posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany
I have only just completed reading Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man. A Memoir” (London: Fourth Estate, 2005) in which he looks back at thirty years of English teaching in New York City high schools. Charming, partly irresistable, thought-provoking, slighty repetetive perhaps. Anyway, I was reminded of my own years as a secondary school teacher in Germany. The questions the book raises regarding the future of the teaching profession as a whole are fundamental and pressing. With regard to intercultural education, one of the many excellent dialogs is particularly interesting, funny and (slightly) depressing at the same time:
“Yo, teacher man. – Call me Mr McCourt. – Yeah OK. – So you Scotch or somethin’? – No, I’m not Scotch. I’m Irish. – Oh yeah? What’s Irish? – Irish is whatever comes from Ireland. – Like, St. Patrick, right? – Well, no, not exactly. – Hey mister. Everyone talk English over there in Ireland? What kinda sports didja play? You all Catlics in Ireland? Yo, teacher man. – Joey, I told you my name is Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt. – Yeah, yeah. So, mister, did you go out with girls in Ireland?” (c) (2005, 20-22).
All the ingredients of trouble are visible in this exchange, and yet, there are so many starting points or critical moments for intercultural education. The question is how to exploit them in a systematic way. Classroom-based (rather than classroom-oriented) empirical research is needed which explores intercultural classroom discourse in more detail. And language teachers need to be equipped with the necessary know-how to identify these ‘fruitful moments’ or learning opportunities and react appropriately.