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Cultural sensitivity: quintessential in urban schools

By Alex SchroederSpecial to CSMS MagazineStudents today are placed under added social pressures that many of us did not have to deal with when we were children. In addition to the fast paced result driven culture of American life, ESOL students also have to deal with the pressures of staying true to their home culture. At the same time, they must attempt to conform to the American mainstream.I grew up in rural Ohio in a town of about 300 people. The racial makeup was ninety eight percent Caucasian and two percent “other”. Many of my classmates were the children of my parent’s friends. At one point my mother was a substitute teacher in my fourth grade class. In short, there was little I did that my parent’s were not aware of or not involved in. This shaped who I am and my attitude toward education. I now live in one of the most multi-cultural and transient cities in America. Why do I point this out? Answer: It is not the same world that I grew up in.I recently visited Azalea Park Elementary School in Orlando, Florida. Clearly, the students at this school are dealing with pressures and adult themes that would have been unimaginable for me to deal with in my sheltered world of Martinsville, Ohio. Many of the students are either first or second generation to live in the United States and have limited English vocabulary. Through discussion with one of the teachers, I determined most students have no educational support at home for various reasons. Some possible reasoning includes parents who don’t understand their first grader’s instructions, because they are written in English. Parents who are unable to provide educational support because of working two or more jobs; and surprisingly frequent is complacency. It wasn’t discussed, but I have considered the resistance that some parents may have to conforming to the mainstream culture. The resulting diverse group of students poses many challenges for teachers as well. There are many more factors that must be considered when dealing with children in a multi-cultural society than the all white, rural upbringing that is my frame of reference. It is nearly impossible to treat all students the same. Their culture, their very view of the world, their reality can be so markedly different from one to the next. This might include such things as having to learn a new language including endless and constantly evolving slang. There are religious differences. There are Muslim and Catholic students in the same classroom. There are also other cultural differences to include concepts of the importance of time, gender roles, personal space, and general etiquette.I have to imagine what it is for Lillian, a first grader who spends the day with Spanish classmates. She then goes home to her Vietnamese-speaking mother and off to the local Publix grocery store where only English is spoken. It is clear that an understanding of what it is to be intercultural is critical to being an effective teacher.Also see Culture sensitivity: http://www.csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20060906I252

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