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Monday, September 25, 2023

Knowing your students’ origins is the key to a successful classroom

By Carolyn Delgado

A Culture Study Report

Special to CSMS Magazine

To know your students’ origin, culture and traditions is of much utility for the educators, especially those who work with students that are migrating from different countries.  Through all United States, schools have become a multicultural place, and Florida is not the exception.  Individuals and families from all over the world immigrate to the United States in search of a better future.  These people bring with them a collection of beliefs and customs that comfort their culture with a distinctive seal that characterizes them. 

            These traits should be recognized by those who are called to educate them.  But… for example, what are the aspects that a teacher who has a significant number of Puerto Rican students should know?  And, in what way this knowledge will help these teachers to conduct the process of teaching to those immigrant students according to the Florida Sunshine State Standards?  To complete the purpose of this piece, let us focus on three important aspects of the Puerto Rican culture.  Also, we will like to introduce the adequate education that goes accordingly to the Puerto Rican students needs.  These three aspects are:  their origin, their beliefs and their expectations in the United States.  In addition, we will recommend different strategies of teaching this specific group of students.  I hope that by the end of this piece, teachers will be familiar with the Puerto Rican culture and will be successful on their teaching goals.  Let us begin!

            Puerto Ricans, who also commonly refer to themselves as “Boricuas,” are the descendants of Europeans, Taino Indians, and Africans which produced a diversified population.   Based on their origins, Puerto Ricans have an extensive history of unique characteristics that make them protrude over the other cultures.  Each one of these races has contributed to the Puerto Ricans’ beliefs, customs and traditions that have been passed from generation to generation.  Other than their physical features, which do not belong to only one race, they have inherited their language, passions for music and beliefs.   

Their primary language is Spanish that comes from their Spanish colonizers that came from Europe.  Their sensitiveness and sense of community and the way they establish relations with others definitely are characteristics that were adopted from their Taino Indians ancestors.  The Afro-American ancestral gave them the passion of arts, specifically music and the distinctive culinary gift.  Equally all three races have given them their identity that they all posses today.  Probably one of Puerto Rico’s most notable exportation to the United States is the music.  One of the most famous Puerto Ricans in this category is Ricky Martin, who is internationally recognized by his famous song “Living la Vida Loca”. The charisma that Ricky Martin reflects Puerto Rico’s character and attributes.  

            Puerto Ricans are friendly, sensitive and very expressive in what are their thoughts and feelings.  They use frequently body language as hand gestures to communicate among each other.  They caress, hug and kiss to express their love to their closer relatives.   These behaviors can be confused and misinterpreted by teachers if they are unfamiliar with the culture of their Puerto Rican students.  On the contrary, if teachers are aware of these cultural characteristics, this can help them get closer to Puerto Rican students and get a better connection in their teacher/student relation.  This relation is crucial on the students’ transculturation process. 

            The second aspect that influences the Puerto Rican culture is their beliefs.  Religion is one of the most influential elements in Puerto Ricans values and beliefs.  The predominant religion is Catholic, although there are many other Protestants sects.  Religion could be the strongest force that holds the bond in the Puerto Rican families.  Some of their sacred holidays are Good Friday, Easter and Christmas.  They respect and take seriously anything that has relation with God.  Puerto Ricans consider family as an extensive group that not only includes their parents and siblings, but a wider variety of relationships like cousins, uncles and grandparents.  Parents teach their children to always look out for each other.  The relationship between parents and teachers is well respected.  Parents basically considered teachers guardians of their children while they are in school.  Parents also trust in teachers to impart their knowledge and to help their children become successful in life.  Children are taught to express their feelings and to be socially involved in their community.  Knowing all this vital information about Puerto Ricans, would help teachers identify effective strategies to teach our immigrants students to react properly to the new experiences.   

            After learning about all these facts it is necessary to understand what are the expectations of Puerto Ricans in the United States.  This is our third and last important aspect that a teacher should understand about the Puerto Rican students. Mostly all immigrants come to the United States in search of the “American Dream”.  Certainly, Puerto Ricans are not the exception; they are looking for better opportunities in education, in their professions and even in their social life.  This motivation will beneficiate them, and also beneficiate their children’s future.  Their enthusiasm will induce them with eager to learn about their new home’s culture. 

            In order for teachers to help students complete this process in a smooth and orderly way, it is crucial to identify how these aspects can be integrated with their education based on the Florida Sunshine State Standards.  There are many strategies that can be introduced to these students curriculum.  With the primary grade levels, teachers can promote activities where these students can contribute with aspects from their culture.  This will not only help students to feel welcome, but it will also enrich mainstreams students knowledge in other cultures.  As it is known, Puerto Rican students are sensitive.   When a teacher shows respect to their students’ culture, this will motivate students to learn from other cultures too.  Teachers can achieve this through displays, pictures and reading materials about people from different cultures.   For instance, teachers can label furniture to help students identify things by their names and learn their meanings.  Exposing students to the American culture and giving them opportunity to mingle with Americans will help Puerto Rican students progress quickly in United States.  

            Learning is a process that starts when you are born and does not end until you die.  Everyday everyone learns something new.  Teachers have the opportunity to teach and learn from the different experiences that they share with their students.  Writing this paper has reminded me my own experience.    After I studied vigorously each aspect, I feel confident about encouraging my children to never forget their native culture.  I feel I have the necessary knowledge to help and encourage Puerto Rican students’ progress in the United States.  My goal as a teacher is to be remembered by my students as someone who helped them become the future professionals for our country.

Note: Carolyn Delgado majors in Education at Nova Southeastern University near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Also see Creating culture diversity

Make our society a better place

What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communication

Indian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provoking

Role of alternative languages in our society

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