Warning! The following content might be harmful to sensitive audience.

Of disclaimers and keeping the peace in the classroom

This tagline became very much alive in my teaching experience. There are no boundaries in terms of what topics can arise during discussions in a language class.  If we have to inspire our students to be as imaginative and creative as possible especially with regard to creative writing, then it should not come s a surprise that they will touch on all issues in society.

Some students drew on their real life experiences when they wrote compositions. Given  the situation regarding HIV prevalence in Botswana (and the associated stigma) about a decade ago, certain topics such as death (especially related to HIV and AIDS),  divorce and poverty, sometimes attracted negative responses from some students and stirred up emotions. As I reflected after the lesson I figured out the topics hit a raw nerve among such students. There we go again. Drawing the line between sensitivity and glossing over issues was a challenge. Some students would come to me after the lesson and share their feelings regarding views raised during discussion, which implied that men are responsible for the spread of HIV and divorce or that poverty is a consequence of laziness. It got me wondering how the issues could have been discussed without someone feeling it rubbed them the wrong way. Another lesson. These issues exist, affect everyone and have to be dealt with. The challenge was how to discuss them with learners without inflicting pain.

Keep Calm! Keep Learning

I had to learn gender balanced words, use of the ‘we’ perspective as opposed to you or some people, as well as present issues with as much representation of diverse views as possible. Sometimes I even had to make disclaimers for other students’ views before the discussion even began.

At this point I am beginning to think it’s hard being a teacher… I have to be mindful of where my next step will land. There is never a time when I don’t have to critically figure out how to execute my next move. I came to the realization: “I have to keep learning?” The students I taught in my first year of teaching are going to hate me if they came to know that at the time when I taught them I did not know half the things I now know about teaching. Ironically at the time, I thought I knew it all.

I might have given this post the title ‘Things they did not teach you at teacher training institutions‘.

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