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Monday, July 4, 2022

How my culture heritage helps shape my teaching character

By Barbara Valdes

Special to CSMS Magazine

I remember when I was a child I used to listen to my grandmother talking about her experience growing up in her native country. I would sit beside the sowing machine as she gathered her thoughts to describe very difficult years of extreme poverty. Despite the absence of what we would consider today’s basic needs, she remembered her past with joy. She was grateful to have had the opportunity to live in the United States, but deep in her heart she always missed her native land. After living in one community for over forty years, it would be nearly impossible to forget the smell of the land, the taste of the fruits, the music, friendly faces and of course the family she had left behind.

      I came to the United States at a very young age, and I did not have the opportunity to experience first hand all the goods my culture has to offer. I’ve had to vicariously experience it through my grandmother’s wonderful tales. The community that I grew up in was also of Hispanic backgrounds. I remember that my friends used to refuse to speak Spanish and would go to extremes to be Americans. But in the privacy of my room, I enjoyed listening to Spanish music. My friends on the other hand would encourage me to focus on being only American. I was at a loss because I never felt as if I were from one place or another. Although the United States is the country I grew up in, I have to say I always get goose bumps when I hear the national anthem; I consider myself to be an adopted child of this nation because I refuse to ignore my culture.

     Learning about my own culture made me more sensitive towards others. Living in Miami has giving me the opportunity to work with individuals from many countries. I do not take for granted just because someone is Hispanic he is going to understand my Spanish. We could be born in neighboring countries and the word I use for some foods may be different from what he is used to in his native land. This is so true in most Latin American countries as in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Honduras. It is important to be sensitive to other cultures.

     Numerous families move to Miami from other countries everyday. They have left behind their home and friends to live in a land that offers the opportunities to take dreams and turn them into realities. They bring with them deep emotions. The emotions are what keeps the traditions alive. The traditions continue to bridge generations, and ultimately become an important part of one’s culture. Today, I do not have my grandmother with me to tell me more stories, and I am extremely grateful for the years we had together. I have passed them on to my nieces and nephews on occasions. I hope one day I will be able to visit my native land; it will allow me to put into context the streets, grocery stores, food, the mountains and the people my grandmother used to talk about. Deep inside, I know my grandmother would be proud if she were alive.

     In my classroom I am careful with the pronunciation of the children’s names. If I am not certain, I ask the child or parent for some help. I do not take it upon myself to add or subtract from a name. I have had situations where the parents have asked me to call their children by his/her first and middle name. It is not common in the United States to use your middle name, but in the Latin culture the names tend to be long. Sometimes the children bring me drawings from home with both last names written on a piece of paper encouraged by both mom and dad. I proudly display their work and acknowledge their beautiful name. The name is so important to them that on the first day of school I always read a story about names. It is based on a little boy that moves to the U.S. and finds out that a girl in his new class has his name. I also play a game that consists of learning each other’s name. The children are very honest and they are quick to correct their friends if the pronunciation is not correct. The entire week is focused on their name, the first letter of their name, and how important they are to them and their family. They bring pictures of them with their family members that I display the entire year. Every week a child is chosen at random to bring a poster with pictures of his family and favorite things. The parents have the opportunity to have lunch with their children and read a story to the children about their culture; bring in a favorite dish, music of their choice. Once the week is finished, the poster is displayed for the rest of the year in the classroom. The children and parents enjoy this activity.

     As in most classrooms, I have children from numerous cultures. If I begin to write all the nationalities I have in the classroom, I will fill up my second page. This year I have a beautiful little boy that only speaks French. His first day of school was very difficult. The past two weeks we have been communicating through gestures. I am certain that he will be able to understand me soon. He has been very patient with me. I have music in French that I play while the other students are grouped in their Centers made out several books I placed around the class.  I am eager to make this first experience in school the most enjoyable for him as well as the rest of the children in my classroom.

Note: Barbara Valdes is an education major at Nova Southeastern University, near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Also see Great tools to understand the culture of Colombian students in American classrooms 

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