26 Oct 2008

Being Yourself

It’s usually a quick one hour lecture out of the hundreds budding teachers endure. Um, I mean enjoy. The lecture is a platform for rule-setting – for the teachers, that is. Don’t do this. Don’t say this. Don’t wear this. Sometimes Power Point images of stick figures with low-cut blouses and g-string underwear are involved. A few giggles. A few women (and the men beside them) quickly glance down their necklines to make sure they are “classroom-worthy”. Giggles and surreptitious looks aside, there is always a serious undertone and understanding that, particularly in the hyper-culturally-sensitive environment of an ESL classroom, PROFESSIONALISM is the word of the day. However, while professional dress codes may seem, ahem, clear cut, professional conduct falls under a far more arbitrary umbrella.

Let’s face it, only in the last decade or so have TESL/TEFL and TESOL (Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) members and institutions acquired any semblance of academic or “official” recognition as true educators. There are still locales that will take any EFL teacher, biology degree and all, but for the most part, we’re finally bona fide! That said, there is a grand grey area where professional boundaries are concerned.

Student-teacher relations, for example, and particularly those in an adult learning environment, may be bound by a strict zero-contact policy. Yet, just as likely, some institutions may encourage extra-curricular involvement such as pub trips, potluck parties, and sports activities. Regardless of the “rules”, most adults are aware of what crosses the ever-shifting line and behave accordingly. But what about what teachers believe? What about what teachers say about their beliefs in the classroom?

Oh sure, we teach all “the skills”: grammar, listening, reading, writing, etc…but in what context, under which cultural or political influence? Well, SURPRISE! Our own. Just as writers write what they know best, teachers teach from their own experience. What else would we do? Ironically, teachers are often considered community leaders, wise and influential, yet we are cautioned in our initial training and further PD to be culturally, politically, every-ally neutral in the name of professionalism. In some cases, it seems teachers are trusted only to regurgitate the curriculum, not truly educate from a position of knowledge and experience.

I certainly agree that in order to be respectful to all students and colleagues, one should be thoughtful and diplomatic when expressing personal opinions but I believe it imperative that teachers show their true colours. Recall your favourite or most influential teacher. Unbiased, dispassionate, and predictable are likely not the words that best describe your memories. An impartial, “neutral” educator is not the stuff from which inspiration blossoms. Share your passions. Be yourself. Wear full-bottomed underwear. The learning and growing will follow.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely!

    It behooves us to engage our students, ask questions, and share our insights and perceptions. Free speech does not mean no speech, and we can demonstrate our committment to democratic values by creating an open, tolerant, and lively classroom where people learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Adult students, especially ones coming from closed societies, often marvel at how one can both hold strong opinions and respect people who completely opposite ones.