Professional Guidelines for Christian English Teachers: How to Be a Teacher with Convictions while Respecting Those of Your Students by Kitty Barnhouse Purgason. William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA, 2016, 221 pages. Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-0878-08497-5; $13.99 at Amazon.
Reviewed by Nessie Jones
What attracts readers to a new book? The title will be one drawing card, the author another, and for some, it could be the stamp of a trusted publisher. In this case, the lengthy title narrows down the readership from English teachers in general to those who have a Christian faith, and finally, to people interested in the juxtaposing of their own convictions with those of their students. The author’s credentials are strong, from her childhood days in India where her parents worked, to her own professional experience in many countries as a teacher and then a teacher educator. Then there is the name of the publishers, well known over almost half a century for bringing us books in this and related fields. One further reason for getting hold of a book can be a personal recommendation which is what this review aims to be.
The topic of values, and specifically Christian values, as they apply to the teaching of English has received attention from a number of authors in the past couple of decades. Dormer (2011), Snow (2001), and Pierson and Bankston (2017), to name just three, all include in their titles words like Christian, mission, or theology as does Dormer’s which also has the words “effectiveness and integrity.” These and other books all reflect a concern about how people’s underlying beliefs play out when they are teaching English, particularly (but not only) outside their own country. This review highlights two features that make Purgason’s book worth reading and using with teachers pre- and in-training: sound theory and practical examples.
The book has three parts, each with a different format. The first of three chapters in Part 1 introduces the topic through four case studies which illustrate the range of international contexts in which Christian English teachers find themselves. This chapter also includes a summary of Purgason’s life as mentioned above. The short second chapter states the book’s biblical foundations: the Great Commission and the Golden Rule, among others. Then, in Chapter 3 the reader is invited to consider “what we teach and how we teach it” (p.19).
Part 2, with its nine chapters, forms the body of the book. Each chapter has a succinct heading followed by a more explicit subheading. Thus Chapter 5, “Going Deep,” has the subtitle “Questions about what’s important,” while “Good Teaching” in Chapter 9 is subtitled “Critical thinking.” A detailed look at one chapter will give a feeling for the section’s focus and format.
In Chapter 10, “Power Dynamics,” about appropriate teacher-student relationships, the content goes beyond what might first come to mind under that heading. It deals, among other topics, with cultural expectations of how students should respond to teachers in class. Is disagreeing with the teacher’s viewpoint seen as rude? Should students appear to agree even when they don’t? A number of lively examples (and solutions) are added. One idea is for the teacher to introduce some imaginary exchanges as a starting point for showing how disagreeing need not be the same as rudeness.
Teacher (presumably feigning ignorance): The capital of Thailand is Chiang Mai.
Student (raising hand): I’m sorry Ms. Thompson. Chiang Mai is a fine city, but the capital is actually Bangkok.
Finally Part 3, titled “More Teaching Ideas,” moves to a different format. There is nothing theoretical about the list of suggestions here. Its seven chapters include a mixture of lesson plans and teaching ideas based on songs, poetry, short stories, and proverbs. The final chapter is for teachers who must follow a prescribed text book but would like to supplement this in interesting ways. The suggestions come in four columns of lists which include references to well-known international textbooks such as Interchange as well as others from Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Heinle.
Two groups who come to mind as likely to use this book are individual teachers who are heading off to teach English in another country, and people running training courses for these people. It would be easy to imagine the material here being assigned as part of the course reading and then leading to helpful discussions. However, there are plenty of illustrations throughout the book which build on the teaching of English in the United States, and therefore it is worth recommending to any new teachers of English who are also Christian.
This book is warmly recommended to both these groups as well as to long established teachers who might like to look at their professional lives through a fresh lens. They will find plenty here to reflect on and to include in upcoming lessons.
- Dormer, Jan (2011). Teaching English in Missions: Effectiveness and Integrity. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
- Pierson, Cheri and Bankston, Will, eds. (2017). Thinking Theologically about Language Teaching. UK: Langham Global Library.
- Snow, Donald (2001). English Teaching as Christian Mission: An Applied Theology. Scottdale PA: Herald Press.