Overcoming Resistance in Post-Soviet Teacher Trainees in Kazakhstan
Keywords: disposition, metaphor, trainee resistance, cognitive dissonance, Soviet Union, reflection
Herzen State Pedagogical University, Russia
Nancy Burkhalter, PhD, was an associate professor and directed the Master’s in TESOL program at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP) for three years, where she taught pedagogy and linguistics. She is currently an English Language Fellow (sponsored by Georgetown University and the U.S. State Department) in St. Petersburg, Russia, at Herzen State Pedagogical University.
This paper reports on the resistance exhibited by Kazakhstani teacher trainees educated under the Soviet university system. Unless teachers adhered to the sanctioned curriculum and methods of teaching, they were humiliated and often lost their jobs. Research in psychology has shown that behavior learned out of fear is substantially more difficult to change and relatively impenetrable to cognitive control. It is hypothesized that because of their fear-based experience as students and teachers in that system, they exhibit greater than usual resistance to adopting new methodologies to teach English, the very training they purport to want. This paper draws upon research in psychology, education, and critical thinking to present three techniques implemented in our master’s program to help circumvent this resistance: 1) focusing on dispositional program goals (through self-reflections, collaboration, and research), 2) creating cognitive dissonance, and 3) employing metaphors when explaining methods and practices. These strategies help break down their resistance to accepting a new culture of learning and teaching by avoiding direct confrontation. This paper is important because Western educators may not understand the profound resistance that teachers from authoritarian educational backgrounds may bring to the training, an attitude which can undermine efforts on everyone’s part. These techniques, used separately or together, can skirt that resistance to help students adopt new methodologies.