New Episode and some real growth

In the latest episode (which you can listen to here), I speak to a fellow podcaster about our experiences hosting and working in ELT as racialized professionals. You should listen.

BUT.

At the end of this episode, we really went hard. We talked about the issues with “diversity” and “social justice” and even “white privilege” and the way they’re used as surface solutions that avoid true risk. It feels, upon listening, that I am coming into my own as a critic and an analyst, and I’m excited to see what happens going forward.

The Dilemma

I came up with a really great idea yesterday, one that I think I can pursue as a research, theory, and conceptual focus in my writing for many years, regardless of what I end up doing professionally (because I’m going to write no matter what).

I want to share it with the public because I want to be sure it’s as good as I think it is, but I also don’t want to share it because it’s not yet fully formed.

It is a challenge for me to hold onto an idea for more than a short period. I get excited and I crave the response that sharing it brings. I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing that people are responding to my recent publication (which is here, by the way, and you should read it), but even that was hard to wait for because it took several months.

Nevertheless, I know, if this is as strong as I think it is, that it can wait until I get farther along into my studies and my other writing. I can keep it quiet as an end goal, the big idea I am building towards.

I think I know I need to keep it quiet because I know it will work. Stay tuned.

Some Writing Goals

It is a new decade, but I can’t predict that far ahead. So here are some writing goals for 2020.

I want to finish three publishable pieces. Whether or not they’ll get in is an entirely different (and much longer!) process I am only partially in control of. But I want to build on “The Altruistic Shield” and use it to inform my theoretical and conceptual evolution.

By 2021, I’ll be working on dissertation research and will take a break from attempts at original theorizing to get my empirical data. Thus, this year, I’m going to try to get three related but different pieces complete.

I also want to find an avenue in which to follow up on “the Altruistic Shield,” because that original piece is… short. It’s two pages. And I have more to say. Maybe that will be part of my three pieces, but maybe it’s something else, something I advance through my podcast or conference type settings.

I’m working on the first of these three pieces right now, and also trying to send the Shield article around to get it attention.

I’ll keep writing here as my theories develop, and in any place my thoughts can be successfully advanced.

 

On Friendly Racism

I remember in Korea, when I went to karaoke (or, noraebang) with my colleagues, they often instructed me to “do rap.” At one other point, they were genuinely curious about the lyrics to “Empire State of Mind” and had me go over every reference in the song.

At other times, here in the States, I’ve had friends make jokes about race that, had we not been friends, would have absolutely been classified as hateful. And I don’t claim to be immune to doing this myself, because it’s ultimate a part of the American language, the burning desire to push boundaries on social topics.

What does this mean, though, this sort of “friendly racism?” None of the people I’m speaking about wanted harm to come to me, and I doubt any of them even voted for the current President. I think if I pointed this out to them, they’d be horrified and apologetic (which is its own topic, but still).

It’s easy to avoid people who clearly do not see you as in possession of full humanity. But what of the people who want to connect with you in some ways yet make use of this language?

I think the issue is a very sad one. For most people, most who haven’t really sat with the realities of race and racism, these sort of “jokes,” this type of “edgy” humor, is, at its heart, an attempt to release the tension they feel around the topic of race. But instead of learning what is correct to say, they create distance by being disrespectful (they’d call it “funny,” but no).

It’s too simple to just say “screw these people,” because that won’t address the issue in any way. Sure, distance yourself, call them out, but what makes it so that people who do actually care feel the impulse to debase themselves in such a way?

Ultimately, I think, especially for white people, this comes from a lack of deep racial identity, a mindset where, since they do indeed lack active antipathy for people of color, they feel guilt and confusion and discomfort, and this sort of humor is easy and comforting. I get it. For me, at least, I see how this happens on other axes of privilege that I have (gender, class, ability). I don’t make these sort of “jokes” anymore, but surely so when I was younger and less mature. In a way, I lacked the language to connect with people in marginalized groups without resorting to negative behavior. And I think this is common.

This doesn’t make it okay. But the real culprit here is a society and an educational system that doesn’t force us to consider our identities as oppressors. I didn’t say “feel guilty about,” because we’re pretty good at that. But truly considering our oppression – instead of learning about oppression in the abstract or as a history lesson – and understand how we need to evolve to counteract the oppression within us and around us is a vital task for all of us, especially those of us who are in education.

When I think about my colleagues in Korea, for example, they would have no reason to follow these patterns if we exporters of the English Language did not promote a framework in which asking marginalized people to perform their race was acceptable.

In some ways, I find that the “friendly” racism is the most challenging to defeat, because they could do so much better. But until then, people will just keep making themselves comfortable at the expense of those who’ve already suffered far too much.

 

New Podcast episode and planning

First of all, there’s a new podcast episode up today. It’s hard to hear what I am saying because I was mumbling, but my guest, who is the real showcase, is crystal clear. So check it out.

I have 4 or 5 people interested in appearing on the show, and I already have a future episode (of just me) recorded and ready to go.

My hope is to record 4 or 5 more before school starts again in late January, and then use my “headstart” so I can still be posting them every other week after my child is born.

I’m debating now whether or not to take “breaks.” The app recommends having seasons with gaps, and I might do that, basically have the show run along side the school year (without a Christmas break) and end it at my birthday, then record a few over the summer and start up again at the end of August.

Or maybe I’ll just keep barreling through. We’ll see.

Keep listening. I make a grand total of 15 dollars for every 1000 listens!

A Real Teacher

A “professor” who knew me when I was in South Korea once told me I wasn’t a real teacher, and I want to tell you about that to make a point about the state of the ELT field. So, story time.

A little more than ten years ago, sometime in the fall of 2009, I was finishing my second (and final) year teaching English in South Korea. The situation there was interesting. Most of the, as we were called, “guest English teachers” did not have education degrees (in fact, I can’t remember a single one who did), and although many of us (myself included) did acquire week-long certificates in teaching. We didn’t need these certificates to get hired, but it ensured us a marginally higher salary (though we had paid for the course in the first place, so it took about five months to pay for itself). All of us teachers were “native speakers,” hired from a select few countries based on the perception that we would inherently benefit the Korean students by virtue of our NS status. Some of us worked at private language academies (hagwans), some of us (like me) worked at public schools, and a handful worked at universities. The former group often made plenty of money, but worked unusual hours (2-10 or something) and had little job protection when the owners were shady. The public schools didn’t treat us very poorly and it was most likely the most stable of all positions, so I chose this option to minimize risk. But the third group, the universities, while a bit riskier in that they often needed to renew their contracts mid-year (whereas my contract was yearly and nearly impossible to lose), that was a group of folks that really hadn’t earned their status, for the most part.

So the crowd of educators in S. Korea, at least in 2009 (but I am skeptical much has changed from the literature I’ve read), was, as you might be able to tell from the description above, a bunch of wastrels, myself included. It was a shame, because, like any large group of people, there were plenty with the ability and compassion to be effective educators, but there was little incentive to truly commit to the craft, so the only ones who did so were those who were intrinsically motivated to do so. I’m sort of judging us, as a group, mostly because I’m judging my own entitled feelings at the time, but it was accurate to say that very few of us were committed to developing as ELT professionals. For most of us, it was a blip before going back to our real lives, or, in my case, and I said this out loud, starting adulthood. We spent much of our social time in the “expat” social circle, partially because of a language barrier we didn’t really want to try and cross, and partially because we were more comfortable in our original social milieu. We rarely spoke about our teaching aside from telling stories about our “hilarious” students, and most of us lived for the next party. I certainly did.

I say all this to say that if being a real teacher is being committed to the act of teaching, then very few of us were. Some, sure, maybe a handful. And the schools don’t market the experience that way, so that’s who applies. Our orientation was mostly about Korean culture and the basics of the language (useful!), and the one or two sessions we had on actual instruction were largely ignored (including by me).

A few of us ended up continuing as educators after the time in Korea was over. We may well have become real teachers. But when that professor told me I wasn’t a real teacher, I was really upset by it… because he was right. By that time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the future, and coming to realize that I did want to be a teacher long-term. I had planned to become an NYC Teaching Fellow or something, but ultimately got an MA in TESOL. But in 2009 in Korea, I wasn’t a real teacher. I was play-acting at the craft, like everyone I knew there. And I was embarrassed that this was true. I had spent the second half of my second year trying to really connect with the students and challenge the assumptions I’d been handed, but I still had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

The issue, though, is that the entire profession, in the way it’s constructed, especially the “expat” field, is not designed to develop real teachers. We’re built to be facsimiles of “authentic” English language, assumed to have expertise without having demonstrated as such, especially if we’re white.

I write about these issues because, honestly, I think our field is pretty hypocritical. Not so much the individuals, but collectively. We speak about wanting increased professionalism and more stable employment, but at the same time we’re happy to employ and promote unprofessional jokers. This guy who insulted me in 2009, in the middle of an argument I don’t even remember, was a guy who spent all of his time trying to get mini-magazines off the ground and start businesses that repeatedly failed. He had the title of professor without any qualifications besides native speaker status. But to the ELT field, it remains acceptable to hire these folks over people who don’t fit inside our narrow box. And this holds all of us in the field back.

ELT will continue to mistreat its more vulnerable and committed professionals, its real teachers, until we collectively fight back against the supremacy of unqualified people who feel, as I once did, entitled to teaching positions by virtue of their birth location. We’ll never escape the traps we have set for ourselves until we face what we’ve done.

Presentation Recorded

New podcast episode is up at this link here. It’s basically just a recording of my successful presentation from 11/15. And now you can hear how it went.

Mostly, I’m glad it was a receptive audience and it got people talking and thinking. My main goal is getting people to see something they’re already familiar with in a different way. It worked on these 20 people. Hopefully I can keep doing it for more and more.

I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to present on this specific idea again. I hope it does get published and I am able to cite it in future work. But for now, it was a fun presentation to deliver.

In Dialogue

I have a piece that is up for possible publishing (at this point, I would like them to conclude their review, but that’s not how journals work), and I have a longterm research plan.

I won’t get too deep into it, but it involves investigating anti-racist praxis in English language teaching and trying to determine if it has common origins that can be replicated, if it comes from “moments of disruption” or, to use the language of addiction, “moments of clarity,” or some other type of “moment” I can label later.

But I can’t get to that endpoint until later in my classwork, after I make my way through the IRB and begin to collect data. You can hear about that in 2021 or 2022.

For now, though, I’m just writing. Building muscular strength. And I think, regardless of what I do with my career, anything I publish (so, not this stuff) needs to be in dialogue with what comes before and after.

I used to think it was arrogant for people to cite themselves, and while that’s still possible, I get it now. You need to create a dialogue and a path of development and evolution.

As it stands now, the only thing I have possibly published is about a defense mechanism that prevents anti-racist work in the field. I am planning to respond to a call for papers this December, and I’ve been debating about what to wrie. The CFP is related to anti-racism, so the theme is clear, but do I leave the whole “defense mechanism” part out of my next piece?

I thought about this since I completed my successful presentation last week. I need to build on that but also reach higher. Connect but not repeat myself. Try for big things in my writing, but make sure it’s realistic, as I still lack data.

So, I decided that, before I even gather data, I want to use my ideas about the reflexive defensiveness and cowardly “niceness” pervaving the field to ask how possible anti-racism even is in the field. This CFP is asking for 6,000 words, which is a lot, and whether or not I get in, I plan to use it as an exercise to really lay out all of my thoughts and opinions on how the field needs to change if anti-racism is going to become possible at all.

As it stands right now, anti-racist English language teaching is basically an oxymoron, and I intend to propose what would be necessary for that to no longer be true. This way the writing speaks backwards with my previous piece and looks ahead to my research, and a sensible path is built. If rejected, will reform for a different proposal and just keep it going.

New episode, and presentation approaches

There’s a new episode about “fluency” – another concept used to discriminate – that you can and should and listen to here.

My presentation on “The Altruistic Shield” is Friday. It’s my first time bringing in my whole self and my real, original ideas out into an academic space, hoping that people agree and support what I’m saying.

It’s a big deal to me, and hopefully someone new (as opposed to some of my friends and colleagues I hope will attend) comes, listens, and learns something from me. Because ultimately, that’s what I want: to teach and generate knowledge on race and racism in language education. Here’s hoping.

New podcast episode and future endeavors

First of all, there’s a new podcast episode up here. You should listen and share. It’s about how the dismissal of rap as a viable artform (as opposed to reasonable and contextualized criticism of some of its trends and habits) is almost always rooted in Dr. Kendi’s conceptualization of “cultural racism.” Just me this time, but I think the point is made well.

Next week (the 15th, to be precise), I am making a presentation of my paper on “The Altruistic Shield” at the NYS TESOL conference in White Plains. (For those who may not remember, the altruistic shield is my concept of “A psychological mechanism among English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals which allows them to exempt themselves from acknowledging their role in perpetuating systemic racism and other forms of inequity by virtue of the altruistic or self-sacrificial nature of their work.”) I hope it goes well. Meeting with my dean tomorrow to suss out how accurate my instincts have been in the way I have planned my presentation.

This will not be my first conference presentation. By my count, I’ve done four thus far, three of which were at the New School, where I’m pretty sure I was allowed in because of their desire to support their alumni (understandable), and one of which was at the international TESOL conference in Seattle in March of 2017. That was the only “big” one I’ve done thus far, and it went very well. That, however, was as a consumer of knowledge, and this presentation is my first time as a producer of my own knowledge. Thus it feels very important to me, as a scholar and as a person. I know what it felt like to complete my first marathon and know I had changed as a person, so I wonder if these 35 minutes will feel the same.

The only times a presentation hasn’t gone well has been when no one shows up, really, and I start to flop-sweat and tap dance. People who attend are usually eager. People don’t really attend presentations in which they are not interested, especially when there are several simultaneous choices. I’m not famous enough to attract an audience that wants to come and jeer me (that sounds fun, though). Thus, my goal is to assume good will and good faith, and try to build upon that to push the listeners to take action. We’ll see how it goes….

I’ll be recording the audio of the presentation and will share via the podcast a week or two later. I also have another podcast episode recorded and edited that I’ll be sharing first.

And I am going to responding to a very exciting “call for papers” that is specifically about anti-racist pedagogy (there’s more to it than that, but still). There is no guarantee I’ll be accepted, of course, and it’s asking for 6,000-8,000 words, but whatever I write, I’m going to make sure it gets seen and read and shared by as many as possible. My only question is, do I make my smaller, calmer argument, or do I take a big swing? Both would be primarily opinion pieces as I won’t have my own data until a year from now. I am leaning towards taking a big swing.

The smaller argument is one that seeks to normalize the phrase “Teaching Standardized English” as opposed to the current titles for our field, which serve to marginalize and minoritize. There’s a fairly straightforward argument to be made there, that including the “ize” requires us to confront the dominance and opppression inherent in the field. There are good articles to be written on this.

The big swing, however, is one I am more interested in. And I realize, if it doesn’t get accepted, there is no reason I can’t look for a smaller journal, or hold it back until I have data to back it up. My concern with the smaller argument is that, even if a few people adopt a new title for their work, it doesn’t much provide a framework for their teaching and their management of their programs. You can switch your title and teach exactly the same oppressive lessons and pat yourself on the back. So if I take the big swing, and I succeed, it would be with a complex but comprehensible pedagogy that professionals could apply to their work, be it in classroom teaching or management. So I think I’m going to try. Worst comes to worst, I write something that I need to hold onto.

I am going to try to write the big swing piece in December (the deadline is Dec 31st) and the smaller swing piece in January for some other publication, so that I can have my biggest, boldest work out in the world (or at least under review) before my child is born.

I’m not hesitating any longer.