Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.
Why Culture Matters
Culture is a part of who we are and everything we do. We cross cultures frequently without being aware of doing so. Some of the cultures we interact with on a daily basis include: neighborhoods, businesses, and religious groups. The numerous cultures we belong to are extensive. Our relationship with culture is mind-boggling and undeniable. Perhaps one of the biggest cultures we are aware of is the school environment.
Quite simply: culture can be defined as the way things are done around this place, and schools have their own traditions, values, and expectations, just like anyplace else where humans gather. Furthermore, schools have groups which represent narrow subcultures of the general culture of the educational environment. Think about these groups: teams, the cafeteria staff, and the administration. How they interact with each other and the students can be vastly different from school to school. For example the culture of one school may be like this:
- After every victory of the football team, the principal gives a speech in the auditorium where everybody gathers.
- Before lunch, all of the students must line up single file to enter the cafeteria.
- The principal expects all report cards to be returned to the teacher within a week with signatures from the parents.
Understanding Culture in the Classroom
Although educating students is the main goal of the school, teachers may have different variations on how to accomplish that goal. For this reason, another subculture in the school is the classroom where one teacher’s preferences may not be shared by his/her colleagues. Yet, culture influences how lessons are presented and how instruction proceeds. It impacts how students learn. With the student population projected to be mostly of nonwhite children by the year 2020 in America, Culture has crucial ramifications for educators and the field of teaching. As a rehabilitation counselor with training in the teaching profession, I found these steps useful when delivering instruction to my students:
- Understand who you are as a person. Remember: We all come from different backgrounds which can influence how we carry out instruction. (Should students raise their hands to ask questions? Should students be given rewards for performing well on tests or quizzes? Should topics be discussed openly in class or simply read about in the books?) We bring these expectations into the classroom.
- Understand students learn in different ways. Essentially, every student is not the same. One style of instruction may fail to reach one student while helping another. A teacher must be flexible and use his/her skills to educate all of the students in the classroom.
- Read about other cultures. This will help you understand your students better.
- Step out of your comfort zone and talk to colleagues or visit settings where your students come from.
- Recognize that an inclusive classroom assists with correcting the biases and prejudices in your nation.
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How to Integrate Culture into the Classroom
Here are some methods I used in my classroom to approach culture in a thoughtful way:
- Know the power of the oral tradition - Children and adults love to hear stories – It’s what we do as humans. I shared stories relevant to the topic and engage in discussions with my students to help them learn the facts needed.
- Use “geometry” to help you – I use the word geometry to describe setting up the classroom so that you maintain your students attention. (I liked to use a circle with me at the middle. This is common in many cultures.) This was particularly useful when my students gave book reports.
- Give your students time to work on projects as teams – This allows the more reserved students to interact more with their friends. Walk around and make suggestions as needed. Some cultures encourage group learning.
- Give your students time to explore individually – This is important for students who come from societies where individuality is paramount. Using both team learning and individual learning strategies will encourage your students to adjust to different situations.
- Invite speakers from different cultures – This allows students to hear about other cultures and see individuals who represent their particular culture.
- Be courteous to your students – Remember: Your students are young human beings. Respect their names. Give them time to speak without interruption.
- Incorporate different perspectives into lessons – It doesn’t take much time to mention facts that would interest all of your students. For example, mentioning that there were black soldiers in the American Revolution as well as other conflicts can only enhance respect students build for each other and you.
- Use technology – When appropriate, show films which include various types of cultures and people working together. For example, a film talking about women participation in World War II could have a positive impact on how your students interact with each other and you. Always keep the focus on constructive dialogue and steer clear of detrimental debates.
Intelligence: Cultural Factors and Instructional Implications
An often overlooked aspect of culture is how intelligence is perceived by students and teachers. For example, students who believe intelligence represents a "fixed quality,” meaning intelligence cannot be changed because of various factors, prefer to do activities in which they are successful. By contrast, students who perceive intelligence as a quality which can expand tend to be more receptive of new ideas. Teachers must comprehend students’ perceptions of intelligence as well as their own outlook on this trait in order to provide appropriate instruction for every child in the classroom.
For this reason, teachers must scrutinize their values about intelligence. Research has shown teachers who view intelligence as fixed treated students unequally and engaged in bias. Such beliefs can have important ramifications for different student populations, particularly minorities and females. However, teachers who viewed intelligence as malleable demonstrated less bias and treated students more equally. In conclusion, to engage in best practices, teachers should encourage administrators to make cultural responsive training a part of ongoing professional growth and be willing to implement techniques which are evidence-based in the classroom. Ironically, culturally responsive teaching as a norm must be integrated into the culture of the school.
Chartock, R. (2010). Strategies and lessons for culturally responsive teaching: A primer for k-12 teachers. Boston: Pearson.
Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Hollie, S., & Allen, B. (2018). Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning responsive teaching and learning; classroom practices for student success. Huntington Beach: Shell Education.