“I don’t like multicultural stuff”

Actually, I have something to tell you! In my last week, I did an intercultural lesson that my mentor didn’t want me to do at the beginning.

There was a French assistant and she looks Asian, but she’s French. So, I thought there’s something here… because I can ask the French assistant Chloe to maybe do something with me because, actually, I have Polish backgrounds and I look nothing like a French person — because I look exactly like the Polish in my family. But maybe with white people it’s more complicated to see that?

So, I thought, because the unit was on the history of multicultural France and why there are French black and brown people… So, I thought that would be perfect to get Chloe to come in and just say: “Where do you think she is from?”

I thought, oh, I have all of these students that from day one I thought I’m going to check where they are from! And so, I did a survey — so I knew there was lots of diversity.

I wanted to do geography as well. So, you know, to show the shape of each country and say, what is that country? And if they didn’t know, they didn’t recognize, then I would put the country in the continent and then it would give some clues. And then we would practise countries in French then — but also do the detective work that goes with it.

To finish, I wanted to do something multicultural, and it was in the curriculum and the book. I wanted to link all of that together and a bit of history as well. I wanted to ask the students, what do you think French people look like? And then they’d say, ‘they look like you’.

And I’d say, ‘well, no, actually, because I don’t look like the French parts of my family’. Then we would have a discussion on background versus nationality and passport and so on. So even in English they learn things because they didn’t know what a background was exactly.

I explained all of that to my mentor and he said: ‘No, I don’t like multicultural stuff — I don’t like it, you know, discussion or conversation about it.’

So, I decided not to contact the assistant. And then I went home, and I felt something was wrong. Like, we’ve spent the whole semester with the lecturer talking about multicultural reality and the whole, you know, backgrounds in the classroom and value of one person’s backgrounds and so on. And I was like, there’s something wrong there. And, uh, I talked to my partner who is a teacher and he said, well, look, you’re not doing that for him. You’re doing that for the kids.

And I was like, okay, now it’s too late to come back the language assistant, but at least I’ll do something just with me. I brought in old school photos so we can see all my classmates on the photos. They are all from the nineties, and for each one, I asked the kids ‘did it look multicultural to you’? And as we went through the years, we could see that at the very, very beginning, like when I was maybe like four years old, we didn’t see different skin colours in the classroom. But when I was maybe 10 or 11, there were more kids with black and brown skin and so on. So that was interesting as well to compare.

And so, I did my lesson, even though my mentor did not want me to do it. And, uh, in the end, um, he liked it. He liked it because he saw the engagement. So, this one kid who never paid attention in class, never wanted to do any work. He was actually focused for the whole time, and he was asking things and he was saying things. So, that was actually big.

I took some risks that day.

Afterwards we had a conversation about this, and he explained to me a bit more why he doesn’t want to do these types of things. First of all, he said it’s because it’s in English, so not learning any language.

But I think it’s okay to use English if it’s to create a sense of community in the classroom and to get to know each other better. And in the meantime, we teach some French because we learn countries in French and at the end, they had like a little Cahoot thing where they had to practise nationalities and countries in French as well — we tried to recycle a bit.

And he said as well, ‘you know, I’m 60; I’m white; I’m from an Australian background. So maybe I don’t feel like I have the authority, you know, to do that, like I’m not legit’.

And I thought, yeah, I can understand that, but in the meantime, you’re a language teacher. And if you have learned yourself another language, I guess you have things to say as an Australian person learning French. You’ve been through ‘different culture’ shock as well and so on. You could talk about this.

Researcher comment: We then spoke about the fear people have dealing with these really complex intercultural constructions. He has an intercultural identity, but it doesn’t register to him as legit, despite years of teaching French.

Emilie felt he seemed to avoid talking about cultural backgrounds: “I don’t think he does these types of things with the student survey and so on and getting to know them… he didn’t seem to know their backgrounds. Uh, so I think he, he learned as well that the classes he had were really multicultural.”

I also commented to Emilie that the learning happened in two directions that day; the mentor learnt something too.

This story is here so you can practise the ‘language teacher education reflective framework’ on this story before you apply it either to a prac student you are mentoring, your own practice for reflective purposes, or with a colleague as ‘a critical friend’.

Please comment below with any thoughts you wish to share.

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