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Educators today hear a lot about gaps in education achievement gaps, funding gaps, schoolreadiness gaps. Still, there's another gap that often goes unexamined: the cultural gap between students and teachers. "A bunch of teachers here, they think they know what's wrong with us. But they don't know. If people want to help us, they have to see what we've been through, not from what their own experiences tell them." Billie, a Lakota teen speaking of the teachers at her high school Most of us in the education profession are white, middle-class, monolingual-English speakers. Increasingly, the same profile does not hold true for our students. Often, when we stand before our classrooms, the faces looking back at us do not look like our own. Many of us try to bridge this difference with an embrace of color-blindness or the Golden Rule, treating others the way we would want to be treated. But the truth is: culture matters. Culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual. As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, and, in this era, it's simply not enough to operate on the axis of colorblindness. To truly engage students, we must reach out to them in ways that are culturally and linguistically responsive and appropriate, and we must examine the cultural assumptions and stereotypes we bring into the classroom that may hinder interconnectedness.


I define classroom culture as the process of instilling certain universal values and behavioral expectations in students to promote their well-being, facilitate learning, and to ensure any future success they may have. After all, success in the present leads to success in the future. My classroom culture objectives are as follows: 1) Always come to class prepared: The students must bring their notebook, pen, pencil, eraser, dictionary, etc. Whatever they need to help them learn English. This includes a positive attitude. Merely coming to class prepared is not enough. My students must also be prepared. This means sitting quietly in their seats and in their groups before I enter the classroom. 2) Always keep the classroom clean: If I see any paper on the floor, I tell the students to pick it up. A dirty classroom should never be tolerated. I will not start the lesson until the classroom is clean. I want my students to not only respect their teachers and each other, but to respect the sanctity of the classroom and the school as well.

3) Be polite and show respect: This doesnt only mean saying Please and Thank you. It also means never throwing things across the classroom. Far too often Ive seen students throw everything from pencils to books to their classmates. This also should never be tolerated. When someone needs a pencil or an eraser, a student must physically get up, walk over to the student in need, and hand it to him in a respectful manner. Students must also use the proper honorific when referring to their teacher. We must teach right speech AND right action. 4) Pay attention and cooperate: This means teaching the students to listen to the teacher and listen to one another. Listening is the first step towards cooperating with each other in order to get the job done and do the job well. 5) Work hard and as a team: Team work is important in my classroom. Im not looking for individual superstars. I want students who are team players. Everyone learns more that way. In working as a team, my students learn to plan their lessons carefully and to think before they act. 6) Sacrifice your time and share your understanding: Now were getting to the heart of the matter. If a student understands something then he/she has an obligation to help another who does not yet understand. The students must help and support each other. I love to see a student physically get up, walk over to another, and kindly explain what he has just learned to someone who is struggling. If one team does not succeed in reaching the class/lesson objectives, then the other teams are responsible for helping them until they do. This shows respect, cooperation, and responsibility, and if we can teach our students that, then we are beginning to succeed as educators. 7) Be responsible for one another: Now were deep into the heart of the matter. This is the crux of my classroom culture. Teaching my students to be responsible. Response-able. Or able to respond. Isnt this what compassionate people do in a compassionate society? Isnt this our main responsibility at educators- to take on the responsibility of teaching others how to be responsible? What a thrill it truly is to see students taking responsibility for themselves AND others. If we can teach our students to naturally respond to others in need, then we are truly succeeding as educators. HOW DOES A TEACHER ESTABLISH A CULTURE THAT PROMOTES LEARNING AND MAKES TEACHING A PLEASURE INSTEAD OF A BATTLE? There is shared control in the classroom; that is, the students have a say in the learning process and in the curriculum, within reason. The teacher relinquishes some of the power to the students. Why? At all ages students want to feel independent and as though they have a say in what they are learning and doing. It motivates them, gives them feelings of competence, and helps them buy into the program. The teacher needs to work both as a facilitator and a teacher. In facilitating learning, the teacher helps students reach their educational goals, but does not do it for them. The teacher must establish an atmosphere of trust and respect for students as human beings. Students should not be criticized for their interests or their attire. If they want to wear pants that look like they are falling off, respect their right to do so. When they are twenty, they won't want to do it.

The teacher must believe in the student's ability to achieve. Few people use even 50% of their brain capacity according to biological research. Most students don't know how to use their brains and others are simply too lazy. Given the right motivation and stimulation, almost any student can achieve especially if there is a teacher who is encouraging. The curriculum must be relevant to real life and the students must be able to see the connection. Authentic learning experiences are the best, but if that is not possible, then the teacher should make the connections to real life visible to the students. The teacher should model the behavior that he/she expects from the students. Students will live up to the expectations of the teacher; if the teacher expects excellence, then the students work up to the level expected. The teacher should exhibit passion for the subject or passion for teaching or both. Passion makes the students interested in and excited about the subject. Who wants to learn from a deadbeat? Instruction needs to be individualized and in an effective learning community it should be. Each member is doing something different and each member relies on the next member for support. Students individualize instruction with each other and the teacher works individually with students who are working on separate projects Large group instruction should also be tailored to the needs of the group and the group should buy into the need for this type of instruction. Feelings of community are fostered by students having a common goal, similar classroom experience, after school activities occasionally, field trips occasionally, meals together, group t-shirt. Teacher must been seen by students as fair, knowledgeable, unbiased, willing to help, and easily approached.

The importance of a personal connection between students and teachers. Such relationships are often forged in the time spent outside of formal classroom instruction, including interactions during lunchtime or at community events outside of school hours. These relationships can form the basis for the teaching and learning that occurs in the classroom, and can inspire and motivate student learning. In this conversation with some eighth-grade students, Gloria Ladson-Billings illustrates how everyday, caring exchanges can influence students experience of school: What is it that you like about the class? The teacher! they responded in unison. What do you like about the teacher? I probed. She listens to us! She respects us! She lets us express our opinions! She looks us in the eye when she talks to us! She smiles at us!

She speaks to us when she sees us in the hall or in the cafeteria!

One study of bilingual teachers found that successful teachers of students with limited English proficiency used active teaching behaviors that were related to achievement gains, including the following : Communicating clearly when giving directions and presenting new information, Pacing instruction appropriately, Promoting students involvement, Communicating clear expectations for success on tasks, Monitoring students progress, and Providing immediate feedback The end