How to Organize a Culturally Sensitive ESL Classroom
A new teacher has many things to consider when instructing a new group of students in a foreign country. One of the most important aspects and one that should never be overlooked is the understanding of cultural sensitivity. In this summative analysis, I will speak about the importance this has to the development of the teacher-student relationship and ultimately classroom management.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Matthew B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
My Personal Experience
In my prior profession, I managed a successful defense contracting firm. I had a very diverse group that consisted of many different ethnicities. In this eclectic group, I learned first hand how to deal with different cultural aspects. As I grew in my role, I also grew to understand the cultural differences each possessed. I was able to use this to my advantage to relate and ultimately better manage my group. For example, In the month of Ramadan, I would avoid taking my staff out for lunch, knowing that some of my Muslim employees were fasting in observance of their holiday. Showing sensitivity to different cultures creates trust and cements relationships. Once these are attained, it makes for a more cohesive working environment.
Teaching involves the same sort of understanding, especially when a teacher becomes a guest in a foreign country. A teacher must ensure that he or she does extensive research on the country or region they are about to teach in. What passes as humor in one country may be offensive in another. For example, in the United States, a person’s teaching style may invoke sarcastic humor. While this may be a successful technique in the states, the same teacher would not be as popular in an Asian country where “saving face” is extremely important to the culture.
Expressing Your Thoughts
It would also be beneficial for the teacher to act conservatively about speech and actions. As an American, I am used to the expression “free speech” and I have interpreted this to mean expressing my opinions politically whenever I wanted. It wasn’t until I was discussing with a foreign co-worker, that I realized not everyone is so inclined to speak overtly on matters such as politics or religion. This co-worker politely explained to me that in his country, even though people did not agree or like the president, they would never openly express an opinion like I just did. Learning the formal greetings of the country can also put you in good graces with the students and show them, you as a guest in the country, are willing to respect and learn as well.
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A teacher should already have some basic knowledge about the country or region they are about to teach in. Knowing the answers to such questions like “what are the religious or political denominations?”, “what are the typical stereotypes?”, and “what gestures are acceptable?”, will better equip the teacher to avoid potential awkward and uncomfortable situations. The goal for the teacher is to establish confidence between him or herself and the classroom. Understanding these basic questions equips the teacher with an essential tool to use to relate to the students. For example, if I am teaching English in the south of France, in a city like Marseille, I would get to know what the most popular soccer chants are for the local club, Olympique Marseille.
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Then I would use them by changing the words to English when teaching vocabulary words. In doing so I am understanding the culture and applying it to teaching. This will no doubt help establish rapport with the students. Additionally, this will show the students that you care for their customs and respect them as well. Establishing a relationship with your students will lead to a relaxed atmosphere and the students will feel more confident in you.
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