International Focus: The Cultural Identity of Students

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Race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion, socio-economic background… each and every one of us can be differentiated (and unified) by our cultural identity. The UK is a veritable melting pot of diverse people and communities. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that practically every teacher in the country will be responsible for a multicultural class at some point in their career.

As a teacher, one of your most important goals should be to help all students to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society.

Do your research

At the start of the year the team at New Directions Education would advise you to do a little background research into the countries and communities your students are from. Read up on how teacher-student relationships are perceived in different countries. This knowledge will give you a grounding point from which your understanding of your pupils’ attitudes will grow.

Learn about their taboos

As a teacher, spend some time thinking about taboos and what they mean. What are the various forms that taboos take? Euphemisms, slang, formal and informal language, body language, and politically correct expressions. Do your research to ensure you are in a position answer any questions or deal with situations appropriately that may arise in a multicultural classroom.

Dress up

If you are teaching pupils from overseas, there is a very high possibility that those students wear some form of traditional clothing at home. You can invite your students to wear traditional dress on a certain day – or bring picture of themselves or others from within their communities. Encourage each person to explain the significance of the different pieces, if any, and give an opportunity for everyone in class to ask questions. Not only is this an educational exercise, it will also enable pupils to be open and honest about their cultural identities, normalising what other pupils may perceive as odd or out of the ordinary and eliminating intrigue in particular individuals.

Show and tell

There is no greater learning tool than experiencing something. Show and tell is a brilliant way for students of different cultures to witness a piece of culture. Invite your students to bring in a sample of currency, any clothing or pieces of history from their heritage. After sharing ideas about objects and stories from different cultures, students will gain another level of cultural understanding from their classmates.

Culture is an enormous part of our world. It is the reason behind varying behaviour and differing beliefs but by allowing our students to understand differences from an early age, the risk of conflict and struggles in the classroom can be greatly reduced. As a teacher, you are in a position to promote cultural awareness and acceptance, to create classroom relationships that are based on respect and trust. Take advantage of any opportunities that arise for you to promote diversity in your classroom – and remember, they offer opportunities for you to learn too.