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Cultural Iceberg

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Ga. kindergarten teacher Christina Shunnarah, one of the bloggers for NYT's Lesson Plans, reflects that the 95 percent of her students' cultures that lie below the surface are the most important. Besides the obvious cultural markers of food, fashion and folklore, Shunnarah says that teachers need to pay attention to elements of 'deep culture'--concepts of beauty, approaches to problem solving and personal relationships, eating habits, facial expressions, to name a few. But before understanding their students, teachers need to understand their own backgrounds, and how they react to different cultures.

In order for me to be as effective as possible with the students I work with, I must continuously engage in a process of self-reflection. To be able to know others, especially diverse others, one must know the self. So the growth of a culturally competent educator starts there. We must look within for a deeper understanding of who we are before we can adequately address the needs of our students.
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Respect for your students' cultures is of utmost importance. Students can sense if someone respects them and will respond positively to that. And be willing to learn from students. I asked an ESL student if he would bring the attendance to the office and he said No. When he saw the surprised look on my face, he replied, "But I'll take the attendance to the office." How fun to learn English grammar (I'm a science teacher) from an ESL student! It's important to have a willingness to learn from your students.

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