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Culture Sensitivity in the Classroom in China Probably one of the most important
Probably one of the most important areas of consideration in teaching is to be aware of cultural differences. As an American teaching in China, it is important that the teacher be a bridge between the two cultures. As foreign teachers our responsibilities must go beyond just being 'the teacher' by setting the standard for moral and ethical conduct through our being sensitive, caring, responsible, and respectful to the students and the culture they come from.
In China, it is culturally unacceptable to make a mistake in front of others. I literally have had students leave the classroom because they made a pronunciation mistake or incorrectly answered a question. I tell the students that learning (especially oral English) is a process. A baby learns how to walk by falling down over and over until they learn how. A baby learns through making mistakes. The baby is not a 'good' baby or a 'bad' baby because of how their progress is going, in fact, 'good' or 'bad' has nothing to do with it! I tell them they only have a lack of experience in speaking English just as a baby has a lack of experience in walking. When they understand this it helps them not to worry about mistakes. When the students know that you will help protect them from embarrassment they soon begin to open up and to start wanting to practice without fear of rejection.
There are some political issues that are very sensitive and should not be addressed in the classroom. The issue Mainland China has with Taiwan should not be used as a topic. Mainland China feels that Taiwan is a renegade province and should be reigned back in. This is an extremely emotional topic that leaves little room for debatable alternatives with one-sided and emotional responses from the students.
The Chinese invasion by the Japanese in World War II is still a sore subject in China today. Any discussions of this topic only lead to some very negative and sometimes hurtful comments.
Be sensitive about present and past political figures as well as famous writers, singers, and artists. Let the students know that you appreciate the cultural achievements of their country. China is proud of their five thousand year history. They were the inventors of the compass, paper, ink, and many other items that the rest of the world uses every day. In today's society they are one of the fastest growing economies in the world along with being host of the 2008 Olympics.
When you think of Chinese clothing you probably think of the traditional Chinese dress with its mandarin collar and cap sleeves. This is because traditionally Chinese are very modest. A girl wearing a tank top will be considered 'bold' by most. If you are to teach in China any good resource will tell you that you too should dress modestly in respect of their culture.
A person of Irish descent may be excited about St. Patrick's Day and want to celebrate with their students by giving them green hats to wear. The boys absolutely will not wear a green hat. Their first comment is that a man who wears a green hat is a fool. (Only a man whose wife has been unfaithful wears a green hat.)
Gifts Perhaps a student will give you a gift. In China it is the custom to not open the gift until after the person giving it has left. This has started to change with the younger generation. Still, it is a good idea to set aside the gift and wait to open it unless the giver prompts you to open it in front of them. There is a list of taboos of items to give as gifts as well, so be sure to do your research before giving anything.
In conclusion, you may be wondering how you will ever learn all of the different customs. Your best resource is your students. As an assignment have them tell you the different customs regarding holidays, gifts, weddings, eating, and so on. They are a wealth of knowledge on that subject.