Impressions of an International Teacher in Yemen [Archives:1997/42/Culture]

October 20 1997

This is about my teaching experience, my philosophy as a teacher and individual and my experience teaching in foreign cultures. I have taught English as a foreign language since 1981 when I first arrived to Italy from my native Canada having taught English and other materials since 1977. I have also taught in England in the late 80s. My reasons for being here are that Yemen is a culturally emerging country because people had just learned to read and write after the revolution and there is a wide market for foreign language teaching. This means that there’s less competition for the foreign teacher here than in Italy for example. The salary was also an influencing factor: I was looking at international schools around the world knowing that their pays are usually better than state run schools. I am also in a particular situation trying to break even and having the difficulty of getting by in Italy which has been in the midst of an economic crisis and political turmoil. I don’t think that I suffered from cultural shock like most Americans get when they first travel away from home, I’ve been stressed occasionally because I’d still like to get things done quickly and smoothly. I haven’t yet adjusted to the pace of life and I think that it will take some time. I’d like to adjust without necessarily becoming a native of the country. There were some things which perturbed me when I arrived, such as the dirtiness of the country even though I was warned, how people are very curious and crowd around, but I am used to this because while in Italy people always asked me why I went there to live. I think this is so since many Italians live outside their country of origin. I’m referring to people of Italian origin who settled abroad especially after the war. I’m teaching at an international school but not to expatriate kids just now, in other words the school is open to anyone who wants to have a good quality education. I’m teaching Yemenis and they are receptive, many times they know their material when they would not normally admit it. I think that they express a lack of knowledge to get extra attention from the teacher, or the student is looking for extra encouragement. A lot has to do with the impact that the foreigner makes in a new country, the Italian or Yemenis wants to know about the teacher, he’s curious, maybe he wants to be closer to him or her. The teacher is like a parent figure here because obviously many students don’t see their parents much while at school, so what better way is there than for them to know the foreigner and by asking questions about his country. One way to see if a student needs help in a subject is to surprise him during class, so he has less time to put up his defences. Beating is not outlawed in this country as far as punishing students are concerned: obviously I’m influenced by my personal background so I try to use his energies positively, and avoid violence. How do I deal with misbehavior? sometimes I report it, sometimes I get him to go to the whiteboard and assist me conduct the lesson. Since all the eyes of the students are on him he quickly forgets why he created a stir. Another thing is creating study groups with such persons as leaders. In private schools punishment is an important issue because the parent should be made aware of his child’s offence especially if its serious. I don’t think parents would be very happy if they don’t have a direct say as to how the child should be treated. I have been teaching kids from grade 6 up to grade 12 in Yemen and all levels in Italy and Canada. I don’t think we have the problem that state schools have regarding gangs in classes. Most of the kids come from cultured families and they learn that creating gangs is not correct. The most severe punishment I give is sending the student to the principal and only after having explained the problem. The director deals well with the situation because he knows the family’s background. . I am familiar with the British national curriculum used in European schools; parents should have a choice on the standards of education be they American or British. I haven’t experienced overcrowding in my classes, and haven’t had to punish more than the odd student. I think that only the misbehaved student should be punished rather than an entire group.
Martin Dansky Bsc.ý