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3 Ways Teachers Can INCREASE Their Cultural Awareness

Written by Patty Williams, TE Instructional Coach Support Specialist

Teach For America sends hundreds of college graduates from top universities around the country to teach in traditionally economically disadvantaged areas.  Both the teachers and the students come with an array of different backgrounds. As a Teach for America teacher myself,  I learned to reflect early on about what kinds of cultural biases exist in my classroom.  It’s useful to consider this question when teachers’ backgrounds and histories can be quite different from the students’ they serve.  It’s challenging to become aware of the cultural biases one may bring into his or her own classroom.  Yet understanding the world in which your students live is a key to building positive relationships and increasing student achievement in your class.

If you are a teacher, you are probably now asking yourself, ‘how’ can I increase my cultural awareness to better impact my student’s lives and increase their achievement?  There are 3 important things YOU can do to meet the cultural needs of your students:

1.    Embrace your background

Investigate your upbringing and the cultural biases that you’ve inherited along the way.  Gary R. Howard, author of You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know , looks into the mirror of his own racial identity to discover what it means to be a white teacher in a multi-racial school and discovers that embracing his own background allows him to effectively meet the needs of his students.  His discovery applies to all teachers who have a different background than the students they serve.

2.    Genuinely invest in your students’ lives

Inner city students have as much to offer you as you have to offer them.  Sadly, it’s easy to assume that, in order for these students to succeed, inner-city students have to assimilate a middle class way of life, similar to their teachers.  But isn’t it also true that teachers, no matter what race, must assimilate to their students world as well?  Yes, of course they do!  Take time to build relationships with your students.  Truly get to know who they are as people. Learn from them just as they learn from you.

Patty and son at former student, Maria Situ’s, art show. (Maria Situ is now a freshman at UT Austin.)

3.    Plan and execute with your students in mind

A best practice in facilitation is to ‘know your audience.’  Teachers ARE facilitators in their classrooms as well.  Engagement will increase in your class when you plan with your students in mind. Even more importantly, when you are aware of your students’ lives, likes and dislikes you’re able to plan your lessons more effectively.

Cultural awareness can help you build positive relationships with your students that will enable you to delivery content effectively.  The old adage holds true, students don’t care to know until they know you care.



4 thoughts on “3 Ways Teachers Can INCREASE Their Cultural Awareness

  1. Wise words. I want to read Gary Howard’s book for sure. Thanks Patty!

    Posted by Julie Thorwaldson | October 8, 2012, 7:29 pm
  2. Wise words. I want to read that book! Thanks Patty!

    Posted by Julie Thorwaldson | October 8, 2012, 7:30 pm
  3. I agree with you Patty, “Inner city students have as much to offer you as you have to offer them.” I find myself learning a lot of things from my students I would not learn any where else.

    Posted by Afroze Jahan | October 9, 2012, 7:21 am
  4. Thanks for your comment, Jahan! The positive culture in your class is evidence that you are building strong relationships with your students. 🙂

    Posted by Patricia A. Williams | October 10, 2012, 2:50 pm

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