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Understanding Mexican children in our multicultural classrooms

By Sheina Jean-PierreCSMS Magazine Staff Writer   When you flip on the news, you are likely to hear about a controversial topic in America that is brewing. Associated Press Writer, Suzanne Gamboa recently reported that the Senate has passed a bill that would affect 11-12 million immigrants that are living in America illegally. If the House passes this bill, there could be stiff penalties for illegal immigrants, depending on the amount of time they have lived in America. According to U.S census Bureau 2003, the nation’s Hispanic population grew much faster than the population as a whole—increasing from 35.3 million in 2000 to 38.8 million in 2002. The official population estimates now indicate that the Hispanic community is the nation’s largest minority community (Samovar p.8). The Hispanic population in America is soaring at an astonishing rate. These Hispanic families are represented in our states, counties, schools and neighborhoods. It is crucial for teachers to know how this surge in Hispanic growth will affect their classrooms. What can teachers do to help these children feel at ease in their surroundings and thrive in their classrooms? Here are some helpful hints.       Good communication is crucial for parent/teacher relationships. Imagine the difficulty conversing with Hispanic parents without being prepared to understand the cultural differences. The communication differences between Hispanics and Americans can be worlds apart. “In conversation, Mexicans are very forthcoming about their families and private lives; they will expect you to do the same,” reports Helen Deresky for the Mexico Executive Planet. Avoiding the word no in a discussion. It can be viewed as pushy. Hispanics often want to know the price of an item. It should not be considered as offensive. Deresky also suggests that the non-verbal differences are great. Hispanics often touch shoulders or the arm of another. “One gesture that is typical in Mexico is abrazo which is a warm hug accompanied by a hearty back-slapping that is quickly followed by a handshake.” Deresky states that Mexicans are an intimate society where it is customary to show close physical contact.      Hispanics will stand close as they converse with you.  If the person they are conversing with is backing away, this could be interpreted as cold or unfriendly. Is it any wonder a teacher may have difficulties conversing with Hispanic students or their parents? Teachers need to be aware of the cultural differences in communication. Research them, and understand beforehand what could happen. In Communicating with Culturally Diverse Parents of Exceptional Children, the authors sates, “If a parent is formulating a response and has not expressed himself or herself quickly, this delay should not be viewed as a lack of interest in responding. Educators need to listen with empathy and realize that parents can change from feelings of trust to skepticism or curiosity as their understanding of programs and policies increases.” They may be confused about expectations for their children and be confused about ways to help their children. Patience, understanding and knowledge are the key to overcoming parent/teacher communication difficulties.     In Guide to Understanding Hispanic Students in your Classroom comprised by Marie Trayer, there are some techniques to be used in order to help the Hispanics children in the classroom. Learn a few simple phrases in Spanish to praise the child. Also, learning some terms of affection in their language shows the students they are special. If a teacher needs to correct a Hispanic student, it would mean more if it is done in Spanish. When Hispanics are being punished, they may not have eye contact with the teacher, which is a sign of respect. It is best not to compliment the student on their appearance because it may seem inappropriate for a student/teacher relationship.     Latinos families are close-knit. The father sets the rules for the household and the mother is responsible for taking care of the home. Extended families try to live in close proximity. It is important for teachers to understand the important bond for Latino families. They come from a collectivistic culture; therefore the family could consist of grandparents, cousins and other extended family members living in the same household. When a teacher makes a home visit or holds a conference, he/she could experience a large group of family members in the meeting. Be prepared for this.      Teachers in America face the task of creating educational lesson plans that are fun and exciting for their students. However, now many teachers face the challenge of understanding children that cannot speak in English and the difficult task of teaching them. Due to language barriers, Hispanics have to work extremely hard. Fortunately, with the Internet and the endless software possibilities, help is often easily available. There are sites that translate the language. Lesson plans are available in Spanish and other foreign languages. There is an abundance of software that teaches English to ESOL students. Educational and fun software programs are available in their dominant language.  Resources are readily available due to the rapidly growing technology field of today.      It is important for teachers to remember that certain holidays are unique and special to the Latino children in their classroom. The term fiesta nacional refers to an official national holiday. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration to remember the victory over the French at the Battle of Pueblo on1862. Sept. 16 is Mexican Independence Day. These and other Latino holidays are days that American teachers normally may not acknowledge. However, they are important to the Hispanic children in the classroom. Teachers need to be aware of these important events and use them as teachable tools. Let the students share their culture if they so desire on these special days as well as the rest of the year. This can be a wonderful learning experience for all.      Differences in eating habits could be noticed. In Hispanic countries lunch is usually the main meal of the day. Then a siesta, or rest period is a common practice, as reported in Understanding the Hispanic Culture.  A light snack in the evening is often as late as 9:00 p.m. According to Clutter and Nieto (2006), once settled in America, most Hispanics change to a traditional three-meal system. The type of food is also different as many Americans realize from eating in authentic Mexican restaurants. Their food is spicier and consists of much rice and beans. Nutrition experiences or cooking education is a helpful way to teach the other students and help the Hispanic child feel proud of his/her culture.       In Hispanic Parental Involvement in Home Literacy, Nancy Hyslop discusses some of the problems encountered by Hispanic Parents. Recent Studies have showed that often Hispanic parents are suffering from a low self-esteem. They feel powerless due to the language barrier or because they have been unsuccessful at school. Severe culture shock is another problem immigrants may encounter. Hispanic culture emphasizes respect for adult authority; therefore many parents are more apt to communicate directly than to engage their child by talking or reading with them. “Consequently the parents fail to lay a strong foundation for building academic skills,” Hyslop explains.      Finally, Latino students in the classroom can be a challenge. Styles of communication, language barriers, differences in food, are some of the things a teacher may encounter. However, it can also be a tremendous learning experience not only for the Hispanic child and his/her family members, but also for the teacher and the other students in the classroom. Teachers need to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead and be prepared to handle them in the classroom or/at parent/teacher conferences. There is much that teachers can do to help the Latino children in our school system. It will take hard work. Knowledge is the key. It can be a challenge, but teachers can make an enormous difference in the life of a Hispanic child as well as his/her parents.ReferencesGamboa, S. (2006,05,26). House Republican firm on immigration bill. Yahoo News, Retrieved 2006/05/26, from     http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060526/ap_on_go_co/immigrationSamovar, L., R.E Porter., & E.R. McDaniel (2007). Communication between cultures. (Belmont, California):      Thomson.Deresky , [H.] (2000). Mexico Communication. Retrieved June 2, 2006, from Mexico Executive Planet Web site:     www.onken.com/classroom/interculturalmanagement/mexico/mexico_communicationERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA., ([1991-05-00]). Communicating with           Culturally Diverse Parents of Exceptional Children. ERIC Digests, #E497, Retrieved 05/26/02, from      http://www.thememoryhole.org/edu/eric/ed333619.htmlTrayer, M. (2002/04). Guide for Understanding Hispanic Students in your Classrooms. The English Language       Learner Knowledge Base, Retrieved 06,01,06, from      http://www.helpforschools.com/ELLKBase/tips/Guide_UnderstandingHispanicStudents.shtmlClutter, A.W.., & Nieto, R.D. (2006). Understanding the Hispanic Culture. Ohio State University Fact Sheet,     HYG-  5237-00, Retrieved June 2, 2006, from http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5237.html.Hyslop, N. (2000-11-00). Hispanic Parental Involvement in Home Literacy. ERIC Digest, D158, Retrieved     06/01/01, from  http://www.ericdigests.otg/2002-3/hispanic.htmSheina Jean-Pierre heads a multicultural consultant firm. She lives in Suburban Atlanta.

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