ESL classes, gender, jingoism

by Joanne von Spanien

As an ESL teacher, I’m expected, albeit implicitly, to take on the mindset of my students when in their cultural space, that is the classroom. This is mostly just fine. If it’s occasionally annoying and ethnocentric, it’s often kinda funny at the same time. For example, Monday a student told me, “I like all Mediterranean food, but none of that foreign crap.”

No matter. For every idiot there’s a student who’s a joy. The problem is, it doesn’t always end there. Let me tell you about an incident I experienced today, but first some information about my classes:

Most times I have students twice a week. I usually give them a traditional business English lesson for one of these classes and a more general lesson about a cultural topic for the second. Honestly, the students really like this, a lot. Their responses usually go something like “Your classes are a great mix of practicality and cool expressions and facts I can use anywhere.” ‘Cause, let’s face it, they may need English for their work, but what they really enjoy is being able to converse colloquially about culturally relevant topics. This week’s cultural lesson was about teenage pregnancy rates in different Western countries, a topic which I don’t think, as lesson for adults (often old enough to be my parents) ventures anyway close to the controversial. And you know what, in the various classes I gave the lesson to, everyone thought pretty much as I did: that it was fun and interesting.

Then I had a one-to-one class with a lawyer who, unbeknownst to me, sent his children to a Catholic, Opus Dei school. In his own words (paraphrased), “I disagree with this video that says the Nordic countries and Germany have a lower teen pregnancy rate because their schools universally teach children about contraception.” Well, you know what, bald man (’cause an ad hominem argument is totally fine if supported by other facts!), said video also states that the World Bank, World Health Organization and the United Nations’ statistics disagree with you and it links to their data. I was then subjected to forty minutes of Catholic explanations to life’s mysteries whilst he drilled me about my own slightly religious upbringing, which I found myself profusely exaggerating. When we got to the part about Indonesia and Guatemala tackling sexual assault of teenagers with curricula at least based on “a feminist perspective,” I was told how this would not help the countries because of feminism’s immorality.

I sort of longed to say, “I actually DO have philosophic issues with academic feminism, that is, what people usually study in conjunction with other subjects like ‘gender studies’ and ‘queer studies.’ But I can guarantee you that’s not the least bit relevant to this issue here.”

Oh, and did I mention, this student is f***ing obnoxious to his secretary and a big fan of bringing up his porn habit?

Now, this guy is the exception. Most of my students are great people. The problem is the occasional male who feels English class is 90-minutes to goof off. Now, I’m totally for goofing off. I’m 110% for goofing off. Just please refrain from stereotyping and demeaning me and others with your data-denying fundamentalism. Like fuck dude, Pope Francis is 10 times more reasonable that you!

As a trans person who’s just started their transition, I am a little concerned. I am not in a legally protected class in Madrid (though if I moved back to Andalusia, I would be), do not have the advantage of Spanish or European citizenship and am in a business where I am constantly face-to-face with the clients. Unfortunately a built-in fact of for-profit education is that the “client” is always correct. No matter how unreasonable, narrow-minded or jingoistic that correctness might be.