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Tolerance and Cultural Sensitivity in The Classroom

Tolerance and Cultural Sensitivity in The Classroom | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Since one of the essentials of being a good teacher is being respected by your students, it’s very important to make sure one does not offend culturally by one’s behavior or the content of the lessons. Lessons should be fun and at times feel “free” in the sense that students are laughing and interacting with each other and with the teacher perhaps in a game, but at no point should boundaries be crossed that would make students uncomfortable or put them in a defensive posture.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Renata D. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


From the get-go, in establishing rapport, the teacher should do so in a manner that is acceptable in that culture or subculture. For example, if the environment calls for it, an appropriate business dress and formal introductions are necessary. If the environment is more casual, still there should be a relationship established that is expected in a classroom setting.

A teacher should do some research into what is appropriate and inappropriate in such a setting and pretty much use those parameters when conducting the lesson. It is always best to not get too near the edges as people can be individually more sensitive than others. In choosing topics for discussion, for example, it’s preferable to pick neutral stories rather than political or religious or criminal stories in the news.

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Special Cultural Aspects

Things that can vary due to culture can include: the distance between interlocutors, touching while speaking, touching one’s hair, face or scratching, what type of footwear one uses or if footwear is worn at all, time spent with the back towards the students, the tonality of voice, etc. While to some extent the teacher should represent the English spoken in their country of origin, keeping some points in mind about the culture of the students can be very helpful.

Examples of Cultural Misunderstanding

Some examples of a culture clash that can happen in a classroom setting include: a teacher going barefoot or wearing bare feet in sandals in a culture where using bare feet is considered unprofessional and provincial; a teacher shouting too much in a culture where the tone of voice appropriate for the classroom is even and quiet; a teacher involving students in an activity where they have to ask questions of each other considered embarrassing in their culture; a teacher touching students with the wrong hand considered “dirty” in that culture; a teacher demeaning customs in that culture in their examples and comments in the classroom.

The teacher thus needs to walk a fine line and be aware of themselves at all times. During the class, the teacher should express no political, religious or other opinions that could cause a clash in the mind of the student. After all, the goal is language acquisition and it ought to be a pleasant ride toward that end with no disturbing detours. It is up to the individual student to use the newly acquired language to seek out different viewpoints and cultural experiences, not for the teacher to impose them unless the students specifically request such experiences or articles.

Also Read: Lesson Plan: Teacher's Trajectory of Delivering Knowledge

Do you want to learn more about other cultures? Take a TEFL course!

In conclusion, cultural sensitivity in the classroom is an important consideration whenever people of different cultures interact. By being aware of it and practicing it, the focus will remain on learning the language and engagement will be robust.

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