Confront the issues

We are busy people and there are times when we simply have no time or energy left to deal with every  problem in the class. Some problems seem too trivial. There are more important issues to deal with. Our time is precious. However, even the most unimportant problem can become enormous if it is neglected, if we don't confront the issues straight away. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel, they say.

I'm teaching English to a class of very smart, grown-up students. The girls are quiet, hard-working and highly motivated and the boys are out-going, fun and witty. However, they sometimes try to be humorous at any cost. It has happened a couple of times in my class (and other classes too, as my colleagues have reported) that they made inappropriate, judgmental remarks concerning ethnic minorities. As every country in the world, we face certain social problems; the majority thinks that it's their prerogative to judge the minorities, and the minorities inevitably try to defend themselves. This causes conflicts in the society and people are prejudiced even if they've never encountered any problems personally.

When the incident in the class happened for the first time, I wasn't prepared; it was just an awkward comment after all. Only later did I realize what had really happened. I came to realize it at the moment when another student said something really nasty about an ethno-religious group that had suffered a lot in the past. It was supposed to entertain the class (and some did giggle) but what they said what not only immoral but also illegal; they are 18 years old and thus officially fully responsible for their deeds! This time I made it clear that it was totally unacceptable and I informed their class teacher.

Later, when we discussed history of the USA, I asked them to compare the social problems in the States with the problems we face in the Czech Republic. I wanted them to come up with similarities, differences, motives, consequences, etc. As they didn't have much to say, I used the opportunity to teach them a lesson:
  1. Don't judge if you don't have enough information.
  2. You need to look back to understand the present.
  3. Every action has a reaction.
  4. Nothing is just black and white.
  5. You can hurt people unintentionally, so think twice before you make fun of someone.
  6. Destructive thinking patterns can quickly change into nasty deeds and one's negativity can be contagious. So be careful what you think and say.
If we are prepared to confront the issues, we are prepared to face the reality. Nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes. Our students are not always as good as gold because they grow and learn. And their mistakes and falls help us grow as well. I've learned a lesson and I'm a little wiser; now I know how to react in a situation like the one I described above; I know I must be firm and consistent - intolerant of any behaviour that is unacceptable in modern society, however innocent it may look at first.