Cultural Sensitivity in the ClassroomCultural sensitivity is one of the most important aspects of teaching in a foreign classroom or of teaching to a diverse class of students. When teaching abroad some teachers of TEFL have not taken the time to study the country of their work. Also, some teachers that teach english
in their home countries have never been to other countries or have not worked among people of different cultures. Consequently, sometimes teachers may unknowingly say or do something that may be offensive to some of the students in their classroom. Some of these mistakes are caused by cultural misunderstandings, and some of them may be caused by pure ignorance. There is a major difference in these two causes, but both can be remedied with time, patience, and understanding.
When teaching in another country, it is easy for people to find themselves in awkward or frustrating situations. These awkward situations can result from the TEFL teacher making an error, a foreign co-worker making an error, or from a student making an error. In these situations, the teacher should first check him or herself. When first confronted with the situation, it is easy to fall into the assumption that the other person has said something with the intention of offending. However, often times this is not the case. The teacher should try asking more questions to feel out the situation. If the co-worker or student does not understand his or her error, then the teacher might want to explain why the action or words were offensive. The teacher should be careful not to lecture, because that can be perceived as patronizing. Instead, it might be easier to approach the situation as a friendly exchange of cultural. The teacher can explain why this offensive, and ask about how the situation would be handled in the other persons cultural, or, if this is a common belief, saying, or action in their cultural. This will help the teacher two-folds. The teacher will able to peacefully resolve the situation without causing undue tension in the classroom or work place. Also, the teacher will know that if this situation occurs again, whether or not it is a cultural misunderstanding held by many, or a hateful person. Either situation is not good, but at the very least the teacher will know if someone is being purposefully offensive.
The second option to this scenario is that the teacher has caused some type of offense to the co-worker or student. This might be a little harder to deal with depending on the student. Some students are very understanding, and they will explain why that is offensive. This will allow the teacher to open up a dialogue about the student or co-worker’s cultural, therefore giving the teacher a chance to learn and to build a better relationship. If the teacher is not lucky, they will come up against a person who is easily offended, as a result, causing many problems for the teacher. I think in this scenario the best option is to find someone else that will be able explain the problem to the teacher and-or mediate a discussion between the teacher and the offended party. This will hopefully get rid of many bad feelings, and allow the other party to understand that it was a simple misunderstanding. Being offended or offensive is never an easy situation, but it is slightly different when teaching with a home country advantage.
The same way a TEFL teacher may feel more easily offended abroad, a foreign co-worker or student may be more sensitive to cultural misunderstandings. This is a double-edged sword. The co-worker or student may be more understanding of cultural misunderstandings, because he or she knows that it is likely that the teacher may not know about his or her culture. On the other hand, the student or co-worker my take offense more readily, because he or she has had quite a few run-ins with ignorant people or hateful people. The steps previously mentioned will useful in such situations, but the teacher should be more wary of what they say or do. The teacher has the home field of advantage, which can sometimes breed a bit more intolerance, especially if the teacher has never experienced being among others of a different culture. In conclusion, the teacher needs to be patient and understanding in order to get rid of the problem with the minimum of hurt feelings.