Honestly, I was positively surprised by the city of Glasgow. Before the conference, I had mostly read about it in terms of an industrial city with a high rate of unemployment and retired industrial estates. However, Glasgow surprises with great architecture and tourist attractions. Before the start of the conference, Julia and I had an awesome trip to Loch Lomond, which is part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It is also the biggest lake of Scotland and marks the beginning of the Highlands. When we think of Scotland, nature is one of the first images that come to most travelers’ minds. The national park exceeded our expectations and we were lucky to be there on a sunny day.
On Monday before the conference, we did a sightseeing tour and spent a rainy day following Mackintosh’s traces. Starting at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, we went up the hill to the University of Glasgow. Looking at the building from outside, I immediately had to think of Hogwarts. The two impressive inner courtyards with the pillars reinforced this impression. The hallway with its colorful carpets also seemed magic and it was a pity that the first floor was prohibited for visitors.
After visiting the main square with its war memorial, we walked to the Necropolis and St. Mungo’s Cathedral. The cathedral surprises with a timeline through Scotland’s national history and gives accounts (such as pictures and textual explanations) of the various conflicts between Scotland and England. Thus, the church does not only reflect clerical history but shows how the church and Scottish independence attempts have often been interwoven.
Another benefit of Glasgow and Scotland in general is the great food. There was one incident after which I learned that in Glasgow you should not trust food at half the normal price. However, apart from this one distasteful experience, the food was amazing, even haggis. =) Another beautiful memory of Glasgow is the Clyde bridge, which is impressively illuminated at night.
After our week in Glasgow, I spent a great weekend in Edinburgh before going north to visit Inverness and the Highlands around the Moray Firth and the Speyside area. The cultural impressions of Scotland supported the great experiences at the IATEFL conference. I brought home a Scottish cape, several kilos of books and teaching material, a thistle brooch and the plan to go to the IATEFL excursion in Brighton next year.
Cans of worms and rotten parnips: Critical pedagogy in ELT by Steve Brown
How should we teach tourism? When Eastern or Southern Europeans think of British tourists, naked, urinating and drunk British people may beon their minds. On more serious account, we do not present our students with the problem of sex tourism, either. At least, schoolbooks avoid these issues. Instead, we discuss how to pack a suitcase. This is because we do not want to open “a can full of worms”, i.e. we want to avoid potentially problematic topics. These can be categorized according to the “PARSNIP principle”.
p = politics
a = alcohol
r = religion
s = sex
n = narcotics
i = sms
p = porks
There are several reasons why we avoid these topics. We want to stay in control and run the lesson as we have planned it, with as few interruptions and distractions as possible. Also, we tend to see ourselves as language teachers. This implies that most English teachers do not feel responsible for the students’ political and critical thinking and content is regarded as a facilitator for language teaching, not the other way round. However, teaching is never as neutral as we think. Not deciding between the powerful and the powerless is an automatic decision in favor of the powerful. If we decide to leave out problemati but essential topics in teaching, we impose a kind of censorship upon our students and take away their chance to develop reflected opinions.
But there are more problematic situations than just avoiding certain topics that can become relevant in the classroom. “Homosexuality is unnatural. I don’t like Chinese people because they eat dogs. I won’t cook, my wife will do that.” If students come up with statements like that, many language teachers ignore the problem. However, the classroom environment is a unique way to create a save space, in which these problematic issues can be discussed without negative consequenes, which is the basis for students’ self-reflection. If these mindsets are never challenged, students will think they are ‘normal’ and defend them on the bus, in a business meeting once they have finished schools or in other inappropriate contexts. It is our responsibility to open the disgusting can full of worms in the save environment, because we do not teach language in the first place, but people.
Finally I am in Glasgow. Until yesterday, I have never been to Scotland before, but I’m impressed already. So far, I’ve had great food, nice weather and I’ve had a great day at Loch Lomond, as you can see on the photograph. I can’t wait to explore Glasgow on the following days.
I am also amazed by the variety of lectures that are offered at the conference. With so many interesting talks, it will be difficult to decide where to go. I am also eager to see the conference exhibition and I think that a lot of new teaching material will be presented there, which could become a problem concerning the maximum weight of my luggage for the flight back =). I am looking forward to a week full of new experiences and to meet teachers from all over the world. Last but not least, I hope that the conference will help me to become a better teacher.