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Resistance, Resilience, and Professional Identity Development: One Teacher’s Journey in Japan

Dr. Diane Hawley Nagatomo (Ochanomizu University)

The professional journeys of EFL teachers in Japan, although individually unique, are likely to share a number of commonalities. Many teachers began English teaching with minimal linguistic and pedagogical qualifications. Those who started off in the eikaiwa industry may or may not have even held bachelor degrees, but were hired on the basis of their native-speakerness rather than on their teaching skills. Similarly, those employed by the JET program were generally young and inexperienced college graduates, and their employment contract was, at most, for three years.  These jobs often attracted applicants because of a desire for a temporary overseas adventure, and most return home upon completion of their contracts. Some, however, chose to remain in Japan as English teachers because they had fallen in love and decided to marry a Japanese national. Many of these teachers returned to school, hoping that an MA or a PhD would enhance their career opportunities in Japan.

I am interested in the process of identity development of these foreign teachers who chose to live permanently in Japan, particularly foreign women who are married to Japanese men. These women must deal with the racially motivated employment constraints that affect all foreign EFL teachers in Japan, but unlike their male counterparts, they must also navigate gendered waters that primarily view women as wives and mothers. The participants of my larger study are women ranging in age from 25 to 64, and they have lived, worked, and taught in various contexts. My presentation at the Teachers Journeys Conference, however, will focus mainly on one participant who has been living in a conservative and remote rural area in Japan for twenty years. Through “Victoria’s” narratives obtained from multiple interviews, I will describe the twists and turns of her personal and professional journey in Japan, which began with teaching as an ALT on the JET program.  Using Gee’s (2000) theoretical lens, I will describe Victoria’s resistance in accepting gendered and racial identity characteristics ascribed to her by others, and how she resourcefully turned them into achieved identity characteristics of her own making. Victoria’s situation is somewhat unique, but her narratives highlight many issues faced by my other participants as well. Importantly, they highlight the notion that identity development is the result of continuous negotiation and renegotiation with everyone, not only students, colleagues, and administrators, but also with teachers’ own families and with members of the local community as well.

Bio:
Diane Nagatomo has been living and teaching in Japan since 1979. She is an associate professor at Ochanomizu University and her research interests include teacher and learner beliefs, teachers’ professional identity, and EFL materials development. 

Dr. Paul Underwood (Toyo Eiwa University)


abstract forthcoming