Understanding diversity in the classroom is of high importance for teachers. In society, educational institutions represent a rare opportunity for developing friendly relations among the worlds many ethnic groups. The open exchange in classrooms can contribute to a type of exchange found nowhere else in society. So teachers must not ignore multiethnic relations. The potential challenges a teacher faces for acknowledging the differences in students will be well rewarded if done with respect.
Unfortunately, no matter the age or background, ethnicity perceptions are commonly found in individuals. Children are no exception. A study of Dutch and Turkish children conducted in the Netherlands showed that biases about ethnicity are widespread. Boys showed more ethnic bias than girls, but girls indicated more gender bias. They concluded that the school environment is not independent from the wider society.
Educators are growing in awareness of the complex range of personal experiences, values, and ethnicity within the classroom. Student?s ways of operating in the world and understanding their surroundings can be very different. In the TEFL classroom, a teacher will most likely be from a different background than the students. The students may also be of varying nationalities, religions, or cultures. Teachers may find it valuable to keep in mind past history of relations between social or ethnic groups in order to explain the present state. Never assume that everyone understands each other. With this in mind, teachers must make the decision to honor and respect each student in their way of living and also incorporate these differences into the classroom. When teachers do integrate the student?s methods of learning into their curriculum it helps the student to learn from issues that are important to them. It creates more work and research for the teacher, but in the long term, very worthwhile. A teacher may even want to make house visits, eat a meal together, or attend an extra curricular activity of the students. Most of all show the students your desire to learn about their culture. By doing this outside of the classroom, it will eventually trickle into the class.
A TEFL teacher has great influence to make the classroom a safe place where students learn English along the way. To create an open environment for this to occur, teachers must be intentional. They should prepare questions relating to student?s daily lives. For example, ?How did you celebrate the Vegetable Festival?? Another good way to meld learning with culture is using journals, life history, class newspapers, family trees, or family photos. Include these with speaking or writing exercises to be shared with the class, teachers will be amazed at the level of comfort and acceptance among students. Designed to elicit issues and areas of importance to the students, these activities will reveal student?s ways of knowing the world.
Another good exercise is for students to compare their own cultures. So for example, having students write complete sentences about traditions in the USA and their own country. For example, ?America believes in freedom of speech. Thailand believes in freedom of silence.? This enables perceptions to be acknowledged and truth to come about. Also, it doesn?t abandon their own cultures, but rather shows they are simply different - no better and no worse.
TEFL teachers have the opportunity to provide bridges to connect the world of home and the classroom by recognizing student?s worldviews. As educators learn to value and build on student?s ways what is normal, students will in turn value and benefit from the education experience in the classroom.
Author: Lisa Aldrich
Date of post: 2006-11-20