Learning from their expertise: Transcultural pre-service teachers' insights into developing teacher identities in Australian classrooms

Year: 2012

Author: Allard, Andrea, Dyer, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


 The number and diversity of international students enrolled in pre-service teacher education courses in Australian universities has increased significantly over the last decade. With the commitment to developing students as second language learners in all Australian schools, recruiting Asian-language teachers is a political and educational imperative.  Most of the research on international students, however, has focused on those who come to Australia to study for a short time only and who have not lived for lengthy periods in Australia.  This paper reports on a project that aimed to explore the understandings of a different cohort: those pre-service teachers who were schooled overseas in countries in Asia, but who are now Australian citizens.  The transcultural pre-service teachers who participated in the study were enrolled in a Master of Teaching course as recipients of National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program scholarships.

 The study examined their experience with regards to: the similarities and differences between their own schooling in their birth countries and the Australian classrooms where they were placed as pre-service teachers; how they worked with cultural differences to enhance their learning to teach; and how they individually managed to make sense of culturally 'correct conduct' (Foucault, 1985) as this is discursively produced through classroom interactions. After their final professional experience placement, focus group discussions with participants were videotaped and transcribed.  In analysing the data, Foucault's work on 'conduct' was useful, in particular, how transcultural pre-service teachers conduct themselves in classrooms and how they come to make sense of student conduct within Australian school settings.

 Findings from the study suggest that these transcultural pre-service teachers have developed what Pedersen (1995, p.10) defines as intercultural literacy, that is: 'the understandings, competencies, attitudes and language proficiencies, participation and identities necessary for successful cross cultural engagement.' Heyward (2002) suggests that the term 'intercultural literacy' captures the transition from limited awareness of the new culture to bicultural or transcultural awareness, that is, those who have become unconsciously competent. This is why we choose to describe them as 'transcultural' rather than 'international' students. 

 By studying this cohort valuable insights are provided into how teacher identities are negotiated from a transcultural perspective.  Such knowledge can inform teacher education programs to work more supportively with newly arrived international students.  Conversely, the cross-cultural knowledge that international and transcultural pre-service teachers can offer as they work in Australian classrooms is a significant contribution of this study.