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By Elizabeth Moore

 Special to CSMS MagazineAs in all industrial societies, The United States is no different when it comes to dealing with the diversity issue. One area where this issue is so important is within the school system. Those who are in the trenches, the teachers, must know what it takes to build cross-cultural awareness in our classrooms. As a teacher, you will be faced with many different and new cultures in your classroom. It is critical that you are aware of the specific elements of every child’s culture in order to provide the students with the least restrictive learning environment and the right tools to help them reach their highest potential.            In learning about the new cultures in your classroom, it is important to keep in mind the language barriers for interpersonal and nonverbal communication. It is also important to know how to communicate with the parents and their relationship with the school system, any significant holidays the child or his/her family will be observing, which may include food limitations, clothing, music, and so on. Although it is very hard to become an expert on the culture of every student, having an idea of their attitudes and beliefs will help you as a teacher, the students, and their family throughout the course of their education.            In the state of Florida, the Hispanic community is a growing as a vibrant culture. It is very likely that there will be at least one student from the Hispanic culture in your classroom. Their language ability can range from exceptional English to a classification of ESOL due to a lack of the English language used at home. The first and most obvious obstacle will be to overcome the language barrier between the teacher, the students and their parents. If possible, the teacher can speak to the children in Spanish to help translate and explain directions they need to know in order to perform in the classroom.However, it is important not to use their native language too often, as this may slow down their progress with the English language. The language barrier can also become an issue when the children try to convey a thought or idea in front of the class. They may initially be very fearful of talking in front of the class due to their inability to pronounce and articulate their thoughts in the English language. The same approach of speaking in Spanish can be used when communicating with the parents. Parental involvement is an important aspect in the child’s education, and if able to, speaking to them in their native will enable them to be involved in the best means possible. If the teacher is unable to communicate in Spanish, he/she could possibly get a translator or another teacher who will be willing to help express the progress or failure of the student.In the Hispanic culture, it is very common to have an extreme close family, and they take pride in their families. Due to the importance of family members in the Hispanic community, it is important to get them involved in the student’s education, as they are probably already interested and eager to learn about what their child is involved in. Hispanics often put a lot of focus on their family as a whole, and not so much as themselves as individuals. A good example is when a student needs help or offers assistance to another student; the teacher may assume they are cheating. However, this can be related to their belief that they are to help those in need, and they may not see or understand that this can be wrong. If this is the case, the teacher can explain to the student the significance of testing and doing some individual work. On the other hand, the Hispanic student will be very engaged in cooperative and group learning activities.             Another important aspect about the Hispanic culture is their etiquette and personal values. As stated in Understanding the Hispanic Culture, “Hispanics tend to be more relaxed and flexible about time and punctuality than U.S. people” (Clutter). This can be an issue in coming to school on time and being at school functions promptly. A student who is constantly late for school or does not pay any mind to making a certain time deadline may be used to the relaxed atmosphere in their home and with their family. This can be addressed by discussing the importance of being on time with the student and their parents. Hispanics are also known for “talking loud, fast, and adorned with animated gestures and body language” (Clutter).In many young students, their excitement can become overwhelming, and their voices may project to a level that is not acceptable indoors. A constant but simple reminder to use indoor voices may help students notice their behavior and learn to control their voice level. When they are engaged in a conversation, they often get very close to the other person. Some students in other cultures may feel uncomfortable with this. When applying the elements of the Hispanic culture to the other cultures in the classroom, their means of communication and comfort levels are important to look into.            Most of the religious holidays practiced by the Hispanic culture is observed in the United States as a major holiday. They are recognized by the government and are observed as well. Such holidays include Christmas, Easter, and Three King’s Day. Most Hispanics are Roman Catholic, which is a well-known and highly practiced religion in the United States. The holidays the students and their family observe should also be common to other students in the classroom.            For some Hispanics, lunch is seen as the biggest meal of the day, called “el almuerzo” (Clutter). Some families practice coming home from school or work to have lunch together as a family in the middle of the day. The meal is followed by a short rest period called the “siesta”. However, most Hispanics who have settled in the United States quickly adapt to the three-meal course followed. Therefore, it is important as the teacher to find out which practice the student’s family follows. Since school usually only allows about 30-40 minutes for lunch, having the student leave would be very difficult to accomplish.            Knowing how to handle specific situations and how to accommodate every student’s personal needs can help make the classroom run smoothly. It can also make it easily possible to reach many of the goals anticipated by the teacher. Understanding the student’s cultures and beliefs can make the classroom very enjoyable as well. By including cultural aspects and specific heritages into the curriculum, the standards can become more integrated and multi cultural. The students will be more culturally sensitive and aware of the different cultures other than their own. The classroom can be filled with different areas of study, including learning about holidays and special traditions of many different cultures. Each culture takes a lot of pride in their beliefs and traditions. So, to have it integrated into the classroom will not only educate the students, but the parents as well. This can also be a tool to get parents involved by asking parents to teach the students different dances, flags, clothing, and food that go along with the culture’s traditions.Also see Tips for teachers who teach ESOL students of Cuban originNote: Elizabeth Moore teaches Social Studies at a high school in suburban Atlanta. She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.

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