Confront the issues

We are busy people and there are times when we simply have no time or energy left to deal with every  problem in the class. Some problems seem too trivial. There are more important issues to deal with. Our time is precious. However, even the most unimportant problem can become enormous if it is neglected, if we don’t confront the issues straight away. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel, they say.

I’m teaching English to a class of very smart, grown-up students. The girls are quiet, hard-working and highly motivated and the boys are out-going, fun and witty. However, they sometimes try to be humorous at any cost. It has happened a couple of times in my class (and other classes too, as my colleagues have reported) that they made inappropriate, judgmental remarks concerning ethnic minorities. As every country in the world, we face certain social problems; the majority thinks that it’s their prerogative to judge the minorities, and the minorities inevitably try to defend themselves. This causes conflicts in the society and people are prejudiced even if they’ve never encountered any problems personally.

When the incident in the class happened for the first time, I wasn’t prepared; it was just an awkward comment after all. Only later did I realize what had really happened. I came to realize it at the moment when another student said something really nasty about an ethno-religious group that had suffered a lot in the past. It was supposed to entertain the class (and some did giggle) but what they said what not only immoral but also illegal; they are 18 years old and thus officially fully responsible for their deeds! This time I made it clear that it was totally unacceptable and I informed their class teacher.

Later, when we discussed history of the USA, I asked them to compare the social problems in the States with the problems we face in the Czech Republic. I wanted them to come up with similarities, differences, motives, consequences, etc. As they didn’t have much to say, I used the opportunity to teach them a lesson:
  1. Don’t judge if you don’t have enough information.
  2. You need to look back to understand the present.
  3. Every action has a reaction.
  4. Nothing is just black and white.
  5. You can hurt people unintentionally, so think twice before you make fun of someone.
  6. Destructive thinking patterns can quickly change into nasty deeds and one’s negativity can be contagious. So be careful what you think and say.

If we are prepared to confront the issues, we are prepared to face the reality. Nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes. Our students are not always as good as gold because they grow and learn. And their mistakes and falls help us grow as well. I’ve learned a lesson and I’m a little wiser; now I know how to react in a situation like the one I described above; I know I must be firm and consistent – intolerant of any behaviour that is unacceptable in modern society, however innocent it may look at first. 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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8 Responses to Confront the issues

  1. Theodora Pap says:

    I would say: Don't judge at all!!! Great post Hana! We all should keep in mind your advice!

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    You're right, Theodora. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. You just read my mind Theodora!! Do not judge at all Such an interesting reflection and testimony, Hana! Same thing here!!. It is a worldwide problem, Man cannot tolerate Man…too sad…but it is as you said, it can be prevented. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Fabiana. Your words are always a real comfort to me 🙂

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  5. Silvers says:

    A very wise article about an issue that I often find disturbing – thanks so much for your insights, Hana:))

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Wow, Sylvia. I didn't recognize you at first. A nice photo! 🙂 Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear that Fabiana, you and I (and many more) are on the same boat on this. However, it also makes me sad that we have to face problems like this in the classroom. But that's reality. Let's confront the issues!

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  7. Great lesson and very important to bring up. I remember also having teens say inappropriate things and feeling lost or uncomfortable in dealing with the situation. Like you said, though, it's very important we do this no matter how uncomfortable we are before it explodes into more.

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  8. Hana Tichá says:

    Thank you, Shelly. I can think of many examples from the past that illustrate how dangerous it is to ignore seemingly innocent signs of intolerance. So let's prevent history from repeating itself…

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