As an EFL teacher who has been previously educated only in the U.S. and had prior teaching experience only in the U.S., it took two years of teaching EFL at a university in Taiwan before I genuinely felt like I could accurately understand what my undergraduate students were experiencing as “English Instruction” majors. That isn’t to say that I now perfectly understand their English learning experiences; in actuality, as teachers usually discover, the more I learn about my students, the more questions I end up raising.
What has helped me understand my students and their daily experiences is related to a research study I’ve been working on, a study of student narratives. Except I’ve realized that what students are telling me aren’t exactly only “student narratives” because of the fact that my students are actually being prepared to be EFL teachers, or specifically elementary school English teachers in Taiwan. For the four years of college, they occupy an awkward, gray space where they aren’t professional teachers or pre-service teachers yet, but they are also facing a very different experience than undergraduate students from other departments in their preparation to be future EFL teachers. Some of my students have studied to specifically get into our undergraduate English Instruction program because they already have strong aspirations of wanting to be elementary school English teachers. Other students had no idea what career they wanted to pursue and simply applied with the thought that being an English major might be to their benefit in the future. Yet, regardless of ambition, or lack of, they all must decide, sometimes with others, sometimes with themselves, what they want to do in their future careers and lives and who they want to be. Such difficult moments of making difficult decisions can take various forms, sometimes triggered by stress over a difficult linguistics final exam, sometimes brought on by an upcoming deadline to submit paperwork for switching majors.
I think most teachers have had experiences when a simple story that a student tells opened up a whole new window into that student’s life experience. Of course, from icebreakers in class and small talk during break time, I get to know little bits and pieces of my students’ interests and hobbies. But student lives, student narratives, exist in much more depth and complexity than that. EFL learners are much more than just students learning English as a foreign language.
From interviewing a small group of students in my research study, some of the preliminary patterns I’m noticing is some students who have strong motivation to become elementary school English teachers, some who don’t. There are some students who have strong support (sometimes even pressure) to become elementary school English teachers, and some who don’t. There are also some students who see their role as a college student as a vocational one, a preparation for them to become teachers, while others see their role as simply a student, learning and studying for grades and a degree. The one common thread in all of these narratives is that these are all students involved in a higher education department program that is geared toward developing elementary school English teachers, regardless of whether they like it or not, know it or not. These are not only narratives of EFL students, but they are actually the narratives of Taiwan’s next generation EFL teachers, the narratives of future EFL teachers just starting in their very first stages of professional development. While it’s not guarantee that all of them will actually become English teachers, their narratives are still artifacts of their journey, wherever it takes them.