by Jonathan Last @JonathanLast1
Author of Teaching English with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline
Teaching English has many variables. These include the type of institution that employs you; whether you’re working in your home nation or abroad; if you’re teaching adults or children; and your learners’ motivation. One thing that will certainly never be the same twice is your students.
If you’re living in another country, the students are likely to be mostly, if not all, indigenous – you would certainly expect this to be the case in Asian nations such as China, Japan and Korea. This uniformity will, of course, still throw in a range of personalities and combinations of characters.
But if you are teaching to a multicultural classroom – something more than likely in London – then you will face an additional challenge unique to environments that bring together people from a diverse cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.
At one of my teaching jobs in London, I had a lot of Muslim students, mostly from Turkey and Bangladesh. The Turkish students were ‘moderate’ Muslims and often came into conflict with the Bangladeshi learners, who were more devout. Tensions could simmer – the Bangladeshis sometimes criticised the Turks for not being ‘real’ Muslims; in turn, some of the Turks would defiantly antagonise their classmates by talking about their weekend’s drinking exploits.
In a situation such as this, your relationship with the students is paramount to easing any tension. The key word is ‘respect’. You don’t want to chastise your learners like children (even if adults can act just as childish at times!), but it’s clear to spell out that everyone in the microcosmic community of your classroom is treated equally.
Setting a good example
So be sure to set a good example. It’s natural to have favourites in the class – maybe it’s the really outspoken, funny student, maybe it’s the considerate one who always helps out her classmates when they are struggling. But you must make sure you treat your students equally, bestowing an equal amount of attention on each individual, as well as distributing praise and scorn evenly. If your learners see that you don’t treat people equally, then where is the incentive for them to do so?
Your individual personality plays a key part. Obviously something that one person is comfortable with will not be suitable for another – I clown around and play the fool a fair bit in my classroom to keep the atmosphere light, but this may not suit you. However, I do believe that when you teach you take on a role, and so there are certain attributes that you can bring to the fore – and as in any working environment, fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and regard for each other is essential.
Jonathan Last’s hilarious autobiographical novel “Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline” can be downloaded to PC, smart phone and various e-book readers, such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook.
You can watch a video interview of Jonathan talking about the book on his blog.
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