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