EAP Practitioners Transitioning to Scholarship: how agency matters
EAP practitioners during the course of their careers are called upon to work within contexts of ongoing change, whether in developing new curricula, engaging with new technologies, responding to new policy settings, or addressing new accountabilities for example. At such moments, individual teachers are required to form and reform who they are as EAP professionals (Ding & Bruce, 2017), in small and at times not so small ways. Early attempts to enquire into the substance of what such changes meant for teachers focused largely on the knowledge, attitudes, skills and beliefs that underpinned their work and their different roles. Subsequently, the influence of the social turn in applied linguistics meant that questions of identity and agency became centre stage; one strand of this work proposes that it is in considering how to act, and why to act, that individuals maintain the negotiation of who they are (Duff 2012) and the kinds of professional identity they choose to develop. In this talk I want to look in detail at EAP practitioners at points of transition, in this case when they embark on scholarship as part of their everyday work. I want to address such questions as: What does embarking on scholarship mean for individual teachers? In the early stages what decisions do they take and why? How do they interpret and use the experiences they encounter? What stance do they take to those experiences? What choices do they make? What forms does agency take among EAP practitioners transitioning to scholarship? To do this I draw on recent work on teacher agency (White 2016, 2018) where agency can be broadly defined as the socioculturally mediated capacity to act in relation to one’s environment (Ahearn 2001), entailing the ability to assign relevance and significance to relationships, objects, events and so on (Lantolf & Thorne 2006, van Lier 2008). Participants in this research are EAP teachers who are making or who have made the transition to scholarship from within diverse institutional contexts. Data for this study was gathered through narrative accounts given in three settings: initially in individual written narratives, followed by individual interviews, and then in teacher focus group discussions. The study reveals the emergent complexities EAP practitioners encountered as they sought to identify and then pursue the focus of their scholarship, and to make sense of their role in that process; it reveals the significance of particular critical moments when they decided how they would interpret those moments and how they chose to act; it also reveals the ways in which EAP practitioners questioned themselves and their own thinking, and how they engaged with others and with experiences. While this study extends our understanding of EAP teachers transitioning to scholarship, it at the same time reveals the ways in which teachers engage with change, and as such has wider implications for understanding EAP practitioners’ professional lives and career trajectories. It also highlights the significance of language teacher agency as a tool for EAP practitioner development in contexts of ongoing change.
Cynthia White is Professor of Applied Linguistics, Massey University, New Zealand. She has published widely on emotion, autonomy and agency in language learning and teaching. In 2004 she received the International TESOL Virginia French Allen Award for Scholarship and Service to the TESOL profession. She is a member of the Editorial Boards of seven international journals, and has been plenary speaker at conferences in Germany, Thailand, Singapore, China, UK, Hawai’i and Malaysia. Her most recent projects focus on emotion and agency in teacher narrative accounts of conflict in the L2 classroom, and the agency of EAP practitioners in transitioning to scholarship.