Gatekeeping, advocacy, and other dilemmas of teaching ESL learning support in a public two-year college in north Georgia
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A five semester qualitative inquiry employed a neo-Vygotskian theoretical framework to understand how, in the setting of a remedial ESL program at a public two-year college in North Georgia, the subject positions of five teachers were mediated by their understandings of and engagement with the multiple and interactive contexts of their professional activity. Ethnographic data revealed a wide variety of tensions that complicated the five women’s fluctuating understandings of who they were as teachers. These included (1) the interrelated dilemmas of gatekeeping and advocacy complicated by the institution’s simultaneous commitment to open access and high standards and unyielding definitions of literacy and the high stakes assessments whereby such constructs were measured; (2) regional and national discourses surrounding immigrants’ right to a postsecondary education; (3) and, the complex and unfolding lives of students and their teachers. While the five participants of this study were able to position and reposition themselves in ways that allowed them to make sense of who they were as professionals, their shifting subjectivities brought with them an emotional toll that was notably apparent at the end of each semester when some students passed and some students failed. That emotional toll came to a climax when anti-immigrant legislation proposed during the last year of data collection threatened to affect undocumented students’ access to the program—leading one faculty member to organize a town hall meeting. The unintended consequences of that faculty member’s activism are theorized, as is the invisibility of personal dilemmas of the five women as their lives unfolded during the period of data generation. Implications for teacher education and research are presented.