We think of “culture” pretty easily when we think of people’s ethnic backgrounds. No matter how disguised, ignored or blended through marriage and time, the fact remains our ethnic backgrounds can give us a great deal of strength, pride and identity.
But, as teachers, we want to expand the definition of culture beyond ethnic backgrounds to include other dimensions of diversity such as geography, gender, language, physical abilities, religious and educational background and so on.
Some of you may have experienced these other categories of culture if, for example, your family changed from living a military life to a civilian life. That’s a real culture shock for many. Or, perhaps, some of you moved to go to school from one part of this country to another. If you moved from rural Omaha to New York City, for example, your whole relationship to time and space could change.
In New York City everything moves faster. You find yourself looking up more rather than looking out onto wide-open spaces. Each region of the country has a distinct feel and set of expectations and, therefore, could be thought of as a “culture”.
So each one of us, no matter the colors of skin before us, are teaching in multicultural classrooms. Some of the challenges our students face are actually problems in cultural interpretation. Our way of teaching – visually, kinetically, aurally, lecture-style and so on – and our references and examples, for instance, just don’t translate for some of our students.
Cultural competence demands that each of us be aware of our own cultural conditioning so that we can evaluate if our classroom is heavily weighted in one cultural style or another. Being an inclusive classroom takes openness plus a lot of thought and flexibility to try different teaching strategies until every child is reached.