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Unlocking the power of immigrant teachers: Transforming education

Nashid Nigar, Doctoral Candidate at Monash University Alex Kostogriz, Professor at Monash University

Today’s superdiverse educational landscape, marked by a global teacher shortage crisis worsened by Covid-19, heightens the demand for educators, especially in countries like Australia and the UK, where English language teaching is in high demand due to immigration flows. However, these nations face a significant lack of teaching diversity, limiting opportunities for immigrant and Indigenous educators. Our hermeneutic-phenomenological-narrative analysis of the accounts of the lived experiences of 16 immigrant English language teachers (ELTs) prior to their migration to Australia (Nigar et al., 2023a) offers valuable insights into determinants influencing their career choices before migrating to Australia. A central theme is the primacy of affect rooted in early family influences and cultural exposure (Harris et al., 2006), which plays a pivotal role in their journey towards becoming teachers and sustaining their careers despite numerous challenges during and after migration.

Immigrant ELTs often reminisce about their formative years (Nigar et al., 2023a), where their parents’ deep appreciation for cultural phenomena like the music of the Beatles, language-related family activities, reading books in hidden nooks and even play-acting as teachers during their preschool days ignited their passion for education (Harris et al., 2006). Becca, originally from Slovakia, vividly recalls: ‘I’ve been exposed to English as long as I can remember, and I’ve always liked it. I liked the way it sounded, its “coolness”, its usefulness, and the fact that I excelled in it.’ Remarkably, despite the myriad challenges they face, including navigating undemocratic curricula, pedagogical obstacles, and confronting the dominance of native-speakerism, these immigrant teachers persevere in their careers due to their profound affective connection with the English language and culture.

Our study highlights the pivotal role of school experiences in shaping immigrant teachers’ journeys towards becoming ELTs. Exposure to diverse curricula, innovative teaching methods and ‘warm’ relationship with teachers nurtured their passion for education, transforming boredom into appreciation and fervour as they actively engaged in communicative and creative language learning activities and developed meaningful relationships with their instructors. These experiences were further intensified by cultural values associated with education and a profound respect for teachers and educational principles (Nigar et al., 2023b). The desire to teach English represents a unique fusion of local and global influences for immigrant teachers, driven by cultural-historical narratives, the enduring impact of colonial history, and the global significance of the English language, resonating deeply with their socio-cultural practices and values (Truner & Lin, 2020). For many, like Jasha, the aspiration to encounter ‘real’ English served as a powerful motivator, leading them to actively seek opportunities to engage with authentic language experiences.

‘For many … the aspiration to encounter “real” English served as a powerful motivator, leading them to actively seek opportunities to engage with authentic language experiences.’

In their pursuit of becoming ELTs, immigrant teachers often embarked on higher education journeys in their home countries, aligning their value-based aspirations with emerging professional identities (Tomlinson, 2008). Whether inspired by nurturing teachers or influenced by unique life experiences, their educational paths inevitably converged with their aspiration to become ELTs. Their experiences significantly differ though before and after migrating to Australia (Nigar et al., 2023c). Initially, they secured teaching positions in their home countries or non-native English-speaking contexts, which brought personal fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. However, upon migrating to Australia, they continued their personal and professional developments, pursuing further education and actively seeking English Language Teaching (ELT) roles while navigating the intricate web of professional binaries within the field. Their motivation stemmed from a strong desire to redefine their professional identity as ‘hybrid professionals’ and envision themselves as cosmopolitan educators, breaking free from the limiting native versus non-native binary (Nigar et al., 2023c). Immigrant teachers’ personal attributes, including a lifelong connection to English language learning and teaching, empathy for English language learners, and a commitment to student empowerment and self-improvement, significantly influence their career decisions, and recognising these qualities in recruitment can enhance job satisfaction and dedication among the teaching workforce.

The narratives of immigrant teachers underscore the paramount importance of affect and the intricate interplay between affect and rationality in their decision-making processes (Nigar et al., 2023a). They reflect on how unconscious desires for English language learning and preconscious social beliefs have not only influenced their career choices but also shaped their unwavering commitment to the teaching profession. Recognising and nurturing the central role of affect in their career decisions becomes crucial to unlocking the potential of these passionate educators and addressing persistent teacher shortages. Fostering an environment that values their unique motivations and lived experiences over time is essential for cultivating a more diverse, dedicated and resilient teaching workforce capable of meeting the evolving demands of 21st-century education effectively.

In conclusion, the journey of immigrant teachers in English language teaching underscores the transformative power of passion, personal values and an embodied connection with language, highlighting the importance of embracing and supporting the affective dimension of their career choices for a brighter future in education.


Harris, C. L., Gleason, J. B., & Ayçiçegi, A. (2006). When is a first language more emotional? Psychophysiological evidence from bilingual speakers. In A. Pavlenko (Ed.), Languages and emotions of multilingual speakers (pp. 257–283). Multilingual Matters.

Nigar, N., Kostogriz, A., & Gurney, L. (2023a). Becoming an English language teacher over lines of desire: Stories of lived experiences. Australian Educational Researcher. Advance online publication.

Nigar, N., Mhilli, O., & Qu, J. (2023b, March 27). Trans-cultural respect literacy for teachers: A panacea for teacher shortage. Education Today.

Nigar, N., Kostogriz, A., Gurney, L., & Janfada, M. (2023c). ‘No one would give me that job in Australia’: When professional identities intersect with how teachers look, speak, and where they come from. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Advance online publication.

Tomlinson, M. (2008). ‘The degree is not enough’: Students’ perceptions of the role of higher education credentials for graduate work and employability. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(1), 49–61. 

Turner, M., & Lin, A. M. (2020). Translanguaging and named languages: Productive tension and desire. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(4), 423–433.