Hi. Over the last few years, a certain change has been occurring in my belief system, not so much a complete overhaul, but more of an awakening of my ownership of attitudes and actions regarding social issues, and resulting urge to further explore how they impact my pedagogical choices. I’m cross-posting this first post from a new blog, Purple, that I’ve started to work through these changes. Since it won’t always be related to ELT, I won’t share everything here, but particular posts like this one. Much will likely be related to LGBTQ+, but also other social -isms, as that’s where my head is at the moment, thanks to the social climate we live in and my awareness of responsibilities within it. If anything strikes a chord, your perspective is wholly welcomed. You can find the original here.
As an ELTer, I’ve never subscribed to the idea that the ELT classroom should be devoid of engagement in social issues nor that we as teachers are meant to act solely as language-checking gurus following a sanitised beige syllabus.
Instead, ELT can be an ideal space for topics relevant to the societies in which we live and learn, to be used as a device for meaningful content and embedded and emergent language for a few reasons: first, we are fortunate to not often be tied to one particular discipline (e.g. Life Sciences or Mathematics) so we have the luxury of addressing different topics with one group of learners; second, multiple cultures often comprise the student body and even if homogeneous, language itself is inextricably tied to identity and at least awareness of the social issues involved with it; additionally, while there is a time and place for focus on task-based functional language (e.g. navigating through public transit or getting groceries), most learners I have taught with a foundation of English to express themselves seem to be interested in discussing topics that involve the societies around them, and further invested using language to do so. I suggest this not because there aren’t learners (or teachers) who solely wish to remain within the more lighthearted end of the topical spectrum, but that the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions haven’t been because of them. Plus, frankly, it’s more interesting.
I also believe that it is part of our professional mandate to use the ELT classroom as a testing ground for learners to differentiate appropriate from inappropriate language by context as well as to work towards a global citizenship. After all, much of our student body tends to be those who migrate or wish to migrate (at least temporarily) outside of their backyards and interact with others in a variety of societies.
While discussing social issues has been constant for me as a teacher (and more broadly as a member of society), most recently in my 40s, I have begun to reevaluate my attitudes towards myself within the LGBTQ+ community, my awareness of systemic and personal racism, my understanding of sexism and feminism, and how these comprise who I have been and contribute to who I want to be. This reevaluation spills over into my identity as an ELTer, my classroom approaches, and my interactions with learners. I’m not at the beginning of this personal and professional reevaluation, but somewhere in the middle. Where exactly? I’m not sure where or if there is an end.
I’ve decided to explore this middleness here since I prefer not to exist in a silo. I value writing as it helps me untwist my own blurry thoughts, but also my broader community as others push me to come to conclusions by acknowledging contexts outside my own. Having said this, a few questions I aim to explore within lifespan of this blog, some personal, some professional:
- Are all social issues appropriate for all contexts? If so or if not, how do we include them appropriately?
- Where do I fall on the ‘woke’ spectrum? What places me there? Where do I want to be?
- Do I authentically own my role in the communities that comprise my identity?
- To what degree am I a model for others (i.e. students, other teachers) and need I be beyond domain expertise? Is all this part of domain expertise?
I’m sure there will be a plethora of tangents that stem from these points and that I’ll go off from them on enormous asides. Many posts will likely spill over to ELT, while several others may simply stay within the scope of my own identity. Either way, I welcome you to be a part of this.
Until next time, I might offer a few accessible places to explore, most of which I’ll likely refer to again:
- Joshua Paiz – ALx Lavender: Exploring queer language learning, teaching, and policy
- Russ Mayne – Politics and English language teaching
- Various authors – PARSNIPS in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol 1,2,3)
- Steve Brown – Exploring ELT as emancipatory practice
- Divya Madhavan – Passport control
- CBC, Desmond Cole – The Skin We’re In
It’s been a little while without a post… I’m sorry to myself most of all because writing for 4CinELT merges two important practices for me: academic writing for a wider audience and reflective writing. I need both of these to keep going for my own growth and mental health, frankly. I’m slowly working on a post about my teacher talking time, another about the impact of connecting with learners over the course of a 24-week program, and finally a third regarding professional decisions that can significantly change identity.
Having said this, worthy things have diverted my attention and I’d like to share them because they contribute to these two practices in their own ways. Perhaps one will resonate.
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A holiday break for me tends to come with a mixture of unwinding from a demanding term, but also an opportunity to reflect on ELT issues over the past year that have come up. Some of these I’ve just pushed off because of lack of time or desire to bother getting involved in. Others I’ve partly joined a discussion but just gave up because of discourse involved (sometimes platform on which the discussion started). Still there are others that I’ve thought and written about fairly extensively, but begin to reevaluate my position on. These are some thoughts/questions swirling in my head:
- Is copyright when sharing resources with other teachers a primary concern?
- Do I read past the bold and dig into the content before I share?
- Should knowledge be completely open access for everyone?
- Do I adequately support those who fight for better conditions?
- How effectively do I encourage diversity and representation?
- Do I interact in discussion online appropriately and fairly?
- What are my new professional and personal goals?
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