As a new teacher, what do you need to know about managing student behavior?
Page 2: Cultural Considerations and Behavior
Although it’s important that teachers recognize the necessity of a strong behavior management plan, they must also be aware of how culture influences personal interactions. This is especially important given that teachers often come from cultural backgrounds different from those of their students. Without adequate knowledge and understanding of how culture affects student behavior, a teacher might misinterpret a student’s actions.
The teacher comes from a culture in which it is considered respectful to make eye contact when being spoken to by an adult. Jordan, on the other hand, has been taught that making eye contact is disrespectful to adults, and so he looks at the ground when his teacher speaks to him. The teacher’s understanding of culturally based responses is critical to deciphering Jordan’s intent. If the teacher does not understand Jordan’s culture, a seemingly insignificant action like looking at the ground could be misinterpreted as defiance, apathy, or lack of respect and could result in the teacher administering a negative consequence.
In general, teachers tend to assume that others had an upbringing similar to their own. When they do so, they create a “personal lens” through which they view the world and a “script” for how to act in certain situations. Anyone who does not fit inside that viewpoint, or who does not follow the script, is assumed to be different or perhaps even inappropriate or disrespectful. Therefore, it is important for teachers to understand how culture influences a student’s interactions with others as well as his or her responses to authority figures. Culture can influence a student’s behavior in regard to:
The appropriate way to approach an issue or topic during a conversation can vary by culture.
- In some cultures, it is preferable to get right to the point or to say what you have to say in the most unequivocal manner possible, without considering how the listener might feel.
- In other cultures, where such a manner might be considered rude, preference is given to less-direct communication styles that include more elaborate introductory or intervening discourse and greater deference to how the message is received.
Cultural variations exist in the extent to which outward signs of emotion are displayed in interactions with others.
- Some cultures demonstrate dramatic emotions through speaking volume, tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions.
- Other cultures might place more emphasis on emotional restraint, depending more on the speaker’s words to convey the intended meaning.
There are cultural differences in the amount of physical movement that is considered appropriate when communicating with others.
- In some cultures, it is acceptable to use body movement and gestures as a means of enhancing a story or emphasizing a point.
- In other cultures, excessive body movement might be considered boastful or inappropriate.
The extent to which an individual is comfortable taking turns during conversation, instead of talking while another person is speaking, might be culturally based.
- In some cultures, it is common for speakers to engage in conversations in which more than one person speaks at a time or for the listener to interject commentary (e.g., “That’s right,” “Tell it”) as a means of signaling approval to a speaker.
- In other cultures, this practice is viewed as an interruption and considered rude.
Students might show consideration for others by refraining from behaviors that might offend. Likewise, students might show consideration for others by being tolerant of behaviors that they find unpleasant or offensive.
- In some cultures, one might show consideration by not playing loud music because others may be disturbed by it.
- In other cultures, there might be a greater tendency to show consideration by learning to tolerate loud music if someone else is enjoying it.
The level of tolerance for others entering one’s personal space might vary across cultures.
- In some cultures, it is customary for speakers to remain at least two feet apart. Failure to recognize this is often interpreted as a desire to seek intimacy or as a prelude to aggression.
- Other cultures accept closer interactions as commonplace. Too much physical distance might be interpreted as aloofness.
Ideas about personal ownership vary by culture and, consequently, influence attitudes and values related to sharing or borrowing objects.
- Some cultures might emphasize communal property rights and reinforce the notion that “what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.”
- Other cultures might be less inclined to embrace a communal property philosophy and place greater value on individual ownership.
Perceptions of what constitutes an authority figure are culturally influenced.
- In some cultures, age might be a determining factor. For example, students might view all adults as authority figures.
- In other cultures, position is the primary determiner, so students view teachers or police officers as authority figures by virtue of their position or occupation.
- In still other cultures, designation as an authority figure must be earned by behavior and is not accorded based solely on age or position.
The means by which an individual demonstrates deference to authority figures is also culturally influenced.
- In some cultures, students show respect for authority figures by not making eye contact.
- In others, students show respect by looking downward during interactions with an authority figure.
- Some cultures consider it disrespectful to question an authority figure, whereas others value this practice as an indicator of critical thinking.
The manner in which students respond to or comply with a behavior management style can be culturally based.
- In some cultures, permissive management styles are viewed as a way to encourage the child’s individuality and self-expression.
- Children from other cultures may view a permissive management style as an indication of weakness or lack of concern.
The relationship that a teacher builds with students is based on effective communication. This requires creativity and a continual process of getting to know one’s students and what each one brings to the classroom: their experiences, world views, cultures, and other factors that make them unique. Teachers can foster effective communication by establishing a classroom environment that promotes empathy, equity, positive self-esteem, and mutual caring and respect. When they create such an environment, teachers will find that they have to address classroom discipline less often and will be able to devote more time to instruction and student learning.
Now that you have learned how culture can influence a student’s behavior, it’s time to practice. Read the scenario and determine how the student’s attitudes about communication might be influenced by cultural norms. When you are finished, you will have the opportunity to hear Deborah Voltz, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, as she suggests some possible teacher responses. Click here to begin.