Establishing Rapport while Volunteer Teaching: Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom
Many programs allow educators to become volunteer teachers, specifically, my experience as a TEFL instructor in the Peace Corps China program has provided me with valuable insight into the importance of establishing strong relationships with students from different cultures. Teaching English in rural China was filled with many challenges but I believe that the most important challenge that I needed to overcome was bridging the cultural gap with my students. By bridging this gap, I was able to build strong student-teacher rapport and help the students improve their English language abilities over time.
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This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Nicole E. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
When volunteering in a foreign country, it is important that teachers practice cultural sensitivity. Cultural sensitivity in the classroom means that a teacher is willing to listen to students first to understand their values. The teacher must then allow students to define their own goals and accomplish them while staying true to those values. Although the overall goal will most always be focused on learning English, goals, and values will provide teachers with an answer to the question âWhy do the students want to learn English?â. This culturally sensitive mindset is necessary for any individual serving an underdeveloped country but it is especially important for teachers because it allows them to build a foundation of trust and mutual understanding. Furthermore, this trust and understanding will become the basis of strong student-teacher rapport. Student-teacher rapport is the foundation of classroom learning. It is the backbone of classroom management and allows the teacher to customize lessons and assessments to optimize student performance.
During my experience in China, I noticed a correlation between the studentsâ performance and the strength of our rapport. The strongest correlation could be seen in my lowest level classes which consisted of highly motivated yet low-level English learners. I was one of the first native English speakers many of my students had ever met and as a result, they at first felt very shy about speaking English to me during class and in passing. However, as time passed I invested more time in getting to know my students. I developed activities and assessments that would give my students the freedom to speak about their personal lives and culture. I learned that students genuinely enjoyed sharing their experiences with me and so I planned my lessons to give students ample opportunity to do so.
I believe that those activities opened a door that allowed me to foster a greater understanding of my students and further develop our relationship. Students began to grow more confident and take risks in my class. They were less fearful of participating in activities and started to enjoy the communicative activities I designed for the class. Students asked questions and shared little pieces of their lives, all in English. The desire for students to communicate with me outside of the class also provided them with the extra practice they needed to drastically improve their oral English. Their trust that I was willing to listen to their stories gave them the confidence to share and my lessons gave them the freedom to practice new vocabulary that would deepen our relationship.
I truly believe that teachers who volunteer in countries that have cultures different from their own need to adopt a mindset of cultural sensitivity. By listening to and learning from their students, teachers can develop lessons that allow students to grow through the values of their home. As the teacher listens to and plans their lessons based on student needs, lessons become more useful to students which will increase their motivation to do well. Furthermore, by building rapport with students, teachers can foster a sense of trust and willingness to communicate. These feelings will encourage students to communicate with the teacher, giving them more opportunities to practice their English. Finally, strong rapport gives students confidence which is essential in language acquisition and classroom learning in general. As a whole, by placing students first a volunteer teacher can become effective and create relationships that will extend beyond the classroom.
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