Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Welcome to Day 2 of Guest post week. Today’s guest-blogger is Vicky Loras, who first came to YHB’s attention when she contributed to the culture debate here a month or so ago.

Vicky Loras

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English Teacher, born in Toronto, Canada. For ten years, my sisters and I co-owned an English School in Greece, The Loras English Academy, but I have now moved with my eldest sister to Switzerland, where I work as an English Teacher. I believe in teaching as an ongoing learning process, both for the benefit of the students and the teacher. One of my primary educational interests is celebrating diversity and multiculturalism in the classroom.

Canadian Education: Salad Bowl or Melting Pot?

Canada - the second biggest country in the world

It is a snowy morning in Toronto, Canada and all the kids are in the school yard for assembly before going into their classrooms to begin the day. All of them are singing the Canadian national anthem. The principal makes the announcements for the day and all the kids file into their classes, laughing and looking forward to a new day.

This was a typical school day of my childhood, growing up in Canada. I remember all the different faces of the children and the teachers. Each one with their own, unique characteristics. My best friends in school were Hungarian-Canadian and Portuguese-Canadian. I am Greek-Canadian.

One would notice that we all have a different first compound in our nationalities (Hungarian, Portuguese, Greek) and the same second compound (Canadian). And that is what I say when someone asks me where I am from – I cannot separate them. They are both characteristics of my make-up as a person.

Every day in school our lessons were interesting and exciting and one way or another, multiculturalism found its way into them. When it was story-time reading, it was not just Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel; Ruby Bridges came into our lives, the little girl who was not allowed to go to school in the United States of the 1960s because she was African-American. Little Two Feet, a Native American boy who wanted to go and find a horse on his own when he had to do it as a rite of passage, was also one of the stories we were read to or could easily find in the library.

For show-and-tell we would be encouraged not only to bring in our new doll or toy car to show the rest of the class, or do a new dance or sing; we were told once in a while that it would be nice for everyone to share something about their second country.

Canadian athletes at the Beijing Olympics

I remember once saying the Greek alphabet out loud to class, or a Greek poem, or song. One of my classmates came into class in a sari and showed us the beautiful fabric and the meaning it has for Indian people. One boy brought in souvenirs from Trinidad and Tobago. Another told us about traditions and customs of their country.

For us, at such a young age, it was something magical, as we learned about how people lived in other countries and we were drawn to how different we all were. At the same time, we were learning how to celebrate this diversity and that it is what makes humans so wonderful, each in their own way. In any case, we came into contact with real facts of life.

In addition, we also learned to respect our own origins and the new identity, that of a Canadian, which would both co-exist and comprise a dual identity for all of us. That was the meaning of the Canadian national anthem: something that brought all children and teachers together early in the morning and served as a kind of bonding, but we were never to forget our parents’ or grandparents’ origins either. We were told never to forget where we came from and that Canada welcomed everyone no matter where they were from. This is a fact, as Canada has one of the most diverse populations in the world, which manage to live together harmoniously.

This has accompanied me to this day. I am very fortunate to have been educated in this system for my first school years. I always try to have my students’ think about multiculturalism and diversity and I bring them in stories or facts from all over the world to get them thinking about how to show acceptance to all people no matter what their country of origin is, skin color, religion or belief, or sexuality.

The most encouraging thing is that children, even very young ones, are very open to this kind of thinking and just need someone to show them what diversity is and how wonderful it is. The first people to introduce them to diversity after the parents should be the educators. It is the educators’ responsibility not only to transfer knowledge but also to introduce students to values. It is my belief that giving students a humanitarian knowledge is the first priority.

Vicky blogs at vickyloras.wordpress.com/

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Comments on: "Guest post 2 – growing up in Canada" (21)

  1. Vicky,

    You are very lucky to have had this wonderful experience and I’m sure your students benefit a lot from having such a teacher :)

    Anita

  2. Hi Anita!
    Thank you so much for your very kind words!
    All the best to you!
    Vicky

  3. I was brought up in a very homogeneous society as 97% of people living in Poland are Polish. In the most extreme case there are German-Polish or Russian-Polish (including other countries that emerged from Soviet Union block) so I had contact with people of different nationalities only when I travelled to England in my early 20′s. It was a wonderful experience for me. I loved it so much, I ended up living there for 3 years and now here in Brazil.

    • Hi Agata!
      Thank you for your comments, they are very useful as it shows what a muticultural community can do – people meet each other and get to know their history and traditions and generally each person “takes” from one another. Living in Brazil must be a fantastic experience!
      Kind regards,
      Vicky

  4. Vicky,

    What a great post! I think it is very important for children to remember their grandparents origins. I found out about mine at a later age and respected my grandparents so much more when I heard their incredible journeys to the US. Unfortunately, in many schools in America there used to be several policies that discouraged children from doing this. For example, when my parents were little they were not allowed to attend school until they stopped speaking Spanish and only spoke English. Therefore, my parents did not allow us to speak or learn Spanish. However, my grandparents taught me the language. I’m of Mexican descent. My grandparents also had to teach me about our heritage, because with not being allowed to speak the language in the home then the traditions are consequentially excluded from the discussion. The American school system has improved greatly in this regard. Now, many schools do teach bilingual education and cultural programs are arising. I also encourage a discussion of culture in my classrooms. Many of my students in Germany are not of German heritage but of various nationalities. It is fun to learn about each other and these are some of the most lively discussions.

    • Hi Shelly, thank you very much!
      What a sad experience your parents went through – they were literally “robbed” of their heritage, when they could have kept both their origins and their new cultural identity together – what a great combination that would be! It is very positive that your grandparents chose to defy the policy of not letting people keep their heritage and taught you the language and culture of Mexico – it is a very important part of you. It is also very encouraging that you foster discussions on culture in your classes – your students are very lucky! Thank you very much again for your very interesting story.
      Vicky

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Shelly,

      I’m astonished to hear that when you were school-age, you say there were ‘several policies’ that discouraged children from finding out about their parents’/ grandparents’ origins. The example you give of your parents not being allowed to speak Spanish is terrible, but were similar policies in place when you were at school?

      Would love you to add more detail here…

      • Ken,

        In my experience there are many policies, not just educational, depending on the state, that discourage immigrants from being proud of their heritage and celebrating who they are. For example, although I was from a predominantly Mexican American culture in my city that is closed to the border of Mexico, I did not learn about any Mexican literature until college even though a famous Mexican American novelist, Sandra Cisneros, lives in San Antonio. The history I did learn about involving Mexico only came from one perspective and this was not up to debate. In college, I learned that these events were through skewed lenses. Zoning issues have been another issue. I grew up in a really poor part of my city. My father had to lie about our address in order for me to attend a school with better opportunities. In fact, the district that I belonged to had a famous supreme court case over this issue that you can read about here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Antonio_Independent_School_District_v._Rodriguez
        I did not know until I went to a richer school district that I did not speak proper English. I learned Chicano English, which many still speak.

        These are more problems that currently exist. In the US there are many illegal immigrants and they are not eligible to receive most scholarships no matter how well they do in the US and they must pay extreme prices like $40,000 a year or more to attend colleges. This is the international rate given to international students. Another problem is that for a country founded on immigration with a large population of immigrants, learning a second language is only part of an elective in the later years of school when it should be part of the lower primary curriculum.

        Perhaps, one of the biggest problems with the system now is that even if a student is a US citizen, but grows up speaking their native language and does not speak English first in schools then the student is put in an ESL program. Once, students are put in an ESL program there are many states that require the student to stay in these programs for many years and take several tests before the student can exit these programs. If the student is in this program, then the student cannot take most of the required classes for college.

  5. ευχαριστώ πολύ!
    Thank you so very much Viki for sharing your experience growing up in Canada. I grew up in Toronto, which has been described as the most multicultural city in the world. Your post has inspired me with many thoughts. For example, you said:
    “The most encouraging thing is that children, even very young ones, are very open to this kind of thinking and just need someone to show them what diversity is and how wonderful it is.”
    I think that most people would agree that children need to be shown about diversity and how wonderful it is, but my experience leads me to believe that everybody’s got it backwards. It’s adults that need to be shown what diversity is and how wonderful it is, and I think, unfortunately, it is adults that teach children that homogeneity is best, either directly, or indirectly through example. I think acceptance of diversity is natural. I think that discrimination, and prejudice are learned. Let me tell you why.
    My clearest memories begin when I was about 4 years old. We were living in the Willowdale section of Toronto in an inexpensive 2 bedroom apartment. My baby-sitter was Egyptian-Canadian. She had a very dark complexion – as dark as Miles Davis’, and she had black hair. She spoke Arabic with her parents. Despite these “differences”, I don’t recall being in any way affected. I loved her! My two best friends were Olle and Denis. They were Danish-Canadian. They had golden hair and dark blue eyes. When I went to their place to play I heard them speak Danish to their parents. I don’t remember finding this odd. The first time I ever had an inkling that any of this was odd was when I overheard a neighbour lady tell my Mum how wonderful it was that I played with all the children. Why wouldn’t I?
    My parents bought their first house in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, because houses weren’t affordable in the city. Mississauga was transforming from a rural area to a suburban area. There was a farm across the street from my house. At the school bus stop I met a diverse group of kids, including a Greek-Canadian girl called Helen. For kindergarten I attended a public school. From grade 1, I attended a Separate School, in other words, a Catholic school. It wasn’t until I got to school that I learned that I was different from others and others were different from me. Everyone’s parents or Grandparents were born outside Canada. Only my paternal grandfather was born outside Canada. My other grandparents were 2nd or 3rd generation Canadian. My ethnicity was mixed: English, Irish, Scottish, Catholic and Protestant. All 4 grandparents were of mixed ethnicity. In short, I was the only unhyphenated Canadian, and the only kid from a multicultural family in the school. Unlike you, it took me ages to figure out how to describe my identity: Anglo-Celtic-Catholic-Canadian, triple hyphenated! In school, I discovered that except for my family, all girls were called Mary, or Anne, or some combination including Mary or Anne. All families had at least 4 children, many 6 or more. The only thing I had in common with other kids was that I was Catholic, and even there differences existed. It wasn’t before I got to school that I was asked, “What are you?”. Denis and Olle never asked me that. It wasn’t before I got to school I heard the ugly words people use to label and differentiate each other. I didn’t learn these words from my teachers, whether they were lay or religious, but I heard them from my classmates. Where did they learn these words? Why hadn’t I heard them before I went to school?
    We had a reading contest and I discovered a great series of folk tales books in the library that were long and easy to read (extensive reading for native speakers). I read folk tales from India, Japan, and other places. I read the whole series. Also, like you, we had lessons about other cultures. I remember a lesson in grade 1 about Japan. We had many lessons about a variety of cultures, but we had few lessons about the contributions to our Canadian community and culture made people other than British-Canadian or French-Canadians. The contributions to the construction of the CNR by Chinese and Irish Canadians, which united our country, were just foot notes. I didn’t learn about Teresa Stratas in school either. We learned little about First Nations people really, and most of what we learned was from The Jesuit Relations.
    The point is, when I was “in a state of nature” diversity was the norm. When I entered school, my introduction to “society”, things got complicated, and the educators made an impression by what they taught, and what they didn’t teach. I’m delighted that you have a favourable memory of growing up in Canada. Despite the criticisms I’ve made, I too am very grateful for my Canadian upbringing. Still, consider this, recently, a special African-Canadian school was established in Toronto because members of the African-Canadian community didn’t feel that their children’s needs were served by the public school system. If the regular schools (including Separate Schools) exposed students to the great contributions of the Black Loyalists, the Black porters on the CNR, or Canadian heroes including Lincoln Alexander, Daniel G. Hill, or Michaelle Jean, maybe these parents wouldn’t have felt the need to lobby for a special African-Canadian school.
    Children are the bright ones. It’s adults, parents and educators, that need the learning about diversity.
    Finally, in my opinion, Canada is neither salad nor a melting pot. It’s a mozaic.
    Cheers!!!

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Great story, Michael, and SO true that the adults are the ones who need to be taught. As the Graham Nash song ‘Teach Your Children’ says in the SECOND chorus …

      Teach your parents well
      Their children’s hell will slowly go by
      And feed them on your dreams
      The one they picked, the one you’ll know by

      (Crap rhyme at the end, but a nice idea)

      Graham Nash was old boy of my school. I think they taught him well. :)

  6. Hi Michael, κι εγώ σε ευχαριστώ πολύ!(I thank you very much as well)!
    What an amazing contribution you have made today, what a wonderful story you shared with all of us. It shows us how much diversity in Canada is an inextricable part of its culture. Of course, there are sometimes negative moments. It is up to educators to detect negative comments and they can build whole lessons on them – and the kids can learn a whole lot. I always say that children do not come with a manual “How To Respect Others” – we have to teach them.
    The coincidence is that I lived in Mississauga too! What a beautiful (and multicultural) area, don’t you agree?
    As for the African-Canadian school: Perhaps Canadian education should focus on why African-Canadians felt the need to make their own school. Education needs to integrate everyone.
    “Children are the bright ones. It’s adults, parents and educators, that need the learning about diversity.” That is one of the most fascinating things I have ever heard in my teaching career so far – and how right you are!
    Thank you again very much for your very useful and interesting description of your life in Canada.
    All the best, Vicky

  7. Vicky,
    Thank you for sharing your views on multiculturalism and tolerance! You are so right, most of our children’s and students’ attitude stems in and reflects their parents’ and teachers’ attitude towards people from different countries and backgrounds, with different cultures, customs and beliefs. Online collaborative projects (like wikis) help a lot in establishing connections between students from different countries and in making them share ideas, opinions and views on different topics, but the thing I like the most is how amazed they are to discover that teenagers are faced with the same problems, no matter the country they live in. This creates a very strong bond between them and brings them closer together.

    Thank you for the post and thank you, Ken, for this wonderful opportunity you’ve offered us!

    Melania

  8. Hello Melania and than you for your kind words!
    What a great idea you have presented us with – the online projects sound like a fantastic idea. The students do not listen only to what the teacher tells them about other countries or read up on their own, but can actually come into contact with people from other countries and hear about their experiences first-hand!
    Thank you very much Melania and I wish you all the best, personally and professionally!
    Kindest regards,
    Vicky

  9. Viki mou! Sinxaretiria yia ti zoi sou kai tin prospatheia sou. Apo kapoios pou tora leo tin ellada einai “spiti” (ego pou eimai edo yia 15 xronia tora) se katalaveno poly oti to poio megalo mathima otan menoume stis xores pou den einai ‘patrida’ einai oti einai entelos ormofoi oi anthropoi pantu! Ekana tin apofasi na sou leo afto sta ellinika yiati ti glossa mas (mitriki kai aftes tis glosses pou mathenoume meta) einai ti kentriki ‘fleva’ na katalavanoume tin istoria mas kai ti sxesi pou exoume me to kosmo mas! Efxaristo para poli!

    Dear Viki – congratulations for your new life and for all your efforts. From someone who now calls Greece “home” (I am here now for 15 years) I understand totally that the biggest lesson we learn when we live in countries that are not our “home land” is how beautiful humanity is everywhere. I decided to write this to you (first) in Greek as our languages (mother tongue and those we learn) are the central “vein” we use to understand our history and the relationship we have with the world around us. Thank you Viki!

  10. Good morning Sara and thank you very much for everything!
    Θα ακολουθήσω τον τρόπο που έγραψες. Μπράβο πρώτα απ’όλα για τα Ελληνικά σου! Και για τις απόψεις σου! Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ για τις ευχές σου και να είσαι πάντα καλά κι εσύ!
    Έχεις απόλυτο δίκιο, μένοντας κάπου αλλού μας δείχνει πόσο ωραίοι είναι οι άνθρωποι παντού και τι ωραίο που είμαστε όλοι διαφορετικοί. Και μαθαίνοντας τη γλώσσα της χώρας που μένουμε μας βοηθάει να καταλάβουμε την ιστορία, τους ανθρώπους και τη νοοτροπία της χώρας πιο καλά – πόσο δίκιο έχεις!
    Σου εύχομαι κάθε επιτυχία επαγγελματικά και προσωπικά και εύχομαι να σε γνωρίσω μια μέρα και από κοντά! (Στη Θεσσαλονίκη μένεις, σωστά; Εκεί σπούδασα και την αγαπώ πολύ!) Καλή εβδομάδα και καλές γιορτές! Βίκυ
    I will write in the same way you did. First of all, congratulations on your Greek! And on your opinions! Thank you very much for your wishes and I wish you all the best as well!
    You are totally right, living somewhere else shows us how lovely people are everywhere and how wonderful it is that we are all different. And learning the language of the country we live in helps us to understand the history, the people and the mentality of the country better – how right you are!
    I wish you every success professionally and personally and one day I hope to meet you in person! (You live in Thessaloniki right? That is where I attended university and I love that city very much!) Have a great week and happy holidays! Vicky

  11. Exo anoixtes portes sto spiti mou otan tha erthies sti Thessaloniki! Xronia polla kai na eiste kala! Sara X

    Open doors at my house whenever you visit Thessaloniki!

    Happy holidays and best best wishes! Sara X

    • Σε ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ και σίγουρα θα σε επισκεφτώ όταν έρθω στη Θεσσαλονίκη! Να περάσετε πολύ ωραίες γιορτές!
      Thank you very much and I will surely visit you when I come to Thessaloniki! Have beautiful holidays!
      Vicky

  12. Hi Vicki,

    thank you for a very informative and interesting take on growing up in Canada. But this (ethnicity) + Canadian thing really confuses me. I tweeted about it some months ago, but I’ll just have another go and see what your take is.

    At the TEAL Manitoba conference in Winnipeg in October I was talking to a teacher. She had what sounded like a Russian accent when she spoke excellent English. So I asked her (because I was interested) ‘where are you from originally’ – and it was indeed Russia. She’d been living in Canada for some years.

    At dinner later I got into a fierce discussion about whether my question ‘where are you from originally?’ based on hearing an accent was an appropriate question or not. It was put to me that this was a question of exclusion (= you aren’t really Canadian) and that it had ‘colonialist’ resonances.

    I think I understand the argument (because it may depend where the question comes from), but I’d be interested on your take.

    (And sorry, ken, to bring that question back, but it still perplexes me because I can see both sides of the argument)

    Jeremy

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Jeremy,

      please don’t worry about bringing this back!! You know it resonates in our family very much. I’m still waiting for a face-to-face with Gavin so we can talk about the difference between someone asking him that question in Barcelona, and someone asking my ex-policewoman niece-in-law – black, born in St Vincent, resident of Luton since age of 4, and with an accent that clearly locates her as someone from the south-east of UK.

      The circumstances, as you know, were that she was questioning a white suspect in a crime. Being asked ‘Where are you from?’ in circumstances like that is SO different from your Winnipeg question!

    • Hi Jeremy and thank you for a very interesting comment!
      It depends on the person, basically. Everybody in Canada has origins from somewhere else, no matter how many generations have passed and usually people there like to remember their origins. Canada is a relatively new country and a great mixture of people from various places, so most people say my parents are from there-and-there and so on. Of course there are people who just say “I am Canadian” or do not really care about where they came from and I really do not know why the person you asked took it so wrong. It is very important in Canada (and they really insist on this in education) that people preserve their cultural identities and be proud of living in Canada as well.
      It really made me think though and would be interested in learning more.
      Thank you very much Jeremy and have a great week!
      Vicky

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