Raise Up: diversity in the classroom

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to chat with Ila Coimbra. She’s an ESL teacher and teacher trainer, IATEFL speaker, founder of the BRAZ-TESOL Voices SIG, and co-author of Raise Up, a textbook developed with inclusivity in its core.

vspokeHow did the idea of creating an inclusive textbook come up? What motivated you?

Ila Coimbra – I have always given talks on diversity and inclusivity, that’s when James M. Taylor suggested we turn it into a book. The truth is that we are not the only ones talking about it. There is a change in how we approach diversity in the classroom, but incorporating this into textbooks has happened at a slower pace and, usually, in local materials. That’s why we decided to create a more mainstream coursebook to include a more accurate representation of the world we live in.

vspokeWhy is it important to be more inclusive, to incorporate diversity in textbooks?

IC – We believe that diversity benefits all learners.

First, a more accurate representation of society in the classroom is both an opportunity for our students to be exposed to other cultures and identities, and to express their own identities. This means that, if our students are part of the minorities included in the textbook, they might be able to express their identity and also feel as they belong in the English-speaking world. This is called ownership of language (Norton, 1997), which is strongly connected to motivation and identification with the target language and culture.

Second, even if our students are not part of any minorities, by being exposed to a wider variety of groups they might develop empathy, tolerance and acceptance, thus learning to live with differences.

vspokeWhat should teachers keep in mind in order to ensure inclusivity?

IC – The students. Who they are. Their identities. What they identify themselves with. As a teacher, one has to be aware of the many identities that there are in the classroom. It’s all about them, helping them see the world as it is; including them or making them more prepared to live in a world that is more diverse. And before including any other issues, the teacher should make sure that their students feel included in the class. I think that if we start with that in mind, there is no way it can go wrong.

vspokeHow can people learn more about Raise Up? How can they purchase it?

IC – Anybody who is interested can purchase our books here. Or on our Facebook page. Also, all the profits from the sales go towards CASA 1, which is an NGO in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that supports homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

What you can do in social distancing

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the entire world is united in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. That’s why your government has asked of you to practice social distancing.

While we all know it is hard to stay home and avoid going out, meeting friends, doing all the things we are used to, it is extremely important to help slow this virus.

Some of us might not know exactly what to do in times like this. We have a few ideas. Check it out.


  • to be living under a rock: when you don’t know what is going on in the world; not informed
  • social distancing: avoiding physical contact, crowds, staying home when possible
  • the sky is the limit: anything you can imagine is possible
  • unplug: not using social media or the internet
  • pamper: spoil, treat with kindness and care
  • stay safe: be careful

What about you? What activities are you doing while practicing social distancing? Share in the comments below.

Should ESL teachers (only) be native speakers?

A NNEST is a non-native English-speaking teacher as opposed to a NEST, native English-speaking teacher. Currently, about 1.5 billion people in the world speak English and of those, less than 400 million use it as their first language (L1) according to the World Economic Forum. Chances are most teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL) are not native speakers.

There has been ample debate on the value and efficacy of NNESTs. Some defend their participation in lower levels where grammar is the focus (*) and that NESTs should be given preference in higher levels where fluency and pronunciation are the focus (*).

Students often openly state their preference for native speakers as teachers. More frequently than not, job ads seek for NESTs exclusively or even pay a higher wage to them when they do hire NNESTs.

Naturally, this comes from lack of knowledge of what constitutes a good teacher – of any kind. First of all, one needs to be certified to teach ESL. There are several institutions world-wide that provide training and certification to aspiring ESL teachers – regardless of their nationality or mother tongue.

Second, one needs to have knowledge of the subject they teach – whatever it may be. Bear in mind that knowledge doesn’t simply equal nativeness: one must know rules, terminology, vocabulary and more. Being just a fluent speaker won’t do.

Third and most importantly, there is vocation. Not everyone who checks the boxes above will succeed as a teacher, and it is not because they are not knowledgeable or qualified; they may not be cut out for it regardless of being native or non-native.

To put it simply, the way I see it, NNESTs are success stories. They should serve as inspiration to learners because they’ve made it. They have mastered a foreign language and have done so in such a way that they are now able to pass on that knowledge and help others achieve the same.

It is somewhat like having a trainer at the gym who got themselves in shape; or a brilliant public speaker who used to stutter; or immigrants who make a life for themselves in a new country. In all honesty, we all want to be that person who proves it is possible, that person who inspires others to keep trying.

Are all NNESTs good teachers? No. In the same way there are terrible native-speaking teachers. A teacher is neither good nor bad because they were born speaking this or that language. A teacher is good or bad based on their training, on their vocation, on their willingness to excel.

* vspoke language does not subscribe to these specific beliefs. We believe grammar and vocabulary and fluency can be studied regardless of levels and can be taught by NESTs and NNESTs alike.

This article was first published here.

Welcome to vspoke

We offer personalized learning solutions to help you boost the English you speak. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in learning and we understand that.

As our programs are delivered online, you can study anywhere and optimize your time.

Give your thoughts a voice. Join vspoke.

Subscribe to our mailing list for free exclusive learning content.