Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Open-mindedness, Tolerance, and Respect for Diversity

Yesterday I was confronted a very uncomfortable situation in my classroom.

I had students making xenophobic, insensitive, and ill-informed comments about people from other cultures.

Following a particularly offensive outburst from one student, I dismissed the class early. Tears welling up, I asked the lingering students to leave and get my teacher friends. I needed emotional support. I filed a report detailing the events and my supervisor has commended me for how I handled the situation. 

Following the incident, I have been reflecting deeply about my teaching philosophy and my personal philosophy as Jena Lynch. Being open-minded, tolerant, and respectful are at the core of who I am, and they are at the core of why I am a teacher. I have chosen a career that puts me in direct contact with people from hugely diverse backgrounds. I love learning about other cultures and people's experiences. Building relationships with people from other countries makes me feel like I have a place in the world. I feel most alive when I connect with someone who speaks a different language, who has a different background, or who is simply curious about the world we live in.

My philosophy has no place for hatred based on ignorance, closed mindedness, or lack of respect for humankind. My students' comments yesterday deeply hurt my feelings as a foreigner living in Turkey. Even though the comments were not about my country, the fact that my students were openly so disrespectful and hurtful was appalling to me.

Granted, at 19-years-old, many people aren't making their best decisions or saying the most intelligent things, but there is no excuse for the kind of behavior I witnessed. 

This incident brings me to the question: to what extent is it my job to teach tolerance in my language classroom? I get into the deepest muck when I question whether my values are somehow inherently right or better than those that my students portrayed. 

In the 21st century language classroom, I think my values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and respect for diversity are dead on. I think that part of teaching English as an international language is teaching respect, curiosity, and tolerance. People who interact with others must understand the impact of everything they say and do as a direct reflection of themselves, their country, and possibly even larger organized groups, like religious affiliations. I stuck to my belief yesterday that there is no place for hateful and ignorant speech in any classroom. 

If those students learn nothing from me about vocabulary or grammar, I hope they remember me as the teacher who could not tolerate a student's offensive comments about Iraqi people. That's a reputation I could live with.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Quarter 3 Highlights

Quarter three at Melik┼čah prep school tested my endurance. I had 5 different classes of students, each with 20 names and faces to remember. I'm sure many teachers out there are saying, "Yes, and...?"

I can appreciate the challenges of teachers of large classes and teachers with 100s of students to manage. I did manage to learn each student's name within the first 2 weeks, even with three Dilara's in one section.

Current ESL/EFL methodology encourages a communicative approach in which the learner is the center of the classroom. In my philosophy, this manifests as me trying to get to know each student, and tailoring my classroom activities to fit the class's personality. In fact, I often have particular students in mind when I create activities. I think the personalized attention I put into materials development is one reason that students respond to my lessons. As an example, one of my classes during the last quarter was super chatty. They also liked to talk about each other and give each other a hard time (in a joking way). I capitalized on this tendency to teach qualifier + comparative structures--For example, ______ is a lot taller than ______.  I created 7 sentence frames following the example pattern, but with different adjectives and the option to replace "a lot" with "a little." Students filled in the blanks with their classmates' names, and then we read them out loud. The sentences were often funny, and because students were talking about each other, they had real motivation to listen. The speakers also had great motivation to use correct grammar, because a correct "insult"has more impact than an incorrect one. We had a lot of fun with that activity!

The past quarter had some challenges reminiscent of the struggles I endured during my first weeks at this program. Among the most challenging aspects for me is getting students to be quiet and pay attention, especially following group work. Switching the lights on and off, clapping, and even using my lifeguard voice barely had an impact. In a short class period with lots to cover, the time lost trying to get students back to attention really adds up.

Despite some of the ongoing classroom management issues, I found success in vocabulary instruction with the help of PowerPoint and Google images. For each set of new vocabulary, I made a PowerPoint slideshow in which the first slide had an image related to one of the new words and the following slide had the picture and a meaningful sentence including the new word. I found that the pictures helped students recall the words, and the sentences helped reinforce how to use the word correctly. We reviewed these shows at the beginning of nearly ever class hour, and I felt that students were able to bring these words into their productive vocabulary more quickly due to the repetition. In addition, I printed the pictures and sentences on separate papers and then gave each student either a sentence or a picture. Working with their classmates, they had to find the appropriate matches and sit together. I found this to be an effective get-out-of-your-seat activity to introduce the new vocabulary in a communicative way. Students were mostly able to find the matches on their own, which I assume is more valuable to learning than simply absorbing the teacher's explanation passively.

Overall, a successful quarter, even if I did often feel zapped for energy. I blame that on the springtime weather tease: warm and sunny followed by snowstorm and wind.