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Forewarned is forearmed

May 24, 2005

Well, I certainly got a lot of response to my blog about the hapless John and the devious Olga. It clearly struck a chord with teachers in the field. But that's not surprising. The teacher can represent a coveted trophy or a sympathetic ally to an impressionable young student. If the society is not tolerant of such relatonships, the student may be further stimulated by the idea of "forbidden fuit". But two things seem to me to be important mesages from this story and some of the experiences people have recorded in their comments.

First the teachers temselves must not stumble blindly into different cultures and then flounder because they don't know "the rules". Cultures are different and it is only right that the visitor should respect the cultural norms of the host country and not try to flout them. So, before taking up that exciting post abroad, teachers have a responsibility to inform themselves about the host country. Contact the country's embassy, search the Internet, read books. It is not difficult to find cultural information and by arming yourself in advance, you can save yourself from making upsetting mistakes. Find about about dress codes, attitudes to time, the way the sexes interact, the extent to which the society is hierarchical, traditional, etc. Inform yourself about the religion of the country and how this impacts on daily life. Find out if the local people welcome contact with foreigners or not. Make sure you know what facilities exist for you to lead a social life outside working hours.
With proper information, you will be better able to cope with the aspects of life that seem strange to you and will be better able to handle culture shock.

The second point that strikes me is that some schools are clearly not taking the trouble to give new teachers a proper induction. Your teachers are an important investment for you! You have probably paid a good deal to recruit them so from a purely practical point of view, quite apart from compassion, it is important to help them to settle in successfully. Give them detailed information about your society, behavioral norms and the rules of the school. Pair a new teacher with a more experienced one as a "mentor" to the new recruit. Hold regular meetings with new teachers to listen to their problems and help them find solutions. Remember that teaching is a people-oriented activity: everybody needs to feel comfortable for the teaching to be successful.

I'd love to know what your school does to help new teachers.

Bye for now,

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