Effects of Cross-Cultural Differences in the Classroom

Instructor: Jaclyn Scotto

Jaclyn is a high school English teacher and college professor. She has a doctorate in Education.

Every person has a unique cultural identity. In this lesson, we will identify and explore cross-cultural differences that may occur in a classroom setting.

Cultural Identities

It is Ms. Smith's first day of teaching ninth grade English. Her first period class is extremely diverse, including many students who have recently moved to America from different countries. She begins the class by making a sarcastic joke to lighten the mood but is met with confused faces. During the class, she sits down next to several students who proceed to look uncomfortable by her proximity and avoid eye contact with her. When class ends, Ms. Smith feels discouraged and feels that her students dislike her. What went wrong?

Definition of Culture

Think about the way you were raised. The morals and values that were instilled in you were most likely affected by your culture. Culture can include all different attributes of a person such as his or her nationality, gender, beliefs, customs, religion, and background. When teaching to diverse students, it is important to note that each student's culture can affect learning. Education is stifled when students feel uncomfortable. Being mindful of various cultures can help you become a more considerate and effective educator.

For example, Ms. Smith learned to always make eye contact when speaking to an elder. However, in some cultures, it is considered rude to do so. Some of her students avoided eye contact with her during class out of respect. Since Ms. Smith was unaware of this cross-cultural difference, she perceived the lack of eye contact as rudeness.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

First, it is important to note that humans communicate verbally and non-verbally. When communicating verbally, the educator must demonstrate respect. This seems obvious but there may be some times where disrespect is demonstrated inadvertently. One particular example is sarcasm. Students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) may not understand the concept of sarcasm. What you are saying as humor may be interpreted as rudeness. This could cause the student to be turned off by the teacher and shut down. When Ms. Smith used sarcasm in her diverse class, some of the students looked confused. If Ms. Smith knew that sarcasm is a linguistic tool that is not always understood by non-native English speakers, she would have avoided using it in class.

In regards to nonverbal communication, body language speaks volumes. An easy way to put students at ease is by smiling. Luckily, a smile is universal. Another thing to consider is physical space and touching. In some cultures, it is completely acceptable to put a hand on a student's shoulder or sit close to help. However, depending on culture, some students might find that disconcerting. When Ms. Smith sat with her students, some seemed uncomfortable. One suggestion is to ask beforehand; 'Is it alright if I sit next to you while we work on this assignment?' By doing so, it could have helped Ms. Smith avoid uncomfortable situations.

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