a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
This is my first time living and working in a Muslim country. I have always lived around Muslim communities, but never in a Muslim country. I knew before I arrived that there were going to be cultural considerations (and possibly even culture clashes between my belief system and that of others, which is fine), but I definitely had not fully comprehended the full extent of culture.
Culture is a difficult concept to define but it permeates every aspect of life. Living here it is blatantly obvious immediately that there are cultural considerations you need to be aware of – dressing modestly, not eating in public during Ramadan, not swearing – but often we forget that the classroom is an extension of the outside world. To us it seems like the classroom is our own little bubble.
Then you open up the coursebook and realise just how much content cannot actually be used. The usual coursebook suspects for adults are Cutting Edge, New English File, Total English and the other similar ones. For the most part, they are great. In this particular school we are using Cutting Edge, which I’ve used so many times it’s quick and easy to come up with lessons, possibly supplementing with materials from some other well-known photocopiables. Turns out it’s not so easy.
Open up to any page of Cutting Edge (and I’m not picking on Cutting Edge; my point is this is true for most Western EFL coursebooks) and you will most likely find a reference to having a drink, glasses of wine, boyfriends, girlfriends or possibly even kissing or cheating. All of these are no-go’s in our classrooms here, which means that whatever I want to use I have to check it first and censor the inappropriate content. Sometimes this can mean abandoning an activity or worksheet altogether. This might seem trivial and funny, but the consequences can be quite hectic: a few years back a teacher read a version of Romeo and Juliet with her students and used a worksheet which included a cartoon of Romeo kissing Juliet on the cheek. There was almost a diplomatic incident.
Now, this is not a comment on the community in which I am living. Rather, this is an issue I hope someone will deal with soon. Why are there not more coursebooks which are locally relevant and appropriate? Why are we dominated by coursebooks written by Europeans and Americans and largely focussed on a Western lifestyle. I’m not only referring to possibly controversial issues like drinking or cheating, but even the use of celebrities like Britney Spears or Princess Diana can be completely foreign to non-Western audiences. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t our learners mostly from non-Western countries? Even in South Africa I felt that certain aspects of the coursebooks could be made so much more interesting and appropriate if we changed the focus to people and issues more relevant to the African context.
I know somebody will probably give me a publishing reason why this is the current sorry state of affairs, but I don’t have time for that. What I do have time for is teachers who make their own materials which are better suited for their local classroom, wherever you may be. I have a few ideas up my South African sleeve, and I hope that others are thinking along similar lines too.