My podcast exists!

Please listen!

My own voice (boy do I hate hearing it) is a bit spotty, as it was recording online via my guest’s phone. I pressed the wrong button on my phone and thus my own recording failed. Sure is good that he also recorded it.

This episode is about “expats,” who is allowed to be one and who isn’t.

Anyway, I hope people enjoy it. I’ll be back with another in a few weeks, and hopefully able to keep having interesting discussions.

Checklists

I’ve been going back and forth on what my ultimate goal is. And I still haven’t figured it out.

One thing I’ve become sure of is that if I were to create a model, even a well-researched and resonant one, it would become commodified and diluted almost as soon as it became popular.

I think about what I’ve fallen into and out of love with. Grit Test, Growth Mindset. Even the Best Plus test I administered several hundred times I once actually thought was pretty good. And although there is obviously unexamined oppressive reasoning behind all of them, the creators surely wanted to help. If I assume everyone is a mustache-twirling villain I do myself and them a disservice.

When you create a measurement tool, it so often just ends up a test people teach towards. If you condense it into a checklist, it’s easily digestible, but most people don’t or won’t or can’t take the time to place it in the context of the arguments supporting it, so it becomes a decontextualized CliffsNotes version of its original intent, and it loses much of its power.

On the other hand, if you refuse to checklist, how much reach can you really have?

I completed a project for school recently where I used Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies to envision changes I would make in my professional context. That book and its related articles resists checklisting, and I believe it’s better for it. But then I wonder if it automatically becomes limited to educators who are already interested in deepening their praxis.

It seems to me that the most impactful path is to create some sort of list to keep educators focused on central tenets. If people are interested in a model, they are going to need to remember some important facets thereof, and lists are an effective way to convey this information. But as soon as a list is created, it blocks out the sun for the people who merely want to seem they’ve deepened their praxis. And any truly great model is going to be complex because our students are.

How do you creat something that is complex but not convoluted, accessible but not diluted? I have no idea. But finding that tightrope and walking it is my goal over these final three years of school.

Word Problems

I kind of want to have a podcast, but not one where I just ramble about my life. I want to train my attention on words that are neutral in a vacuum but harmful in their usage.

I want to differentiate between slurs, which are objectively poisonous, and words that are used, even unintentionally, as codes for othering. An example here would be the phrase “cultural fit,” which still shows up on job descriptions from time to time or in justifications for hiring or not hiring someone.

These words can indeed have only innocent meaning, but they’re used as cudgels, covers for more insidious acts. When someone says “cultural fit,” what’s unsaid is that the dominant culture in an organization (or school, or what have you) would be unsettled by the person’s inclusion. Could this mean the person was genuinely unsettling and unstable? Yes. But could it also mean that something “other” about a person would be uncomfortable for the dynamic, something not easily defined and something that would be ideally left unsaid, so it is slotted under “cultural fit” and forgotten, and the homogeneity and hegemony are perpetuated.

What should be used instead? “We decided to go with someone else” is honest and doesn’t stigmatize the othered person. Or, more directly, “we liked (them) more.” Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? If we want to use a white lie, mention qualifications, although credentials are a potential source of stigmatization as well.

There are a lot of other words or phrases like this, diction that needs to be problematized and analyzed. And I think I need to do it. We’ll see.

Strong Voice

There’s a difference between a voice and an opinion. Everyone has opinions, deeply held or otherwise. And some of those opinions are dehumanizing garbage. We don’t need to get into those right now.

I’ve been thinking lately why my academic doubts have continued to grow smaller and smaller. Yes, I’m particularly interested in the material, and yes, it’s tied to what I want to do professionally, but that was true in my MA as well, and the writing didn’t flow as much as it does now.

Surely I will struggle in certain classes as my degree continues. But I come back to one particular item of a rubric I saw last fall.

In my introductory class, we were tasked with trying to create a project proposal for a study we may or may not do. In my case, it’s related to what I’ll probably put together in the next two years, but not precisely the same. One of the ways in which we were graded was on “evidence of strong voice.” This is different from the other items, which were much more objective. But it was encouraging to me, and I tried to write with my authentic linguistic patterns for almost the first time in my academic career.

I’ve written good papers before, papers that received high grades, but I wasn’t really in the words of those papers. Anyone with certain experiences could have written them, and thus they really weren’t as good as they could have been. Now, I ended up losing points on this assignment because I messed up the APA, but that goes to an important point: you do need to learn the standardized forms and practices so that you can choose to deviate from them, and part of what we’re learning is what publications will expect of us as writers.

When I say that I find much of academic writing to be of not particularly high quality, I am not referring to the findings or methodology. To me, the most interesting part of an empirical study is the discussion, where the authors can really stretch their expository legs and get some heft under their work. Although I do plan to conduct studies over time, I find the best writing comes when the author’s voice is clear and present, even if I disagree with their analysis and their points.

You can tell – or at least, I think you can tell – that someone has contorted their voice into what they hope will be accepted by editors and reviewers, because it sounds and feels choppy. I hope this doesn’t happen to me, though I’m sure, to some extent, it will.

Nevertheless, I want all of my writing, whether for school, on here, or for a larger public someday, to be technically sound and scholarly, but also unmistakeably mine to whose who have read or listened to me. And if it doesn’t sound like I’d say it, then I shouldn’t write it.

I hope this doesn’t mean that people think writing doesn’t take considerable effort. Of course that is not the case. However, in my view, and I finally feel confident in saying this, that effort should be put towards expressing your authentic voice in the strongest possible fashion. Anything else is just holding you back.

Acronyms for the Future

Literally the very first thing I learned in my Master’s program was a long list of acronyms regarding the field and its various subfields. ESL, EFL, ESP, EAP, ESOL, and so on. And of course we discussed the name of our degree itself, TESOL (which is just ESOL with “teaching” in front of it).

Now, I tend to refer to the field as “ELT” because it’s the acronym I feel straddles the line between being recognizable among professionals and less stigmatizing.

On the one hand, look, if I make up an acronym, no one will pay attention to what I’m saying. And on the other hand, if I continue to use acronyms I’m not very fond of, I feel as though I’m being disingenous to some extent.

Although I have this degree, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the “O” in TESOL (or ESOL). The acronym is an improvement over the narrow term ESL, but my entire driving purpose is the fact that our field in its current state perpetuates the othering and marginalization of minoritized groups. With that said, if I am referring to past research about the field, maybe I should actually use “TESOL” because its glaring lack of self-awareness is something we should keep in mind. In other (ha) words, if I try to use a more progressive acronym to describe what exists now, it would be somewhat dishonest.

So the dilemma is, do I use a term that represents my aspirations in the field? Or do I use a term that reflects the present and past?

Where I come down on this is this perhaps wishy-washy conclusion: The acronym is going to keep changing anyway, so I might as well adopt the newer terms within the field and then continue to update my terminology with new developments. Truthfully, what would I use if I wanted to propose a new acronym? What would accuately convey my meaning?

Would it be something like “TSE,” for “Teaching Standardized English?” That would certainly be more accurate than many of our other acronyms, but it wouldn’t push the terminology forward, so how much better is it really than “TESOL?” However, if I continue to use “ELT,” in a way I am pretending that the decontextualized teaching of language is harmless or neutral, which is decidely not the case?

But I stil speak and write in what is commonly considered standardized English. I am not in a language education classroom right now, but if I were, although I’d avoid correcting students reflexively, I’d still be promoting the standardized by virtue of being the teacher and holding the relative power.

And I need to refer to the field and the practice as… something.

So for now? I think ELT works. The key, for the moment, is to push everyone’s understanding of what that “L” really means. Language is not just words, grammar, text. Language requires context, culture, and RACE. So if I do my work correctly, ELT will encompass the work I do, and it won’t ignore the marginalized or further other them.

I want to add that I don’t blame those who have taught me for using the older terms, or focusing on relatively decontextualized language. It was never entirely decontextualized, but the context was often, say, the different ways language speakers might pronounce phonemes, or holidays and heroes. Nevertheless, we can all increase our multiple forms of literacy beyond the initial understanding we were all given. And for now, ELT is, I think, the best we have for describing the past, the present, and what we could be in the future, so long as we come closer to having a full, honest grasp of what the hell language really means.

Jargon

I have a secret to tell you. I hate jargon. I think I’ve always hated jargon. I’m not sure when it started, maybe when I started at various selective PWIs, but I think I’ve always been a little uncomfortable using in-group language, even as I wanted to be accepted by the groups.

I was thinking about this this weekend and I was listening to a linguistics podcast (what level of nerd…). And I think there’s a thread that can be pulled to new places. Most think that pretentious language is exclusionary when used deliberately as such, but I think its very use and existence is the violent act.

I think if we are to ever increase equity (ugh that word) and access, jargon has to be torn apart.

More to come!