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To be getting really fed up with my students' racism/sexism etc.

(88 Posts)
yellowraincoat Wed 19-Oct-11 00:23:42

I work in adult education, teaching English as a foreign language. Sometimes I love it, but recently I've started really really hating it.

One of the main problems is that a large number of my students say racist, sexist, homophobic things and I never know how to handle it. Sometimes, when they say something overtly racist, it's easy to know what to say, but it's so insidious that a lot of the time, I'm completely flummoxed and just let it lie because I feel it's not my job to educate them in being reasonable human beings.

An example from today: "I saw an Indian guy on the tube today beat his wife. He wasn't poor-looking, he was well-dressed".

For a start, I can almost guarantee the guy wasn't Indian, but probably Pakistani or Bangladeshi - for another, it's totally irrelevant to the story what nationality he was. But in my class, no matter how often I tell them, they say "Indian" for all countries in South Asia and "Chinese" for all countries in East/SE Asia.

For another thing, the idea that poor people are violent really annoyed me.

Almost every day, I get comments about gay people. "Oh I hate going out in Soho, it's full of gays."

But it doesn't seem to matter how often we have the discussion ("how do you feel when people think people from your country are all the same?" and so on) they will come out with something the next day or week. Then in 2 months I'll have new students and they'll start the same process all over again.

I need a new job.

TheBestWitch Wed 19-Oct-11 00:58:24

I think you just have to keep your professional head on. You don't have to be friends with these people you just have to do your job. Disagree with them by all means but, as you've discovered, you're unlikely to change their views.

HauntedHengshanRoad Wed 19-Oct-11 01:08:56


There's just no convincing some people, no matter how hard you try to talk some sense into them.

MrsTerryPratchett Wed 19-Oct-11 01:50:22

I think it is your job to explain culture as part of your TEFL classes. As well as just challenging it (which is great) it is also possible to explain that homophobia is much less acceptable here than in some other places and that, just like spitting or similar, it may be judged harshly. Particularly important if they are looking for work.

Yes, good point, Mrs Pratchett

Where are your students from, OP? In some countries - like where I'm living now - homosexuality is illegal, and there is a lot of entrenched racism and sexism (some of it enshrined in law). All I'm really saying is that your students might well have a completely different background. Doesn't make them right of course. Scope for lots of explanations in your lessons. Draining for you though.

EllaDee Wed 19-Oct-11 11:22:35

Can you send an email round to the whole class (ie., not a personal comment)? I agree about the cultural issue, but that is tricky because of course, you'd not be surprised to hear teenagers in the UK talking about 'gays' in SOHO in that way. sad

If you send an email at the beginning of the course with the admin-type info in it, you could include a quick 'Please be aware that our classes must be a safe space for all and racism, sexism, homophobia and personal remarks will not be tolerated.' Then you can refer them back to that when they make any comment you think might be out of line.

EllaDee Wed 19-Oct-11 11:24:08

The thing is, this is your workplace. You do have a right not to hear things like this.

FunnyHaHaPeculiar Wed 19-Oct-11 11:32:19


FunnyHaHaPeculiar Wed 19-Oct-11 11:33:49

none of that sounds remotely offensive, or intending to offend to me

plupervert Wed 19-Oct-11 11:39:33

Excellent point, MrsTerryPratchett.

ninjasquirrel Wed 19-Oct-11 11:41:03

"Oh I hate going out in Soho, it's full of gays."

Not remotely offensive, FunnyHaHa?

AKMD Wed 19-Oct-11 11:44:55

What MrsTeeryPratchett said. The UK is remarkable for its intolerance of 'isms'. It is very unlikely that your students think they are being offensive.

KRITIQ Wed 19-Oct-11 11:47:25

No, you shouldn't have to accept these comments in your workplace and yes, part of teaching English should be introducing cultural aspects with it. Have you talked to any other colleagues about how they handle it?

gallicgirl Wed 19-Oct-11 12:06:35

I used to TEFL and I think it's as much about teaching British culture as it is about teaching English language.

I remember one teen from South America pulling up the corners of her eyes to describe who her English teacher was - a lovely Liverpool lass of Chinese origin. It turns out she didn't know the word and a gentle "that's not nice here" was enough.

It sounds like your students have quite reasonable language skills so maybe you could involve tolerance into your lesson plans in some way. I know it must be demoralising when it's continuous but if just one student walks away from your class with a better outlook, then surely the effort is worth it?

Do you have a section at the beginning of each new intake where you talk about rules? Maybe you could use that section to say what's acceptable or not.

Oh, and I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to describe people from the Indian subcontinent as "Indian" or "Chinese" for people from South-East Asia. I'd have a hard job recognising a Taiwanese from a Vietnamese person or a Bangladeshi from an Afghan. I'm happy to be educated though if there's a better word.

minimisschief Wed 19-Oct-11 12:46:46

"Oh I hate going out in Soho, it's full of gays."
Not remotely offensive, FunnyHaHa?

i wouldn't call something like this offensive. they were talking to each other not openly harassing someone who is gay. They do not like gay people and they do not have to.

just because society has deemed it highly offensive to not act racist/homophobic does not for one second mean that everyone will be on board. prejudice is everywhere and it is not a rule you have to like certain groups of people.

they can say what they like in private and they can think what they like but if they start attacking people verbally or physically then that is where they are in the wrong.

grovel Wed 19-Oct-11 12:51:54

What do you expect, OP?
You're teaching bloody foreigners. They're all the same.

Blu Wed 19-Oct-11 12:59:18

Have you discussed this with your Head of Dept?
With TerryPratchett's points on mind I thikyou should bring this up and see if a strategy can be agreed on. You need to have your HoD's agreement and support, though.

My organisation works with young refugees supporting their inetgration as London teens, and we come across this all the time because of the various cultural and religious backgorunds. It's easier with them because they are of school age (so do as they are told wink) and because it is easy to explain experiences of opression and intolerance which they all recognise and wish to be free from. But we do make non-discriminatory behaviour and language a ground rule, and explain that it is for all thier benefit, inside and beyond the group. And we have to be very direct in spelling it out - and continue to offer guidance.

AKMD Wed 19-Oct-11 12:59:34

I take it grovel wasn't being entirely serious...

grovel Wed 19-Oct-11 13:08:06


Why on earth would you think that? wink

VictorGollancz Wed 19-Oct-11 13:35:34

But they're not in private, MiniMischief. They're in a place of work and learning. The OP has a right not to hear this sort of stuff; she also has a duty not to be the figure of authority that condones such speech.

OP, it's your classroom, your rules. Point out that what they're saying is offensive in this country. Think of it this way: they aren't always in a nice safe classroom and if they really, truly, don't realise what they're saying or doing, you could be saving them from a smack in the mouth!

Snowsquonk Wed 19-Oct-11 14:01:44

You need to be assertive - I have found the following phrase useful:

"...can I just stop you there? I find comments like that offensive, but to be fair to you, you weren't to know that"

you are saying how you feel, raising their awareness that other people may find what they are saying offensive but also avoiding any blame - they were not to know that you might find something offensive, but now they do. So they may then moderate their behaviour. If they don't then "I've said before that I find comments like that offensive, please don't talk like that again in my classroom"

TheSmallClanger Wed 19-Oct-11 14:16:53

This was another reason I left the adult education profession.

I found that the only effective approach was coming down on it hard. A simple "that is offensive. I will not have that kind of talk in my classroom" made a decent first warning.

If it gets really out of hand, and they refuse to modify their speech, your college should have a disciplinary procedure. Normally it is fairly toothless in practice, but it makes an effective threat.

MrsBethel Wed 19-Oct-11 14:38:07

"I saw an Indian guy on the tube today beat his wife. He wasn't poor-looking, he was well-dressed".

I don't think that's offensive. It's just what the person saw.

The gay thing is offensive, though.

yellowraincoat Thu 20-Oct-11 00:09:41

Have been reading all your comments and will come back to this, feeling a little brought down by the whole situation tbh!

Thanks for your insights

MillyR Thu 20-Oct-11 00:35:17

I would not claim in any way to be an expert on this, but is it not the case that if an employee heard such comments in the workplace, the employer would be liable in a tribunal, not the person who made the remarks?

Is it not the case also in education? If students make remarks like that in a classroom, and there is not a procedure in place for dealing with such remarks, and the remarks distress another student in the room (a gay student for example), wouldn't that student have a legal case against your college?

I would think that for that reason alone the college would have a policy in place for dealing with such remarks.

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