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Saving face

March 19, 2007

Hello again,

To further the debate about how teachers can cope when they can’t answer tricky questions from students, I want to stress that a teacher should never try to bluff it out, as this compromises one’s integrity and ...

... is an insult to students.

In some cultures, however, the teacher has to adjust to new values that determine just what a student expects of a teacher. Many Asian cultures have, in Hofstede’s terms, a high power distance. The teacher in such cultures occupies a high rung in the hierarchy and is esteemed for knowledge, wisdom and authority. In such a situation, a teacher who admits to being perplexed by a question will lose face and thus the respect of the students. However, even in this cultural context, bluffing is not the answer.

In adapting to a high power distance culture, the western teacher will first have to deepen understanding of these cultural values and then develop strategies for adapting to them. How to deal with tricky questions then? I would suggest that a system is needed to preserve the teacher’s air of authority and prevent loss of face.

An example of what I mean is for the teacher to explain that all grammar questions have to be held over until five minutes before the end of the lesson. At that point the teacher collects all the students’ queries and the students also make a note of them. The students have the task of trying to find out what they can about these points before the next lesson. At the beginning of the next lesson, the teacher examines their answers and offers whatever is considered to be the correct or best answer. The teacher has had a chance to check the points, the students have had to do some work: face saved. No bluffing. And this more formal approach fits in well with such cultures in which spontaneous discussion is discouraged.

It is vitally important when working with different values to preserve one’s own sense of core cultural beliefs while respecting those of others. Pretence is a negation of one’s own values and an insincere response to the culture of others.

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  1. ND Tewarie Says:

    1) How do you deal with rudeness in class
    2) Stubborn kid who dont want to participate.
    3) Smarty pants?

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