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December 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Authenticity of Language Teacher: A Cinderella Concept in ELT

Amir Sarkeshikian is an assistant professor in ELT at IAU, Iran. He is interested in language teacher education, language materials development, and L2 psychology. He has published book chapters, edited by Tomlinson and Maley (2017), and Bouckaert, Konings and van Winkelhof (2018). He has also contributed to Psychology of language and Communication and Cogent Art and Humanities. Most recently, he reviewed for International Journal of Leadership in Education. Email:



The concept of authenticity in the literature on language education (LE) has been characterized by distinct views (e.g., Breen, 1985; Widdowson, 1990, 1998). As one of the facets of authenticity, teacher authenticity (TA) is an important topic, which has been conducive to various studies in mainstream education (ME); however, it has not received due attention in the literature of language teacher education (LTE). To that end, a systematic integrative review, which allows for the combination of the results of empirical and theoretical studies with diverse methodologies, was conducted to investigate the breadth and width of this concept in ME literature and develop a theoretical framework for unearthing the LTE literature. For this purpose, all electronic databases were initially surfed in search of all available TA studies.  Then, a theoretical model of TA emerged based on an in-depth analysis of the literature on TA in ME, published between 1993 and 2017. Afterward, TA subthemes in ME were juxtaposed to key concepts in the literature on LE and LTE. It was found that TA subthemes involve four distinct constructs in LE and LTE literature (i.e., teacher cognition, criticality, teacher identity, and pedagogic responsiveness). The findings of this study lend support to the significance of this neglected construct, which provides a broader and integrated picture of language teachers’ professional lives. Moreover, the study revealed that studies on TA concept are scant in both LE and LTE domains. Finally, the implications of this study for language teachers and teacher educators are presented.



For about four decades, the concept of authenticity in the literature on language education has been characterized by diverse views, ranging from instances of classroom activity or language use (Breen, 1985) and the uses to which texts are put (Widdowson, 1990, 1998) to authenticity cline, along which the notions of genuine input authenticity, altered input authenticity, adapted input authenticity, simulated input authenticity, and inauthenticity are located (Brown & Menasche, 2006, as cited in Tatsuki, 2006).

Yet, these conceptualizations seem to be far from comprehensiveness. In the same vein, Taylor (1994, p. 4) has contended that “authenticity is a function not only of the language but also of the participants, the use to which language is put, the setting, the nature of the interaction, and the interpretation the participants bring to both the setting and the activity.” However, given the attention paid to the language classroom as a complex system (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008), and the assumption that language classroom is “a complex system in which events do not occur in linear causal fashion, but in which a multitude of forces interact in complex, self-organizing ways, and create changes and patterns that are part predictable, part unpredictable” (van Lier, 1996, p. 148), it is time to view authenticity as a multi-faceted concept (Kreber, 2010), including text authenticity, teacher authenticity, task authenticity, curriculum authenticity, and context authenticity (see Maley & Tomlinson, 2017).  Among all, teacher authenticity (TA) has not received due attention in the literature of language teacher education (LTE). Accordingly, the first aim of this integrative review is to highlight the concept of TA and teachers’ authentic practices. Then, it will discuss how TA can be used as an inclusive term to embrace four distinct concepts in the literature on LTE.


Views on teacher authenticity

Scholars in the field of general education have been in contention for the concept of TA, setting authenticity standards for teachers to set goals, monitor their practices, and evaluate their instruction. Newmann and Wehlage (1993) developed five standards for teacher authenticity as follows: ‘higher-order thinking, depth of knowledge, connectedness to the world beyond the classroom, substantive conversation, and social support for student achievement’ (p. 8). Moreover, Cranton and Carusetta (2004) argued that teacher authenticity, as a quadruple concept, involves “being genuine, showing consistency between values and actions, relating to others in such a way as to encourage their authenticity, and living a critical life” (p. 7). Most recently, Kreber (2010) has identified six dimensions of teacher authenticity as follows: a) “being sincere, candid or honest;” b) “being true to oneself (e.g., in an individuation or existentialist sense);” c) “being true to oneself (e.g. in a critical social theory sense);” d) “constructing an identity around horizons of significance’ and ‘acting in the important interest of learners;” e) “care for the subject, students, and interest in engaging students with the subject around ideas that matter;” f) becoming as a process “sustained through critical reflection on core beliefs” (p. 177). Similarly, Darling-Hammond and Snyder (2000) opined that self-reflection, as an integral element of TA, enable teachers “to understand the effects of their actions” (p. 524). All the same, Subedi (2008) argued that teacher authenticity is under the influence of such issues as “teacher’s cultural identity, disciplinary affiliations, perception of teachers’ credibility or ability” (p. 67).


Teachers’ authentic practices

Building on the theoretical tenets of TA, researchers have shown their interests in examining teachers’ authentic practices (TAP). According to Barab, Squire, and Dueber (2000), teaching practices are authentic when they are carried out by genuine practitioners of a professional community. As Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) postulated, the classroom and real-life settings should share the same contextual features for an authentic practice to occur. To Collins and Ting (2010), teachers’ acts are authentic if “they are completely connecting to what has been done in the moment, rather than following a script like actors” (p. 904). If teachers can solve certain pedagogical problems that occur in classroom setting, they have the knowledge to deal with the complexity of teaching situation (Garbett & Ovens, 2010). In addition, Bell (2007) distinguished authentic from inauthentic teaching practices by coining the terms acting and enacting: the former implies the rehearsal of theatrical role while the latter means the emergence of a performance in an immediate context. In the same vein, Sarkeshikian (2017) concluded that EFL teachers should take ecological validity and contextual factors into account and meet pupils’ diverse emergent needs and authenticate language classrooms through genuine practices. Moreover, Alfaro and Quezada (2010) explored teacher students’ perceptions of authentic practices for internationalized education and extracted five themes: 1) global mindfulness, 2) linguistic and cultural awareness, 3) ‘passionate pedagogy’, 4) engagement with parents and community; and (5) reflection on political and ideological values.


Students’ perspectives on teacher authenticity

Despite a bulk of literature on TA and TAP, research on students’ perceptions of TA is scarce. According to Johnson and LaBelle (2017), TA research has been constrained by the extant theories and frameworks that originate from the teacher as the self, not from students; therefore, the means of measuring teacher authenticity may not be applicable to studies into students’ views about this concept. Using grounded theory design, Johnson and LaBelle (2017) found that college students perceive five categories of behavior as indicative of teacher authenticity: a) immediacy and self-disclosure, b) passion for materials and teaching, c) care, compassion, and respect, d) teaching and managing capabilities, and d) expert knowledge. Conducting a phenomenographic study, De Bruyckere and Kirschner (2016) also discovered that secondary students determine teacher authenticity based on four criteria: a) expertise in topical knowledge, b) enthusiasm for the subject area and students, c) unicity in behaviors, interactions, and reactions, and d) distance and nearness in teacher-student relationships.


A systematic integrative review

Given the preceding literature on TA in ME, it can be concluded that TA is a multifaceted concept, which has yet to be investigated more extensively in LTE field. In the same vein, the synthesis of recurrent themes in TA literature shows that this concept incorporates the following major constructs: criticality, identity, cognition, and pedagogic responsiveness (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Subthemes of teacher authenticity

Some of these above subthemes identify with the fragmented constructs in the literature on LTE; however, an attempt should also be made to assemble the pieces of the puzzle of language teachers’ professional lives in the form of an inclusive term to meet the economic requirements of theorization in the LTE literature.

As shown in figure 1, criticality in ME literature involves self-reflection (Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2000), criticality in life (Cranton & Carusetta, 2004), and politico-ideological reflections (Alfaro & Quezada, 2010). In the literature on ELT, criticality has been taken to acknowledge “the socio-historical reality of English and ELT” (Banegas & Villacañas de Castro, 2016, p. 456). Similarly, for Barnet and Bedau (2011), criticality means evaluating or “questioning your own assumptions” (p. 4).  As with the politico-ideological reflections, the ELT literature has focused on colonialism (Pennycook, 2001), neocolonialism and linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 2009), and neoliberalism (Block, Gray, & Holborow, 2012). Accordingly, it seems that language scholars have approached the facets of criticality as conceptualized in TA literature, yet oftentimes in more minute ways.  

Based on the synthesis of the recurrent themes germane to cognition in TA literature (Alfaro & Quezada, 2010; De Bruyckere & Kirschner; 2016; Kreber, 2010; Newmann & Wehlage, 1993; Subedi, 2008), it was found that this construct characterizes what teachers know (i.e., knowledge depth, topical knowledge, language awareness), think (i.e., higher-order thinking), and believe (i.e., perception of abilities and care for subjects). Surprisingly, Borg (2003) coined language teacher cognition (LTE) to unify the diverse labels used to conceptualize cognition in LTE literature. By this newly coined term, he means all “unobservable cognitive dimension of teaching” (p. 81) (i.e., knowledge, belief, and thought). Accordingly, the emergent subthemes of cognition in TA literature seem to largely overlap with the major subthemes of teacher cognition (TC) in both ME and LTE; therefore, it can be summed up that a discrete term (i.e., cognition) has been used in LTE literature, which involves one of the dimensions of TA.

Identity emerged as another TA subtheme through synthesizing TA literature. It involves genuinity, honesty, behavioral unicity, identity construction, value/action consistency, and disciplinary affiliation. With a shift from cognitive learning theories to social theories of learning, teacher identity (TI) has been highlighted in LTE discussions. Hence, in the last few years, a strand of applied linguistics research has been devoted to the concept of language teacher identity (LTI). Generally, identity has been considered in terms of uniqueness of characteristics and perceptions of individuals relative to others (Pennington, 2015), self-image and self-awareness (Richards, 2015), authenticity (K. Richards, 2006), affiliation with peer groups or communities (Gee, 2001), “situated identity” (Zimmerman, 1998), and identity construction (Johnson, 1996).

This multiplicity of the ideas revolving around the topic of LTI has driven Varghese, Morgan, Johnston, and Johnson (2005) to conclude that “identity is not a fixed, stable, unitary, and internally coherent phenomenon but is multiple, shifting, and in conflict,” “is not context-free but is crucially related to social, cultural, and political context,” and “is constructed, maintained, and negotiated to a significant extent through language and discourse” (pp. 22-23). Most recently, Pennington and Richard (2016) categorized the dimensions of LTI into two broad categories: a) foundational competences, including language-related identities, disciplinary identity, contextual factors, self-knowledge and awareness, and student-related identity; b) advanced competences, including practiced/responsive teaching skills, theorization from practice, and membership in professional communities.

Despite the diversity of the ideas related to identity in the literature on both LTE and TA, it can be concluded that the dimensions of the identity of an authentic teacher (i.e., authenticity, genuinity, honesty, unicity, self-image, self-esteem, etc.) are dynamically determined by identity-constructing factors such as socio-cultural (e.g., language, peers, nationality, etc.), contextual (e.g., society, workplace, classroom, etc.), and professional (e.g., workshops, training courses, etc.) factors, a conclusion in line with the tenets of social identity theory (Hogg & Abrams, 1998), which underlie the discussion on identity of authentic teachers.  

Pedagogic mindfulness was the final subtheme, which emerged out of synthesizing TA literature in ME. This category involves immediacy of acts (Johnson & LaBelle, 2017), engagement with parents and passionate pedagogy (Alfaro & Quezada, 2010), respect for students (Kreber, 2010), socio-cultural support and connectedness to world (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993).

According to Taylor and Sobel (2011), “with the number of school-age children who speak languages other than English growing, it is necessary to ensure that teachers gain the knowledge and skills to be responsive to all students in their classrooms” (p.6). Moreover, teaching diverse learners with differences in culture, language, abilities, and family is challenging for teachers (Nieto, 2007) for at least four reasons: a) inexperienced teachers’ lack of skills to address such differences (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Wong-Fillmore & Snow, 2002); b) a feeling of unpreparedness to support the diversity of the student population (Dinham, 2008); c) teachers’ biases against students with diverse life realities (Walker-Dalhouse & Dalhouse, 2006; Trent, Kea, & Oh, 2008); d) lack of a well-defined categorization of unexpected needs. To narrow this gap, the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) has tried to engage language practitioners in valuing a variety of languages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, religions, abilities, gender realities, and socioeconomic statuses in language classrooms. All the same, despite many efforts by teacher education programs to prepare teachers for today’s complex educational contexts, the problem still persists (Taylor & Sobel, 2011).

To sum up, the LTE literature on pedagogic mindfulness is too scanty, and there was almost no chance to juxtapose the studies from LTE and ME literature. All the same, there are many contributions to help language teachers to be pedagogically mindful and responsive in their classrooms such as “peer-tutoring groups” for “heterogeneous and unpredictable populations” (van Lier, 2004), scaffolded materials with guided examples (IRIS, 2005) for less proficient learners or even learners with special needs, “linked intercultural activities” (Taylor & Sobel, 2011) to highlight and promote authentic experiences for learners with less socio-cultural awareness, illustrations and analogies (Scott, 2017) to highlight the usefulness and relevance of an L2 to the lives of students, opportunities like opinion- and reasoning-gap activities (Scott, 2017) to let learners look at the world from multiple perspectives and stop them from stereotyping certain groups of learners, particularly those with learning disabilities or economic needs.



This review was an attempt to explore and propose the term teacher authenticity as an inclusive term to embrace the complexity of teachers’ selves. Hence, it revealed TA must be viewed as a multidimensional concept, which involves criticality (i.e., the ability to reflect on the world, interrogate the local and global problems at both individual and group levels, cope with the unexpected in language classrooms, and critically reconstruct their minds through their own agency), cognition (i.e., types of knowledge that teachers have and construct at varying depths; what they think of their abilities and practices), identity (i.e., identity construction, the consistency between their values and practices, and commitment to their professional communities), and pedagogic mindfulness (i.e., personal and practical skills to address the diversity of classrooms, partiality to treat students’ life realities, preparedness to approach learners’ unexpected needs). Moreover, as Finney (2002) argued, it is necessary “to put language back in touch with educational theory” (p.75). In order to understand who teachers are, it is necessary to have a clearer sense of their professional selves. However, the objectivistic and atomistic analysis of dimensions of a language teacher seems to have masked the interrelationship between them. Hence,

To sum up, the findings of systematic integrative review reveal that the proliferation of terms in LTE literature has led to a lack of economy in theorizations, if not definitional ambiguity. Therefore, further research has yet to be done to economize the nomenclature used in LTE research and conceptualize a broader picture of language teachers’ professional selves. This study may have implications for teacher educators, student teachers, and practitioners. In the first place, teacher education programs need to develop language teachers who are competent enough to act and react authentically in the classroom. Hence, the coordinators of such programs should try to disentangle themselves from traditional and linear paradigms that have over-simplified the world of language teaching and ignored the complexity of teacher professional lives.  Second, student teachers are recommended to build and improve the necessary knowledge and skills to practice authentic acts in future classrooms, where they will meet the diversity of learners with unexpected needs and expectations. In the same vein, they need to reflect on the question of who they and their learners are.



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Please check the Pilgrims courses at Pilgrims website.

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  • Authenticity of Language Teacher: A Cinderella Concept in ELT
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