Ciencias de la Educación

19 de agosto de 2021

From Being to Becoming: Pre-service English teachers’ Gender Identities Construction

Jhonatan Vásquez-Guarnizo & Finn Ale Álvarez-Contreras

Learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in Colombia has become a challenge over the past seventeen (17) years. Based on Vásquez-Guarnizo (2020a), during this time, different governments have attempted to regulate and strengthen the teaching of this language by launching several programs that have shown  important achievements; nevertheless, these efforts “have not yet allowed to reach the transformation in the process of teaching and learning English that Colombia requires” (MEN, 2014, p. 4). In our view, the Colombian Ministry of Education (MEN) has chosen to merely stipulate the linguistic teaching of the language per se as “English learning and teaching in Colombia have been permeated by a capitalism world where we replicate a decontextualized knowledge” (Vásquez-Guarnizo, 2020a, para. 6). As a result, this imposition has caused many EFL teachers to have no other choice but to replicate a structural and square pattern of the way in which English should be taught in our country. Additionally, this power that is exercised by MEN has left aside several sociocultural issues that affect our students’ learning process, and which happen to be fundamental when it comes to comprehend our students’ realities.

We, as EFL teachers, have come to realize that teaching in Colombia goes beyond learning grammar structures. Thus, learning English in Colombia is not “simply acquiring two linguistic codes, but being aware of the sociocultural, political, and ideological contexts in which the languages function” (Cruz, as cited in Fandiño, 2014, p. 84). Álvarez and Bonilla (2009) have asserted that EFL teaching should no longer be taught from a linguistic centered approach; on the contrary, it needs to be focused on a lingo-cultural experience in which learning English goes hand-in-hand with the understanding of our own realities. In this sense, language facilitates human expression; therefore, it is developed in the social and cultural dimensions of each individual which entails that language is an expression of social diversity, ideologies, and power relationships (Bonilla & Cruz-Arcila, 2014). Consequently, comprehending human realities is what brings us together in a peaceful environment where there are no distinctions for our differences. Specifically, EFL classrooms have come to be a place where diversity of any kind takes place. All our students are different; thus, all of them think, behave, perceive, and learn in different ways as well as each one constructs their own identities.

For Norton (2011), identity is defined as “multiple, contradictory, and dynamic, [which entails a constructed process] within diverse discourses or sites of practice” (p. 172). Thus, Ramos-Holguín et al. (2021) affirm that construction entails that “identities are socially constructed and negotiated, which depicts a multifaceted dimension where the individual and diverse contexts play a significant role” (p. 17). Noticeably, we have come to realize that when it comes to study at an undergraduate language teaching program, there is a tendency to find students who identify themselves with a non-binary gender identity. In this regard, Mojica and Castañeda-Peña (2017) have pointed out the importance of integrating gender awareness courses at ELT programs as a way to prepare EFL teachers to “recognize ways in which gender meanings are transmitted and legitimated, and how gender inequities are (re)produced in their teaching contexts” (p. 140). Consequently, we could all start transforming the way we categorize human beings as when it comes to gender, this one does not only refer to men and women, but also to people who identify out of those shaped models.

Particularly, we consider that education plays a crucial role in pre-service English teachers’ gender identities construction as this one conducts them to reflect about their future diverse teaching contexts. Education can then be associated to a chrysalis where human beings are in a constant process of figuring themselves out. In our context, for instance, we have had the opportunity to evidence how pre-service English teachers go through metamorphic processes where they have been able to construct, re-construct, and co-construct their gender identities. Nonetheless, we feel this process needs to go hand-in-hand among professors and pre-service teachers. When they both are going straightforward for the same path, we can live in a more “equitable and inclusive society” (Cortés & Díaz, 2020, p. 19) where distinctions among gender do not exist. Thereby, professors are invited to comprehend that each human being is a world apart; therefore, we argue that pre-service English teachers’ gender identities construction are permeated by diverse situations they face in their academic life which take them from being to becoming an in-service English teacher. In this manner, these diverse situations are related to the learning and teaching process they carry out along their formation; thus, counting on their professors’ support in this process of becoming, turns out to be vital for them.

In this regard, Miller (2018) posits that “[English language professors] who do not affirm the different corporal realities become into co-conspirers, not only in the current gender conceptions spread, but also in the reproduction of justifications that may lead to gender violence” (p. 51); that is why they represent “a true meaning of the word: transformation; [therefore, English language professors in undergraduate language teaching programs in Colombia] play a significant role in every single world [they] teach” (Vásquez-Guarnizo, 2020b, para. 1). Counting on their professors’ support facilitates the process of becoming who they really are since pre-service English teachers project their self-image “based on prior [professors’]  behaviors, actions, roles, and ideologies” (Torres-Cepeda & Ramos-Holguín, 2021, p. 13) which turn out to be the projected mental images of the ideal in-service English teacher they would like to become (Calderhead & Robson, 1991). Ultimately, Vásquez-Guarnizo et al. (2020) have asserted that “it is essential to start raising awareness about gender […] in future language teachers” (p. 160), so that it is possible to “avoid seeing it [and addressing it in EFL contexts] as a taboo” (Vásquez-Guarnizo et al., 2020, p. 160). As a result, pre-service English teachers come to create an ideal image of themselves as future in-service English teachers which permeates their gender identities construction by means of self-imaging if their future teaching contexts would accept who they really are or, on the contrary, they will have to camouflage their identities and display one that they are not.

Accordingly, when it comes to pre-service English teachers’ identities construction, Knowles (1992) argues that undergraduate students have ideal images of their teaching profession while studying at teacher education programs which is of vital importance to construct a positive image of ‘self’ as professional teachers. Thus, pre-service English teachers’ teaching formation needs to be attached to their professors’ support and acceptance. Opening spaces for diversity turns out to be necessary along their pre-service English teachers’ learning/teaching process to transform current and future EFL classrooms into a safe space. There, learners are be able to find out their true self by means of becoming who they really are. Hence, raising gender awareness in pre-service English teachers’ formation in their B.A. program becomes a need to be spread out since this educational context is the social and symbolic mirror in charge of teaching normative values that are stuck in their skin (Sánchez, 2019). Everything that affects pre-service English teachers’ learning/teaching process, positively or negatively, would permeate their gender identities construction as every single situation they experience in this educational context would help co-construct who they want to be.

Pre-service English teachers’ gender identities construction underpin into a process of failing but learning from each situation, adapting themselves to new contexts, facing tough settings where they may feel they do not fit in; thus, going from being to becoming an EFL teacher turns out to be a challenge for many of them as it takes time and acceptation from their surroundings. In this regard, we contend that one thing is being someone society agrees with because there is certain model we all are expected to fit in, and another thing is becoming into our true self, showing, and feeling proud of a metamorphic processes of construction, re-construction, and co-construction with ourselves. In this sense, we also argue that reflection takes place in pre-service English gender identities construction as they can “become aware of their sense of self, their beliefs, emotions and strategies of coping with different challenges” (Anspal et al., 2012, p. 214). Consequently, we want to invite English language professors who are currently teaching at any ELT program to go through a reflective process which aims at supporting their pre-service English teachers’ gender identities construction. This way, we could start filling up a sociocultural gap that is still present in our realities.

We all were born with differences; therefore, spaces for diversity and inclusion into EFL classrooms need to be opened, so we can start comprehending there is not a specific shape to fit in. As Wenger (1998) suggests, we are always involved in becoming a certain person; thus, “without making sense of our identities, we are not able to achieve what we want effectively as we are not clear as to where we are headed” (Izadinia, 2013, p. 694). In other words, our identity is what defines us as a person; we all co-construct different identities along our lives which are revealed in different scenarios depending on the situation we face. For instance, the identity individuals present at work tends to be different from the identity at home, or when gathering with friends or a couple. Ultimately, we emphasize that pre-service English teachers at undergraduate ELT programs need to find support from their educational context, mainly their English language professors, when going from being to becoming who they really want to be as in-service English teachers. On the contrary, their gender identities construction would end up being interrupted and legitimated by gender stereotypes which would take them to become someone they are not meant to be.


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