When I started at ACE, I was concerned that my rather unique teaching background would be an uncomfortable fit with more traditional coursework. For several years, I’ve been teaching international students online in China, Brazil and Italy, and I taught abroad in three different countries: Korea, Thailand and Japan.
I’m glad to say I was wrong. My professors and peers at ACE have valued and learned from my experiences, as I have learned from theirs. I now see that higher education, especially at ACE, is all about collaborative learning, and when you trust that your experience is as valuable as the next student's, you’ll be ready to learn from one another.
Here are two of my favorite examples of how I’ve been able to apply what I learned teaching abroad to my studies at ACE.
Lost in Translation
In your courses, you will hear a lot about cultural awareness. It’s one of those terms that seems almost too abstract. What does it really mean to be culturally aware? How will we really apply this in our classrooms?
Here’s one concrete example from my experience that might help you answer this question.
When I was teaching in Japan, I once wrote a note home to a boy’s parents informing them that their son had been hitting other students. I explained that I had discussed why this was wrong with him, but that I would appreciate it if they would also “talk with him and administer discipline” if they felt it was necessary.
When the student came in the next day, he told me that his father had smacked him hard on his head. This shocked me at first. That wasn’t the discipline I had had in mind, but I learned that in many cultures, corporal punishment for misbehavior is still normal. That’s when I realized that I was partially to blame for my shock and my student’s smarting head. I assumed that my definition of discipline would be the same as theirs, and I failed to communicate my expectations clearly.
With your ACE assignments, you will inevitably be asked to consider cultural differences in your instructions and your parent-teacher communication. Next time you are asked to do this, review your plan and think to yourself: How will the things I am planning to say be interpreted? Could I be misunderstood? How can I avoid this?
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
We have all heard the expression about experiencing the trials of another before we judge them for their shortcomings. If you have never been a stranger in a foreign land, however, it’s hard to imagine what being in someone else’s shoes is like because you don’t have the same cultural context.
In the case of students in your classroom who are considered “outsiders” (immigrants; non-native English speakers; members of cultural, religious or racial minorities; or students with disabilities), how can you understand how they feel if you’ve never been made to experience their struggles in context, too? It was not until I was the only non-Korean person in a school of 30 teachers and 450 students, being stared at like I was a big, green alien, that I had even a notion of what it means to be an outsider.
I’m sure you’re thinking, How can feeling different enhance my education at ACE?
Good question! Like this:
Let’s say your assignment requires you to create differentiated instruction for your lesson or unit. You can follow the instructions and plan your lesson as outlined…but have you thought about how this differentiated instruction will look and feel to a “different” student? If you think this through in your assignments, you’ll find that the way you present an accommodation for a student can be just as important as the accommodation itself. Confidence is one of the greatest tools a learner can possess, and you have the power to enhance a “different” student’s confidence by designing accommodations that seem special and important, not separate and strange.
When you’re describing the adaptations you will employ for a student with special needs, a student learning English or a student with behavior problems, try including a plan for how you will build your student’s confidence and make them feel included.
I once had a young Chinese student whose reading skills were well below his grade level. The solution, as decided by the school, his parents and myself, was for him to join a lower class during reading time to help him work on the phonics basics that were still challenging for him. Seems like a simple solution, right?
Can you imagine how that student would have felt, leaving his class each day to go and learn with younger students? It was likely to be terrible for his self-esteem, so we gave him a special title as a teacher’s assistant. Every day at reading time, we wished him good luck as he went to help show the younger students how big kids learn.
It was a small thing for us to do, but it made a world of difference to this child. Suddenly, he wasn’t a poor reader; he was an example for younger children – a superstar. Not only did that make him feel better, but it also gave him the motivation to go to his phonics lessons every day with gusto.
Each time you develop adaptations or a support framework for students who don’t fit the group mold, try your models out as if you were in their shoes first.
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