Embracing cultural diversity can help you succeed as an educator.

Teacher works with two teenage students.American classrooms are becoming more diverse every year,* which means cultural diversity in the classroom is becoming an increasingly important issue for educators throughout the education system. Ignoring the increase in diversity is not a helpful response. Instead, educators are embracing diversity and fostering culturally inclusive classrooms designed to help every student succeed. You can do the same with your classroom.

What is culture?

Culture is a lot more than a list of holidays or food preferences or the language someone speaks. Culture is the framework around which we build our identity. It influences how we engage with the world, the perspectives we take, and the expectations we have. Every one of us has a culture, and most of us have identities built from multiple cultures. For example, we may consider ourselves part of the American culture, the culture of South Texas, the culture of children born to Mexican immigrants, the culture of people who enjoy comic books, etc.

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When discussing cultural diversity in the classroom, we tend to look at cultural differences that have been historically ignored or marginalized. Your goal as an educator is to ensure you don’t neglect a major aspect of a student’s identity, and that you foster an environment where differences are accepted and understood, particularly if those differences have historically been ignored or disparaged.

What kinds of cultural diversity are common in classrooms?

No two students are the same, even if they share a lot in common. To foster cultural awareness, you need to consider all the different aspects of culture that can influence your students’ perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Common cultural differences include:

Race
It’s important to recognize the impact skin color has had on the broader American culture and how it can affect students’ perceptions of each other and themselves.

Ethnicity
While ethnicity is sometimes used as a synonym for race, it is more accurately defined as the culture we derive from our nationality. Ethnic differences appear in all immigrant groups and can persist for generations. Understanding these differences can help you be attuned to your students’ interests and outlooks.

Religion
While you know that not everyone worships in the same way—and that some don’t worship at all—it’s good to familiarize yourself with the ways religious traditions and requirements can impact your students’ behaviors and free time.

Language
Language barriers should not be educational barriers. While you can’t be expected to speak every language, you can be expected to make accommodations for those who speak English as a second language.

Economic
The economic situation of a student’s family can greatly impact his or her learning. You should be aware of how economic pressures can lead to classroom stress as well as to issues with finding time and a place to study.

LGBTQ
A student’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity can become a point of conflict in their lives. It shouldn’t also be a point of conflict in the classroom.

How do you foster cultural awareness and sensitivity?

Express interest in diversity.
You can go a long way toward fostering a culturally inclusive classroom by demonstrating your own desire to be culturally aware. Ask students to share their stories and relate their cultural experiences to the lessons you’re teaching.

Remain sensitive to differences.
Some students will be more forthcoming about their cultural differences than others. Before assuming a student is lazy or lacking ability, consider what cultural differences might be influencing a student’s study habits and learning—and how you can adjust your methods and/or provide accommodations.

Maintain high expectations for all students.
Cultural diversity does not require you to have diverse expectations. You should maintain the same high expectations for all students. Yes, you may choose to make special accommodations for those students who need them, but you want all students to excel. Maintaining different expectations for different students can wrongly teach students that cultural differences determine educational abilities.

Teach a culturally inclusive curriculum.
In the past, American education has tended to focus heavily on Western European history and culture and on the stories of white Americans, particularly men. You should make a concerted effort to teach a broad curriculum that more accurately captures the world in its whole. By doing so, you can help ensure students don’t feel as if their culture is unimportant or that their own contributions aren’t wanted.

Where can you learn more about cultural diversity in the classroom?

If you’re interested in studying how cultural frameworks affect classrooms, you may want to earn a bachelor’s in elementary education. An elementary education degree can provide you with advanced knowledge of the ways cultural influences impact learning, and how teachers can better address cultural diversity in the classroom.

While earning a degree may seem daunting, you can make it easier by enrolling in an online university. An online education degree program in child development can provide you with the convenience and flexibility you need to earn your degree while continuing to work and take care of your other responsibilities. To create truly culturally aware classrooms, we need educators committed to embracing cultural diversity. You can put yourself on the path to becoming one of those educators by earning an online education degree in child development.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online BS in Elementary Education program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*R. Klein, In 10 Years, America’s Classrooms Are Going to Be Much More Diverse Than They Are Now, The Huffington Post, on the Internet at www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/classroom-demographics-2025_n_7175760.html.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or www.alsde.edu to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6275 or prof.educ@k12.wa.us to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.

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