Educators today hear a lot about gaps in education – achievement gaps, funding gaps, school-readiness gaps. Still, there's another gap that often goes unexamined: the cultural gap between students and teachers. And maybe, to a more realistic sentiment; the gap between teacher/ teacher philosophy and their claim to giving what truly matters to their profession. Despite being an average teacher, I feel my point of difference is my readiness to instil a culture built on two-way respect, student driven standards and relationships based upon value, not acceptance. There are two types of culture that is of ongoing concern to our schools these days; the ideas, customs and behaviours, and the conditions or environment suitable for growth.
Firstly, the culture card.
Most of us in the education profession are white, middle-class, monolingual-English speakers. Increasingly, the same profile does not hold true for our students. Often, when we stand before our classrooms, the faces looking back at us do not look like our own. Many of us try to bridge this difference with an embrace of colour-blindness or the Golden Rule, treating others the way we would want to be treated. But culture isn’t just difference, it’s differentiation. Differentiation between what is learning, living and belonging but unfortunately, to most educators I have come across, this is not a priority.
The truth is: culture matters.
Culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual. As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, and, in this era, it's simply not enough to operate on the axis of colour-blindness. It’s not enough to lecture about how it should be done or why the student can or cannot learn. The modern day teacher is less important at face value and the best teachers may never seek to attain praise for their underlying work and effort because, within their classroom lays students whom drive the happening, the environment and, most importantly, they drive the culture.
So, to our second type of culture in schools. This is sometimes never truly embraced nor is it encapsulated in any way, which can be detrimental for all facets of the student schooling experience.
To truly engage students, we must reach out to them in ways that are culturally and linguistically responsive and appropriate, and we must examine the cultural assumptions and stereotypes we bring into the classroom that may hinder interconnectedness. Is it okay for a student to dominate in their own little bubble, to just cruise and get the grades they need to be labelled as 'successful'? Well, that doesn’t sound too bad at all now does it? To me, this sounds insipid. That same child will never truly enjoy the schooling experience and may never fully succeed later in life. Sure, they might go on and own a business but that business will never have a team scaped environment or a culture at the envy of others. For most paths in life, there is an end point. But why should there be? Life starts with learning and learning starts with culture.
An ideal world tells us our educators care. They will accommodate for our deficiencies and bridge gaps in social, academic and mental fields for each and every individual. But this ‘ideology’ comes from a very selfish mindset. The mindset that says, someone other than me will do it for me. So, to it tie all back to this amazing thing that apparently does not occur too often in classrooms, why is a teacher letting down the student? It’s the culture.
One of the greatest tools for professional and social development as a teacher is to ask questions. Ask, “why may this have happened?”, in inquiry. Ask, “what is the purpose in each learning experience?” Ask, “how can I help you learn?” for the teacher needs to realise they are there to accommodate for the learning style of children, not the students having to accommodate for the teaching style. Empowerment is the best way to examine how the children learn and develop. The students need routine, structure, boundaries and support. This fosters an environment ready to mess up, to make errors because, without this, no one is going to truly learn anything. This is known as culture.