Teach English in Mudian Zhen - Huai'an Shi

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When teaching English as a foreign language, cultural exchange goes hand-in-hand with language acquisition. A classroom of EFL learners is often composed of myriad cultures. At the very least, the teacher and students likely come from differing backgrounds. The sharing of wildly different knowledge, ideas, and experiences is the beauty of teaching a language. However, cultural diversity in a classroom also comes with unique challenges. When approaching classroom management, a successful EFL teacher should be sensitive to the cultures of the class. This essay will compare my personal experiences teaching junior high school students in Japan and Morocco. While my classes in each country were monolinguistic and the students shared similar backgrounds, I found highly contrasting classroom management techniques to be useful in Japan compared to Morocco. Cultural sensitivity is vital to managing a classroom successfully. As a result, effective EFL teachers should familiarize themselves with the cultures of their students. It is useful to engage with local teachers to better understand what classroom management techniques are appropriate for their specific culture. In many ways, Japanese culture is rooted in collectivist values. Supporting one’s social group is often more important than furthering individual interest. Students typically remain with the same class from elementary through junior high school. Class members are tightly bonded, know each other well, and have been taught to work together from an early age. Due to this, I quickly learned that my students worked well in small to medium-sized groups. They benefitted from working with the same small groups repeatedly, and sitting in the same seats for each class. Competitive activities were particularly well-received if students were competing in teams. When disruption arose, they responded well to my silence and waiting. Pausing the lesson and displaying my disappointment was an effective technique as a technique for re-establishing control of the class. In more serious situations, I highlighted how the class, as a team, was disadvantaged by disruptions. I stressed how important it was for us to work together, and how I could not support them as a class if they did not respect both me and each other. If an individual student acted up, it was unwise to isolate the student from the larger group. This exacerbated behavior and was overly-shameful for the students. Throughout my time teaching in Japan, I co-taught with Japanese teachers. This was beneficial in establishing sensitivity to my students’ culture and learning how classrooms are typically managed in a Japanese school. Teaching English in Morocco required a similar level of cultural sensitivity. However, I found different approaches to be effective. My Moroccan class was less homogenous than my class in Japan. The students shared their primary language, but came from more varied backgrounds. Most of them were high in energy, enjoyed talking animatedly, and were not comfortable raising their hands. Unlike my Japanese students, they were a new group. None of the students knew each other before starting my class. Overall, they did not respond well to my silence and patience; rather, this seemed to increase their rowdiness. I found that repeatedly changing the classroom dynamic was the most succesful approach. Each class, I changed the students’ assigned seats. This engaged them in the lesson and built rapport between the students. I also experimented with grouping desks together, leaving spaces between the desks, and arranging the desks in the U-shape. While this made lessons less consistant, it harnassed the students’ attention. Their curiosity brought them to class each day. For discipling problem behavior, I created a smiley-face system on the white board. Students who focused in class, raised their hands, and spoke only in English could receive smiley-faces drawn on the board. At the end of class, students won stickers for each smiley-face. This reward system was highly effective. The comparison between Japanese and Moroccan students underscores the importance of cultural sensitivity in the classroom. My students in each country responded to starkly different management approaches. In Japan, students found comfort in working with the same small groups during each class. Moroccan students enjoyed the constantly shifting classroom dynamics, through creative seat assignments and set-ups. Where Moroccan students eagerly shouted out answers, Japanese students were hesitant when singled out as individuals. Overall, my cultural sensitivity flourished more quickly in Japan. The Japanese teachers that I worked with guided me and helped me understand how to relate to the students. In Morocco, I had no support from any local teachers. It felt like a trial-and-error process every day. The comparison between my experiences in Japan versus Morocco highlights the positive impact of local support. Whenever possible, EFL teachers should reach out to individuals from their students’ communities to build better cultural-sensitivity. Despite each country’s unique culture, some clear similarities stood out. In both cases, my students responded to my positive attitude, high energy, and clearly structured lesson plans. I entered every class with the intention to support my students. While each classroom will present a distinct set of cultural challenges, EFL teachers can rely on their smiles, friendliness, and visible commitment to their teaching. Students will respond to these attributes, no matter what their cultural background is or what language they speak.