1. Dress right.
and just-out-of-bed hair may be okay for teachers in the U.S., but in
many parts of the world, a neat appearance counts far more than
credentials. In Korea dark clothes lend an air of authority. Red is to
be avoided at all costs. In Morocco female teachers don’t wear pants,
sleeveless blouses, or short skirts. 2. Behave appropriately.
When Judith Johnson asked 250 students at the Sichuan Institute of
Foreign Languages in China what they liked and disliked about native
speaker English teachers, the students’ main gripe was the informality
of foreign teachers, who often seem to undermine their own authority by
acting in undignified ways. In the U.S. teachers go on a first-name
basis with students, sit on their desks, sip coffee, and even bounce off
the walls without causing student discomfort or losing prestige. But
these behaviors don’t export well. 3. Don’t worry if students seem unresponsive at first.
Americans are used to participatory classrooms with plenty of
teacher-student dialogue. Elsewhere, students are often trained to be
silent, good listeners, and memorizers. In my classes in Poland, the
Balkans, and Mongolia, students wore impassive classroom masks the first
few weeks of class. It’s disconcerting to stand in front of a sea of
blank faces, but expecting it reduces the shock. Introduce new concepts,
such as discussion and role-play gradually. You’ll be surprised at how
students will come to embrace the change. 4. Choose topics carefully
In the 1980s in totalitarian Yugoslavia I made the mistake of asking
students to debate the pros and cons of capital punishment. A painful
silence fell over the room. What discussion was possible, someone
pointed out to me later, when the government’s position was clear? There
are still many countries in the world where people are hesitant to
voice opinions because of a fear of reprisal. If you’re conducting a
classroom debate, remember that there’s a distaste for Western-style
argumentation in Middle-Eastern societies, and in Japan it’s offensive
for an individual to urge others to accept his opinion.
Certain topics may be taboo for
cultural reasons: Most Americans don’t want to discuss their salaries or
religious beliefs; Japanese may be disinclined to talk about their
inner feelings; the French think questions about their family life are
rude. 5. Don’t ask, “Do you understand?”
China and Japan, students will nod yes, even if they’re totally lost,
in an attempt to save face for the teacher. Even in a country as far
west as Turkey, yes often means no.
Nor should you expect students to
ask questions in class if they don’t understand something. A former
student of mine told me: “In China, a student who asks questions is
considered a pain in the neck.” Check understanding by asking students
to paraphrase or write questions they have in groups. 6. Avoid singling students out.
Our society fosters a competitive individualism which is clearly
manifested in our classrooms. American students are not shy about
displaying their knowledge. In classrooms outside the U.S., however,
showing solidarity with classmates and conforming to the status quo is
often more important than looking good for the teacher. In Turkey and
Montenegro students told me they disliked volunteering answers too often
because it made them look like show-offs and attracted the evil eye of
envy. This holds true in Japan and China, too, where proverbs express
the cultural idea in a nutshell: “The clever hawk hides its claws” and
“The nail that stands up must be pounded down.”
If you want to play a game, make
the competition among groups rather than among individuals. If you need
to discipline a student, do so in private. 7. Be aware of cross-cultural communication styles.
French students appreciate wit. Venezuelan students like boisterous
rapid-fire exchanges. In Japan, where debate is not as valued as in the
U.S., students appreciate long pauses in discussions and silent “think
time” after you ask a question. “Hollow drums make the most noise” goes a
Japanese proverb, and Japanese students are uncomfortable blurting out
the first thing that comes to mind. American teachers, who are
uncomfortable with silence, tend to anticipate the student’s words or
repeat their original question—both irritating interruptions for the
Japanese student. 8. Present a rationale for what you do in class.
Your pedagogy is going to be very different from what students are used
to. They’ll conform much more eagerly to new classroom content and
procedures if they understand the benefits. 9. Expect the best of your students.
They’ll be serious about learning English because their economic advancement often depends upon mastering it. 10. Relax and enjoy yourself.
Happiness in the classroom is contagious.