TSIG.08: Special Interest Group for Non-Native English Speaking Writing Instructors
Reviewed by Chen Chen, North Carolina State University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Judith Szerdahelyi, Western Kentucky University
Speakers: Mary Tseptsura, University of New Mexico
Lami Fofana-Kamara, Michigan State University
Tatjana Schell, North Dakota State University
I met Lami Fofana-Kamara at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) when, together with another colleague, we discussed possibilities of bringing the issues about non-native English speaking writing instructors (NNESWI) to the conversations at the 2016 CCCC. For the first time, I discovered that there were other instructors like me who were also non-native, and that it was a research topic that had warranted scholarly attention. Following our conversation where we shared our experiences of teaching writing as non-native English-speakers and the challenges we were faced with, Fofana-Kamara and I joined another group of scholars who proposed this special interest group for the 2016 CCCC at this SIG meeting. It was exciting and gratifying to see several colleagues present to share their experiences and to discuss possible future actions to advocate for this group. This SIG meeting served as a first step for a more unified effort towards carving out a disciplinary space for non-native English speaking writing instructors in rhetoric and composition.
In response to the 2016 CCCC Call for Proposals (CFP) calling for our professional communities to “write strategies for action from a variety of perspectives: as they concern the experiences of students, instructors or others whose values, ideologies, abilities, and/or identities are underrepresented in mainstream education” (CCCC, 2015), this NNESWI SIG attempted to bring together writing instructors who were interested in developing strategic actions to provide better support for NNESWIs.
Present at the SIG meeting were the speakers as well as eight other participants, all of whom identified themselves as NNESWIs. The group first went around to share each other’s experiences teaching writing as NNESWIs, and then together we explored opportunities for strategic actions and how to use writing as a strategy for action.
Coming from various institutions, participants included graduate students as well as faculty members. Even though we were coming from different teaching contexts, we all indicated that the training we received to teach composition in the U.S. was not adequate. For many, composition courses did not exist in their home countries, even in their home languages. While most of us seemed to have received some training in teaching composition, in most cases the training was not always adapted for our specific needs. The challenges and difficulties we experienced were not adequately addressed by the academic and professional support we were provided by our respective institutions. At the same time, NNESWIs often bring not only diversity to our writing programs and writing classrooms but also different cultural and international perspectives to the way we experience, practice, and teach writing.
In Fofana-Kamara’s dissertation work, part of which she presented at an earlier session at the 2016 CCCC, several participants of her ethnographic study on NNESWIs expressed that sometimes they would receive poor student evaluations due to their nonstandard English accents. The powerful narratives Fofana-Kamara presented demonstrated how NNESWIs, despite their status as English writing instructors, were often still being judged by their accents and not their expertise on writing and writing instruction. Echoing Fofana-Kamara’s work, other attendees at this SIG meeting also expressed a lack of confidence when teaching American students even after several years of teaching, due to their accents.
Sometimes, NNESWIs could also experience professional discrimination during hiring practices. One speaker shared the story of a fellow Italian colleague who could not get past phone interviews on the job market due to his accent. Other times, they suffer from invisibility in their programs or a combination of visibility and invisibility that would be a hard balance to achieve.
On one hand, NNESWIs enjoy a certain level of invisibility because they would not want to be treated differently just because they speak English with a different accent. Just like their fellow graduate students or instructors, they possess the same professional aspirations and work just as hard, or even harder, at their jobs and studies. On the other hand, they need visibility because they need extra support not only professionally, but personally. Often they are a minority group in their own program and may not be familiar with the immigration rules that they have to follow due to their visa status. Coming from a different country, it could also be emotionally taxing for them to adapt to local American culture on top of the stress they would experience like any other graduate student or writing instructor.
Because of these challenges, participants of the SIG meeting discussed how we could take strategic actions to help advocate for NNEWSIs. First, it was deemed important to foster a sense of community. A Facebook group and a listserv had been created by Judith Szerdahelyi that served as communication venues for people to share experiences, ideas, and continue to carry out conversations on the subject. Second, it was decided that we must continue to advocate for our professional space at our professional organizations such as CCCC and the Council of Writing Program Administrators.
For example, participants discussed the possibility of proposing a CCCC Position Statement to advocate for support for NNESWIs. Such a statement would first identify who NNESWIs are: not only instructors who are from a different country but also those who speak English with a nonstandard accent. It would then highlight the benefits that NNESWIs can bring to writing courses, programs, and our discipline as a whole. It would likely discuss related topics such as hiring practice and labor issues to ensure that NNESWIs are being treated fairly. Furthermore, the statement would include guidelines on how to better provide stronger and more adequate professional development efforts to address their specific needs from individual writing programs, graduate programs, and institutions.
As a first SIG meeting, much time was spent for the participants to get to know each other and to share experiences and not enough time was spent on talking about strategic actions. However, this meeting itself served as one strategic action to help foster the sense of a community. Everyone was energized at the end of the meeting and ready to keep brainstorming for more ideas. To conclude the session, the participants outlined the next steps for the group. After the meeting, a proposal was drafted for next year’s SIG meeting at the 2017 CCCC where we would continue the conversations until this group eventually becomes a standing group at CCCC. This SIG meeting at Houston offered a first opportunity for members in this community to gather and share their experiences with one another, as well as identify problems and possible future actions. Next year, we plan to continue to grow our group by promoting our communication platforms such as listservs and social media accounts to increase our visibility in the field and beyond. At the 2017 SIG meeting in Portland, the group will focus on developing more specific strategic actions in order to address a myriad of issues that are related to, but not limited to: hiring practices, labor issues, professional development, institutional or programmatic support, and identity.
Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2015). Call for program proposals: Writing strategies for action. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/Convention/2016/CFP.pdf