Credentials, credibility and the EAP practitionerPosted: June 7, 2012
I was asked to do the plenary talk at the BALEAP PIM meeting which is taking place on Saturday 9th June at the University of Durham: http://www.baleap.org.uk/media/uploads/pim/The_EAP_Practitioner_PIM_Durham_Overview.pdf
What follows is an attempt to bring together some of the things I’ll be talking about and have been thinking about for some time.
I decided to talk about credentials, credibility and the EAP practitioner because I think these areas are worthwhile exploring, particularly in relation to our collective and individual identity as EAP practitioners and our sense of self. Identity is related to a person’s individuality but this can only be discovered and expressed as the result of our interactions with others, our social relations, and our participation in and membership of different communities and groups in different contexts. We therefore shape and are shaped by the different contexts we operate in and the way that we relate to others in those contexts.
For EAP practitioners, in order to develop and enhance our sense of self and self esteem we need to explore our relationships with others in our own community of practice (Wenger, 2006) and the communities that we are most closely associated with, namely the English language teaching community and the academic community.
In attempts to define who we are and what we do through publications such as the BALEAP Competency Framework for Teachers of EAP, (http://www.baleap.org.uk/media/uploads/pdfs/teap-competency-framework.pdf) we have had to draw out the differences and distinctions between our work and the work of our ELT colleagues. Has this also led to some distance being placed between ourselves and the rest of the ELT community? And is this apparent distancing an issue particularly when we are so reliant on the wider ELT community not only to staff our summer Presessionals but to form, to a large extent, the next generation of EAP professionals?
In the ELT world, a perception does exist that what we do is dry, dull and boring, that our teaching practice is anti-communicative and that we spend too much time focusing on the micro details of academic discourse. At one level, it is clear that there are those ELT practitioners who are keen to dispel the myth and to show how EAP can be ‘cool’ (Barry, 2012) and can fit in with general communicative practices (Guse, 2011). At the other extreme, there are also those who wish to promote the myth and reinforce the apparent aridity of EAP (see Alex Case’s ‘TEFL-tastic’ website as an example). Are both stances in fact equally unhelpful to the EAP community, and to what extent have we consciously or unconsciously helped create this myth and, if so, through what actions?
In terms of our relationship with the academic community, our sense of self and expression of our identity is equally complex. We are an ‘essential’ part of university life in the sense that what we do is a necessary activity, but we are not ‘essential’ in the sense that we ‘contain the essence of’ or ‘are necessary to the existence of’ a university (as my Chambers English dictionary defines it). Perhaps this is why EAP units have no logical home and can be anything from independent centres, to a part of an academic School or belonging to professional services, and why practitioners can be called lecturers, instructors, tutors or teaching assistants. Does it make a difference as to how our academic colleagues and our students view us and our credibility if, on the one hand, we can be lecturers in an academic school and, on the other hand, we are tutors in a service unit? Does it matter that almost no EAP unit, in the UK at least, has the word ‘academic’ in its name? To what extent, if at all, has all of this eased the commodification of EAP and the subsequent outsourcing of EAP to private providers? And so does the paucity of EAP-specific qualifications and EAP trained staff undermine our claims that what we do is rather different from general English language teaching?
Hyland and Hamp-Lyons (2002:3) wrote that EAP, despite its many assets, had inherited some of ESP’s limitations – a tendency to work for rather than with subject specialists, a reluctance to critically engage with the values of institutional goals and practices, and ignoring students’ cultures. Ten years on, how far has this situation changed? Are we seen and do we present ourselves as humble servants of the disciplines, or are our interactions truly on an equal footing as academic colleagues? If we are in a more servile position, does this then exclude us or allow us to opt out of critically engaging with the values and practices of the institution? How many of us truly participate in university life in all its various facets? How many of us do or can engage in scholarly activity beyond preparing our lessons? And how does this activity (or possible lack of it) affect our credibility in contexts where research often seems to be valued over teaching?
I explore all of these questions in more detail in my plenary at the conference tomorrow, but it would be really interesting to hear your own thoughts, explorations, experiences and comments on this, as what’s written here can only scratch the surface.