Performing foreigners: Transnational English teachers’ training needs, role, and identities at a Chinese university

2017-01-16T05:13:25Z (GMT) by Stanley, Phiona
Minimally qualified ‘backpacker teachers’ of English have been characterized as agents of neocolonialism in the spread of English. However, little is known about such teachers’ actual experiences and their effects. This study provides an insight into the role, the needs, and the constructed identities of Western English teachers at a university in Shanghai, China. The study found that such teachers were not primarily engaged in English teaching, but instead served as representatives of the Chinese notion of the Western Other, in part as a foil against which to define the Chinese Self. This results in tension between teachers’ habitus, perceived role, and their performances, with consequent effects on the teachers’ identities. This differed by gender, and the construction of gendered identities is discussed, particularly masculinities. The study used qualitative interviewing, classroom observations, and participant research. An interdisciplinary literature is reviewed, including discussion of Chinese nationalism and the development of intercultural competence. Models of symbolic interactionism, transnationalism, and forms of capital frame the data analysis and the resultant grounded theory. The participants teach ‘oral English’, the nature and theoretical premise of which stem from a quantifiable view of language and a transmission view of language teaching; these differ from theories assumed and inculcated in teachers’ training. But CELTA-type ‘toolkit’ training does not equip teachers to problematize assumptions or to make principled adaptations to praxis. Instead, they implement communicative-style teaching, which stakeholders interpret to be fun but ineffective. This reinforces an Occidentalist notion of ‘fun foreigners’ and creates pressure on teachers to perform, and thereby reify, this identity. Teachers therefore entertain students rather than teaching them; they are ineffective as language teachers, and their professional development and morale suffer. However, such teachers may not be expected to succeed. An inductive interpretation of their raison d’être is considered: they are the bringers of ‘foreign culture(s)’. It is therefore suggested that CELTA-type courses, and oral English teaching be reworked with a greater emphasis on teaching culture. 

Awards: Winner of the Mollie Holman Doctoral Medal for Excellence, Faculty of Education, 2010.