While teaching English this summer, I was fortunate enough to work for a company that had a spectacular text book. It encouraged open discussions in English, and didn’t just talk about the boring topics like shopping, movies, etc. My level 4 book had a section on gender issues. This is a subject I studied quite a bit at university, and follow in the news, but not one I have ever taught. So, I challenged myself to teach gender to students with English as a second language.
Hands down, this was one of the hardest subjects I have ever had to teach. Not because of a lack of knowledge, but because it involves such sensitive issues that society has coached us to not discuss publicly. Well, I did and it was the best class I have ever led.
I began by having the students create a list of issues related to gender, not only for women but men as well. Here are some things we came up with for men; custody rights, mental health stigma, body pressure, lack of support for sexual abuse, paternity leave, inability to cry. For women; pay gap, hormones being used as an excuse for feelings, maternity leave, pressure to find partners, tampon tax. This list is only a small sample of the massive ideas my students developed.
I then did something very controversial, I told my students I was going to make some statements that might be upsetting but I encouraged them to disagree with me. I said: Gay is against nature and wrong. Women are the lesser sex. Transgender/transsexual’s are just a mental disorder. The reactions I got were astounding. All of my students (even the quiet ones) got up in arms. They debated me, fought me. They spoke more in this class than in any other. They were understandably angry at my narrow minded statements, but it was only after we finished our discussion that I admitted that I didn’t agree with a word I said. I showed them how by phrasing things in that method got them to talk more than any other way could have.
Unfortunately, while teaching this subject, my boss overheard me. My company is very clear that they do not require me to give in lesson plans, and they do not censor what I teach. But, my boss did not like what I was saying or how I was saying it. He couldn’t tell me to stop, he had no authority to because our manager had already given me the Ok. So, instead, he pulled me aside and claimed I was “talking too much for an English class” and he refused to hear my explanation. Just because he didn’t like what I said, he literally told me to stop talking in class.
That is what our society does. If people don’t like what one person says, they make them be silent. Especially in regards to issues related to gender like LGBTQ+ rights or equality among the sexes. It makes people so uncomfortable! I felt uncomfortable discussing it, but I am glad I did. Because, I had multiple students write me thank you cards saying that my gender class was their favourite class of the summer. Many even said an adult had never talked to them about these issues, and they were grateful I did. It was wonderful for me to hear that, but also sad to know that 16 year old kids had never had someone discuss gender issues with them. These are vital to encourage a tolerant, accepting world. We need EDUCATION around this, and all issues, to ensure there is a better tomorrow.