World News in the ESOL classroom 1


As many of my students are from Sudan, Iran and Syria, I thought Trump’s immigration ban was worth discussing in class. A Sudanese guy pointed out that not all Muslims are terrorists and a young Syrian woman said she would write to the American President, saying ‘I am from Syria, but I am not a terrorist, so please let me visit Disneyland’. With Brexit being pursued by the UK government, my Polish students are also facing immigration issues. Add in students from The Gambia, Eritrea and Afghanistan and you have world news live in the classroom.

I hear the real-life stories of women, men and children who have fled war, regimes and killings. I have students who tried to leave the Calais jungle 50 times before escaping in fridges in the backs of lorries. People separated from their loved ones as they came on the packed dinghies. Young people who witnessed their parents killed in front of them. These are tragic human stories.

Aren’t we all immigrants? My Grandad was a blacklisted communist who came over from Ireland in the fifties to get work in Swindon Railworks. With no money to pay for all the family, my mum, who was 8, was put in a suitcase and carried onto the ferry. A true story. My son has Serbian, Sudanese, Irish and English blood. He has a lot of blood. And as an Englishman in Wales, I’m the worst immigrant. Recently, a kid in the football team I coach told me to fuck off back to my own country. When I told this to my students they laughed, said they were told this all the time.

Many of my students work hard in cleaning jobs or in Amazon as they try to make a new life in the UK. But do they assimilate? Most don’t. The minute they step outside of the classroom, they speak their own language, eat their country’s food and stick to their own culture. Ok, British food is not the tastiest, so that I understand. But the majority of the Muslim men think women should do all the cooking and that it’s ok for a man to have three or four wives. Does this fit with life in the UK?

The other day, a Sudanese guy complained to me that he thought a young woman’s comments in class were inappropriate. I felt she should be free to express herself. In the colleges and other institutions were asylum seekers, refugees and EU migrants are taught English, many teachers are afraid to discuss different opinions in the classroom because it’s not politically correct. I think this stance is as crazy as Trump’s ban. Far right ignorance is extremely dangerous, but so is liberal left blindness. If we have the world in our classroom, this is exactly the place to discuss real-life immigration.


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One thought on “World News in the ESOL classroom

  • Passion Russian

    Hi Cal

    I think assimilation is not something people step into at the moment they cross the border of another country. In some cases it may take few generations to fully accept the new ways. And it is ok, not everybody should start eat fish and chips on the day they arrived to UK. Resistance and passion for own culture brings a lot of benefits, diversity.With the time the bold line between people from different nationalities will blend…looking at some children of my Indian and Mexican friends I would say they fully embraced English lifestyle and values despite the fact that their parents were very resistant to it. It is very easy to mix assimilation with genuine respect to the country. However it cannot be missed! It is possible to stay in the heart truly patriotic to your own culture and at the same time to respect the new country,the one which gave you home, job, safety. Some things take longer to make a way to the heart but it is fine. After 10 years in UK for me tea still taste better with lemon J.