Being culturally sensitive is a skill that most international teachers are not taught, but rather forced to learn soon after landing their first education gig abroad. Designing a culturally sensitive lesson is a huge challenge when the teacher's culture contradicts with those of the students’.
When the parents of Rachel Dolezal ( aka Nkechi Amare Diallo ) publicly revealed that the ‘African American ‘ activist, as the world knew her, was actually a Caucasian woman from birth, the caveat of self-identity and cultural identity shifted for me. Rachel had lived as a black female activist fighting for the cause of African American people for several years. She was the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington from 2014 till 2015, when she resigned in the midst of the hullabaloo over her racial identity. Till this day, Rachel continues to culturally identify as an African American woman.
As an educator, this brings home to me the lost moments that I may have missed having taught the many “Rachels” in a classroom at one time or the other; therefore missing the golden opportunity to connect with them, based on my stereotypical assumption of their cultural identity by virtue of the skin colour.
“Without a clear cultural identity, a person has no normative template with which to construct a clear personal identity, and by extension, to achieve positive self‐esteem and well‐being” (Taylor, 1997,2002).
In my experience as a curriculum developer at the Middle East, a forced realization that not all Arabs were Muslims, nor shared similar cultural beliefs shocked me tremendously. Culture, though construed as being applicable to groups of people based on their background or ethnicity, was revealed to me as being an individual thing. It meant that two brothers from the same family might culturally identify differently, despite their similar heritage. I found culture to be a very complex concept.
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“The dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity; I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions - absent the full story.”– Rachel Dolezal
Being culturally sensitive, when presented with students with differing cultural identities is key to effectively teaching them. Here are a few illustrations on how to provide a culturally sensitive instruction:
- Conduct a brief survey to identify the cultural identities and beliefs of your students by the first week of school.
- Celebrate the diversities of the different cultures represented in the classroom and school (Art, Role Play, Reading and Social Studies are examples of subjects in which cultural identity may be integrated).
- Modify instruction content to recognize the differing cultures.
- Parental involvement should be encouraged: parents can visit the school and proudly share their culture with other students.
- Using technology to research and depict differing and similar cultures
As I gained further experience in curriculum development, it became apparent that all international educators must be very knowledgeable and comfortable with the culture of the host country, in order to be able to create an effective and culturally sensitive instruction.
Taylor, D.M. (1997). The quest for collective identity: The plight of disadvantaged ethnic minorities. Canadian Psychology, 38, 174‐189.
Taylor, D. M., (2002) The quest for identity: From minority groups to Generation Xers. Westport, CT: Praeger Publications.
About the author
Kathy Ogundokun is an international educator and researcher, with vast experience in teaching, curriculum design, teacher training, school quality assurance and special education. Most importantly, she is a married mother of five beautiful, young children. Kathy earned her Doctorate degree in Education Leadership from Trident International University, California, the USA in 2012. She graduated (magna cum laude), with a Master’s in Education, from Touro University, California, USA and a BSc in Economics prior to that. Kathy is licensed in the UK with QTS, in Texas as a School Principal, Teacher in Special Education, ESL and Early Childhood through 4th grade Generalist. In the UAE, she is KHDA approved as a School Principal. Kathy’s has served as an educator in the USA, UK, Egypt and the UAE, with research experience in the UK, US and Canada. She is currently collaborating with a special education expert, on “inclusion” across three different countries. When not working, Kathy enjoys travelling, reading and trying out new eateries.