A personal narrative of unethical practice in ESL educational materials development, or, “Sorry, Brian!”

The day’s lesson included a worksheet. The worksheet featured pictures of flags from various countries and assorted snapshots of my “friends” to represent said countries and flags. The prior quotation marks on the word “friends” would hardly be required, but for the presence of Brian.

Brian is a decent chap whom I’ve met once in my life and will most likely (perhaps one might add, if all goes well?) never meet again. The summation of facts which I personally know about Brian are that 1) he is from England, and 2) his name is Brian. Conveniently enough for me (although perhaps unfortunate for him), these two facts were more than sufficient for my purposes. Brian’s nationality lined up perfectly with the textbook, since England is one of the six countries featured in the unit. This good fortune was coupled with the existence of a photo of Brian and yours truly, taken at a group event along with several other lovely people (who were cropped out — for the sake of developing educational materials, you understand).

Before I paint a picture of myself as a less-than-forthright individual regarding the use of photos containing people I hardly know, let me say, in my defense, so to speak, that the usage of Brian’s photo on the worksheet was one of the more honest ones, since the two known facts about him were preserved intact. Whereas, in some (all?) of the other cases, I found it necessary to slightly fictionalize certain details for the sake of conforming to the countries featured in the curriculum. For example, my friend Joy, originally and truthfully from the U.S., now finds herself reborn as a Canadian named Holly, and dear Kate has now had her origin of birth relocated to Australia. Amy, who indeed speaks Chinese and resided in that great nation for some time, has now been awarded permanent nationality in exchange for her original U.S. citizenship. Congratulations and condolences to all.

The main point in all this (if there is indeed a main point) is that each of the photos featured myself alongside the person from the nation of interest. As a direct result, an estimated fifty percent or more of my beloved fifth graders are now wholly convinced that their English teacher has a British boyfriend named Brian.

May God bless Brian. And may Brian forgive me for facilitating his unwitting contribution to education.


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