Working with Culturally Sensitive Issues in the Classroom
When teaching English to non-native English speakers one may often come across a learner from a different culture than one's own. Many certified TEFL teachers may have been drawn to this program because of this exact aspect. Teachers may want to fulfill personal goals of traveling to unique countries and experience different cultural activities. Teachers with their TEFL certificate are extremely likely to find themselves teaching students with a different cultural identity than their own. This is very rewarding for students and teachers alike but comes with certain challenges that should be dealt with appropriately. Every country has subjects and issues that are taboo and not engaged with much in everyday society. These subjects and issues can vary widely so it is important to first research a bit about the culture, political situation, and society. This is so one can scope out any potential issues in the classroom that the teacher may invoke by mistake in a discussion, activity, or even offhand comment. The reason is not to shy away from controversy or discussing disagreement but to make the students first and foremost feel comfortable in the classroom. This does not mean the students cannot be challenged or the teacher cannot be challenged from their point of view. It does mean that the teacher has a larger responsibility to be aware of differences within a culture.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Meyer B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The important principle to keep in mind is that the teacher should never make off-hand or casual despairing remarks on their student's culture as this will destroy rapport and trust between the student and teacher. This will affect engagement in your lessons as well as damage the respect between you and the class. It may hurt discipline as well. In the United States, we have topics that come up frequently in the discussion that are not strict taboo such as sexuality or politics. In certain countries, this may not be the case and would be inappropriate to engage in this sort of talk. In other places, American topics such as these would seem very mild. It is always important to respect the belief systems and the culturally sensitive issues of your classroom. This is separate from encouraging cultural exchange. It is important to clarify "differences" and "sensitive issues". A great topic of discussion would be to encourage students to discuss or analyze major differences in beliefs and culture between themselves and the students. This can promote a higher interest in the material and discussion while also allowing students to gain insight into an English speaking culture. The challenges around cultural sensitivity are being aware of the line in which differences become culturally sensitive. This can be avoided mainly by research into their student's culture. Using appropriate culturally responsive instruction techniques and philosophy can help navigate the rewards of cultural exchange and deal with culturally sensitive issues that I previously talked about.
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In conclusion, the reality of the situation presented will have challenges when coming into contact with differing viewpoints and ideas in unique cultures. The best strategy a teacher can do is to understand these culturally sensitive issues and respect them. Try to engage your students not via controversy and cultural issues as it can come off as isolating for some students. Instead, one should be focused on highlighting cultural exchange while minimizing or avoiding culturally sensitive issues out of respect and desire to create a comfortable environment for the engaged student.
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