Local Methodologies vs Western Pedagogy

Open Letter from an ISR Reader

..Dear ISR, There’s a situation that’s been on my mind for some time and I’d like to hear how colleagues in various parts of the world are dealing with this sensitive topic. Here goes:

..I am sure everyone is aware that teaching styles around the world vary greatly. While international schools claim to be employing western-style educational practices, we can all agree that this may not always be the case, particularly when it comes to local-hire teaching staff.

..At my last school (in the Middle East) my assistant was a host national with a locally issued teaching credential.  She was a hard worker and an immense help, but when it came to classroom management she was hampered by the social hierarchy of her homeland. Sadly, the wealthy, over-indulged, entitled students treated her as a member of the janitorial staff instead of an education professional. 

..It got to the point I was hesitant to run out to the restroom or the copier because I could trust that I would return to utter classroom chaos. My assistant was not alone in these difficulties as I witnessed nearly all other local staff experiencing the same disrespect and mistreatment. 

One solution that worked was to have her deliver the lecture, during which I would leave the room for 10 minutes. Shortly after my return I would administer a prepared test on the material she had covered. Of course, this backfired on me to a degree because the parade of earned “D” and “F” grades brought the parents to my door to complain. I stood my ground and although I explained the situation, most parents were not sympathetic to local teachers.

..I’m currently at a wonderful school in Southeast Asia and although I love it here, I find myself faced with a new teaching dilemma. At this school we have local co-teachers and we are supposed to work as a team. But, our teaching styles are so different I am not sure it’s possible. The local teachers’ focus on rote memorization and fact regurgitation is utterly against my standards, as modern pedagogy is ignored for the most part.  To date I’ve found the local teacher only seems ‘in her element’ while conducting drills of before-test review. I have been preparing some lesson plans for her but I feel she resents me trying to influence her ideas on effective teaching. 

..I would bet that the situations I have described are just the tip of the iceberg. So, I ask you: How do you reconcile local teacher methodologies with western pedagogy, and do so without sacrificing education quality, upsetting the local-hire teacher or alienating your students or their families? 

7 thoughts on “Local Methodologies vs Western Pedagogy

  1. In my experience as long as the Principle is good (a school needs a strong and effective leader), there is a whole school pedagogy and at least 50% western trained teachers then it can work very well. Many western qualified teachers are just plain ordinary or bad teachers and many of the local teachers I worked for learnt quickly to adapt to new teaching methods especially if the whole school follows the same overarching strategy. It usually comes down to good hiring practices to get talented teachers. One of the best teachers I ever worked with was Nepalese qualified working in the UK. He could walk into a rough class rioting and they would calm down and learn like perfect students. He just had that magic persona and could adjust to any students needs.

    What is a disaster is a local muppet head who is not a teacher but the owners son who thinks he knows it all. An infamous school in Malaysia has a chain like that. Sons run them and most teachers are Fillipino or Iranian or European non native English speakers (not qualified as teachers in their home countries) and a small veneer of qualified western teachers to role out at marketing events. Too many schools like that so my advice look at the head closely.


  2. Contrary to some opinions, this is not an easy fix at all and, depending on the culture(!), it can be a monumental task to shift perceptions and beliefs that weave there way through a teacher’s approach to education and children. Effective teaching and learning is not simply the assignment of roles and duties nor is it necessarily solved by money in PD. It is true on a wide scale that management is often clueless and will not spend time and money on the proper resources or training. It would be interesting to actually assess how many admin teams are aware of the issue as it is manifested in their school.


  3. You don’t know how to deal with other cultures and people with different skills than yourself. This is a very simple problem to solve


  4. In reality, if the school management only does lip-service to critical thinking pedagogy, there is no incentive for the local teachers to train. Management needs to provide the monetary resources, PD and time to help all teachers get trained in modern pedagogy. I know so many local teachers that want to teach differently, have some resources that give strategies, but they don’t have the time necessary to learn how to practice and refine the new strategies. I don’t think it’s due to unwillingness, just not enough support to help with the transition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a significant obstacle for any teacher or leader trying to instill critical thinking and skills in learning for the 21st century in a foreign school. The power inherent in culture determines to a huge degree one’s perceptions and in my experience this can be an absolute wall to progress. I have experienced it with veteran British teachers, who were so dogmatic they had not done anything new in a decade or more, or with local staff as instructors of assistants in seven different countries. The predominance of rote learning around the world prevents vitally needed progress in almost every country. I am presently working hard to erode some of the old perceptions and develop an understanding of key concepts that can open my local teaching staff to learning new, best practice, pedagogies. Just creating an attitude of openness can be a great challenge, yet we try to hire only teaching staff who express an earnest desire to learn and grow. Educating the young people is easy compared to the challenges of the adult teaching staff (and parents) who have been raised with experiences of rote, dogmatic education practices. Much of what makes a dynamic, effective instructor are subtle and must be learned through mentoring, experiencing, and working with dynamic veteran teachers setting the example. We are planning to open a ‘teacher professional development’ course here with the goal of enlisting motivated educators to begin a journey to becoming the 21st century educators the country desperately needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Could you work out how to play to each other’s strengths? Maybe the local teacher could deliver the basic factual information, so students could learn that by rote, but you develop the softer skills like critical thinking and writing which she seems less comfortable with?


  7. Bravo for this- I’m sure outside of a few enlightened European we have all eaten our share of compromised standards. In Azerbaijan, the faculty were great, but when it came to trying to fail a rich student (as they all were) for the most egregious plagiarism or brutal classroom disruption, no way. One by one, all the US or UK admin quit. In Iraqi Kurdistan, it was even worse. Again, fab fac, US and UK, but the Director (we just called him Dr Evil, or Boko Haram) insisted that students should follow only an ELL textbook that had been designed for young adults already living in the UK, with questions on how to get to the tube station etc. I asked my kids if they knew what that was and they said they knew there used to be one in Baghdad, but it had been blown up years ago. We were not to have ‘discussions’ or provide any of our own material. We all left at the end of the first term. But before we did, we decided to spend the final three weeks of term teaching as we wanted. In my case, I prepared some videos on how climate change might lead to a rise in terrorism. They had never heard such a theory before. SO, some of you, depending on how bad the situation is, will just have to bite the bullet if you like the job/country/conditions for other reasons. If not, plan and coordinate your own ”end of term” backlash, and run.


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