A Cultural Balancing Act: The Learning, Beliefs and Practices of Novice Indonesian Teachers of English

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English teachers must be prepared to attend to the intercultural aspects of language learning. In Indonesia, this challenge is compounded by education policies that also require teachers to sustain Indonesian cultural values. Without explicit preparation or guidance, these two expectations could be quite challenging to novice teachers. The objective of this study was to better understand how novice Indonesian teachers of English balance those demands, by examining their learning, beliefs, practices regarding teaching about culture. This study was a qualitative ethnographic case study of English teacher preparation practices at a Muslim university in Central Java, complemented by embedded case studies (Yin, 2009) of 14 recent graduates during their early years of teaching. Data sources included: course syllabi; 97 class observations: interviews with 20 university faculty members, 21 current students and 20 recently graduated novice teachers: six professional learning community sessions with novice teachers; and journal entries by novice teacher participants. Data were analyzed using the constant comparison method (Corbin & Strauss, 2014) and a cross-case analysis.

Findings showed that Indonesian English teachers had many opportunities to learn about culture, both within and outside of coursework, but they rarely learned methods to teach their future students about culture. Consequently, many did not include unfamiliar cultural content in their lessons. Concerning novice teachers’ beliefs and practices, this study identifies participants as primarily locally-oriented or globally-oriented, differentiated by their access to and investment in cultural learning opportunities. Globally-oriented teachers, who had had intercultural experiences themselves, were more likely to teach about unfamiliar cultures, despite contextual factors and limited preparation.

This work highlights the need for language teacher education programs to help novice teachers learn to teach about culture, as well as the importance of offering intercultural experiences to novice teachers before and during their early careers. The distinction between locally-oriented teachers and globally-oriented teachers may allow language teacher educators to more purposefully prepare language teachers to address cultural content and develop their future students’ intercultural competence. In the future, more focused preparation efforts regarding teaching about culture would allow novice teachers to more effectively prepare their students to meaningfully engage across cultural differences.