Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meeting the TESOL participants

I actually got out of the house today! And before lunchtime!

I went to visit my trainer from my TESOL certification program that I completed in August. I got there in time to meet the current trainees before they went to lunch. On the way over, I had practiced giving "expert" answers to questions about teaching ESOL. I had been practicing in my head.

Unfortunately, they did not ask the questions I was expecting! Someone asked "Why Russia?" which gave me an opportunity to go back to the summer camp days and do a brief summary.

The trainer asked what paid jobs for foreigners can be found in Russia, other than teaching English. I drew a complete blank and started babbling about "90 days" and "visas." So much for encouraging future travelers!

Then a girl asked if having the certificate had opened up career opportunities for me. I didn't mention that no one has asked to see my certificate yet, but I said that it opened up more professional positions as opposed to just tutoring or volunteering. And I mentioned that the certification provided good classroom preparation, above all.

The class was finishing up the "Cultural Awareness" module, and I observed for the last half-hour. They watched a video clip that I had seen. I can't seem to find where I blogged about it in the summer, if at all , but it portrayed the conversational styles of different cultures, comparing them with bowling, basketball, and rugby. I'm not going to comment on which sport corresponds to which culture. You can make your guesses. :)

Some of the women (the class was all females) seemed actually shocked at the suggestion of labeling people this way. They called it stereotyping, even racism. Many of them appeared to be young, liberal college students, and I imagine quite concerned about being politically correct. I do understand how wrong it sounds to say that "_________ are timid" and "____________ are always interrupting." But when you see it in action and aren't used to it, it helps you observe what is normal and abnormal behavior for someone from a certain culture group. And, as the trainer pointed out, it helps with classroom management to be able to observe which cultural groups are more or less outspoken. But she was very diplomatic and explained that of course there were other factors, such as gender, personality, etc.

I walked home along the college campus and enjoyed catching glimpses of student life: the campus "grunge" style with sweatpants tucked into boots; the practical jokes such as a snow fort labeled as a dormitory annex. Stereotypes help things make sense, sometimes.


  1. I agree with you about stereotypes. They can be helpful - and after all, if there wasn't some truth in them, they wouldn't "stick"! I have to guess that Russians are like rugby. I really don't know rugby, but think of it as a bit aggressive - and I was frequently surprised by the aggressive tone of Russian conversation!

  2. Well, I do have to say that the video used in the class was not very culturally sensitive. For some reason the U.S. appeared in the "moderate" group, which made it seem like we're the standard and other cultures are either too aggressive or too timid. Yet it opens up interesting truths. I wonder how to describe the conversational styles without offending anyone? My students have all been Russian, so I haven't had to do cultural awareness as far as them getting along with each other.


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