A Difficult Discussion

I’ve been giving some thought to how to deal with the topic of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech because I think it does relate to TEFL in at least a couple of ways. It’s very obviously a large-scale tragedy and many people, in addition to those directly affected, are left with unanswered questions in addition to grief.

Living overseas has given me new perspectives on a number of things, but I don’t feel that this is an appropriate forum or time to present my opinion on personal theories on the situation.

I do think it’s appropriate to ask EFL teachers: how do you deal with topics like this in class?

I suspect in some places and perhaps with some age groups, the Virgina Tech tragedy will be a bigger topic than with others. As teachers, we are in a position to guide various discussions. Even if we teach adults, this is still a leadership role and when we say things, generally, a number of people – our students – listen (sometimes only because they have to, but still). Sometimes our role is not totally clear, nor is it clear if we should even touch on things aside from plain old English language, but in practice, this seems to be part of the job. Though I haven’t discussed the Virginia Tech situation, I regularly discuss different news events with students.

Most students I’ve worked with, when the topic of crime or schools come up in general, have the feeling that US schools are more dangerous than their own. Opening a discussion on events like this in a class can definitely be awkward – students may either feel inhibited about expressing their true opinions if they feel they’ll be judged negatively because of them, by other students or me, or they might feel that I’m putting them on the spot. At the same time, this is a rather significant event, and trying to ignore it or stifle discussion about it may create a more awkward situation than actually discussing it, or lead to one that is mostly out of your control.

I am curious to hear how teachers deal with topics like this one – but I’d ask anyone who comments to focus on that question and refrain from simply posting your views on the situation itself.