Regarding the linguistic standards for teachers in England and Wales, the Teachers’ Standards specify only the need for teachers to use, and promote, Standard English. Standard English can be spoken in any accent of course and the Teachers’ Standards do not make any reference to accent, outside perhaps of the quite ill-defined word articulacy. However, who decides what is, or is not, an ‘articulate’ accent? Going further, it is well known that certain British accents are heavily stigmatised (see Coupland and Bishop, 2007) and from this starting point, my research seeks to discover what the implications are for trainee teachers with such accents. Does the construction of a professional teacher identity mean that certain teachers need to modify their accent to create an identity that mentors regard as ‘linguistically professional’?
To address such questions I obtained the views of 41 British and Irish teachers, consisting of 14 established teachers and 27 trainees. The results show that it is mainly teachers from the North and Midlands who are told to modify their accents, even for those who plan to teach in their home region. Teachers from the South generally do not receive such linguistic directives. From the mentors’ point of view, it is the need to be understood that is their collective rationale for accent modification. From the teachers’ point of view, it is based more on linguistic preference, if not prejudice, leaving some teachers feeling like linguistic sell-outs when adjusting their accents to meet someone else’s standards; indeed, sometimes our language use does not belong to us in the first instance.
Consider a Midlands teacher who teaches in the South and was told that it would be ‘best to go back to where you come from’ if she could not adopt Southern pronunciation in words such as bath and bus. Clearly, accent is not one size fits all, and based on the discussion with teachers, some feel that the linguistic diversity that exists outside the school gates is not being reflected inside the classroom.
Ultimately, my research seeks to contribute three new points of discussion:
• Clarification of what it means from a purely phonological point of view to have a regional accent deemed as ‘broad’, ‘generic’ or ‘neutral’, with a suggested ‘mid-accent’ being the de facto standard in teacher training
• The clash between one’s personal and professional linguistic identities, and the potential for professional identities to sometimes be perceived as fraudulent
• Finally, I propose that a discussion should take place between teachers and mentors, in order to determine if indeed accent should be addressed as part of the Teachers’ Standards, considering it is already a topic of discussion in training