International Teachers' Cross-Cultural Teaching Stories: A Tragic Comedy

Article excerpt

Most research on international teaching assistants (ITAs) or international associate instructors (IAIs) focuses on their common challenges in foreign cultures, including their lack of English proficiency (Luo, Grady, & Bellows,, 2001; Spooner-Lane, Tangen, & Campbell, 2009) and insufficient vocabulary (Alberts, 2008). Research also suggests that accents, organization of class presentations, use of practical examples, ways of handling questions, and teacher confidence all have an impact on how their native speaking students perceived the quality and clarity of teaching (e.g., McCalman, 2007; Spooner-Lane et al., 2009). Studies have often concluded that international teachers generally needed to know more about their host country educational systems in order to display "appropriate" communication skills (Alberts, 2008; Luo et al., 2001), pedagogical skills (Luo et al., 2001; McCalman, 2007), and pedagogical content knowledge; and that students could do better to acknowledge the international perspectives of teachers (Alberts, 2008). Research-based recommendations include implications at the microlevel of instruction (e.g., self-assertive presentation, provision of handouts, and etc.) and the level of teacher development (e.g., supervision, hands-on workshops and microteaching) (e.g., Alberts, 2008).

The above research on IAIs or ITAs, however, fails to recognize the importance of moral, emotional and spatial-temporal dimensions of how teachers maintain and negotiate their identities through narrative inquiry (e.g., Connelly & Clandinin, 1999). Williams (2007) research is exceptional in that he advocated exploring the ITAs' teacher identities in specific contexts using narrative research. He found that the ITAs adopted different roles and perspectives on teaching, needed to negotiate with their students, coped with cultural differences, and held different degrees of investment in teaching due to different career visions. Yet this important work only shows the ITAs' perceptions of their teacher roles in general rather than exploring the subtle nuances of each participant's teaching plots.

The temporal and cultural aspects of teachers' identity become particularly important in cross-cultural encounters because "cultures do provide specific types of plots for adoption by their members in their configuration of self" (Phelan, 2000, p. 290). For instance, many scholars have observed that Asian students (e.g., Cortazzi & Jin, 1996; Hsieh, 2006; Yang, 1993), preservice teachers (e.g., Spooner-Lane et al., 2009; You & Jia, 2007), or teacher educators (e.g., Wang, 2004, 2006) have difficulty adjusting to the Western culture, most likely because of their collective culture (diligence, harmony, and respect for teachers) as juxtaposed to individualism (egalitarianism, self-assertion, and confrontation) (e.g., Scollon & Scollon, 1995). Scollon and Scollon (1999) also speculate on the Asian Confucian discourse (teachers as role models, virtue learning, written rhetorical appreciation, and learning for self-improvement or understanding) as juxtaposed to a Socratic one (teachers as midwifes, dialogic reasoning, oral argumentation training, and independent thinking). Although generalities, these value differences may lead Asian teachers to grapple internally with their own interpretations of silence, softness, cooperation and a sense of learning community, as well as externally with students' disrespect for teachers, entitlement for negotiation over grades, or lack of hard work.

Yet pigeonholing the West and the East has been criticized for its essentialism (e.g., Kubota, 1999), and so recent narrative studies have attempted to unfold immigrant teachers' cross-cultural teaching stories (e.g., Guo, 2006; He, 2002a, b, c; Li, 2005; Wang, 2004, 2006). For instance, He (2002a, b, c) has described how she was acculturated to Western culture from China, recognized the differences between the Western culture she had imagined and the one she experienced, appreciated and questioned her native culture as she tried to be a part of the West, as well as being caught in-between cultures. …


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