It’s past midnight on July 8th ( now, the 9th) and I’m writing this blogpost to blow off some steam from this very emotional day. I attended the fantastic BRAZ-TESOL SIG Symposium that took place in São Paulo ( I love this city, mind) on July 7th and 8th. So many phenomenal professionals to see and knowledge to share 🙂
I delivered my first ever plenary talk which was titled “let’s get uncomfortable” and I indeed walked the talk. It was all about the discomfort feeling that teachers and students usually experience when discussing gender issues in the classroom.
I’ll need a new post to talk about the plenaries and talks which I attend – I’m actually writing this to share my impressions about my own plenary.
Good things: I’ve survived. The audience seemed engaged and interested. It was OK for a first plenary. Yes, just Okay.
What I’d do differently next time: Prepare it one month in advance, rehearse it 10x. Show my passion without too much hesitation( advice from a friend which I completely agree with).
What are gender issues?
For me, gender issues encompass everything to do with gender identity, equality, gender discrimination, rights. Some specific topics may include
- How can we decrease the Wage gap between men and women
- How are curvy women fighting fat shaming
- Can boys and girls play with the same toys?
- Why are there more men in science and IT than women?
- Can men be feminist?
- Can certain behaviours be excused with “boys will be boys”?
Reinventing our role as a teacher
When you chair a lesson on controversial issues, you’re not there to impose your beliefs or answers- you’re there to introduce a topic and be open to listen. Some people may say that a teacher shouldn’t even give their opinion. Well, I’m of an opposing view to that I believe that by giving an opinion that may contradict the opinions of the students in the class, we can model the way we behave in these kinds of situations in real life. Language that we use to politely disagree with people with different opinions. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s not a boxing ring.
- Identify your own biases and prejudice
We all have unconscious biases. Reflect on it and think about how you can challenge your own beliefs. There’s that saying “if you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree”. Or are you?
- Be a good listener and facilitator
Truly listen. Avoid jumping a to conclusion, avoid finishing their sentences. It’s hard but we can do it.
- Mediate difficult conversations
Ensure your students feel safe to voice their opinions by carefully mediating difficult conversations. If you have set ground rules for discussion at the start of the lesson, this will make your job easier. Be respectful and use non-confrontational language to remind people, when necessary of the agreed upon rules. Deconstruct this power structure between teachers and students and create a more horizontal dynamic in your classroom.
- Plan the topic – not the answers
These kinds of lesson have worked best for me when I have prepared the topic carefully but remained open to any possible answer that I might hear from my students. If this idea concerns you, I suggest going to social media and reading the comments so you can have a taste of what might come up – think about how you would respond to comments that are hurtful or inappropriate.
- Guide and support students through their discomfort.
I have only ever brought these topics into my lesson after having built up a certain level of rapport with my students. That way, if students experience discomfort, I feel comfortable to support them and discuss it openly. I am always friendly but never try to take on the role of their mother or father.
- Use humour when suitable
If all else fails, what has worked in my experience is to approach gender issues with humour – but be careful because there’s a fine line between being playful and being sarcastic.
Here are my plenary slides that I turned into a PDF document (Plenary Let’s get uncomfortable) .