Teaching across cultures: Identity, race, and culture in the teaching of English as a second language

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Emily Robertson


Teaching, Identity, Race, Culture, English as a second language

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


This study examined how four ESL teachers perceived their linguistic identity as native speakers of English, their racial identity as white, and their cultural identity as Americans in relation to their students. The linguistic identity of the ESL teachers rested on the power of English, and the teachers felt confident of their linguistic identity in the classroom. By sharp contrast, their perception of racial identity was disturbing in that they understood their racial identity in negative ways. Two teachers were fully aware of their whiteness while the other two teachers had partial recognition of their racial identity.

In regard to cultural identity, there are three modes of dealing with different cultures. The first is immersion, which occurs when the cultural identity of the ESL teachers and the culture that they recognize is congruent. The second is identified as negotiation. The ESL teachers modify their cultural identity to understand students' cultures that are unfamiliar to them. The third mode is incommensurability in which the teachers cannot make a judgment about their students' cultural values and hold back from presenting their own cultural values.

This study also explored what constitutes good teaching by examining what the ESL teachers thought were appropriate pedagogies in the ESL classroom. They emphasized the importance of caring, sharing, establishing a comfortable atmosphere, and being culturally sensitive to students' backgrounds. They also asserted that facilitating autonomy was of vital importance for language learning. The two elementary teachers thought that their immigrant children had to learn Standard English while the two teachers at college thought that their international students needed to be exposed to more colloquial expressions.


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