Cultural Understanding is Essential to the Teacher-Student Relationship

Why Should Teachers Care About Understanding their Students Culture?

  • When both the teacher and her students share common cultural characteristics there is a cultural understanding they GET each other.  Cultural characteristics are common knowledge, communication, values, traditions, attitudes, and norms (Irvine, 1990).
  • Teachers should care about culturally understanding their students because when there is mutual cultural understanding, the teacher and student understand each other and where each is coming from.  This understanding is necessary for the creation of knowledge.  The common knowledge, communication, values, traditions, attitudes, and norms allows the teacher and student to know where each is “coming from”.  This understanding of each other’s cultural worldviews allows them to engage in the knowledge creation process with harmony (Irvine, 1990).

What Are the Consequences of Cultural Misunderstanding?

  • When there is Cultural Misunderstanding this can cause interpersonal conflict between the teacher and students because they do not share a common cultural knowledge, communication, values, traditions, attitudes, and norms.  They do not GET each other.  The teacher and the student in this situation misunderstand each other and do not know where the other individual is coming from.  This is a crisis in communication, which is detrimental and can interrupt the teaching- learning process.
  • What occurs in Cultural Misunderstanding is the teacher interacts with the student from her own distinct cultural world view and experience while the students interact with the teacher from their own unique cultural world view and experiences as well.  The mismatch where each individual is on a different page so to speak and cannot understand the other’s standpoint can cause a crisis in the teacher- student relationship.
  • Misunderstandings because of a lack of cultural understanding could cause distrust, hostility, conflict, under-achievement and school failure for significant numbers of children and youth of color (Irvine, 1990).

How can Teachers Address Cultural Misunderstanding?

  • Two factors that contribute to cultural misunderstanding are: prejudicial attitudes and lack of appropriate education/training.
  • Prejudicial attitudes are learned responses that are not fixed (they can be changed) and can be affected by education and training.
  • Appropriate education/training such as continuous, on-going diversity training and multicultural education can address cultural misunderstandings.
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