Kathleen Flynn and Goedele Gulikers
gulikegx [at] pgcc [dot] edu
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and how you became interested in being an educator?
Prof. Flynn: My decision to go into teaching as a career came early in life. I was interested in languages and linguistics and found that teaching ESL was a natural way to combine these interests. I majored in linguistics and took the first two classes of a number of languages in order to understand the structure of the languages of my future students. As a native speaker of English, it was easier to learn a Romance language than Russian or Arabic, but I felt that I needed to experience what my students were going through. I wanted to see how close or distant these languages were to English and how that affected my learning.
I was very fortunate to have studied with a number of well-known ESL professionals at
Prof. Gulikers: I come from a family of educators and have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. In addition, I grew up in a tiny country that has three official languages. Language learning and speaking many languages is just a fact of life there, so it was no great leap for me to choose language teaching as my career. After receiving my Masters’ degree in Slavic Philology, I taught Russian for five years. When I became interested in working in an international setting, I decided to come to the States to get another Masters’ degree, namely in TESOL. Since then I have taught ESL in a variety of settings, from elementary private school to university intensive programs, and in Adult Education and Higher Education programs at community colleges.
Ana Wu: Both of you have written articles about issues in hiring NNES from an administrator’s perspective in the
Prof. Flynn: In my experience, students tend to react if a NNES teacher has a strong accent or one that is difficult to understand. Administrators are cautious about hiring a NNES teacher full-time if that person has a strong accent since it would be difficult for that person to teach listening and speaking or accent reduction classes. Some administrators are reluctant to pay the legal fees that may be involved in hiring a non-citizen. Over the years, I have noticed that students prefer to have a NNES teacher who can teach American English (both spoken and written) rather than British English.
Prof. Gulikers: I would say that administrators are the more resistant of the group, although each of these groups has their own reasons to be reluctant to hire NNESTs. Administrators have to consider both the people who they are reporting to—the higher administration and the parents, and the people who they are responsible for—the peers and the students. In my experience, the colleagues and the students are more supportive of the strengths of NNESTs if they are made to consider what it takes to be a good teacher. The concerns of the higher administration and parents are harder to address because they are usually not expressed in a question or challenge format that can be addressed. Education about what makes a good teacher and, therefore, the rationale behind hiring decisions, can only be done at opportune moments and over a longer period of time. But I do believe that it can be done.
Ana Wu: In your article “Issues in Hiring NNES Professionals to Teach English as a Second Language” (The CATESOL Journal, 2001), you recommended interview strategies and guidelines to improve employment opportunities. When applying for a job in an English-speaking country, would you consider it advantageous for applicants to state in the cover letter that they are NNES and list the strengths of being a NNES? If not, why? What else could applicants consider?
Prof. Flynn: When applying for a job, a NNES should explain his or her background, especially if the applicant’s transcripts have been translated. It is a good idea to be specific about the type of coursework since many states have a minimum qualifications list for degrees or coursework. It is not always clear that coursework outside of the US matches these minimum qualifications. In the cover letter, the applicant should explain his or her strengths as a teacher and as a successful language learner. I recommend showing this letter to a native speaker who can do a grammar check and also check the letter for tone and appropriateness.
Prof. Gulikers: Personally, I believe that if you show that you are aware of the concerns that might arise with your application as a NNEST, you will have a better chance of at least getting interviewed. If you do not address these concerns, it is more likely that your application will end up directly on the “not suited” pile. I would also suggest that the applicant makes a point of bringing this up at the interview itself, and ask what strengths the program is looking for. Another tactic is to try to find out how many NNES teachers they already have hired in the program. This usually suggests the attitude of the administration towards NNESTs. Understanding what you do well and what is hard for you, and communicating this understanding to the interviewers will win half the battle. The program might still not hire you, but they will be aware of all the positive input they could have had from your teaching.
Ana Wu: I have heard that in the US, international students tend to be harder on teachers who are from the same nationality. What advice would you give to their instructors? What advice would you give to the international students?
Prof. Flynn: International students have traveled a far distance to learn English and sometimes insist on having Native Speakers of English as their teachers. They sometimes reject the advice of a NNES teacher, especially if that teacher has a strong accent. My advice to NNES instructors is to be clear in assignments and to give students clear examples of what you expect. My advice to international students is to give the teacher a chance. The teacher was assigned to teach that class because of his or her skills and experience.
Prof. Gulikers: International students don’t come to the States to study language for its own sake. They need English to succeed in their studies. The teacher can make a good point of explaining that what they need most from her is to explain how language works and how they need to use it in an academic setting. The fact that she has the same nationality will give her the added advantage to pinpoint problems and give a focused, quick explanation that then can be practiced. I usually advise teachers in that situation to express to their students that they are very lucky to have a
Ana Wu: As the president-elect of CATESOL (the California affiliate), what changes in teacher training would you like to see in the next few years? How could these changes benefit the NNES teacher?
Prof. Flynn: I would like to see more teacher training in the MA and certificate programs. I have looked at the lists of courses in many certificates and have often found very little explicit training on how to teach grammar and writing. It can’t really be assumed that everyone coming into an MA program knows how to teach these two areas. Over the last few years, I have given a talk aimed at teachers with only two to three years of teaching experience. The talk focuses on grammar points for teaching some of the more difficult areas such as infinitives and gerunds. The talks have gotten a good response because there is a need for such focused teaching aimed at teachers who are new to the field. I would also like to see a teaching practicum offered in each MA TESOL program.
The teaching practicum is especially important for the NNES. It gives the NNES teacher an opportunity to see if teaching in an English-speaking country is the right choice. It also gives the teacher time to work on issues such as accent and presentation style.
Ana Wu: As a supervisor and coordinator, would you share any inspirational anecdote from a NNS instructor who was concerned with fluency-accuracy (or any other) issues?
Prof. Gulikers: At an interview session with a NNES applicant, one of the interviewers was concerned that the applicant wouldn’t be able to adequately explain “American culture” to the students. At that moment another interviewer challenged his colleague and asked her to explain what she meant by “explaining American culture”. So a short discussion ensued about whether they were meant to teach American culture anyway, and what and how they would teach this. The same colleague came with the clincher. He wouldn’t have been hired if that had been a criterion because he grew up abroad and only attended international schools. He had never watched American TV until recently and didn’t know the rules for either baseball or football, among other “standard” cultural experiences. The applicant knew as much of American culture as he did, and nobody had questioned this when he applied for the job. All had a good laugh, and the NNES applicant got hired. This shows us that “native accent alone does not a native speaker make!”