Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom – Focus on Teaching English To Non-Native Speakers
Today’s classroom is a global entity and unless appropriately addressed, issues of cultural diversity have the potential to severely diminish the success of even the most dedicated teachers and promising students. In order to promote an atmosphere that enables all students to be successful in learning English in the ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom, it is critical that each student feels safe, respected and appreciated. In today’s diverse and multi-cultural climate, this sensitivity has never been more important.
In many countries, the administration of schools and learning centers (principals, superintendents, etc.) recognize the importance of cultural sensitivity in the classroom. This is ideal and often policies to promote this concept are developed as a baseline for expected and accepted behavior. It is important to respect these policies and incorporate these strategies within the classroom as they will prove to be of great value to both teachers and students.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Susan K.
Creating An Environment To Promote Cultural Sensitivity
Not all school boards provide a cultural sensitivity policy though, so it is important for the teacher to create an environment and curriculum to promote an atmosphere that will drive the highest levels of student success in their classroom. By recognizing and celebrating cultural diversity, the teacher can significantly improve student experiences and the ability to learn English. This holds true for all levels of classes – from young children to adults. Everyone needs to feel safe, valued and included. Showing concern for the language and cultural issues of the individuals and various cultural groups will help increase the students’ level of English fluency. An inclusive curriculum needs to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the classroom as much as possible. At the same time, it needs to respect the unique differences various students’ cultures (or cultural groups) may exhibit.
Showing interest in your students’ cultures
Some ways a teacher can demonstrate cultural sensitivity is by demonstrating that they genuinely care about their students’ cultures, traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors. The teacher will find it helpful to incorporate these unique cultural differences in their lesson planning. Each component of the ESA (Engage, Study & Activate) activities lends themselves quite readily to the inclusion of cultural topics and factors. Topics familiar to students will inspire them to open up and participate more readily.
Creating culturally diverse lesson plans
Including culturally diverse material provides easily-understood reference points to some students and increases the knowledge and awareness of the students from different cultures. An example of this involves popular TV shows, videos, and music. Consider that your high-school classroom is made up primarily of Vietnamese and Korean students. Although the world seems to be getting smaller, there are TV shows and games in Vietnam that may not be common in Korea and vice versa. It would be helpful for the teacher to incorporate examples of appropriate TV shows and videos from both cultures into their lesson plans. Using these strategies in the lesson plan allows students to understand their cultural differences and the areas where they share mutual interests. For instance, music seems to be a global phenomenon and can often unite multiple cultures. Even if they don’t speak English, many students of different cultures know the words of many of the globally popular English songs!
Demonstrating your cultural understanding and acting accordingly
Another way a teacher can demonstrate cultural sensitivity is to understand the issues of the culture and how they might manifest themselves in the class. This could involve the manner of dress of a teacher (short skirts for female teacher taboos), whether the class groups should include both male and female students (gender sensitivities) or even things native English speakers might not consider, such as crossing your legs while sitting. It will definitely be an important consideration during times of religious observances and popular cultural events. Guidelines surrounding attendance may need to be adjusted during important religious or cultural events.
It’s the simple things
The teacher will usually be the primary person to foster an environment of inclusiveness and tolerance in the classroom. Simple things such as encouraging everyone to learn how to pronounce the names of each student properly will help students feel valued. Recognizing and discussing key religious ceremonies for various cultures also enables understanding and inclusiveness. Encouraging all students to understand and affirm everyone’s beliefs and customs will help increase confidence and acceptance in the classroom. When students feel good about themselves, they are more likely to stay engaged and excited about their learning and successes. Students with diverse cultural backgrounds will benefit considerably from the support of students from other cultures. Throughout these discussions, the students are practicing their English and improving vocabulary. The teacher simply needs to ensure discussions are incorporated into the lesson plan. The little bit of extra work and creativity will be a huge benefit to all students.
Are you ready to teach English as a foreign language?
Cultural sensitivity in the classroom is extremely important to student success. An appropriate focus on this key aspect of the classroom enables students to learn more effectively by feeling safe, included and respected. Affirmation from the teacher and classmates is as important, if not more, than their individual grades at the end of the semester. Leadership for cultural sensitivity on a day to day basis generally lies with the teacher, however, responsibility lies with all stakeholders. The Administration, the teacher and the students all have the ability to positively affect the impact of this critical issue. Once all stakeholders embrace this important concept, the atmosphere of the classroom will be set for student success!
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