants, and every semester I have taught at least one beginning (level one) class.
My undergraduate major was English literature, and I also enjoyed studying Japanese during my undergraduate years. But while studying literature at UC Berkeley, I became very interested in linguistics during the late 1960s when Noam Chomsky's theories were very popular. But at UC Berkeley George and Robin Lakoff, Charles Fillmore and others were more interested in semantics and pragmatics and how the outside world affects language and language theories, so this influenced me to consider how these outside influences affect not only language use but also language teaching. Since I was really more interested in becoming a classroom ESL teacher than a linguistic scholar (and also I needed a job), I became interested in language teaching while at UC Berkeley. Therefore, I started to study applied linguistics with Jesse Sawyer, another UC professor. But the field of applied linguistics and second language acquisition was very young at that time, so it was hard to find courses to take.
In the 1980s I spent all of my time teaching, and unfortunately never finished my doctorate in linguistics at UC Berkeley. But I enjoyed teaching ESL at two schools during that decade. But in the early 1990s I again felt a desire to study and not just teach. By a fortunate chance I found out about the doctorate in International and Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco, so I entered this program. This was a wonderful educational experience, and with professors like Alma Flor Ada, Rosita Galang, Dorothy Messerschmitt, and Denis Collins, I became interested in critical pedagogy and critical linguistics. I wrote my doctoral dissertation for this program on Chinese language maintenance among Chinese families in San Francisco.
Two books that changed my life while I was in this program are Robert Phillpson's Linguistics Imperialism and Alastair Pennycook's The Cultural Politics of English as a Second Language because these books make clear the importance of issues of power and hegemonic tendencies in our field. It was with this kind of background that I was later able to understand and empathize with non-native instructors who meet with discrimination in our field.
Question: Do you have contacts with NNESTs (students or professonals) in your present job? Are there many NNEST students in your institution?
Terry: When I hear my colleagues say insensitive and indeed naïve statements like "Our students prefer native speakers, "I feel that maybe if I had not had this educational experience at USF and reading books like those of Philipson, Pennycook, and other critical linguists, I might be like these insensitive and naïve (but unfortunately they have power) colleagues.
At USF a number of my classmates were people of color and also bilingual and non-native language teachers. Hearing their points of view and discussing issues related to linguistic imperialism and issues of power in language and language teaching, I began not only to understand that there is a big problem of discrimination against non-native teachers in our field, but also to know how to be a better teacher because I came to realize that there are advantages to being a non-native teacher. That is, I came to the important realization that being non-native teacher carries some advantages (which are well-known to readers of this website) which are inherent to their backgrounds.
Question: What are the things you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate/do?
Terry: As a member of the NNEST Caucus and as the coordinator-elect of CATESOL's NNLEI interest group, I hope I can encourage some of my colleagues to read the literature on non-native teacher issues, power in language teaching, and critical linguistics. As a teacher who often has the wonderful opportunity to work as a "mentor" with student teachers, who are often non-native instructors, I would also like to persuade these young teachers to read this literature and to have confidence in their abilities.