TESOL as a Way of Promoting Hope
Last fall was tough. For the past 2 years, we have been finding work-arounds for teaching during the COVID pandemic. Then in fall 2021, we thought the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be the biggest geopolitical quagmire in the regions affecting our students. Nope. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, devastating the families of our predominantly Ukrainian student body.But we stepped up. LCC International University received and offered thousands of dollars of financial aid; we offered love through food packages and housing for refugees. In the classrooms, we tried our best to support our students whose mother and sisters were now refugees and whose hometowns have been destroyed.Teaching is the nuanced interplay of the students, the context, the content, and the teacher. First, as English language teachers, we welcome students of all nationalities in our classrooms. Second, our world is more volatile and complex than ever before. How can our classrooms be safe places for our students to learn without ignoring the complex and uncertain contexts that encircle our lives?At LCC we explore this nuanced balance of providing a comfortable, yet challenging curriculum while not ignoring the fact that our students’ countries are literally at war. LCC hosts students from 60+ countries. We honor and respect each student’s culture, home and first language. However, the grim reality is that the current geopolitical situations have put our students and their families in very difficult situations including, the Yazidi genocide in northern Iraq, election protests in Belarus, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just to name a few.LCC strives to be an educational institution where students can come to learn in a supportive academic environment. But what exactly does that look like in the classroom?Start them young. Children are often the most empathetic and teachable when it comes to developing social skills for a civil society. Language lessons for fifth graders, for example, that include values clarification are powerful ways to help children develop cooperation skills, communication techniques, affirmative practices, and, eventually, conflict resolution.Bring the news into the classroom. Don’t ignore the war in Ukraine or the earthquake in Indonesia. Lesson plans that include the BBC One Minute world news promote listening skills combined with open conversations about current world events. Lesson plans that include thought-provoking ideas of income distribution, like Miniature Earth, foster empathy and tolerance. Lessons build on themes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Women of Courage awards help students to recognize good news events giving hope. There are many other English language teaching websites that promote using the news in language classrooms. As the teacher is sensitive to trigger topics, students can be supported in their language growth while not ignoring the volatile world outside the classroom.Create opportunities to practice resolving conflict. Dr. Lisa Gibson uses scenarios in her Conflict Transformation course for university students. Using a model of role play, Dr. Gibson sets the stage for her students to participate in resolving an imaginary tribal conflict. Students utilize all four language skills. They prepare for the lesson with background reading. As they enter the class, they are given roles to play; they must speak as a person directly involved in the conflict. They must listen to the other side; they develop empathetic listening skills as they learn another culture’s perspective on the same conflict. After the lesson, they debrief, write, and reflect on the often-messy results of solving conflicts. This active engagement at high levels of English language competency appropriately challenges university students who are speaking English as a second, third or fourth language, coming from a variety of countries themselves.We don’t have all the answers; often we muddle along from day to day just trying to do our best to deliver the content, grade papers, and manage administrative tasks. But we can share what we have learned in our unique multicultural setting. Working to promote peace is challenging but language classrooms are wonderful places to begin.Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.