My first experience teaching children from a culture different than mine was when I lived in New York City. Our congregation was unique at the time because it offered worship services in English, Spanish and Korean. About once a quarter, the services combined for a unique multi-lingual worship service and the most interesting potluck lunch you have ever experienced.
Since the children were bilingual, their classes were combined. My lessons worked for all of the students since they were all growing up in New York City together. When it came time for games though, I quickly realized this special multi-cultural environment created some unique situations. I quickly learned if I didn’t watch it carefully, the students would group by language and start cheating by speaking in a language the others couldn’t understand well.
How did I handle it? First, I began getting the kids who spoke a language other than English to teach me and the rest of the class several new words each week. When we played games, the rule became that teams were mixed and you could only communicate in a language if everyone understood it on your team. We all had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit about each other.
Teaching students from a culture different than your own can create special challenges. You probably plan your lesson and activities based on the experiences you had as a child. You may find, your students are experiencing childhood in very different ways than you did. What you thought would be a great example may fall flat because your students don’t even know what you are talking about (your “manual v. electric typewriter” story for example).
You may even find your heart being torn out by some of the differences. I will never get over a Bible lesson I was teaching on fear. I had assumed thunderstorms and possible monsters under the bed were common to all children. The answer I got from almost every child was “I am afraid when I hear the gunshots start, so I hide in the closet.”
There are a few fun things you can do to help you adapt your lessons to the culture of your students:
- Have your students teach you everything they can about their culture. Students love teaching the teacher and making your class a reciprocal learning environment will make it more effective.
- Allow your students to share their culture with you outside of class time. When I worked as a Title I teacher’s aide during high school, we were required to make a home visit of every child in our class. It taught me so much about the environment my students were in the other 14-16 hours of the day.
- Consider taking the class on a field trip to their favorite place nearby. Perhaps they will take you to a favorite restaurant where you can try new foods and they can find out what it is like to own a restaurant or be a chef. Take them to a local music spot. Enjoy music that is new to you, while the musicians encourage your students to learn to play an instrument. Have fun with it.
- If your students speak English as a second language, have them begin teaching you their native language or languages. You may never become fluent, but being able to use a few key phrases fluently will help your students bond to you.
Remember, every culture has positive and negatives. The debate will probably go on forever about the influence education can and/or should have on any culture. If you choose to teach your students something that is not a part of their culture, think carefully about your motives and the benefits and problems you may be placing into the lives of your students.
Sometimes, especially when it concerns God’s commands, you may have to risk everything in order to teach your students what God wants them to do. Other times, you may want to adapt your lesson to the culture of your students to make it more relevant to their lives. My best advice? Pray! Ask God to give you guidance and allow you to reflect His love to your students above and beyond any decisions you make as a teacher about cultural issues. I have to believe that is one prayer where we can be assured God will say “Yes”.