Post by Tanya Cowie, Jennifer Chow and Bonnie Nicholas
On May 11, the #CdnELTchat team, along with #teslONchat, welcomed JPB Gerald (@JPBGerald) as our special guest moderator for a live chat on the topic of Decentring Whiteness in #ELT. JPB Gerald is a doctoral candidate in Instructional Leadership. His scholarship focuses on language teaching, racism, and whiteness. Learn more at jpbgerald.com or by listening to the podcast, UnstandardizedE. We can also recommend his article in the BC Teal Journal, Worth the Risk: Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching, as well as his most recent co-authored piece (with @ScottStillar and @Vijay_Ramjattan) in Language Magazine, After Whiteness.
Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow) and Tanya Cowie (@tanyacowiecowie) co-moderated the chat on this challenging and important topic. We’ve collected the relevant tweets in a new #CdnELTchat Collection, Decentring Whiteness. You can also follow the conversation (although in reverse chronological order) on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas either synchronously or asynchronously post-chat as we explored what decentring whiteness might mean for all of us working in ELT. These are the questions that guided our discussion, along with some of the responses that were shared.
Q1: What should we do when colleagues push back against confronting issues of #racism in language teaching?
- Gerald suggests we start by asking questions about their resistance; build and strategize with colleagues; be willing to take risks in solidarity with others.
- Ideas from participants: keep going; exemplify; keep learning and educating ourselves; keep the conversations open; talk to ally leaders; talk about why this is important; be aware of the space we occupy; make anti-racist work impossible to ignore.
Q2: What needs to be done in teacher education to prevent future educators from reinforcing #whiteness in #ELT?
- Gerald suggests looking for new voices and scholars in ELT, and challenging the assumptions that there is one standardized English.
- Ideas from participants: White teacher-educators need to acknowledge whiteness and what it means in ELT; hire more diverse teacher-educators; get rid of training materials that reinforce the white-dominant and white-default narrative; normalize examination of power structures in teacher education; revise the curriculum to include critical anti-racist approaches; go beyond the minimum requirements for certification; de-colonize the curriculum from within; educate ourselves by diversifying what we read and who we follow on social media; question everything; intercultural and anti-racism training.
Q3: What is the role of #ELT professional associations in decentring whiteness in this industry?
- Gerald says to start by diversifying conferences and publications (including social media); use “white” and “racism” where needed; bring in PD from racialized members.
- Ideas from participants: have more racialized folks on boards (and examine why Black folks are not already there), have racialized folks speaking at every conference; ensure that our associations represent all sectors; recognize self-directed PD (including informal PD like #CdnELTchat).
Q4: Should (white) #ELT teachers try to convince their students that native-speaker Englishes are not a good goal to aim for? If yes, how can we facilitate that without marginalizing students’ perspectives?
- Gerald suggests framing their language as perfectly valid, deemphasizing required testing practices, and (long-term) eliminating the native speaker construct.
- Ideas from participants: teach students that communication is the goal; show that we value who they are; include a variety of authentic voices in our classroom materials; eliminate discussion of native-speakerism from our classrooms; share statistics that show language diversity among Canadians.
Q5: How can racialized educators who work with mainly white colleagues and supervisors advocate for change in their organization and ELT?
- Gerald suggests finding people around the world who will support you, and then find white people who will actively support you by taking risks.
- Ideas from participants: Have a support group that can listen and heal together; white colleagues need to not take up the space for racialized colleagues; not expect those same racialized colleagues to do all the heavy lifting; organizational commitment to anti-racism work is essential.
Q6: Teaching ‘academic language’ is central to ELT, but some scholars have argued that the idea of academic language is racist. What are your thoughts about the role of academic language in ELT?
- Gerald suggests that yes, its role is to “pathologize the racialized and their language practices”.
- Ideas from participants: ask whose language? and whose rules? question the static nature of academic language; redefine what academic language means today; introduce critical applied linguistics and critical EAP approaches in the curriculum.
This was a challenging topic, and one that we need to reflect on and then revisit, more than once. #CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to connections, learning, and a more reflective practice for all of us involved in #ELT. Questions are collected in advance of each chat on Padlet, and then 5 or 6 are chosen for the hour-long chat. Our Padlet, Questions and Topics for #CdnELTchat, is always open for comments. If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #CdnELTchat, please send @StanzaSL, @BonnieJNicholas, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Please connect with the team if you are interested in guest moderating a future #CdnELTchat.
And in these challenging times, remember to practice self-care. Feel free to reach out and check in anytime with your colleagues in #CdnELTchat.