Can You Repeat That? The Joys Of The Mixed Classroom.

There is a book I use for teaching English, a book by Adrian Underhill. The book isn’t about grammar, or about making your kids more attentive in class. It’s a book under the topic of what some call in the industry, paperless TEFL – for those who need something at the last minute, with little or no preparation or photocopying needed.

Over the last three years, 400 classroom activities has become sort of a bible to me. I wouldn’t say I’d use it religiously, but I always keep it within touching distance, be it on a shelf or in my bag. It’s a book you can thumb through easily, and whenever you feel one activity is fizzling out, it more times than not comes to the rescue.

Underhill warns you about some activities, and said activities are marked with a caution symbol. In instances of the mixed nationality classroom, you can wholly understand that some activities could potentially cause trouble due to religious or personal beliefs. These exclamation marks don’t necessarily mean the teacher shouldn’t do the activity, but adapt it to suit his or her class profile.

I only ever have mixed classes in summer. Often it presents a nice break from the Spanish classroom, even though have to keep reminding myself that I cant help many via Spanish should they ever run in to difficulties. It presents you with a completely different challenge, one that more times than not require a dictionary!

My school in summer has been welcoming more and more Russians in previous years. Where a Spanish student is loud, confident and brash, a Russian at times isn’t. They are quieter, shier, and dare I say, more studious. In my time some Russians, to their credit, have mixed well with their European brethren, while others have tended to remain amongst their own. Therein lies the problem with a mixed classroom; when they don’t mix and work together; it can make classes feel twice as long.

I’m sure you are aware of Russia’s gay propaganda law. Ruled as discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights. If caught promoting pro-LGBTI+ theses, schools and businesses can be fined up to 500,000 Roubles, which at the time of writing is around 7000 euro. It leaves you wonder what some of the teenagers and pre-teens have been already exposed to before coming to Dublin, known to the world in recent years as a city of love and acceptance (again arguably as homophobia on nights out remain an issue for many) since the Marriage Referendum of 2015.

My summer school encourages project work and task-based learning. In doing so, I used an idea from Underhill’s aforementioned book. It was a project about creating a civilisation. It too carried a warning. I adapted it slightly, and removed the part about law in the hope that they would come up with something a little simpler in a form of can and can’t, thus hopefully avoiding any ugliness.

One of my groups had an Italian, a Russian and two Spaniards. I checked in on each group every five minutes or so, and I was lucky I came to the above group when I did.

They had already created a map, a flag and came up with a currency. In an attempt to create some sort of rules for the country one of the members, a Spaniard, was attempting to tell her group how she felt women should be treated equal in this country. Her level wasn’t the best for expressing this, and with me hovering over them; she turned to me and said, soy una feminista, which speaks for itself.

She proceeded to attempt telling her group what role women should play in their country, with a little help from yours truly. With one of his classmates saying so much about how she respects women and how she wants the best for them, one Russian boy, no more than 12 years old, got it in to his head that she was not only into women’s rights, she also liked them too.

You are normal, yes?

I was glad I was there when I heard it; otherwise things could have gone south very quickly. I managed to diffuse the situation as quick as I could, ordering them to forget the rules and move on to the next topic.

A few things ran through my mind once the class had finished. Up until he said what he said, this child could have been anyone’s son. During his stay, I saw him play imaginative games, use his phone, show enthusiasm and respect those older than him like no other. He was, in effect, a normal child. A normal child who’s clearly already had Russia’s gay propaganda law engrained in to him.

It made me sad. To this child, normal was like himself. Normal was finding love with the opposite sex. Normal was marrying that opposite sex and raising a nuclear family. Normal was keeping women in the dark ages.

We can only hope that with more and more younger Russians travelling that they can visit places more opening and accepting of LGBTI+ rights. We can only hope that children like Emil can use these trips to expand their mind and form their own opinion.

We. Can. Only. Hope.

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