The title really does sound quite evil I’m sure, but I’m putting it out there. No hiding.
Let me set the scene. I teach English as a foreign language, and every so often, the weekly topic is an issue close to my heart – the environment. In class, we spend 5 days learning vocabulary like ‘endangered, solar and biodegradable’, reading articles on climate change and discussing the future of the planet. As a ‘greeny’, I get excited at having a platform to debate such issues. The little warrior inside me has an ulterior motive however: How can I make my students change their habits and be greener?
I can admit that I have been a pushy person in the past, and I’m not proud of it. I wanted those around me to live in an ‘eco-friendly’ manner. But it wasn’t until others wanted me to change aspects of my lifestyle, that I soon realised how ‘being forceful’ can actually alienate others and drive them further from the issue. Even with the kindest intentions, you could shove gold in someone’s face and tell them it was the best thing in the world, but you’re more likely to end up repelling them. They’ll probably go out and buy some silver in spite of you.
The thing is, that generally people just want to share. They find a great band, app or have an amazing idea, and they want others to experience it too. Sharing is good, don’t get me wrong, but if you really want to influence others (and not in a Dr. Evil sense) for their own good, or for that of the planet, a different technique is required.
Back in the language classroom, my approach was to simply open the floor to discussion. I showed them the Stop Sucking video (StrawlessOcean.org) and hoped we’d be able to reach the conclusion that straws were unnecessary. After posing the question ‘Do we need straws?’, and discussing paper or metal alternatives, 90% of the class decided that plastic straws were still important. Not exactly what I’d hoped for. They admitted that they used straws to avoid bacteria or protect their teeth, and as I didn’t want to be too preachy or isolate myself from my students, I said that I used to use them, but that I was actually cutting them out of my life.
I believe a teacher should generally remain neutral when touching on sensitive subjects. I try to lead by example and allow people to come to their own conclusions. But I feel like there’s still something I’m missing out. More experimentation is needed and hopefully, I can edge closer towards a balance between subtlety and persuasiveness.
Written by Rebecca Hatfield on 31st Jan 2018