Getting to know our learners’ parents and guardians: a step towards understanding our learners

Writing the first blog entry in a new blog is always a tricky task. It’s as if you’re sort of justifying why we need one more blog on this topic, why one more individual needs to express themselves and so on.

So, rather unashamedly, I decided I wanted to and needed to write about a number of issues I come across, and have indeed come across over the last few years, whilst running ELT/EFL training and development sessions, lectures, seminars and workshops for teachers.

Last Monday, whilst giving an induction training session for recently hired teachers at my language institute, we were talking about learners’ profiles and parents’ / guardian’s profiles and how we as teachers need to be aware of so many aspects about the student before us, as well as the parents or guardians behind the student.

We talked about the importance of remembering that nowadays there is no such thing as a “traditional family” and that today’s post-modern family will allow for a number of varied family line-ups. And we as teachers of YLs need to bear this in mind when we set tasks and activities, especially when we celebrate those traditional events such as Mother’s day, Father’s day and so on. A tough challenge, which might sometimes require a great deal of on-the-spot improvisation, as we all know kids will often say exactly what they want and we, as teachers, need to be ready to accept and respond genuinely to their comments.

Another point we discussed was how parents dealt with the integration of web 2.0 technology in the ELT classroom. How could we deal with the students whose parents/guardians hadn’t authorized their teenagers to participate in class projects involving technological resources such as Facebook, blogs, to name but a few (but the most recurrent ones in our case). How can we deal with the exclusion of students from projects which, first and foremost, we believe can add immensely to their pedagogical development as English language learners, but above all can prepare them to be creative and autonomous citizens in today’s world?

Of course we can do a number of other things in the class to promote creativity and autonomy which isn’t based on technology. Yes, I’m all for variety in the classroom: some realia, bits of paper, flashcards, going outdoors for a lesson and so many other great possibilities. But, in a world in which “inclusion” seems to be a driving force in so many areas, the idea of excluding kids from a group activity, which will be supervised by the teacher, seems to be rather difficult to deal with. This requires of us the ability to respect, understand and accept other people’s beliefs and find a way of not making that teenager feel left-out, or worse still, laughed at or bullied. This is the type of situation which tests teachers to the full – and this is part of our daily routine when we teach several groups and classes.

Yet of all the issues we discussed, perhaps the one which clearly sort of silenced the group was when I mentioned the need for teachers to be aware of and talk to their school managers if they felt they might have a Special Educational Needs (SEN) student in their class. Today, like many mainstream schools, we have a good number of SEN students. If we’re lucky, parents / guardians will be open about this and talk to the teacher about their child’s special needs. But not all parents are so straightforward. I’m not making any kind of judgment about this – I can understand why some parents / guardians don’t mention anything to teachers: it’s the fear of hearing a big “no”, which they’ve probably heard before in other places and going through the frustration of not being able to include their children in an activity they have set their hearts on. And not all parents, however tactfully you address the issue, agree to slight adaptations and a more individualized approach with their kids once we ascertain they do have SEN.

Teachers, who in the most part have very little training at college or university on how to teach SEN (it’s not part of our University syllabus for teachers training to become language teachers) actually need parents’ support and aid in order to be able to begin integrating a SEN student into the ELT classroom. It’s not just about the learner himself or herself, it’s about working alongside parents / guardians to ensure the successful inclusion of their child. But then again, we could actually say this of any learner in the classroom, couldn’t we?

So, coming back to my original point, we really do need to understand our learners’ profiles, but when we’re teaching YLs and teenagers, we also need to understand their parents’ & guardians’ profiles. This might seem a simple task – well, it can be slightly less complex if you’ve been teaching for a number of years. But it’s really daunting for a young graduate teacher. In fact, I see it as a life skill which comes as part and parcel of our daily routine in the classroom.

Please share your own stories/comments on how you managed to deal both with students and their parents / guardians. Perhaps your experience will help a colleague facing a similar situation.

Thanks for reading this first blog entry,


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