I have had the privilege of teaching at Ebinport Elementary for the past 3 years. I started as a long-term substitute for 12 weeks, and then moved into a full time position. Ebinport is one of the few choice schools in the district with an added emphasis of a global language curriculum. Students enrolled at Ebinport are either living in the zoned area or have chosen the school due to its extra global qualities. For the past 3 years, Ebinport has also added a Spanish immersion program to its many programs offered. This is a program where students are immersed in the English language for half the day and Spanish language for the other half. Students learn reading and social studies in English, and then switch to another class where they are taught math and science in Spanish. Parents have many options when choosing Ebinport as their child’s elementary school.
Since joining the family at Ebinport, I have taught in one of our four 5th grade classrooms. My students are a mix of boys and girls ranging in age from 10-12 years old. Since starting, the number of students in my classroom has changed from less than 20 students to now pushing over 25 students. In the 5th grade, I am responsible for teaching all subjects. This includes; reading, writing, word study, grammar, math, science and social studies. Within our classrooms, we are also expected to show Spanish video lessons which correlate to the lessons being taught in the Spanish specials class each week. My students are pulled out everyday for their special area classes including; physical education, music, art, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish. They are also pulled out once every other week for lessons with our guidance counselor.
The school I teach at offers many opportunities for students to progress their language knowledge. This leads to my first cultural difference I experience everyday. Our school is situated in an area that is resided by a large number of Spanish speaking families. These families make up a good portion of the attendance in our school. I currently have 4 students who use English as their second language. They are served through our ESOL program with various accommodations or consultative updates. Everything I do in my classroom I have to ensure that I keep these students and their parents in mind. This cultural difference drives my terminology used during lessons. I also have to be contentious of my parent communications sent home to ensure I have an interpreted version for my Spanish-speaking parents. Some of the content I discuss in class or words I use, my ESOL students have trouble understanding. This is a common cultural issue in my classroom but one that is easily relieved.
Another example of cultural differences I experience in my classroom is the varying socioeconomic status of my students’ families. Along with the school being located near a heavily Hispanic populated neighborhood, we are also zoned for some of the lower income housing areas of our city. Socioeconomics wouldn’t seem like it would affect the learning environment in a classroom, but I have seen a significant impact on academic performance and behavior, which in return has impacted my learning environment. The majority of my students with a low socioeconomic status are living in a single parent home. This has led to little assistance at home with homework or support. Having a single parent with other siblings can affect the amount of assistance the child gets at home. This impacts the classroom negatively as these students aren’t getting the same support and guidance that other children are getting. The impact of home can greatly impact the classroom.
This leads to my final example of a cultural difference in my classroom that has impacted my learning environment. My class is made up of many different types of cultures. I have a good mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, and African American children in my classroom. Living in the south, we have a high population of African American students. Being raised in an environment that had one type of culture, Caucasian, I didn’t grow up learning from different cultures than my own.
Since moving around and experiencing varying cultures, I have come to realize that having a high population of African American students in my current classroom has impacted the learning environment. These particular students bring a different vibe and life experiences to the discussions. Some of my African American students even bring their own slang language. Many of my African American students also come from a single parent home, with their mother being the sole caretaker. Some of these characteristics of culture have caused me to focus more on these students when it comes to my classroom environment.
Having African American students in my classroom is something that I have had to keep in the forefront of my mind as I plan my lessons, especially when it comes to social studies. In 5th grade, we start our social studies unit with reconstruction and move through to the present day. This includes several discussions on slavery, how slaves were treated, how slavery was abolished, and the continued mistreatment of African American people. This can be a difficult topic when talking to children of the same culture. They have their own understanding of this time from what their parents or grandparents have told them. It is then my duty to teach the truth of these situations, but also remembering to be sensitive to their strong culture. Reconstruction tends to bring a lot more discussions than what is already planned.
A lot of students, specifically the African American students, have a lot of questions when talking about slavery and the truth behind these times. I try to include reading aloud several fiction books with true story lines to help students grasp the events that took place in history. This also allows me to remove any bias that my students or I may have regarding these topics. One clear guideline I must follow when discussing and teaching about these sensitive topics is I must remove any and all bias I may have. I tend to stick to what is in our standards and avoid getting off topic. All of my students, African American or not, can learn a lot about these trying times for a specific culture.
Everyone has his or her own opinion about history but it is my job to teach the truth. Sometimes I tend to compare the classrooms I grew up in, where diversity was very limited to, the classroom I currently teach in, which has a diverse group of students. The inclusion of these different cultures and backgrounds has helped teach each student what the real world is going to be like. As a teacher, I have to keep in mind each of my students’ cultures and try to stay true to them. It is important for each student to learn more about his or her culture as it pertains to the curriculum I teach. Following several guidelines allows me to be sensitive to each culture and still teach my students to respect each other’s culture.