Davi S. Reis
dsr158 [at] psu [dot] edu
Ana Wu: Could you tell us your background and why you decided to become an educator?
Davi Reis: I was born in the mountainous, Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and lived there until I was 22 years old. Portuguese was the only language I knew and spoke until my EFL instruction in the public school system began, in middle school. While in high school and on a vocational track to become an Electronics Technician, I was peer-pressured into learning English, as many of the textbooks in that field were written in English. Although EFL was a required component of my high school curriculum, the general consensus at the time was that to ‘really’ learn English one needed to attend private EFL language schools. So, after much financial scrambling, I enrolled in the locally well-known and established ‘Instituto Cultural Brazil-Estados Unidos’ (ICBEU). Despite my instrumental motivations for enrolling, I started to almost immediately think of myself as a member of an imaginary English-speaking community (Norton, 1995). So from day one, I thoroughly enjoyed each of my classes at ICBEU and always looked forward to them.
With each new semester, the desire to become more and more involved with English grew stronger. After much thinking about just how I could make it happen, the thought of becoming an EFL teacher occurred to me. At first, I didn't wholeheartedly embrace the idea. After all, I was enrolled in the Business Administration program (a highly profitable career path in Brazil at the time) and certainly did not want to follow in my mother's footsteps (an educator herself) after watching her spend hours and hours planning lessons and grading student work for very little compensation. However, in early 1997, I could no longer ignore my desire to make English a bigger part of my life and the idea of becoming an EFL teacher had considerably grown on me. So despite much protest from my family members and friends, I decided to switch my college major to Letters and Literature in order to become a credentialed EFL teacher. Concurrently, I had decided to take the teacher training course at ICBEU, a two-semester program for those interested in a career path in TESOL. I was now thoroughly enjoying what I was doing and even got hired as an EFL teacher by a few schools despite my lack of both experience and expertise.
Flash forward a year and a half, and I found myself packing my bags. As chance would have it, soon after changing majors, I had the opportunity to apply for a college scholarship in the
Ana Wu: You said that with your degree in TESOL and teaching experience, you were considered overqualified to teach EFL in
Davi Reis: Regarding your first question, it really is hard to tell. In some cases, the schools where I applied for a job may well have been concerned with how much they were willing to pay me or with whether or not I would be content working for their relatively low wages. In other cases, it may have been that I was unfortunately perceived as a potential threat to their business and pedagogical practices. In several job interviews, the interviewer turned out to be the school’s coordinator or owner. Given the competitive nature of EFL in
Now, would these same schools have hired less or (un)qualified native speakers? Unfortunately, many of them did, though thankfully not all. The bottom line is that many of these private schools prefer to hire instructors (qualified or otherwise) who will attract students, accept less-than-ideal working conditions without rocking the boat, and be happy with relatively low wages. As we all know, many native speakers of English (though certainly not all) would fit this ‘job description’ if it meant that they would get to experience another country and its culture. In addition, I believe that many school coordinators and owners actually prefer less experienced teachers (especially if they happen to be native speakers), as this allows them (the school administrators) to keep themselves in a position of unchallenged authority.
Ana Wu: From your experience as an EFL teacher, did you feel that Brazilian teachers had a second-class status when working with native speaking teachers (qualified or less qualified)?
Davi Reis: To the best of my knowledge, despite the fact that there were many more NNESTs than NESTs where I was working (
With that said, however, I must also say that a handful of the native speakers teaching in the same schools where I taught were well-qualified, experienced, committed, and extremely helpful. Many of the local teachers were able to work alongside these qualified NESTs, allowing the local teachers to both motivate their students to keep learning English and to become familiar with other English-speaking contexts and cultures. I remember, for example, how a colleague from
Ana Wu: As an EFL instructor, did you have to integrate American or British culture in your teaching? Did your students demand knowledge in those cultures? Did you think it was necessary (or important) to teach language with reference to the socio-cultural norms and values of an English-speaking country?
Davi Reis: For the most part, yes, I did have to teach cultural aspects of both American and British English. Usually, the schools where I worked did not really have a clear policy on this matter. However, in most schools where I worked the textbooks were selected for my courses without my input, so the textbook’s content ended up dictating how much ‘culture’ I had to teach, whether American or British. More often than not, these textbooks portrayed native speakers of either variety as ideal target models and there was little inclusion of non-native, bilingual, or World English speakers. But I do hope this situation is improving now. When I last taught EFL in
In regards to your second question, I believe there is a mismatch between what EFL learners in Brazil (especially school-aged children and young adults) expect from their EFL learning experiences and what they usually end up needing English for. In other words, although most students and parents would concede that English is a lingua franca indispensable for international communication, what they are frequently after is the cultural capital of inner-circle English-speaking cultures as a symbol of higher status. This situation compromises students’ chances of succeeding at learning and using English for intercultural communication, as school administrators often struggle between providing what students want versus what they believe students need in order to succeed in the world.
As to your last question, I did think it was necessary to ‘choose’ either American or British English as a beginning EFL teacher. In my mind, these were the only two desirable options.
I considered English as the language spoken in the
Ana Wu: Some language centers offer in-house training. How accessible are professional development opportunities for EFL teachers in
Davi Reis: From my experience, professional development opportunities are relatively plentiful in
On the whole, however, I believe that more in-depth, ongoing, and transformative types of professional development opportunities are still absent from the private-school, EFL scene in
In this light, I do feel that EFL instructors in
Ana Wu: Teaching middle school in the
Davi Reis: Professionally-speaking, teaching middle school to at-risk ESL students in
If your future plans involve working in the public school system, I commend you for taking such a noble step. Whether you are an international student in TESOL or Applied Linguistics, an experienced NNEST, or a new immigrant, the public school system has much to gain from you. But I do have a piece of advice, though I am only able to say this in hindsight myself. I would encourage you to think of ‘difference’ as a source of growth, not deficit. Unfortunately, the native speaker myth and the idealized notion of a native speaker are still quite strong and prevalent in many social and professional contexts in the
Finally, as a word of caution, I believe it’s crucial that you first identify your long-term career goals and reflect on your strengths as a teacher before committing to an ESL position with the public schools. Unfortunately, though I believe that public schools both deserve and are desperate for ESL teachers (especially those who can teach other content areas as well), it is not for everyone. So try to find out as much as possible about the school district where you are applying in order to make sure that you will be a good fit. For example, find out what kind of ESL instruction the district provides. Is it pull-in, pull-out, or sheltered? How many other ESL teachers/specialists are there in the district? What kinds of resources would be available to you if you got the position? Figuring out the answer to these questions before accepting the job offer will help not only you, but the students you will eventually have in your classroom. Also, as a word of encouragement, despite the hard work, stress, and low pay involved with ‘working in the trenches,’ I believe that TESOL professionals in general, and NNESTs in particular have a tremendous amount of experience and expertise that, sadly enough, doesn’t usually make its way to the public school context. So if you’re up to the challenge, the better you’ll be for taking it, and the more enriched your students’ lives will be.
Ana Wu: As a foreign-born NNES master degree candidate with extensive teaching experience and a second degree in another field, what challenges did you have during your graduate studies and how did you overcome them? What advice would you give to people with similar background as yours who are considering studying in the
Davi Reis: Graduate school did present a series of challenges. First of all, I was also going through my teacher education program. Although this allowed me to add a K-12 ESL teaching certification to my BA in TESOL, it made for a more labor-intensive graduate school experience. Secondly, although Educational Technology is a major strand in the general field of education, it took me a while to figure out how I would converge my interests in TESOL with those in Educational Technology. Third, becoming comfortable presenting in front of others did not come naturally to me, so I had to work at it. Finally, learning the genre of academic writing well enough to write my master’s thesis wasn’t easy. Up to that point, my writing skills were extremely weak and I just could not envision myself as someone who would eventually be able to finish it. In trying to overcome all of these challenges, I found it absolutely essential to identify role models whom I could try to emulate. I was fortunate enough to have more capable peers and professors who helped me to become more comfortable in my skin and a better writer. So learning from and collaborating with peers and professors is a must. But the most difficult challenge during that period was trying to cope with the stress from attempting to balance my graduate classes and my work as a graduate assistant. After a few unproductive all-nighters, I realized that having an established routine and ways to consistently release stress (e.g., spending time with your family, going for a walk, or playing with your pet) worked much better for me than short-term solutions. My thinking goes something like this: if we must make time every day to sleep, shower, and eat, we can also make time for taking healthy breaks and enjoying life. Tending to all aspects of your life will likely have a positive impact on your professional life as well. If even Barack Obama finds time for his daily gym routine, so can we!
In terms of advice for those considering study in the US, it is important to keep in mind that it can be a challenging and taxing experience, filled with unexpected twists and turns. At some point, no matter how well you might be doing academically, you are likely to feel homesick and may start wondering why you chose to do it. During those times, remember that these are understandable feelings and yes, you CAN get through it. All in all, studying in the
Ana Wu: I learned a lot from the wisdom and knowledge you acquired through your experience. Thank you for such inspiring and insightful interview!
Davi Reis: Thank you, Ana, for the opportunity to share some of my personal and professional experiences with the NNEST community. I feel truly honored. I hope my narrative can both encourage and inspire other teachers to pursue the transformative world of teaching and learning, regardless of their background.
Kachru, B. (1981). Models for non-native Englishes. In B. Kachru (Ed.). The other tongue: English across cultures (pp. 31–57).
Norton-Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 9-31.