Over the last few decades, there has been an enormous increase in scholarship attending to the ways social concerns shape ontologies of language and subsequently our understandings of language acquisition. Given the increasing awareness that language is always a socially situated, local practice, the importance of attending to the ways that power dynamics impact language learning can hardly be overstated. This is particularly true in the field of English Language Teaching, as the current, global demand for English is the direct result of centuries of colonial conquest and tightly connected to ongoing colonial legacies. While the theoretical support for the need to decolonize English Language Teaching is quite robust, much research is still required to help language teachers and language teacher educators put such theory into practice.
In this critical ethnographic study, I contribute to this research need through a “small story” approach to oral interactional data, an approach which attends to the form and context of narrative productions in addition to the content. I utilize tools from the traditions of Discourse Analysis and Narrative Analysis to examine the discursive identity productions of five pre-service English language teachers over the course of their MATESOL degree program. I use collected textual artifacts, classroom observations, and faculty interviews to determine the manner in which social justice discourse was presented to my participants and to better situate the way my participants position themselves regarding this discourse in the conversational narratives I collected from them during individual and group interviews.
My findings have implications for English language teacher education and critical language pedagogy, as I detail the ways that institutional structures and hegemonic ideologies posed obstacles to my participants’ adoption of socially transformative teacher identities and thus to their practical application of more socially just English language pedagogy. I offer particular attention to the potential hindrances posed by dichotomous understandings of theory and practice, the unaddressed emotional labor of critical pedagogy, metanarratives surrounding the politics of social justice education, neoliberal influences on teaching circumstances, and the excessively narrow, non-intersectional positioning of English-learning students.