ALx Lavender is going to be taking a short break. It’s Chinese New Years, which means a lot of travel to see family and to attend a series meetings in the United States. I’ll be back at the end of the month to continue discussing LGBTQ+ issues in applied linguistics.
Program development is another critical area that we need to consider as we seek to create inclusive and equitable educational spaces for sexual minority students. It matters because decisions and policies at the programmatic level can have profound impacts on the pedagogical options that may be available to teachers (see Adler-Kassner, 2008; Christison & Murray 2009; Richards, 2001). Moreover, programmatic decisions can contribute to institutional cultures that advantage heteronormative attitudes and classroom practices (Merse, 2017). That being said, program design and policy remains a neglected area of research and scholarship in Queer TESOL and Lavender Applied Linguistics.
Certainly, one could argue that programmatic issues are part of the equation when scholars like Motschenbacher discusses heteronormativity as being endemic in many fields of linguistics; or, when Grey and Paiz address issues of textbook design; or, in any of the other cases discussed in this blog up to this point. However, because of the importance of programmatic decisions and leadership on the institutional culture and on teacher’s attitudes towards their work in the local context, it deserves it’s own, extensive examination. Also, carrying out this work can address another issue that I feel is problematic in our field. The devaluing of administrative work. As Weiser and Rose discuss in their article on administrative work in writing programs (WPA), administration is a unique form of intellectual labor—one that requires the leveraging of emotional, disciplinary, fiscal, and leadership knowledges to help the program achieve its stated mission. This means that we should treat administration and programmatic issues in ELT as seriously as we handle any of the other issues in our collective research agenda. Now that I’ve ridden my hobby horse into the ground let me turn our attention to one of the few examinations of LGBTQ+ issues at the program level that has come to my attention.
Ashley Moore’s (2016) “Inclusion and Exclusion: A Case Study of an English Class for LGBT Learners” offers a look at an English class designed for LGBTQ+ language learners. It is also one of the few pieces that speaks more directly to programmatic issues in queering the English language classroom. In this article, Moore gives voice to the language learners concerns about traditional language classes, stating that they found them silencing and othering. They felt that in more conventional language programs, there was little chance of discussing LGBTQ+ topics and that performing an out LGBTQ+ identity could be seen problematic leading to stigmatization and ostracization from their peers or teachers. The students reported feeling that these more traditional programs created an ethos of exclusion for sexual minorities.
Moore (2016) then contrasts this with an English language class that was part of a broader LGBT program at a non-governmental organization (NGO). In the course for LGBT leaners, Moore points to some program design decisions that can lead to more inclusive spaces. First, he draws our attention to the need to focus on relationship building in inclusive program design. To help students to feel more comfortable engaging with critical issues of sexual literacy and identity, we must first focus on building nurturing and welcoming relationships between the students, their peers, their teachers, and the program administrators. Without a healthy relationship between these various stakeholders, students may feel concern over whether or not their participation will be treated as legitimate. Second, he highlights the needs for the program to take an open orientation to matters of sexual identity. In part, this means creating spaces where students and teachers can engage in frank discussions about these issues. Also, it points to the need for teachers to avoid essentializing or reductive views of sexual identity or sexual minority communities. This means moving away from the notion of a monolithic global “gayness” to embracing the varied ways that sexual identities are expressed and maintained in local contexts and sub-cultures.
Moore (2016) is a significant opening salvo in the discussion of programmatic issues in queering ELT. However, much, much more work needs to be done regarding this topic.
Adler-Kassner, L. (2008). Activist WPA: The Changing Stories about Writing and Writers. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
Christison, M., & Murray, D. E. (2009). Leadership in English Language Education: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Skills for Changing Times. New York: Routledge.
Merse, T. (2017). Other others, Different differences: Queer perspectives on Teaching English as a foreign language [Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation]. Munich: Ludwig-Maximillian University of Munich.
Richards, J.C. (2001). Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. London: Cambridge University Press.
Today’s blog post will focus on how Queer TESOL and Lavender ALx have begun to consider issues of teacher preparation as it relates to issues of sexuality, sexual literacy, and English language teaching. In future blog posts, I’ll attempt to provide more of a toolkit that teacher-trainers and early-service practitioners can use to inform their efforts to queer their practice—efforts which, I believe, must always be grounded in the local educational and cultural contexts. That, of course, means no silver bullets here.
The Need to Queer Teacher Training
In her review of recent trends in Queer TESOL and Lavender Applied Linguistics, Helen Saunston (2017) drew attention to the need to adequately train teachers to actively create inclusive educational spaces, with a specific eye towards creating visibility and inclusion of LGBTQ+ peoples and stories. She tied this to a report of school environments towards LGBTQ+ issues that had been released by GLSEN, a major, U.S.-based advocacy group that investigates and spearheads policy change targeted at LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion. In that GLSEN (2011) report, they found that over 80% of U.S. LGBTQ+-identified students had reported being bullied or marginalized because of their sexual identities, perceived or actual. In the vast majority of cases, about 90%, the teacher did not intervene. Zach, Mannheim, and Alfano (2010) identified “four archetypes” of response when teachers were faced with homophobic acts in school settings (p. 102). They are the avoiders, who will seek to side step any discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom, even when homophobic acts occur; confronter, who will attempt to actively counter homophobia when and where they see it; the integrators who sought to actively queer the classroom in the manner that I advocate for in this book; and the hesitators, who felt the need to address homophobia but that felt that they lacked the proper tools to do (Zach, Mannheim, & Alfano, 2010, pp. 103-105).
The above, as Saunston (2017) pointed out, necessarily begs the following questions: Why aren’t teachers intervening when LGBTQ+ students feel marginalized or physically threatened at schools? Why aren’t they working to create safe, equitable, and inclusive classroom environments? To answer these questions, we must first look at teachers’ attitudes towards LGBTQ+ content, their place in the curriculum, and their role in helping to scaffold inclusive learning environment. We must then turn our querying towards how we go about preparing new EL teachers to enter service.
Teacher’s Attitudes Towards LGBTQ+ Issues.
Let us turn our attention to the first question, which deals with teacher’s attitudes towards LGBTQ+ issues in the English language classroom. Helpful in answering this question is looking to two recent small-scale surveys focusing on adult and college ELT professionals (Kaiser, 2017; Rhodes & Coda, 2017), and one large-scale study that have concentrated on ELT professionals that teach adult learners out of the U.K. (Macdonald, El-Metoui, & Gray, 2014).
Rhodes and Coda (2017) conducted a survey of 26 adult ESOL teachers working at U.S.-based higher education institutions. Their survey was designed to elicit a variety of responses about teachers’ attitudes towards creating LGBTQ+ inclusive classrooms. Their findings, however, showed that there were some attitudes and beliefs—about their students, local context, and institutional settings—that influenced whether or not they would take steps to queer their classroom practice actively. For example, they found that many teachers reported being open to including queer themes and content, but that the relative scarcity of available materials made this difficult (p. 102), and that institutional constraints (perceived and actual) negatively impacted teachers’ willingness to tackling LGBTQ+ topics. For example, one respondent reported that they would be happy to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in class as long as there were no students who were members of clergy because they could, “count on their perspectives being homophobic (Rhodes & Coda, 2017, p. 102)”. Seeing this as an insurmountable challenge, the teacher, in this case, chose to gloss over queer topics altogether. Concerns about cultural appropriateness and response from religious students was a common theme among respondents in the sample as they sought to justify their disinclination to include of LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom. They also found a teachers’ perception of a lack of institutional support for queering the classroom also negatively impacted teachers’ motivations to create classes that considered sexual identity as part of an array of issues to handle in inclusive classrooms.
Kaiser (2017) conducted targeted interviews with four adult ESOL teachers to come to understand their views on LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom and opinions towards queering the classroom. The teachers in his sample reported a variety of reasons for desiring to queer their practice, chief among them was a desire to help their institutions achieve their stated diversity, equity, and inclusion goals of creating inclusive institutional spaces. The participants in this study reported that they saw the failure to queer the classroom as the tacit endorsement of social stigmas around sexuality that could become internalized in classroom discourses leading to their replication in the students’ worldviews or views of the target culture (Kaiser, 2017, p. 11). Despite their desire to queer their educational practice, many respondents reported that they felt unable to do so, citing concerns about the different cultural start points for their students—especially if the student came from a traditionally more conservative cultural group (p. 13). So, teachers’ desires not to alienate students because of not wanting to spend too much time discussing so-called taboo topics in the classroom was a chief attitude driving disengagement with LGBTQ+ issues for the teachers in his sample.
Turning to one of the most extensive surveys of practitioner attitudes (n = 107), Macdonald, El-Metoui, and Gray (2014) identified four significant attitudes of adult ESOL teachers. Briefly, those attitudes were: (1) a lack of awareness, (2) a desire not to intrude on students’ private lives, (3) a view that tolerance more generally is already addressed through curricular content, and (4) a belief that classrooms must engage with difficult topics through critical pedagogy. The first attitude, which Macdonald, El-Metoui, and Gray (2014) labeled as “it had never crossed my mind (p. 8)”, speaks to how LGBTQ+ issues may be ignored entirely in ELT because they are not included in mainstream curricular materials and or institutional curriculum planning. Because of invisibility at these higher levels, they don’t rise to the surface of ELT practitioners’ awareness as they engage in teaching. Instead, many wait for queer topics to arise naturally in classes. This is a problematic approach as only about a quarter of respondents reported LGBTQ+ issues arising naturally in classes (p. 9). The second attitude that they encountered in their sample was that sexuality and sexual identity are private matters. Despite this, respondents reported being willing to tackle other, more public, critical issues like racial discrimination. What is interesting is that when interviewed, some respondents that held this view reported that they were more concerned with their ability to respond adequately to heteronormative and homophobic attitudes in class. Wanting to avoid this possible disruption to class harmony, these practitioners would seek to avoid engagement with LGBTQ+ topics. They also cited their lack of knowledge as another reason to avoid engaging with LGBTQ+ content and to treat sexual identity and sexuality as private matters (Macdonald, El-Metoui, & Gray, 2014, p. 10). The third attitude was that LGBTQ+ inclusion should be viewed no differently from lessons that targeted concepts like diversity, inclusion, and tolerance more broadly. Teachers who typically held this attitude saw no need to differentiate between different identity-based arguments for tolerance and inclusion (p. 11). This is troubling however, as it can continue to reinforce discourses of invisibility around queer lives and challenges. The final attitude, and one that this book is seeking to help reinforce was that we must take active steps to queer ELT through the purposeful deployment of queer theory. Of the respondents to Macdonald, El-Metoui, and Gray’s (2014) surveys, many reported using the critical framework advanced by Paulo Friere (1972) as one way to interrogate social identities and the discourses that maintain them. This group, however, seemed to be in the minority.
Two themes recur in this examination of teachers’ attitudes towards including LGBTQ+ content in ELT classroom—a concern about injecting LGBTQ+-focused discussion into environments that they perceive to be unwelcoming to them (see Kaiser, 2017; Rhodes & Coda, 2017; Zack, Mannheim, & Alfano, 2010) and a sense of a lack of proper preparation and institutional support (see Kaiser, 2017; Macdonald, El-Metoui, & Gray, 2014; Rhodes & Coda, 2017. It seems to me that these two themes are very closely related to issues of inclusive and critical teacher preparation, to which I would now like to focus our attention.
There have been very few studies done that have examined how teacher training might equip pre- and early-service teachers to queer the English language classroom. For example, Paiz (2017) in his discussion of queering ELT highlights the systemic lack of LGBTQ+-focused training that many students in MA and PhD TESOL/TESL/Second Language Studies receive. In this conceptual piece, Paiz (2017) conducted a quick and dirty survey of 17 graduate ESL programs and their publically available course descriptions and syllabi and found that only four of them had any explicit mention of sexuality and language teaching (p. 8). A response to this might be that graduate students can work to queer their own graduate training by bringing in LGBTQ+-focused research articles for in-class discussion. However, Maritz & Prinsloo (2015) correctly point out that other affective and cognitive demands being placed on graduate students mean that they are often unable to reflect on their in-process professionalization critically and may be unwilling to challenge the heteronormative discourses that they may see as pervading their institutional contexts. This means that there is a genuine need for graduate programs that are preparing teachers and future teacher trainers to address issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion in their graduate seminars and workshops.
Macdonald, El-Metoui, and Gray (2014) echoed these recommendations that additional training is needed. They argue, however, that this training should be predicated on helping both LGBTQ+-identified and straight teachers make personal connections with members of the local LGBTQ+ community so that they can learn from their lived experiences through the sharing of life narratives. Paiz (2017) argued that teacher trainers must go further than merely making personal connections. He maintained that to adequately equip future teachers at all levels (primary, secondary, tertiary, adult ed, etc.) teacher trainers must purposefully queer their own practice. This may mean including texts from the growing body of queer TESOL and lavender applied linguistics in course reading lists, as well as modeling queer pedagogies in applied classes.
Britzman, D. (1995). Is there a queer pedagogy? Or, stop reading straight. Educational Theory, 45(2), 151-165.
Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin.
GLSEN. (2011). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
Kaiser, E. (2017). LGBTQ+ voices from the classroom: Insights from ESOL teachers. CATESOL Journal, 29(1), 1-21.
Macdonald, S., El-Metoui, M., & Gray, J. (2014). Exploring LGBT lives and issues in adult ESOL. ESOL Nexus Research Awards Report. London: British Council.
Maritz, J., & Prinsloo, P. (2015). ‘Queering’ and querying academic identities in post graduate education. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(4), 695-708. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2015.1051007
Paiz, J. M. (2017). Queering ESL Teaching: Issues of Teacher Training and Materials Creation [Early View]. TESOL Journal. DOI: 10.1002/tesj.329.
Rhodes, C. M., & Coda, J. (2017). It’s not in the curriculum: Adult English language teachers and LGBQ topics. Adult Learning, 28(3), 99-106. DOI: 10.1177/1045159517712483
Saunston, H. (2017). Language, sexuality, and education. In S. Wortham et al. (Eds.). Discourse and Education: Encyclopedia of Language and Education (pp. 147-159). New York: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-02243-7_14
Zach, J., Mannheim, A., Alfano, M. (2010). “I didn’t know what to say…”: Four archetypal responses to homophobic rhetoric in the classroom. High School Journal, 93(3), 98-110. DOI: 10.1353/hsj.0.0047
Curricular considerations are foundational to the act of queering TESOL. Granted some may feel that they don’t warrant extensive consideration—especially when discussing curricular materials (E. Russel, Personal Communication, 12 February 2015). However, the curriculum that our students encounter, and which we as teachers often use to structure our teaching and professional development, can have profound impacts not just on language education, but also on students’ emergent views of the target culture and of their own identities in it (Ball & Feiman-Menser, 1988; Grossman & Thompson, 2008; Rhodes, & Coda, 2017; Pawelczyk, Pauła, & Sunderland, 2014). Given their importance to teachers, students, and to the act of queering TESOL, it should come as no surprise that considerable attention has been paid to curricular materials in recent history.
For example, Paiz (2015) examined a sample of 45 ESL reading texts (e.g., extensive readers, graduated novellas, etc.) and textbooks (i.e., mainline, structured, instructional texts) to uncover the degree to which they reflected a heteronormative worldview and if there had been any change over time, as the period from about 2004 to mid-2017 has been seen as a time of expanding gay rights globally. This period roughly correlates to the time when gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts (Pinello, 2006), to mid-2017, and amid the beginnings of a populist, conservative wave in global politics (Allen, 2017). What he found was that the sample, which mostly came from commercial publishers and imprints with considerable market share, was largely heteronormative. That is, very few of the texts and textbooks engages with, or even made room to engage with, sexual identities beyond monogamous, reproductive, heterosexual ones. He and others have correctly identified that this is problematic because of the negative example that it sets for students about the valued ways of being in the target culture and the artificially constraining influence that it has on early-service teachers who use textbooks to help a great deal with lesson planning (see also, Merse, 2015; Rhodes & Coda, 2017; Paiz, 2015; 2017).
Rhodes and Coda (2017), in their examination of teacher’s attitudes towards and curriculum planning around the (non-)inclusion of LGBTQ+ content in their classes found that the lack of commercially available, LGBTQ+-inclusive materials was also a constraint. Teachers in their sample felt that commercial curricular materials carried with them a certain ethos. That is, students were willing to accept the commercially available materials as somehow more legitimate than authentic or teacher constructed texts (p. 102). While this creates certain challenges, many researchers have recommended that teacher’s find ways to use the heteronormative text as a starting point and using a queer theory, or queer inquiry, approach to trouble the texts for the students. Merse (2015), for example, suggested using lessons on family and relationships as a springboard to queer inquiry, with the teacher bringing in alternative examples of non-nuclear and non-heteronormative families (see also, Paiz, 2015). However, as Paiz (2017) points out this is still a problematic approach because of the burden that it may place on early-service teachers and teachers that are working in what has been called “frigid” environments—those environments that are hostile to the inclusion of non-normative viewpoints (Pawelczyk, Pauła, & Sunderland, 2014).
So, before I continue my exploration of queer issues in TESOL and applied linguistics (ALx), I wanted to pause for a moment to discuss what has been, in many ways a guiding frame and pedagogical starting point for addressing issues of heteronormativity and LGBTQ+ invisibility in the field. I’m thinking specifically of Cynthia Nelson’s (2002, 2006, 2009) queer inquiry. To start, let’s define queer inquiry as an approach that seeks to interrogate and problematize issues of power and identity, all identities.
Throughout the early 2000’s, Cynthia Nelson began building the case that queer theory had the potential to inform ELT practice in ways that could lead to the use of what Deborah Britzman (1995) termed pedagogies of inclusion. Nelson (2002) argued that the focus on linguistic and cultural diversity in the English language classroom made it the prime place to deploy a queer theory-informed pedagogy that would attempt to lay bare the ways that societies value certain identities and identity expressions over others (p. 44). In the introduction to the Journal of Language, Identity, and Education special issues on LGBTQ+ issues in language teaching, Nelson (2006) would go on to argue that there was the need to refigure the language classroom as a “multisexual space (p. 2)”. That is, that the individuals that made up the English language classroom were just as diverse in their sexual identities and gender expressions as individuals in the wider world. She maintained, and I believe rightfully so, that acknowledging and creating inclusive space for students’ sexual and gender identities in class can help to push back against normative social discourses that view heterosexuality, and particularly monogamous, reproductive heterosexuality, is the only valued and permissible sexual identity in most modern societies (see Duggan, 2002; Motschenbacher, 2010, 2011b). To create this environment, Nelson began outlining an inquiry-based, queer theory-informed pedagogical approach (Nelson, 2002, 2006, 2009). In this approach, the primary focus is on interrogating the given state of affairs—the seeming dominance of heteronormative discourse as evidenced in part through curricular materials (see above) by considering how sexuality figures into every day life and how it is constructed and maintained by various social agents (e.g., family, schools, religion, entertainment, etc). Through this targeted focus on sexuality—as a fact of life rather than an intimate act—we can critically examine how some sexual identities are cast as less than, or deficient to others and how these positions are maintained through a variety of social and cultural forces. Moreover, because of queer inquiry’s focus on the facts of identity instead of just the acts that constitute it,
To create this environment, Nelson began outlining an inquiry-based, queer theory-informed pedagogical approach (Nelson, 2002, 2006, 2009). In this approach, the primary focus is on interrogating the given state of affairs—the seeming dominance of heteronormative discourse as evidenced in part through curricular materials (see above) by considering how sexuality figures into every day life and how it is constructed and maintained by various social agents (e.g., family, schools, religion, entertainment, etc). Through this targeted focus on sexuality—as a fact of life rather than an intimate act—we can critically examine how some sexual identities are cast as less than, or deficient to others and how these positions are maintained through a variety of social and cultural forces. Moreover, because of queer inquiry’s focus on the facts of identity instead of just the acts that constitute it, queer inquiry can serve as a vehicle to drive critical inquiry about all identities in the classroom. It can be extended, for example, to investigate the so-called native/non-native speaker divide to see how different discourses of power over and power under work to maintain privileged and marginalized positions. It is from this starting point that much of the later work in queer TESOL/lavender applied linguistics has sought to provide additional justifications for queering the classroom, typically through a queer inquiry-based pedagogical approach, as well as to begin providing outlines for how to create LGBTQ+ inclusive classroom spaces, teacher training programs, and curricular materials.
Nelson, C. D. (2002). Why queer theory is useful in teaching: A perspective from English as a second language. In C. Sarmento (Ed.). From Here to Diversity: Globalization and Intercultural Dialogues (pp. 43-53). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1300/j04v14n02_04
Nelson, C. D. (2006). Queer inquiry in language education. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 5(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.1207/s15327701jlie0501_1
Nelson, C. D. (2009). Sexual identities in English language education: Classroom conversations. New York: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/80203891544