November 1999 — Volume 4, Number 2
On Becoming a Language Educator: Personal Essays on Professional Development
Christine Pearson Casanave and Sandra Schecter (Eds.) (1997)
Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xxi + 243
ISBN 0-8058-2264-X (paper)
On Becoming a Language Educator, edited by Christine Pearson Casanave and Sandra Schecter, is a valuable collection of personal reflections of determined and prolific researchers, who recount their own professional development on the way to becoming language educators. The process of professional development can be a struggle. When listening to distinguished scholars, we focus our attention on what they are saying at the moment instead of thinking about the life-long process that they have gone through on the way to telling us about their ideas and insights. This book is therefore a unique opportunity for those who would like to see and witness this process first-hand.
On Becoming a Language Educator deals with the professional development of language educators in a reflective and narrative way. The overall goals of the book, as stated by the editors, are that “both readers and authors use the stories told here to view their own professional lives from fresh perspectives” and that “they forge links between the concreteness and commonality of the narratives and the potentially profound meanings to be found in human experience” (p. xiii).
The book is organized into five major sections to address these goals. Each section starts with the word Introduction as part of its title, and includes selected essays from various well-known and widely published researchers and scholars reflecting on their experiences and stories. The contributors to the book come from various fields, including language arts, English as a second and foreign language, English education, and bilingual education.
The first section is entitled “Introduction: Evolving a Philosophy.” In this part, authors present various realities that have shaped the way they confront and embrace the field of language education. The major themes that emerge include the value of exploring premises and beliefs, assumptions in teaching and learning, the realities of power relationships within a professional community, and personal beliefs about what knowledge is and does. These themes are addressed by authors Carole Edelsky, Michele Foster, Lily Wong Fillmore, Peter V. Paul, and Jim Cummins. [-1-]
The second section, “Introduction: Identity Dilemmas,” talks about how researchers deal with conflicts and how they approach those issues in their professional lives. As professionals in the field, they raise concerns about the difficulty of resolving conflicts between establishing their identities, and perceptions of their professional personae. With the belief that some changes can be interpreted as growth and professional development, authors Norma Gonzalez, David P. Shea, and Sandra R. Schecter portray their experiences in struggling to understand these identity dilemmas and how the dilemmas relate to their work as language educators.
The following section is “Introduction: Lessons from Teaching and Learning.” Each author emphasizes the importance of the social environment, where learning and teaching are intermingled and transacted. Regardless of the age group the author is teaching, it is interesting to see how much there is to learn. Starting with Vivian G. Paley and her kindergartners, this section also includes the experiences with university level students of Trudy Smoke, Jill S. Bell, and Thomas Scovel. Each author helps us realize the potential insights of the social environment, and also makes us become aware of the potential in reflecting upon and reconceptualizing ourselves as learners.
The fourth section, “Introduction: Reflections on the Profession,” gives us insights and reflections from John F. Fanselow, Alan Strand, Denise E. Murray, and Christine P. Casanave. In addition to contextual issues in the profession, language educators also face broader aspects of the profession itself, such as the daily routines of directing a department, finding links between practitioners and theoreticians, and coping with systematic, structural, and organizational challenges. In this section, the authors present their cases and give examples from their own experiences.
The last chapter in the book is “Introduction: Conversations.” As shown by its title, this section portrays the process, power and discourse of conversations between language educators. Denise E. Murray, Judy W.-B. Olsen, and David Shea and Sandra R. Schecter are the contributors to this section. The authors have included the e-mail and fax correspondences among them, which makes this section very authentic and engaging.
On Becoming a Language Educator is an engaging book of personal essays from distinguished scholars. The value of these essays becomes more meaningful when we believe that learning is a meaning making process which is fostered by talking, reflecting, writing, and giving attention to the voices and the perspectives in the language education community. To anybody who would like to spend a few hours with well-known scholars doing something other than talking about the “big” matters in language education, I highly recommend this book to get a grasp of the process of becoming a language educator.
University of Cincinnati
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