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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Humanising Language Teaching as a Force for Identity Change

Simon Mumford, a long term resident in Izmir, Turkey, is the writing centre advisor and an EAP teacher at Izmir University of Economics.  He is a Ph.D. candidate at Bahcesehir University, Istanbul.


My experience with HLT

My first encounter with HLT was in 2005, when Mario came to our university in Izmir to give a presentation on grammar teaching. At the end, he invited the audience to send him comments and ideas. I had been working on some ideas for using metaphors for grammar teaching, and so I sent them to him as editor of HLT. He liked them and published them. I sent some more, and again, they were published.

Then something rather unexpected happened. Mario asked me to guest edit an edition of HLT. Very surprised and rather daunted, I nevertheless accepted, and myself and a small team from our university Izmir University of Economics, Turkey) collected articles from Turkey and the region, and produced the 2006 November edition. This led to my involvement in another writing project with Mario, on the teaching of spoken grammar, which was in vogue at the time.

However, something even more unexpected happened, which, although I did not realise it at the time, was to totally change the course of my career. In 2007, I was appointed as an advisor in our university’s writing centre, a newly opened unit to help (mainly Turkish) academics get published in English language international journals. My appointment, it seemed, was largely due to being published in HLT, and editing the November 2006 edition; I had been identified as someone with writing and editing skills. My work in the writing centre was simply editing academics’ articles. After some initial doubts, I soon found I really enjoyed this kind of work, and it sparked my interest in academic writing. Now, a decade later, due to my contact with academics, I have several academic papers published, and am half-way through a Ph.D.


The importance of identity change

In my academic studies, I have learnt that a key issue in academic research in education is teacher identity. Teachers cannot change their practice, it seems, without identity shift, i.e. changing how they see themselves, and how others see them. Identity change may be forced (e.g. a new syllabus or method of teaching is introduced) or may be voluntary (e.g. teachers are dissatisfied with some aspect of their current practice or status and want to change). In my case, I went through several identity changes. To my identity as teacher I added the identities of writer, then editor, academic writer, and now, researcher.

Identity change can be difficult. It often involves radical changes in beliefs and practices, and, consequently, some degree of internal conflict. Ironically, feelings of uncertainty caused by contradictory beliefs, as new practices gradually replace old ones, are a necessary part of identity change. For example, if you switch from a teacher-centred to a student centred view of teaching, you may be motivated by the new active role for the students, but you may also fear the loss of your authority in class. The experience of some kind of inner conflict is therefore a sign that change can happen, and an essential part of the process. Identity shift depends on the successful resolution of such conflicts, which result in new ways of seeing yourself, e.g., as a student-centred teacher.


Establishing an identity as writer

Another example of identity change is when a teacher takes on the identity of writer, which involves having work published. This process will bring conflicting feelings, including motivation by the goal of being published and being recognised as a writer, but, on the other hand, doubt that your writing is good enough, and concern over the investment of time. Another barrier is the fear of possible negative reactions in the event that you are successful, as not all school directors want their teachers to publish, especially if they themselves are not writers. A major problem is where to publish; unfortunately, lack of outlets for publication is one of the biggest barriers to teachers establishing identities as writers. This is why publications like HLT are so important in giving teachers a voice.

If you are reading this, and have never published, you should think about writing. If you are experiencing doubt and uncertainty over this, don’t worry, this is certainly a positive sign. And, from my experience, HLT is a really good place to start.

Tagged  Voices 
  • An Education
    Danny Singh, Italy

  • Happy Birthday
    Chaz Pugliese, France

  • Humanising Language Teaching as a Force for Identity Change
    Simon Mumford, Turkey

  • HLT – The Last 20 Years and the Next
    Mike Shreeve, UK

  • From a Simple Request to National Impact
    Claire Özel, Turkey

  • Embracing Change…Or Not
    Lou Spaventa, US

  • Musings on the Topic of Change
    Tessa Woodward, UK