Would Foreign Teachers Make Better Instructors For Inner-City Students? - And Response (2)

Monday, October 14, 2019

It seems a week doesn't go by, sometimes more in one week, without Roy or someone writing some coded messages denigrating inner-city schools and the students (using another code-hint hint) that attend inner-city schools. Which reminded me of something from decades ago about teachers from foreign countries perhaps making better instructors for inner city students. At least those who  haven't been infected or seduced by western biases, misperceptions and stereotypes. 

One of my daughter's best instructors in grade school was actually British. One of my best algebra/trig instructors was Iranian. Both didn't have the typical stereotypical impressions and didn't come with the bias baggage that can infect an entire school and classroom, which often produce and lead to failures while trying to learn in an often toxic environment. 

By then having little or no confidence in myself when it came to learning after years and years of being told I wouldn't amount to anything, I shocked and actually frightened when the Iranian instructor came to me and made a request to tutor other struggling students, both white and black. She must have seen the shock and fear in my eyes. "Why is this woman asking me to tutor other students? I'm dumb. I've been told I would never amount to anything by other teachers pretty much my entire life."  But she insisted I had the qualifications and smarts to help other students struggling. Still I made many attempts to turn down the offer. All the "what ifs" ran through my mind. She kept insisting. Then she said something to this day I've never forgotten. She told me "Brenda, when we teach we also learn." That simple sentence had a major impact on me and gave me the confidence to at least try. And I accepted her offer. 

I don't know how the schools could go about bringing foreign teachers to the classroom. What course of action would be needed, Visas or other incentives, to bring them here and set them up. Maybe the promise of housing could be a great start. It would be worth the try. All this back and forth, disparaging comments and code words when we already know what it's really all about but are too much the coward to openly say so is nauseating. Why the opposite side remains silent and allows it is even more so nauseating. Let the naysayers wallow in and remain in that dark place they've always inhabited and the rest become creative and think outside the box. In this instance, outside the country. And never forget the words of that Iranian instructor who once told a student who'd didn't believe in herself "When we teach we also learn." 

Brenda Washington

* * * 

Intriguing idea, Ms. Washington. The U.S. should seek to hire foreign nationals to move to America to teach in inner city schools?

Well, many medical degrees are not accepted from foreign countries, but I don’t know about teaching degrees or licenses. Would they have to move here and repeat their teaching degree?

I suppose even though they are adults, they will not have developed any knowledge of American race issues. Hopefully they would not arrive with biases and fear and negative expectations.

Interesting idea, but I wonder what the barriers truly are?

Ted Ladd

* * * 

Mrs. Washington raises an interesting question, based on some good personal experiences.  But that was then (no offense intended; she herself said it was decades ago) and this is now.

The main reason the school system would hire foreign teachers today is probably not because they'd do a better job in any given classroom, but simply because they'd work for less.

For whatever job and for whatever reason they might be hired, whenever you have folks whose native language isn't English, and whose native culture isn't American, you must expect some problems.

And those problems won't all be things that immediately come to mind.  For instance, what are politely called 'idiomatic expressions' are sometimes borderline idiotic even in their native language -- and most of us use that sort of remarks regularly.  Imagine the consequences of some of the cute things you routinely say if they were taken literally, or if they were heard by a non-native beginner in the English language.  Shucks, the politically correct crowd will come down on you for some of the most innocent of words.

Even an honest idiom used properly (within its native culture ... ) can backfire on you.  I have a news clipping that tells of a 'foreigner' on an airliner who caused the flight to be aborted and was himself arrested upon landing.  A patient judge eventually figured out that the poor fellow had simply asked to use the toilet, claiming he was about to explode.  Many other mistakes were made that day!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there was a distinctly foreign teacher working in the East Ridge schools about 10 years ago -- in those nervous days not long enough after Sept. 11, 2001.

This lady was not from East Ridge or anywhere near there; she was from somewhere like Pakistan or maybe the Middle East.  We can all, perhaps, identify with her situation in that classroom.

One particularly obnoxious/obstreperous student had been getting on her nerves for some time, and the frustrated teacher finally told him to behave himself or she'd put a bomb under his chair.

It was surely a well-deserved rebuke and a heartfelt remark, maybe a slip of the tongue, possibly just a cultural thing -- an idiomatic expression.  Whatever the explanation, those were essentially the last words she uttered in that school.

Whether or not she was a good teacher became a moot point.  There was one happy outcome, I suppose; that misbehaving student didn't have to put up with her any more.  And in today's classrooms, that may be what 'school' is all about -- keeping the kids happy.

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley

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