Neither green nor rainbow

The student I want to talk about was about 28 yo when I was teaching him. It was an on-site company course for a group of car part designers working for a German company in the Czech Republic. The course was conversational, slightly oriented towards technical vocabulary and business processes. We also discussed general topics such as the environment. On the cliché question ‘Do you recycle at home?’, the bloke replied ‘I think recycling is too gay!’

What? Did I just hear ‘great’ or gray? Did you make sure you insult two groups of people and not just one? Was it meant as a joke? Stand-up comedy routines were not so common at that time in the language classroom, so maybe he was just Now that was an interesting situation, the others noticed my surprise and hesitation and for sure there were no women who could roll their eyes, no manager who could reprimand the student for being discriminatory AND a jerk. Now I had a dilemma – should I fist-bump him and add something like ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the MAN! Recycling is totally gay, saving energy is lesbian and not eating beef is just absolutely homosexual!’ or should I defend my views and tell him: ‘Do not ever say that in my class!’ …What I did was neither. I simply laughed at him and used the ever-useful weapon of irony and sarcasm and said something in the sense that I did not know reusing stuff has a sexual level for him. I asked him throwing garbage around is heterosexual enough and we both laughed because he liked the fact I did not go judgmental and pedantic. Students do not like being ‘teachered’ at any age.

Staying neutral and avoid confrontation is the classroom while maintaining your integrity can be an issue for L2 teachers, especially in adult courses, especially in companies (their home soil) especially all-male classes. But still, teachers should stay true to their beliefs and stand up for a just cause. Being diplomatic is a teaching skill. What I think works best is either ignore completely the remarks and the student for the rest of the class while signal to him or her that that talk is not kosher, or make an ironic remark – hopefully funny enough. Quick wit is also a teaching skill. Show you do not agree but make sure you keep the relationship. You will need it later.

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