Cultural and Linguistic Differences: What Teachers Should Know
Recognizing culture in the classroom is not just about sharing ethnic foods and holidays with students. Rather, it is about embracing differences in backgrounds, values, and experiences in order to help teach students. Learning about one’s own culture, values, and beliefs is an important first step to recognizing and valuing other cultures. By utilizing this honest self-reflection, teachers are able to acknowledge the extent to which their personal worldviews have influenced their teaching and how these may have led to inappropriate expectations for their students. To recognize the connections between culture and learning is to gain the potential to change how instruction occurs. Culturally responsive teachers create classroom environments that make students feel empowered and successful, regardless of their cultural or linguistic differences. They also identify ways to encourage family involvement, a step that can foster further school success for their students.
Donna Ford summarizes why it is important for teachers to be culturally competent (time: 2:04).
Donna Ford, PhD Professor of Special Education and Betts Chair of Education and Human Development Vanderbilt University
Teachers should try to become culturally competent for a number of reasons. First, it is essential that we remember that as of 2005, for example, our student population is over 40 percent culturally diverse, meaning black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American. And so, when you talk about being culturally competent, you do that because your students are very culturally different. They’re more culturally different and diverse than they’ve ever been before. And, if projections are accurate, culturally diverse students will be the largest minority in the school situation in the very near future. So that’s one reason, so that you can be responsive to your students. You also do it so that, in addition to being responsive to your students, in terms of curriculum, in terms of building relationships, relative to instruction, relative to assessment, you do it so that the learning environment could be positive, as opposed to negative or assaultive. So when you are culturally competent your students feel that you understand them, you appreciate them, you respect them, you want them in your classroom, and you’re going to do whatever it takes for them to do well. But that’s looking at from the students’ perspective. We have to be culturally competent for ourselves, as well. I think it’s almost impossible to live not only in the United States but to live in the world and to teach in schools where you don’t have cultural competence. People argue, and I agree, that becoming culturally competent is a survival skill. And I think if you think of it in that way it’ll be helpful. So you do this for students, so they know that you appreciate them and care about them, but you do it also for yourself so that you can survive in this ever-changing society.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you still agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
What influence does culture have on a student’s school success?
How does linguistic diversity influence classroom performance?
What impact do culture and language have on a family’s involvement in school and on their child’s education?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.