TEFL Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom

Teaching is the highest form of understanding. (Aristotle) A culture is a grouping within which values, norms, beliefs, patterns of behavior, rituals, customs and traditions are shared. To best serve their students, teachers at any level need to be especially sensitive to differences between their own culture and that of their students. This may begin with a careful look at their own worldview. Unintentional biases should never be promoted and are very easily overlooked, especially by the western mind. Changing family composition, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religion are all areas teachers need to pay special attention to. There is often an inclination among Americans, especially those who have not lived outside their own culture, to be overly ethnocentric. It is a social blindness, most often a product of being raised in a society that is homogenized by mass communication. Most importantly, such a lack of awareness can have a detrimental impact on the classroom environment, leading to lack of mutual respect, understanding and general acceptance. On a personal level, it is likely that a teacher would inadvertently offend students and fellow faculty of another culture and religion without some basic appreciation of the essential nature of that culture. If an instructor or teacher neglects to be sensitive to important aspects of his or her students lives and culture it would be very difficult to effectively teach that group of people and to earn the respect of whatever group he or she intends to teach. In Thailand, the predominant religion is Buddhism. Among the most revered figures of this institution are the monks. Certain rules are important to follow so as not to cause conflict. For example, a woman may not sit next to a monk in a temple. Though difficult to wrap the western mind around some of the sensitivities associated with religion, they are nonnegotiable and deserving of appreciation. Likewise the monarchy in Thailand is inarguably an incredibly sensitive subject. The present King has devoted his entire life to the well being of his subjects. Therefore, (amongst other reasons) the royal family has a special place in the hearts of all Thai people. It would be easy to generate dialogue concerning the royal family which would be taken as ignorant and hurtful. To be unaware of these facts could not only offend colleagues and students, but also is a potential cause of serious legal trouble. Western culture vs. Thai Culture is an example which can form a paradigm through which all comparable situations may be viewed. In the end, it is essential to respect and be aware of cultural differences such as these in order to receive the same respect in return and be taken seriously as a teacher. To teach well the teacher must achieve this higher form of understanding.

Websites Viewed: 1. 2. www.

Author: Sarah D. Balkany

Date of post: 2006-08-24