How Important is Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom?
Teaching English as a second language is a very rewarding experience. It is very rewarding as a teacher to help and watch your students succeed in their lives. The teacher does have to be understanding of several things while teaching in the classroom. One of these things is cultural sensitivity.
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This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Nicholas S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Just as the United States has its own culture and cultural values, so does every other country in the world. It is crucially important that a teacher understands the culture of the students they are teaching, even if they are teaching English to students online or in their native, English-speaking country. Cultural sensitivity is very important to any classroom in teaching, but especially teaching English as a second language. In this line of work, a teacher could be teaching English to students of several different cultural backgrounds, each with their own goals and dreams. One mistake in cultural sensitivity can seriously damage the relationship with one or more students, which can not only hurt the credentials of the professor but the motivations of the students as well.
When a teacher of English as a second language takes on the responsibility of teaching a foreign class or student, they should take a little bit of time to understand more of the background culture of which the student or students are from. For example, in Thailand, it would potentially be considered rude to bring any sort of shame to the royal family, even if it was unintended. So an event that might be considered culturally harmless in the United States such as cutting out pictures of the president or making up comical scenarios of the US president may not be as accepted in Thailand if the teacher implements the same activities with the royal family.
Another cultural sensitivity topic to understand is the etiquette of social interaction between the students. For instance, students in Latin America tend to be very social, talk while being very physically close to one another, give and receive physical affection such as hugs and handshakes, and like to discuss personal matters. Whereas students in Asia tend to be less social in that regard, do not appreciate personal matters as much in general, and tend to shy away from physical affection between groups of people and typically tend to bow instead. A teacher should be very understanding of the cultural differences between their groupings of students and do their best to ensure that their classes are as culturally sensitive as possible in order not to alienate or make their students uncomfortable.
Just as it is crucially important for a teacher to be sensitive to their studentsâ emotions and mentalities, they should also be equally sensitive to their studentsâ cultural upbringings and scenarios. I remember in my experience in teaching students from Japan, I was instructed to not even mention illegal drugs or drug activities even in my advanced, adult classes. Illegal drug use and business are so taboo and illegal within the Japanese government that even simply mentioning it as a foreign teacher could have very negative ramifications and results for the students and the teacher. Even in my advanced classes in which I was encouraged to bring up popular, debatable topics to make the class more interesting, illegal drugs were never an issue to even consider.
An English as a second language teacher should always be aware of the cultural sensitivity in the classroom. The cultural background of the students is just as important as everything else, and a teacher does not want to hurt their reputation with their students or worse, hurt the studentsâ motivations. As a teacher, I hope to always keep cultural sensitivity in mind in my future classes.
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