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.

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