Cultural Sensitivity in the ClassroomCultural sensitivity is defined as “the quality of being aware and accepting of other cultures. This is important because what seems acceptable in some countries can be rude or derogatory in others”. 1
To be a successful teacher, understanding cultural differences is essential. Understanding and being sensitive to cultural differences can mean the difference between having an enthusiastic, participative, and motivated class, to having a de-motivated class where there is tension and disrespect.
Everyone is different, and that must be respected. The “Iceberg Model” 2 is often used to illustrate how some cultural differences are very noticeable (i.e. are above the water line), and many aspects of culture are not noticeable (i.e. are below the water line).
The tip of the iceberg represents physical differences that are easy to see – examples are race, age, sex, etc. The concealed part of the iceberg represents beliefs and cultures that are less obvious – examples are religion, sexuality, values, attitudes, etc.
Having worked in a multi-national company, working alongside people of different nationalities, cultural awareness became very important. Being an english
teacher working abroad, or an english
teacher working in an english
-speaking country with foreign students, it is essential to have an understanding of some of the key cultural differences that might exist within the classroom.
Being British, I would generally wear smart clothes to work, would introduce myself to students and shake their hands. I may occasionally wish to “treat” my students, to continue building my relationship with them, by bringing in some food for the class. In many countries some of these traits may be inappropriate. Some women would be uncomfortable shaking hands, (particularly with a man), some students may not eat certain foods due to religious beliefs, some students may be fasting due to religious beliefs, some may be offended by clothes that I may be wearing.
One such cultural difference which would likely become obvious if teaching students from the East is “loss of face”. The possibility of losing face is a big concern amongst Asians. Ask an Asian student, “Do you understand the assignment?”, and the likely answer will be “yes” – regardless of whether the assignment has been understood or not. There have been many frustrating times in my working career where promises have been made to deliver a piece of work, only for that piece of work not to materialize. This is one cultural difference that should be considered when teaching students in the East. The teacher must be able to determine whether the class have really understood the lesson and are able to carry out any assignments. Building rapport with the class will help with this, as the students should be more at ease and more able to speak up if they are unsure.
The list of cultural differences is endless, but what is important is for the teacher and students to understand that everyone is different, and they should use their different experiences in a positive way. Encourage students to discuss some of their experiences and cultural differences. This will not only build relations within the classroom, but will also encourage students to practice their english
speaking within the group.
1 Wikipedia – definition of cross cultural sensitivity