Friday, February 27, 2015

TESOL and Culture Analysis: A Sunni Teacher and Shiite Students

As my TESOL career started in Saudi Arabia in 2013, I was not aware of the different cultures of students I had in my classroom; after all, they were all Saudi students, how different could they be?
When prayer times would change and interfere with class times, we were asked to give students 5 to 10 minutes of class time to pray. A few students would not pray in the time slot given and would pray about 10 minutes after the call for ‘Maghrib’ (Sunset Prayer).
The students in my homeroom class started doing this every day taking up at least 20 minutes until everyone finished prayers. Teachers started complaining about my class not respecting the prayer slot during the time they would have them, so I decided I would have to talk to them and get to the end of it.
The next morning, I told my students that I was getting complaints from their other teachers about not sticking to the prayer slot agreed to in class. “Do you have a problem with praying in the time given to you?” I asked. “No teacher, we can pray in that time, but some students have to wait.” one student replied. “Why?” I asked. “Because, teacher, they have to.” She replied, not explaining further.
Since I did not get a thorough answer, but understood that my students had to wait, I told the teachers that they had to wait and they did not mean to show any disrespect. Only after, did I learn that the Shiite sunset prayer was 10 minutes later than the Sunni one.
In the field of TESOL when you are dealing with people from cultures other than yours, it is important that you perform a cultural analysis before entering the classroom, so that you can help meet the needs of your students rather than dismissing them because you do not understand them.
If I had done my research and conducted a cultural analysis, I would have known the reason my student was reluctant to tell me why her classmates had to wait. I would have been aware that the Shiites are a minority in Saudi Arabia and there has recently been lots of discrimination against them.
I am now a TESOL instructor in a small Shiite village in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and I can at least say that this time I did my research before coming into the classroom and can understand small things such as: why my students vacation in Iran and rate it as their favorite country during class activities; why students always make sentences using Ali; and why they identify themselves by their town, but rarely refer to themselves as Saudis.
Going into a new environment or having students from a new environment, I would encourage all TESOL professionals to conduct an analysis to avoid poor communication and misunderstanding between teachers and learners. Thus, I would like to end this article with sharing a format for context analysis (including cultural factors) that was given to me by my professors at Marlboro College for using in my practicum.
Context Analysis
1. People
  • Students: How many in each class; age, gender, culture(s), other language(s), purpose(s), education, profession, experience; students' shared interests and what they respond to in class; what kind of teaching they are used to
  • Other stakeholders: school administrators, parents, other teachers
2. Larger Community
  • The nature of the community within which the institution exists; its members; others who may be, or live, in the place but who may not be considered part of the community
3. Nature of institution and course
  • Type of institution: public or private; language-focus only or wider focus of courses offered
  • The course: type/purpose of course, mandatory or open enrollment, relation to current/previous courses, prescribed curriculum or not, required tests or not
4. Political considerations
  • National policies that impact the curriculum or classroom practice?
5. Teaching resources
  • Materials: provided/available teaching materials; required text or not; means to develop own materials
  • Equipment: cassettes, DVD, computers, photocopying
  • Clerical support
6. Physical setting
  • Location of school: convenience, setting
  • Classroom: size, furniture, light, noise, temperature, consistently the same classroom
7. Other Factors: are there other factors that play a role in what you do, what you can do and what you cannot do?