NNEST Newsletter

NNEST News, Volume 5:2 (December 2003)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue of NNEST Newsletter...

Editor's Remarks
It Is Time to Establish Close Networking Connections Among NNEST Caucus Members: A Letter from the Chair
Models of NNESTs' Teacher Development: Rethinking the NS/NNS Dichotomy
Challenges May Offer Opportunities to Grow Professionally
Professional Development of an NEST Through Working Alongside an NNEST
New Award for Papers on NNEST-Related Topics
NNEST Caucus Leaders 2004-2003
About This Member Community

Editor's Remarks

Khalid Al-Seghayer, alseghayer@yahoo.com

It is our destiny as nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) to face a variety of challenges on many issues, including high language and pedagogical competencies, proper cultural orientation, nativelike accent, and the like. The question remains: Should these challenges hold us back or should we exploit them as opportunities to grow professionally? Two of the articles included in this issue of NNEST Newsletter suggest answers to this question. This issue of the newsletter also offers related news along with a letter from the chair.

With great pleasure, I want to first introduce the new NNEST Steering Committee members for 2003-2004: Masaki Oda, caucus chair; Ahmar Mahboob, chair-elect; Khalid Al-Seghayer, NNEST Newsletter editor; and Lucie Moussu, webmaster. All four have expressed their eagerness to serve the NNEST Caucus to the best of their abilities. They need your support, encouragement, and constructive input.

On behalf of the current NNEST Caucus leaders and members, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Paul Matsuda, past chair, and Aya Matsuda, past webmaster, for their invaluable contributions to the caucus in many areas over the past few years.

Masaki Oda, our current chair, sets out the intended plans or priorities of the NNEST Caucus for the coming year and the mechanism for implementing such plans. Two of the articles included in this issue of the newsletter demonstrate how the potential challenges that NNEST professionals often encounter can be viewed as opportunities to grow professionally. The first article, by John Liang, is entitled "Models of NNESTs' Teacher Development: Rethinking the NS/NNS Dichotomy." Liang discusses some of the existing models of NNEST teacher development and suggests a new perspective on this issue. Liang also encourages NNEST professionals to seek potential avenues for professional development.

In the second article, "Challenges May Offer Opportunities to Grow Professionally," Theresa Jiinling Tseng shares anecdotes regarding challenges she has encountered throughout her teaching career that either offered her opportunities to grow professionally or inspired her to use her nonnativeness to her advantage.

Finally, in the third article, "Professional Development of an NEST Through Working Alongside an NNEST," Kimberly Johnson explains how a native-English-speaking teacher (NEST) can benefit from working alongside an NNEST. In particular, this experience offered Johnson an opportunity to learn about her teaching and herself as an NEST and to closely examine certain issues, such as language, authority, and her identity.

This issue of NNEST Newsletter also contains information regarding the East Carolina University/TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper on NNEST Issues.

I find it difficult to choose the right words to convey my greatest appreciation to the authors for their fine contributions to this issue of the NNEST Newsletter. I would also like to call on prospective contributors to consider submitting articles and related news. As always, your contributions are highly welcome.

Enjoy this issue of the NNEST Newsletter!

It Is Time to Establish Close Networking Connections Among NNEST Caucus Members: A Letter from the Chair

Masaki Oda, oda@lit.tamagawa.ac.jp, Tamagawa University, Tokyo, Japan

It has been 5 years since the establishment of the Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL (NNEST) Caucus. As previous leaders have repeatedly noted, the NNEST Caucus has played a significant role in the TESOL organization and the profession of teaching and learning English as a foreign/second language as well. I believe that we owe a great deal to our past leaders.

I am very pleased to work alongside three dedicated leaders: Ahmar Mahboob, chair-elect; Khalid Al-Seghayer, newsletter editor, and Lucie Moussu, webmaster. They are ready to serve you and to address your concerns and needs.

One of my main leadership priorities for the coming year will be to establish a tighter network among the U.S.- and non-U.S.-based members of the NNEST Caucus. One factor behind this priority is the fact that, like many TESOL members, a large proportion of NNEST Caucus members (837 as of July 2003) reside outside North America. The establishment of a close connection among U.S.- and non-U.S.-based members of the NNEST Caucus may help solve potential problems related to the TESOL annual convention, which continues to be held in North America. As an example of why we should pay attention to this issue, I present an experience I had when assigned to organize the NNEST Caucus at the TESOL annual convention in Baltimore, Maryland, in March 2003. I managed to locate 10 non-U.S.-based members who expressed their willingness to participate in both of the NNEST Caucus activities at the convention. A week before the convention, various travel restrictions were issued due to the war in Iraq, and I lost all 10 of the volunteers. Luckily, the close connection between some of the U.S.-based members, especially Ahmar Mahboob, Aya Matsuda, and myself, enabled me to maintain both activities, although I was not actually present at the convention.

The proposed establishment of a close networking connection among NNEST Caucus members--those living in the United States and those living elsewhere--will be achieved through several approaches. It should be noted that these initial thoughts will be developed further by consulting other NNEST Caucus leaders and also through your suggestions and feedback.

First, I will encourage more participation in the NNEST electronic list (e-list). I would like members to actively contribute to the e-list discussion and raise local and global issues of interest to the NNEST Caucus. Having healthy and informative online discussion will bring members together and benefit everyone, especially those who cannot attend the TESOL annual conference.

Second, I will establish a mentoring system for those who would like to publish articles in academic journals and present papers at conferences. I hope that this system will benefit young and senior researchers alike.

Finally, I will conduct a membership survey. Because this is the fifth year for the NNEST Caucus, I think it is time to identify the needs and concerns of the caucus members to help us set up a long-term plan.

In a few weeks, I will present some of the discussion issues mentioned above on the NNEST e-list. I look forward to your active participation and hope that I will have the opportunity to interact with many of you soon.

Models of NNESTs' Teacher Development: Rethinking the NS/NNS Dichotomy

John Liang, johnliang97@yahoo.com, Biola University, La Mirada, California, United States

In addressing the challenges facing many nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs), many people, including NNESTs themselves, tend to engage their thinking within the NS-NNS dichotomy. Their logic appears to stand along two intersecting, bipolar continua: one along the NS-NNS continuum and the other along the qualifications continuum. However, the NNEST construct is so complex that it encompasses factors far beyond these language and teaching factors. Thus, a question such as, "Do NNESTs have a language problem, a qualification problem, or a combination of both?" may not present a complete picture of this construct. In this article, I therefore reflect on some existing models of NNEST pedagogical development and suggest a new perspective on the concept of NNEST professional growth.

Deficit Model

Traditionally, in evaluating a teacher's ability, the evaluation or judgment tends to be based on what qualifications and skills the teacher possesses or lacks (Matsuda & Matsuda, 2001). This deficit model is often automatically applied to the evaluation of NNESTs. For instance, in comparison to native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs), there are at least two areas of competence many NNESTs are thought never to be able to achieve: linguistic competence and target cultural competence.

In the area of linguistic competence, accent appears to be an ever-haunting nightmare. Many ESL teachers feel insecure about their accent because it could give their students an excuse to question their credibility. In addition to the accent problem, lack of fluency, accuracy, vocabulary, and syntactic-discourse skills also represent tremendous challenges (Medgyes, 1992). In the area of cultural competence, lack of knowledge of the target culture represents yet another deficit. Many EFL/ESL teachers admit that, due to a lack of cultural knowledge, they feel handicapped in teaching culturally embedded instructional material to their students (Liu, 1999).

In any case, there are linguistic and cultural deficits intrinsic to NNESTs. These deficits undoubtedly impact these teachers' self-perception and self-image (Reeves & Medgyes, 1994), which in turn may deepen their sense of inferiority.

Competitive Model

If the deficit model represents one extreme, then the competitive model of NS-NNS interaction perhaps represents another extreme. One argument is that the concept of nativeness is just a relative construct with limited validity (Davies, 1991) due to the existence of different varieties of English (Kachru & Nelson, 1996). Another argument is that the academic discourse community should tolerate a pluralistic rhetoric that includes different accents in writing or different varieties of English (Canagarajah, 1996). Yet a third argument is perhaps more directly related to the ELT profession. Medgyes (1992) argues that fluency in English does not guarantee effective teaching. Similarly, Canagarajah (1999) questions the native speaker fallacy. Indeed, studies have indicated that nonnative speakers demonstrate a considerable number of advantages in a language classroom: They are aware of the differences between L1 and L2; are more empathetic to students' learning needs, backgrounds, and difficulties; and represent a source of motivation and a good role model (Medgyes, 1992; Samimy & Brutt-Griffler, 1999).

Collaborative Model

Whereas the deficit and competitive models are justifiable depending on the context, it cannot be denied that NESTs and NNESTs each have their own strengths. An argument over who is worth more is just a waste of energy (Medgyes, 1992; Samimy & Brutt-Griffler, 1999). As such, a collaborative model of teacher development may be more appropriate because the strengths of both the NESTs and NNESTs can be well integrated and even multiplied to both parties' benefit. For instance, on the NEST side, collaboration can help increase their theoretical understanding of the nature of L2 learning and enhance their sensitivity to L2 learners' needs and difficulties. On the NNEST side, collaboration may help them develop an intuitive knowledge of language structure and use and increase their awareness of the target culture. In short, collaboration can help both groups of teachers develop their language teaching awareness, increase their teaching effectiveness, and promote greater autonomy and mutual professional growth (Carvalho de Oliveira & Richardson, 2001; Matsuda & Matsuda, 2001).

However, the collaborative model is not without concerns. First, it appears to be focused more on cognitive development in teaching skills and awareness. Second, the NNESTs, due to language anxiety and fear, may be afraid to initiate collaboration with NESTs, whereas some NESTs may lack an awareness of the potential benefits of collaboration and thus be unwilling to participate.

Integrative Model

As alluded to above, NNES teacher development encompasses more than the cognitive dimension of development. A holistic or integrative approach to NNES teacher development is desirable.

Perhaps an integrative model of NNES development should take into consideration the social and affective as well as cognitive dimensions of teacher development. Whereas development in pedagogical and language skills is undoubtedly essential to effective teaching, NNESTs' self-identity, self-perception, self-efficacy, and self-concept equally affect their teaching approaches and performance. Whereas professional preparation is important to NNESTs' teaching success, their feelings of inferiority and sense of insecurity may hamper their attempts to pursue further professional growth. All in all, central to an integrative model of teacher development is the concept that NNESTs are seen as professional beings in need of sustained development in all areas--cognitive, social and affective.

An integrative model also means integrating NNESTs' language learning with their metathinking on the methodologies and pedagogies they study. Many of the language learning and teaching theories are western-based, and NNESTs may need to mediate any conflict between these theories and the actual teaching context in countries where they teach. They may even need to develop their own methodologies and pedagogies appropriate to their unique learning and teaching context.

Finally, an integrative model means continual NS-NNS collaboration, whether self-initiated or program-required, hopefully beginning at the preservice level (Kamhi-Stein, 1999) and extending into subsequent teaching and possibly teacher training careers. It has been suggested that by strategically integrating NS-NNS collaboration into curriculum requirements, the two groups of teachers may learn to develop collaborative relationships that are essential to their long-term career growth (Carvalho de Oliveira & Richardson, 2001).


The NNEST construct encompasses complexity and multidimensionality, factors that are beyond what is defined within the traditional NS-NNS dichotomy. The NNEST construct is not merely a linguistic issue or a teaching competence issue. It includes the social, affective, and cognitive dimensions of teacher development. Therefore, NNESTs should be encouraged to look beyond their "innate" deficits or relevant competitiveness and fix their eyes on development. After all, the challenges they encounter in their learning process not only are inevitable but also represent opportunities for growth. Therefore, NNESTs should bravely confront their fear and anxiety, develop their faith, and determine to pursue their growth as professionals in constant need of development.


Carvalho de Oliveira, L., & Richardson, S. (2001). Collaboration between native and nonnative English-speaking educators.CATESOL Journal, 13, 123-134.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Interrogating the "native-speaker fallacy": Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 77-92). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1996). "Nondiscursive" requirements in academic publishing, material resources of periphery scholars, and the politics of knowledge production. Written Communication, 13, 435-472.

Davies, A. (1991). The native speaker in applied linguistics. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.

Kachru, B. B., & Nelson, C. L. (1996). World Englishes. In S. L. McKay & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp. 71-102). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kamhi-Stein, L. D. (1999). Preparing nonnative professionals in TESOL: Implications for teacher education programs. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 145-158). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Liu, D. (1999). Training non-native TESOL students: Challenges for TESOL teacher education in the West. In G. Braine (Ed.),Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 197-210). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Matsuda, A., & Matsuda, P. K. (2001). Autonomy and collaboration in teacher education: Journal sharing among native and nonnative English-speaking teachers. CATESOL Journal, 13, 134.

Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who's worth more? ELT Journal, 46, 340-349.

Samimy, K. K., & Brutt-Griffler, J. (1999). To be a native or non-native speaker: Perceptions of "non-native" students in a graduate TESOL program. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 127-144). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Reeves, T., & Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher's self-image: An international survey.System, 22, 353-367.

Challenges May Offer Opportunities to Grow Professionally

Theresa Jiinling Tseng, Itsengusa@yahoo.com, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States

The Chinese translation of the word crisis is composed of two characters: wei ji. Wei means "danger" or "challenge," and jimeans "opportunity." So from a certain perspective, a challenge implies an opportunity to change positively. As a nonnative-English-speaking teacher (NNEST) of Chinese descent, I have taught ESL, EFL, and native-English-speaking students at colleges and universities for 17 years--with 14 years in the United States. In this article, I share some challenges I have encountered throughout my teaching career, which either offered me opportunities to grow professionally or inspired me to use my nonnativeness to my advantage.

After I received a master's degree in speech communication, my first job was as a part-time ESL teacher at a community college in Southern California, where I taught adult learners who were mainly Spanish-speaking. As I was taking attendance in this first class meeting, I mistakenly pronounced Jesus as "geezuz," Jose as "jouz," and Angel as "angel." I mumbled to myself, "What a holy class I have," especially after my students corrected me. I felt a little embarrassed and decided to take a Spanish class. My purpose was not merely to pronounce my students' names correctly, but also to understand them and help them more effectively.

The Challenge of Learning Another Language

Indulging myself in the challenge of learning Spanish offered me the opportunity to better understand the process of learning another language and become aware of the challenges and hurdles equated with such a difficult intellectual experience. Such realizations became salient as my instructor used Spanish even on the first day of my Spanish class. I felt the teacher was talking too fast, and I became anxious when I had difficulty understanding and communicating with my teacher and classmates. After going through this experience, I have to agree with Lowe (1987) and Bailey, Curtis, and Nunan (2001), who state that learning a new language helps L2 teachers put themselves in the learners' shoes, thereby becoming sensitive to the problems and processes confronting their own students.

This challenge made me alter how I taught ESL beginner classes. I tried a number of approaches, including attempting to reduce my students' anxiety by slowing down and repeating the new language items frequently and in varying contexts. I also tried to make the target language comprehensible to my students by employing context clues, such as pantomiming or using a lot of pictures. Furthermore, my own experience offered an understanding of the aspects of English that might present difficulties for my Spanish-speaking students. For instance, what had seemed to be perplexing learner errors such as "estop" for stop and "eschool" for school became clear to me once I became aware of the spelling pattern in Spanish: the letter e always goes before s + a voiceless stop, /p/, /t/, or /k/ in the word's initial position.

Feeling that I was becoming a better English teacher and receiving positive feedback from my students encouraged me to pursue the journey of learning Spanish further. By the time I had finished my fourth semester of Spanish, I was able to help my Spanish-speaking students express what they wanted to say--when I noticed that they were struggling--in Spanish. I often got a kick out of it in a new class when I heard my Spanish-speaking students' exclamation, "¿ ¡Entiende español?!" (You understand Spanish?!) after I helped them. My relative linguistic and cultural knowledge also enabled me to help Asian students to some degree (the classes I have taught have usually been about 10% Asian, of Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese origin). Hence, I would argue that empathy toward the L2 learners and an understanding of students' L1s helped establish my credibility as an NNEST.

The Challenge of Native-Speaker Fallacy

The notion of native-speaker fallacy, that native speakers of a language are better teachers of that language, is another challenge I have come across throughout my teaching career. This obstacle, as I saw it, stood in the way of me securing a full-time ESL teaching position. For me, realizing this challenge comes from two sources. An NNES counselor at my college told me that we, as nonnative English speakers, have to work twice as hard as our native-English-speaking (NES) counterparts to be accepted as full-timers. She stated that interviewers will examine a nonnative speaker's qualifications and performance microscopically. Based on her experience serving on a hiring committee, she pointed out that administrators tend to give full-time ESL teaching positions to native English speakers based on the belief that the ideal teacher of English is a native speaker.

I also became familiar with this challenge via the arguments made by some researchers favoring NESTs over NNESTs. These researchers maintained that NESs are the only truly valid and reliable source of language data (Ferguson, 1992). Widdowson (1994) indicates that "native-speaker expertise is assumed to extend to the teaching of the language" and, consequently, native speakers "not only have a patent on proper English, but on proper ways of teaching it as well" (pp. 387-388).

To overcome the challenge of the native-speaker fallacy, I decided to advance myself professionally. I pursued a second master's degree, majoring in linguistics with a TESL concentration. I was driven by the strong belief that, with appropriate training, an NNES could prove to be as good an English teacher, or even better, than a native speaker. Assuming the roles of teacher and student at the same time was a difficult but invaluable experience for me. It was a challenge for my time and energy because I had to juggle two part-time teaching jobs and keep up with my own graduate studies. However, the arrangement provided me with opportunities to try out the new teaching methodologies and theories I was introduced to in my courses and reflect upon the connections between theories and practice.

Not only did I have fun in teaching, but my students were also more motivated to learn. One of my students told me that I really understand their needs in learning English. Another student, who was very motivated but often had trouble finding the right vocabulary to express his thoughts, became fairly fluent and found a high-paying job at a computer company a year later. The secret behind his successful progress was reading and writing every day (e.g., computer magazines, cartoons in the newspaper, copies of Reader's Digest, and close-captioned TV) and attempting to utilize the phrases and expressions he encountered in reading and writing in his daily communication with others. He said that, though I was not a native speaker of English, I could be an ESL teacher--he thought the methods I taught them must be something I had tried and found useful.

From my perspective, this student's improvement could be ascribed to both his motivation to learn English and the power of pleasure reading or extensive reading. The latter is said to play a major role in second language acquisition (e.g., Krashen 1993; Smith 1994). Though some researchers do not claim that there is a strong connection between reading and speaking, this highly motivated student was able to benefit from free voluntary reading and using what he learned from reading in his oral and written communication. I simply shared the scholars' ideas I had learned from my graduate courses with my students and encouraged them to use the new language as often as possible. Nevertheless, my identity as an NNEST added to my students' trust in what I said to them.

The Challenge of Establishing One's Credibility

Another challenge was establishing my credibility as an English teacher. This was difficult to accomplish, apparently due to the fact that I was teaching NESs. Those students were not used to being taught by a teacher who looked markedly different from their preconceived images of English teachers. In this regard, Thomas (1999) states, "we [nonnative English speakers] often find ourselves in situations where we have to establish our credibility as teachers of English to speakers of other languages before we can proceed to be taken seriously as professionals" (p. 5). I managed, however, to overcome this difficulty by relying on my unique status as a nonnative.

When I secured a full-time instructor position, I was assigned to teach a freshman English writing class for native speakers of English. On the first day of class, students stared at me with looks of distrust as I entered the classroom. One of the students rolled his eyes as if he could not believe what he was seeing: A nonnative speaker was going to teach them English! Several students who sat at the back of the classroom put their feet up on the chairs in front of them. With folded arms, they waited to see how I was going to teach them. One of them raised his hand and asked, "What doesepistemology mean?" Though the question might have been a real one, I suspected that the student was trying to test my vocabulary because it was a question out of relevant context.

After I answered his question, I began introducing myself. I first spoke in English, but half way through, I switched into Spanish, and moments later, I continued my introduction in Chinese. Facing the challenging students, I knew that I had to temporarily ignore my basic Chinese value of humility and be assertive. My little scheme worked. Students started asking me how many languages I could speak and paying attention to what I said. Later in the semester, we discussed Amy Tan's (1989) The Joy Luck Club. My students were highly motivated to explore the cultural aspects presented in the stories because they then viewed me as a cultural informant who could help them explore the cultural differences.

I found that establishing our credibility is even more pressing when we as NNESTs teach native speakers. I think one way we can earn the trust of our prospective students is to take advantage of our cross-cultural experiences. In the same vein, Wong (2003) states that the cultural differences NNESTs bring to the English classroom could be positively exploited.


While the linguistic and cultural differences we bring to ESL/EFL or English classrooms may create challenges for us, we also bring many positive attributes that may enhance our students' learning. Thomas (1999) argued that as NNESTs "we are role models; we are success stories; we are real images of what students can aspire to be" (p. 12). Looking back, I see that several times my professional growth as an NNEST was triggered by a challenge in my career. Being NNESTs, we can certainly take advantage of our uniqueness. The challenges we face can very well be opportunities for our growth.


Bailey, K., Curtis, A., & Nunan, D. (2001). Pursuing professional development. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Ferguson, C. A. (1992). Foreword. In B. B. Kachru (Ed.), The other tongue: English across cultures (pp. xiii-xvii). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Krashen, S. (1993). The power of reading: Insights from the research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Lowe, T. (1987). An experiment in role reversal: Teachers as language learners. English Language Teaching Journal, 42(2), 89-96.

Smith, F. (1994). Writing and the writer. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Tan, A. (1989). The joy luck club. New York: Putnam.

Thomas, J. (1999). Voices from the periphery: Non-native teachers and issues of credibility. In. G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 5-14). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Widdowson, H. G. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 377-388.

Wong, B. (2003). The cultural differences NNESTs bring to English composition classroom may cause an avoidable problem and be an advantage too. TESOL NNEST Newsletter, 5(1), 7-8.

Professional Development of an NEST Through Working Alongside an NNEST

Kimberly A. Johnson, Sayl0016@umn.edu, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

In the Spring of 2000, teaching in an intensive English program (IEP) at a Midwestern university in the United States, I participated in the TESL practicum as a mentor (or cooperating teacher) with a nonnative-English-speaking (NNES) graduate student teacher. Many of the events of that spring still resonate with and inform my teaching and interactions with NNES graduate students and ESL students. This is one story from that experience.

This story, drawn from a larger narrative (Johnson, K.A., in press), provided me with the opportunity to learn something about my teaching and myself as a native-English-speaking teacher (NNEST) (Johnson & Golombek, 2002). This "critical incident" (Tripp, 1994), forced a closer examination of the assumptions I make about language, authority, and my identity as a native English speaker.

Teacher Identity

Teacher identity is relational and dynamic, shifting with each new context (McLean, 1999). Perhaps most fundamentally, teaching identity shifts in teachers' relationships with people, learners, and colleagues. Brison (2002), argues that the self is both autonomous and dependent, shaped and "formed in relation to others and sustained in a social context" (p. 41), and understanding this relational aspect is essential for teachers to learn who they are as people and as teachers.

There is perhaps no relationship more capable of transforming the teachers involved than that between a mentor teacher and a student teacher. Although some studies have examined how this relationship affects student teacher identity (Britzman, 1991; Danielewicz, 2001; Johnson, 1992), little has been written about the impact on the mentor teacher. In my work as an NES mentor teacher, I am curious about the effect that the mentoring experience, especially when working with an NNES student teacher, may have on my own teacher identity. What can I learn about myself from the experience?

The Caring Relation and Teacher Values

Noddings (1984) argues that the activity of the classroom itself is one of relations, among students and among students and teachers. This caring relation involves one participant as the one-caring (in the position of authority and responsibility, as a mother or teacher) and one as the cared-for (in the position of less power and authority, as a child or student). Although Noddings identifies salient aspects for each role, the roles themselves are not fixed; furthermore, each participant bears a responsibility in structuring and negotiating the relationship.

Noddings identifies engrossment as central to an understanding of the character of the one-caring--a commitment to another that varies in intensity with the context and the relationship, manifested through acts that require a need to "see the other's reality as a possibility for my own" (p. 14). I argue that this need to understand the other's reality becomes even more significant in second language teaching and in dealing with so many diverse cultures; this is equally true, and potentially problematic, in the relationship of the NES mentor teacher and the NNES student teacher. The combination of mixed linguistic and cultural identities, and individual values and beliefs, may result in increased tension that requires special effort by the NES mentor teacher in the role of the one-caring to see the other's reality.

Mentoring Ali

In my context, an MA TESOL program at a large U.S. university in the Midwest, mentor teachers and student teachers work together for a semester, cooperating on every aspect of the classroom: planning, leading activities, assessing, reflecting, and finalizing grades.

I worked work with Ali, an Angolan man in his early 30s who had a variety of teaching experiences. He had taught EFL in his home country and earned a certificate in teaching EFL in England but had never taught ESL. We were very different people in many ways: gender, race, culture, language, and religion.

Together we taught a course that met two evenings a week for 2 1/2 hours each night. We had seven students from Morocco, China, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia--all involved in biological sciences, medicine, engineering, or business.

The Preposition

In terms of language proficiency, I found Ali to be quite fluent (English was his fourth or fifth language) and comfortable in conversations with me. I would often make notes about language issues that arose while he led the class and we would talk about these issues after class. During class, he and the students would often check with me on some aspect of English. I prided myself on being honest and nonjudgmental.

The preposition incident occurred toward the end of the 15-week semester. Students were working on a writing task led by Ali, when one of the students turned to ask for clarification with a preposition. Typically, given the varied nature of preposition usage in North American English, questions about prepositions got referred to me. But in this case, neither Ali nor any of the students glanced my way. Ali answered the student and the activity continued. I did not write down the question, nor do I remember the preposition (other than recognizing it as one that defied easy categorization and with which there was often confusion), but I remember the moment. At the top of my observation notes for that day is written, "Great! He knew the preposition and the students don't need my expertise either!" In my journal from that day is the following:

One of the students today asked about a preposition and Ali answered without hesitation. How nice to see that the students accept him as knowledgeable about something like prepositions! Interesting development...although Ali still turns to me as the language authority for some things, it is clear that he is confident in himself and the students are confident in him as a teacher. How big has the NNS factor really been? (Apr-24-00)

At the time, I celebrated this moment as a triumph for Ali; he had demonstrated language expertise and not a single student turned to me for confirmation, an indication to me that the students accepted his language expertise as well. This is all still true. What has changed for me is the way I think about myself with regard to this incident.

Ali, as an NNEST, was aware of language issues, and I was too. What caught me by surprise was the way that I was surprised by it. Without bad intentions, I accepted myself, as everyone else had, as the acknowledged language expert in the class. By reflecting critically on my own reaction, I believe I was surprised at the preposition incident because in a way it challenged my unconscious understanding of myself as the English language authority, bestowed upon me as a native English speaker.

The significance of this moment for me, as I reflect now, is what it reveals about the assumptions I bring with me to mentoring and what it could mean for any NNESTs I may mentor in the future. My journal and class notes from this semester are riddled with comments about language, minor errors, confusion that I registered from students, and things I wanted to talk to Ali about later. Here are a couple of examples:

Again tonight he had difficulty listening to the students. I wonder if, as I've read about the challenges of being an NNEST, the pressure to teach communicatively is stressful. Isn't it likely that he is working on the language, anticipating the next move or instructions or task in such a way that it is difficult for him to concentrate on student responses?...Just how important is the linguistic component? How do I learn if this is indeed the issue? (Feb-15-00)
He asked me to define "niche" as he led the class tonight, although I thought he had already defined it correctly--linguistic insecurity or just involving me? (Mar-6-00)

Clearly, I was aware of my status as an NEST, and of his status as an NNEST. But how many of these issues are really important in terms of the language learning of the students and the development of this teacher? Don't NESTs make language mistakes, too? How can I know if the errors made really matter at all?

The significance of this moment is also related to the caring relation Ali and I shared. My pleasure in this incident is part of my belief in and caring for this student teacher; my reactions are "embedded in a relationship that reveals itself as engrossment and in an attitude that warms and comforts the cared-for" (Noddings, 1984, p. 19). Although I may feel jarred by the realization that Ali is also a language expert and that I am no longer in the one-up position, I am also pleased at this realization.

Ultimately, and key to a relationship between mentor teacher and student teacher, is the understanding that the "student is infinitely more important than the subject" (Noddings, 1984, p. 20). As an NES mentor teacher, it is vital to recognize the significance of this and to ask, "How inhibiting or difficult might it be for NNES student teachers, who already question their own competence, to be aware that they have a critical audience at all times to monitor their language? How can we best provide an environment of caring and support that allows the NNES student teacher to grow?

Professional Growth Through Mentoring

Bill Johnston's presentation, Teacher Identity in TESOL, at the 2001 TESOL colloquium on teacher identity, asked for those investigating TESOL teacher identity to focus not just on the question of who we are, but also on the question of what we do and what we know. Reflecting on my experience with Ali, it is clear that, beyond telling me about Ali, it tells me about myself--the very things that Johnston suggests. All of this is more than who I am; it is about what I do in the classroom, what I believe, and what I know about the language and the pedagogy. It is fundamentally about the relationship with this student teacher and the values that I bring to this context.

With the preposition incident, I wonder about my own expectations about the importance of language for the NNEST. Of course I recognize that a minimum level of fluency is necessary (although defining that is another issue completely; see Nickel, 1987; or Valdes, 1998) but I felt, as did the faculty and directors at the IEP, that fluency was not an issue for Ali. At the same time, I was very aware of the language, to the point that my notes are littered with references to errors or issues. I worry that my focus on this will do more harm than good in terms of Ali's own self-confidence and freedom to focus on more pressing issues in the classroom. Will my concern about language keep him from growing in other ways by forcing him, more than he himself already does, to be constantly reminded of his status as an NES?

One lesson here is in the value of critical reflection for the NES mentor teacher and open communication with the NNES student teacher. NESTs must be available to assist with linguistic issues that may arise, but they must balance that with an awareness of issues of self-confidence for these new teachers. This is a question of competing values, and one that the NES mentor must reconcile. I believe an important factor in Ali's development and self-confidence as a teacher was the acknowledgement, by his students and NES mentor teacher, that he was linguistically competent. This acknowledgment was demonstrated by the students' acceptance of his expertise and my willingness to accept it as well.


In the end, the interaction between students and teachers is, as Noddings notes, about caring. In my caring relation with Ali, I recognize that I was "not attempting to transform the world" but allowing myself to be transformed through the experience (Noddings, 1984, p. 34). Constructing this narrative has allowed me to understand this mentoring experience as a learning experience and how I have been changed as a teacher and a person. I think about the NNES graduate students I know and their struggles to forge a positive identity as English language teachers, and I wonder how the perceptions and the critical eyes and ears of their NES peers or mentor teachers might inhibit their growth. I wonder what I can do differently or if I need to do anything differently.

I hope that sharing such stories can become a resource for professional development for other teachers, that listening may act as a catalyst to encourage us to look critically at our own experiences. I am sure that others have wondered about the difficulties of working with international student teachers or have asked themselves if they have done their best for everyone involved: the learners, the student teachers, themselves. How can teachers know these things if they are unwilling to tell their stories, have them valued, and expose themselves in an attempt to grow and encourage others?

Further research is needed on the personal experiences of mentor teachers and student teachers, particularly any combinations of NESTs and NNESTs, and on the nature of this relationship and the outcomes of working together. This research is necessary for teacher educators to make the teaching practicum experience the most valuable experience that it can be for everyone involved. We have much to learn from each other.


Britzman, D. (1991). Practice makes practice: A critical study of learning to teach. Albany: State University of New York.

Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching selves: Identity, pedagogy, and teacher education. Albany: State University of New York.

Johnson, K. A. (in press). Every experience is a moving force: Identity and growth through mentoring. Teaching and Teacher Education.

Johnson, K. E., & Golombek, P.R. (Eds.). (in press). Teacher's ways of knowing: Narrative inquiry in professional development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnston, B. (2001, March). Teacher identity in TESOL. Paper presented at the meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, St. Louis, MO.

McLean, S. V. (1999). Becoming a teacher: The person in the process. In R. Lipka and T. Brinthaupt (Eds), The role of self in teacher development (pp. 55-91). Albany: State University of New York.

Nickel, G. (1987). How "native" can (or should) a non-native speaker be? ITL Review of Applied Linguistics 67-68, 141-160.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley: University of California.

Tripp, D. (1994). Teachers' lives, critical incidents and professional practice. Qualitative Studies in Education, 7, 65-76.

Valdes, G. (1998, Spring). The construct of the near-native speaker in the foreign language profession: Perspectives on ideologies about language. ADFL Bulletin 29(3), 4-8.

New Award for Papers on NNEST-Related Topics

In June 2003, a new TESOL award was approved: the East Carolina University/TESOL Award for an Outstanding Paper on NNEST Issues. This award provides US$250 and a complimentary registration for TESOL's annual convention to TESOL members (native or nonnative speakers of English) who have had a proposal on NNEST issues accepted for presentation at the annual convention. This award was initiated by Ahmar Mahboob of East Carolina University and supported by the NNEST Caucus leadership.

For more information, please see the TESOL Web site:


NNEST Caucus Leaders 2004-2003

Masaki Oda
Department of International Studies
Tamagawa University
Machida, Tokyo 194-8610

Lucie Moussu
Department of English
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana 47907

Ahmar Mahboob
TESOL & Applied Linguistics
Department of English
East Carolina University
2201 Bate Building
Greenville, North Carolina 27858

Past Chair
Paul Kei Matsuda
Department of English
University of New Hampshire
Hamilton Smith Hall
95 Main Street
Durham, New Hampshire 03824-3574

Newsletter Editor
Khalid Al-Seghayer

George Braine
Department of English
Chinese University of Hong Kong

About This Member Community Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus (NNEST)

The Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL Caucus was established in October 1998 to strengthen effective teaching and learning of English around the world while respecting individuals' language rights.


E-mail nnest@tesol.org
Chair: Masaki Oda
Chair-Elect: Ahmar Mahboob
Editor: Khalid Al-Seghayer

Web site: http://nnest.moussu.net/

Member discussion list: Visit http://www.tesol.org/getconnected/ to join NNEST-L, or http://lists.tesol.org/read/?forum=nnest-l if you are already an e-list subscriber.