Elt, interculturality and teacher identity: an inquiry into Indonesian university teachers’ beliefs and practices

2017-02-23T00:49:48Z (GMT) by Gandana, Isti Siti Saleha
This research is a critical and reflexive inquiry into the beliefs and practices, and the identity work, of the ‘intercultural teaching’ of English language teachers in two Indonesian universities. It is concerned with the ways in which teacher beliefs and understandings of the English language, of culture, interculturality and of pedagogy mediate the discourses, classroom practices and professional identity of these teachers. I have undertaken this study at a time when foreign language education policy in Indonesia, like many education policies across the world, has increasingly emphasised the cultural and intercultural dimensions of language learning. At the higher education level, the ‘shift of paradigm’ from English language education premised on linguistic competence to communicative competence has been accompanied by the introduction of more theoretical subjects where students are expected to develop a deeper understanding of the interconnections between language and culture. Within the framework of this ‘new paradigm’, English language teachers are expected to assume the responsibility of facilitating intercultural learning and promoting intercultural understanding. In this study, I examine the notion of interculturality in terms of broader, inclusive notions of pedagogy (cf. Giroux, 1988, 1991, 1997), rather than as a single approach to teaching English. Much research into teacher professional identity has revealed that teacher identity and teachers’ work are dynamically and inextricably interconnected with the broader social structures—their biographies, histories and experiences—in which they are situated (e.g., Duff & Uchida, 1997; Tsui, 2007; Varghese, Morgan, Johnston, & Johnson, 2005). Through the lens of sociocultural perspectives of identity, my study seeks to generate in-depth insights into how teacher identity work is mediated by and intertwines with various personal, professional, institutional and cultural factors. In connecting together these various dimensions, I have utilised a case study research design, with a particular focus on “critical incidents” (Goodson, 2003, p. 61) in the work and experiences of the teachers. This has allowed me space to delve into the complex social, cultural, linguistic and identity issues associated with that work and those experiences. In line with the sociocultural perspectives of identity that underpin the study, I have drawn on James Gee’s (1999, 2011a, 2011b) approach to discourse analysis to understand and unravel the complexity of identity work. Gee’s concepts of ‘big D’ Discourse, situated identities and cultural models were employed to highlight the connection between ‘micro’ (i.e., specific texts and specific details of language) and ‘macro’ (context) levels of analysis. This has allowed me to articulate fine-grained interpretive perspectives and to construct multi-faceted and nuanced accounts of the teachers’ realities and contextualised understandings. Data for the study comes from three main sources: in-depth semi-structured interviews with six teachers in two different universities in Indonesia, classroom observation of these teachers’ classroom practice and documentation (e.g., curriculum and policy documents). The interviews were conducted in three stages: before, during, and after the period during which I was observing the teachers’ classroom teaching, which was undertaken over a period of one semester. The focus of my interviews shuttled between ‘the personal’, ‘the professional’, ‘the institutional’ and ‘the cultural’. Analysis of data involved two major approaches: thematic theory-driven and case-based data-driven analyses. The former approach, drawing primarily on existing theories of ELT pedagogy, interculturalism and interculturality, was utilised in the analysis of the teachers’ perceptions of the English language and their ELT classroom practices as well as in the interpretation of their conceptualisations of culture. The latter approach was used in the exploration of the teachers’ individual beliefs, identity work and their subject-specific instructional practices. This approach has enabled me to discuss and analyse the data in a more reflexive way, allowing me not only to generate personalised accounts (including occasional references to my own experiences as an English language teacher in Indonesia) but also to present bigger picture understandings of the teachers’ individual and collective experiences. The study overall demonstrates the complex and dynamic nature of English language teachers’ identity work, pointing to the significant role the institution plays in mediating and shaping the teachers’ “enacted professionalism” (Hilferty, 2008, p. 162). By unravelling this complexity and illustrating the everyday challenges and dilemmas of teaching interculturalism in Indonesian higher education institutions, I call for a fundamental rethinking of language, culture and intercultural pedagogy and for policy-makers and curriculum planners to be better engaged with teachers’ voices and experiences.