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My experience: The challenge of involving teachers in the decolonial approach

I am currently an assistant professor at the State University of Piauí (Uespi), on the Parnaíba campus. But, in the experiences I had as a manager in basic education and English language institutes, I consider that one of the main challenges was to involve teachers in this perspective.

In this sense, the school leader’s job is to show that, if these issues were not on the agenda about 20 years ago, today it makes sense; if we want to think in a broader way, which goes beyond teaching the language itself and involves cultural aspects, we should shift certain patterns — for example, the idea that we learn English just to communicate with native speakers in the United States (USA) and the United Kingdom.

The goal is to show teachers that, from the moment we develop a critical sense of how this language is used to perpetuate certain stereotypes and forms of linguistic and geographic control, we show students that using the English language is also a way to interrupt certain readings of the world.

Students begin to realise, for example, that English-speaking countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica may have more cultural similarities with Brazil than the USA or Europe. And yet, consider these nations as important places and producers of content, meanings, and senses.

And this generates repercussions, as the students start to question other spaces. They will ask the geography teacher, for example, why they did not learn about these nations. And they begin to see that the English teacher knows other things besides his discipline because knowledge is not ‘something closed’.

In the work I did monitoring interns, there was less resistance to this approach. However, many arrived with the idea of studying the language with a focus only on the grammatical, syntactic, and morphological parts, which are important aspects, but we cannot reduce the language to that.

In these cases, in our weekly meetings, I questioned and led them to think about how they learned by themselves, if the experience was positive and how they could make it more critical for their students instead of just repeating what they experienced when they were students themselves.

Yet, the more experienced teachers were the more defensive they became, as it affected their training and made them uncomfortable. And because they managed to teach English for so long in a certain way, they thought they did not need to do it differently. Many were concerned with immediate results and grades and considered that if that would not improve the student’s performance in this sense, there would be no need to do it.

Among the initiatives that we carried out, in the events the school organised, such as scientific and cultural fairs, and presentations, we always sought to bring reflections in this direction.

On one occasion, we did an art show. The students had to recreate paintings from famous works and make descriptions in English. It was an interesting activity to help them realise that art is not restricted to consecrated paintings and that there can be several types of art.

Another way to encourage this type of reflection is to give teachers the freedom to create their content and approaches, so they don’t just follow the teacher’s manual or the finished material.

Regarding didactic material, a common situation, especially in language schools, is to bring speakers from non-hegemonic countries, such as India or Pakistan. But just having the audios of these characters does not solve the problem. It is much more enriching to show that they could work with the subject more critically. For example, leading students to question why these people talk like that, what those countries look like, what their stories are, and where they are located.

One way to do this is to encourage teachers to use videos — TedTalks also YouTube-themed videos — with speakers from different countries. Thus, it is possible to address not only the grammatical use, which concerns staff in teaching, but also to develop work with vocabulary, pronunciation, and accent.

And when these countries appear in the didactic material as exotic or tourist locations, one possibility is to insert another look and show that they are nations that also have problems like Brazil — there is also hunger, violence, and prejudice against minority groups.

Many managers end up leaving this aside because they have so many other problems to solve daily and end up not paying attention to these things. Sometimes, they do not want to hear or refuse to think about these matters, because they consider them unnecessary.