Why is it Important to be Aware of Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom?
The first job as an English teacher abroad is a challenging change, especially if the country you are choosing to work is culturally different from your home country. There are so many differences between one country and other but usually, those differences look bigger when the place you move belongs to another political and social organization mode. My experience as an English teacher in China has allowed me to see these huge differences between western culture and the Asian world.
In the following essay, I will try to point out the main cultural challenges that a teacher I had to face and how this may become a sensitivity source inside the classroom.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Maria A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
First of all, we should understand the motivations that can lead to the students to learn English, in China the main target to learn English is (as dull as it can sound) to improve their curriculum, it doesn´t matter if you are teaching kids or adults, Chinese people are pretty aware of the high level of competition the society sets for this population, most of the kids start learning English when they are just 3 or 4 years old (this is happening in the cities, not the countryside) and they are used to complement their education with lots of extra lessons that will make them become an attractive asset to get a place in a good high school, university or job.
The last point leads us to the first sensitivity I’ve noticed in the classroom, Using numbers to identify kids, from the beginning is a rude way to treat people, but especially in this country might lead you to give explanations, let's imagine that you have 2 or 3 students with the same name in a classroom and that they last name are just so hard to pronounce that you want to put a number in front of their name to identify the moment they will participate or something similar, this can make some kids cry or feel angry because for them the numbers are directly related to the grade they have or how good their performance is in the class, meanwhile, this was a natural way to identify students in my country (México) it turned to be a huge problem in China. Also if you want to play games where everyone needs to have a number the students with the numbers after 3 will probably feel uncomfortable.
Parents’ Attitude Towards Teachers
The second sensitivity noticed is more related with the attitude of the parents towards the teachers, as long as they are looking for excellence in their children we can assume they look for the same in the teachers, they will expect not just a good English level but also strong discipline inside the classroom, the parents used to complain when I was too soft with the students or when I spent some time trying to make them relax, and the students sometimes misinterpreted my caring and joyful attitude towards them as weakness, being too nice with the students can make them feel that the class is a game and not a class, which in this culture is not welcome.
The second sensitivity leads us to the third and last one, the physical punishment and high-level voice inside the classroom, as foreigner teacher who comes from a country where the physical punishment is banned inside the classrooms I was shocked the first time one assistant teacher used inside my class, it is a natural way to treat students, it is also is allowed and encouraged from the parents to be used, it became a friction point between my coworkers and me because I was denied to allow it but also they were under pressure to use it because the parents asked for that kind of “strong discipline” and the older kids who were used to it were out of control when it wasn´t used as a disciplinary method after a long time. On one side I can´t change or judge the culture and the practices that are culturally accepted in the country and on the other I found it uncomfortable and a bit sad.
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We as English teachers who are working abroad must always respect the cultural differences and try to understand the reason behind some actions to avoid touching sensible topics, you can always try to learn about the culture before moving to new country but, as you can see in the topics I have mentioned before, not all the information is out to learn and some topics might be so small to explain that not a lot of people mentions but it can lead to a problem or bad situation.
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