When I moved to New York City after college, it was winter. Entering my first typical NY coffee shop, I ordered an iced tea. The owner looked at me like I had two heads. Horrified he said, “That’s a summer drink!” When I reassured him those of us from Virginia drank iced tea year around, he handed me a tea bag, a cup of hot water and a glass of ice.
While not my first experience with culture shock, it was perhaps the first time I realized how very many things are effected by one’s culture – even within the same country and a few hundred miles apart. Since then, I have traveled quite a bit more and lived in yet another region of the U.S. I have learned that everything from vocabulary to food to favorite songs can be changed by one’s culture.
Most of the time, we are able to shrug off cultural differences and may even learn to appreciate certain aspects of another’s culture. Occasionally though, our lack of awareness of cultural differences can bring emotional pain to those around us. In society, it may not be a huge deal if we accidentally offend someone by our words or actions. As Christians though, those offenses can cause people to reject God as being worshipped by uncaring, unkind people.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about rejecting scripture in order to be politically correct. What I am talking about is developing empathy for your students. How would you feel if you were in their shoes and your teacher said or did the things you say or do in your classroom?
Confused? An excellent example is the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” – a staple in many Sunday Schools over the years. I don’t know how people felt when it was first sung, but today many people of Asian descent are hurt when people refer to them as “yellow” – understandably, since they aren’t yellow. Many Native Americans are also hurt when referred to as “red”.
Whether or not their hurt is actually “justified” or an “over reaction” is absolutely irrelevant. As a Bible class teacher, you want to have as few barriers between you and your students as possible. You want them to see you love them and want them to learn to love, worship and obey God. You want them to feel that you really do love them as you love yourself. Being sensitive to their culture and feelings is a huge part of that.
So before you teach again, think about your students. View what you say and do through each of their eyes. Do you always tease a child from another region about their accent? Or get frustrated when a child whose second language is English doesn’t understand you? Or turn your nose up in disgust at the favorite food of a child from another part of the country? Are you really loving your students like you want to be loved?
If not, make some changes. Apologize if you need to do so. Set a great example. With older students, you may even want to have a discussion about the topic – which may just illuminate more things of which you were totally unaware. Just whatever you do, don’t shrug it off as being unnecessary “political correctness”. It’s actually something every effective teacher should and must do for their students.