Be honest. Have you ever felt like you can't connect with your students?
Have you ever felt no matter what you do or say, you just can't bridge the gap?
In the back of your mind you may be thinking if I was _____________ then perhaps they would appreciate me more. If I was a different race/gender/class/religion/age/size etc, they would give me a chance.
Well, there is a path. The gateway to this magical realm to increased engagement & smiley students is...
In this week's blogpost, you are going to learn
Exactly what culture is & why it is so vital for your classrooms.
3 reasons why you should invest in knowing the different cultures in your education space.
3 extremely simple ways that you can access your students' cultures & build that rapport that will make you the Wonder Woman/Batman of your schools.
What Is Culture?
The Oxford Dictionary describes culture integrate as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society1.”
People are different. I work in London, England, a very diverse city full of people from different religions, cultures, creeds, classes and world-views.
If where you teach is not outwardly diverse, there will be experiences and opinions that may be drastically different from yours.
To be a great teacher, you must be aware of the different cultures that your students are a part of and know how to integrate them into your classroom.
I get it. You have 100s of students to plan for. But trust me if you take the time to try to understand your students' cultural perspectives, you will gain a bucketload on benefits including:
Increased Respect - Respect is a two-way street. If your students see that you are trying to understand and appreciate their culture, they will feel that you are willing to listen to them and this will help you gain their props.
Increased Knowledge - Learning about different cultures will expand your knowledge base & make you a better teacher. Cultures often have their own language, customs & codes that you have to learn. This new knowledge will make you more creative & you will develop innovative ways to engage your students.
Trust - showing cultural sensitivity to your students helps them see you care. This builds trust & allows your students to feel they can open up. This also creates a space where you can deal with problems in a respectful & positive way & minimises flashpoint situations.
The bottom line is that someone’s culture is a gateway to their identity.
If you do not even try to attempt to understand what is important to your students, then, you will have an uphill struggle in trying to engage them. But how do we as teachers put this into practice? Here are 3 simple things that you can do straight away that will make an impact.
1. Say Your Students Names Correctly and Remember Them
Never, ever underestimate how important this is. As the child of immigrants, I know how it feels to have my name butchered & have all my classmates laugh hysterically at me. This is often the start of many flashpoints.
If the pronunciation is difficult, ask the student how to say their name and be sure to remember it. This is absolutely vital for children from underrepresented backgrounds as they will already be aware that they different & may feel 'othered' in your classroom.
Author Dale Carnegie said: “To remember that a person’s name to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language2.”
No matter how terrible you are at remembering names, if you make a special effort use their names correctly, you will be off to a flying start.
2. Embrace the Language & Customs of your students
If your students keep using particular language or dialect (which is not offensive or disruptive) ask them what it means. Language is another pathway to culture.
Sometimes words have double meanings. For example, in London slang, the word "bare" doesn't mean 'exposed' but 'plentiful/lots of.' So if a young person says he saw 'bare mans' he doesn't mean they were streaking!
These language codes help our young people determine who is part of the 'in-group' & if used correctly, can show your kids that you understand & accept them. Most students will oblige as you are showing that you are open to their background.
Make it a habit to try to learn as much about their cultural backgrounds as possible can it can give you a clue into their patterns of behaviour. Obviously, keep this within professional and ethical grounds and don’t ask questions, which can be deemed as culturally insensitive.
Use a bit of common sense. Imagine you were at a nice dinner party with polite strangers. Now let’s take your question: if you would be afraid of asking these dinner guests this question for fear of misunderstanding or cultural insensitivity, then I wouldn’t ask the student.
Depending on your subject and the curriculum, you may have the flexibility to plan lessons that allow you to celebrate the different types of culture in your class.
Maybe you could do a debate around the differences and similarities in culture or a written piece around their local area. Be creative and sensitive and it can be a very satisfying experience.
3. Find Common Ground
Despite your differences with your students, more often than not there will be things that you and your students will both enjoy. Having something in common with your students can create a positive atmosphere and if it is done right you won’t lose your authority.
If you can do this well then you are being ‘inclusive’ and you are championing diversity in your class. Education Specialist Linda Wilson writes:
“diversity recognises and celebrates differences; it supports equality by respecting rights, valuing individuals talents and advocating that everyone’s skills are fully utilised3.”
This is Teaching 101 right? Now hopefully you have some tools to put into practice.
Whether it is Football, a Netflix show, cars, dresses, music, gardening or anything light, try to find something that you can chat with your students with. This shows your students that you are human & they more inclined to trust you.
As a word of warning, try to avoid the heavier subjects - keep it light & simple.
There is nothing wrong with showing a little empathy & a little humour in your classroom - it will make the lesson enjoyable for everyone in the room & may even help you reduce the behaviour issues too.
There you have it. Do you want more blogs like this that will turn you into a teaching superhero? Then it's simple. Sign up to the AHT blog below to get the hottest, tips, tricks & tactics straight to your mailbox. Don't miss out!
Karl from actionheroteacher.com
1. Oxford Dictionary. 2018. Definition of culture in English. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/culture.
2. Carnegie, D., 2006. How To Win Friends and Influence People. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Vermillion. Page 79
3. Wilson, L., 2014. Practical Teaching: A Guide to Teaching and Training Sector. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Cengage Learning EMEA. Page 38