Teach English in Edmundston - TEFL Courses

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Cultural sensitivities in the classroom For the nine months of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan, where I completed intensive Arabic study and conducted anthropological field research. During this year, I became aware of something I had never encountered: my own cultural bias. Living in Jordan showed me the extent to which I am a product of my own society. Culture is more than holidays and food, but the set of behavioral norms in a society. University of Minnesota's Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) defines culture as: “The shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization.” Because culture manifests itself in how a person interacts with others and perceives her surroundings it is easy to be unaware of one's cultural bias. According to the Education Alliance at Brown University, “children whose language and culture correspond more closely to that of the school have an advantage in the learning process.” Conversely, “children whose experiences are devalued or unrecognized become alienated and disengaged from the learning process.” For this reason, cultural sensitivity is an integral component of the classroom. If students feel uncomfortable in the classroom, they are far less likely to participate, let alone risk making a mistake to experiment with the newfound knowledge. Classroom culture differs from country to country. Students in the US, for example, are encouraged to ask questions and even disagree with teachers and professors. In Jordan, however, I found student-teacher relations to be more hierarchical than Americans are used to. I advised a student curious about the study abroad program I'd attended that “if the professor says something incorrectly, students don't directly challenge him/her like we do here. Correcting a professor is perceived as a threat to his/her respect and authority.” Misunderstandings can arise between students and teachers who do not successfully address cultural differences in the classroom. For example, Feldman points out that: “Asian cultures typically value a collectivist orientation which values family or group needs over individual ones. So the Asian student who may appear shy to the uninformed teacher may be expressing a cultural mind set by not wanting to call attention to himself or otherwise diminish the abilities of classmates. (Feldman, p. 376).” An insensitive teacher would dismiss this student as shy and timid, while a culturally sensitive teacher would be aware of this tendency and plan class activities centered around group work. An awareness of students' cultural norms allows a teacher to choose classroom activities, readings, listening clips, and discussion topics that will keep students interested. This weekend I will be helping to lead a discussion among a group of Iraqi refugees and immigrants. While speaking with the group's organizer to plan for Saturday, I offered the idea of playing games to “engage” and “activate” group members so that they'd feel comfortable and encouraged to speak. Hayder, who is from Iraq, advised me that if the game is too silly the women will not feel comfortable participating in front of the men, and men will be more compelled to maintain their veneer of masculinity than participate in the game. Had Hayder and I not had this conversation, I would have chosen some silly games that may have made the group uncomfortable. After awareness must come flexibility, on the part of both students and teachers. While teachers must adapt their lesson plans, curriculum, teaching styles, and activities to be as centered around their students as possible, they would do a disservice to students if they did not help the students adapt to their types of teaching styles. Luciano Mariano points out that, “[i]f our learners are to be successful at school and at work in our society, they also need to learn our specific ways of learning and working, which may look unfamiliar and even puzzling to them.” Throughout this course, I have learned that teachers must create a comfortable classroom environment so that students will be more relaxed and willing to take risks with the language and make mistakes. Both the student and the teacher are ambassadors of their respective cultures, and both must be sensitive to the fact that the other comes from a different background with a different set of pre-conceived notions. If both the students' and the teacher's cultures are weaved into the curriculum, cultural differences could serve not to hinder, but rather to foster engaging classroom activities and discussions.

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