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There's a Lizard in My Living Room

A Personal Reflection on What it Takes to Teach in a Different Culture.
by

kevin volo

on 12 February 2010

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Transcript of There's a Lizard in My Living Room

There's a Lizard in My Living Room and a Pigeon in My Classroom A Personal Reflection on What It takes to Teach in a Different Culture A Personal Reflection on What It takes to Teach in a Different Culture a teachers account of teaching in a different culture what did he say? tweet? be comfortable with the uncomfortable don't hide your culture shock rethink everything you come under critique...but you are also critiquing your new culture culture The challenges of cultural learning in terms of Hofstede’s four cultural dimensions as identified in Chapter nine, pp:195-197. Individualistic/Collectivist culture: In a collectivist culture, students are expected to speak up in class only when addressed directly by the teacher. In addition, “Formal harmony is important and neither a teacher nor any student should ever be made to lose face”(195).

In an individualistic culture, students are allowed more freedom to speak per invitation by the teacher, confrontation is accepted and encouraged, conflicts are permitted for open discussion, and face-consciousness is weak” (195).

1st Cultural Dimension: However, language barriers alter this dimension, and it is quite possible for the type of culture that exists in a classroom setting to be identified if a language barrier is present, as the article illustrates.

Jane MacLennon states, “Before class when students engage in before-class chatter, you never know what is being said, what’s so interesting or so funny. In view of this, I had to give up the sense of control that comes from knowing everything that is discussed in my classroom”(204).

Can a specific type of culture be present in spite of a language barrier?
Individualistic/Collectivist culture: Power Distance Power distance defines the extent to which the less powerful persons in a society accept inequality in power and consider it normal.

The author did this when she describes feeling of uncertainty initially due to the constant and unexpected interruptions of class time (i.e., bomb threats, water outages, power outages, and student assemblies) and she began to realize while she wasn’t going to eliminate planning a class outline, she had learned to expect the unexpected and therefore. Furthermore, she had to alter her expectations.
2nd Second Cultural Dimension: There are two “degrees and variations” of power distance, in terms of classroom behavior:

(exist in small power distance societies)- the students initiate communication, outline their own paths to learning, and can contradict the teacher. The emphasis relies on the impersonal “truth” that can be obtained by any competent person.

(exists in large power distance societies)- the teacher initiates all communication, outlines the path of learning that students should follow, and is never publicly criticized or contradicted. Moreover, the emphasis is on the personal “wisdom” of the teacher

Power distance is hard to achieve if the teacher is overwhelmed with feelings of discomfort, and it is assumed that is the “less powerful person” in the society, but is that only due to the fact that she is out of her element, and does not understand the language or their culture?
The article illustrates different degrees of both: 1. Due to language barriers

2. The teacher questions what is defined as “wisdom”…whatever my own beliefs could I mark the answer wrong? If I did, what was I getting into?” (204)

3. The teacher also strives to foster a “learning environment in which students feel confident and comfortable in sharing thoughts, discussing ideas, and even making mistakes” (204) MacLennon also indicates that the class was more “relaxed” due to the fact that she didn’t know what they were saying, and she was trying to achieve the desired level of comfort, “My new best response to all of this was to admit my lack of knowledge of their language, to joke about the problems that arose because of that lack of knowledge, and to share with them stories of my struggle as I was beginning to learn what had always been second nature for most them: communicating from within their own culture”(204).

3rd cultural dimension Uncertainty Avoidance “This dimension defines the extent to which people within a culture are made nervous by situations that they perceive as unstructured, unclear, or unpredictable-situations that they therefore try to avoid by maintaining strict codes of behavior and a belief in absolute truths”(196). Uncertainty Avoidance Strong Uncertainty Avoidance Society: students feel comfortable in structured learning situations and are awarded for accuracy in problem solving.

-Teachers are expected to have all the answers and are not influenced by outside sources.
Weak Uncertainty Avoidance Society students feel comfortable in unstructured learning situations.

-Teachers are allowed to demonstrate uncertainty, encourage parents’ ideas and intellectual disagreement.
The author illustrates that it is impossible to bestow upon her classroom/students strict codes of behavior or a belief in absolute truths and therefore, due to the unexpected events and language barrier that exists between them. However, she did her best to establish relationship with her students that allowed her to maintain a bit of a structured as well as an unstructured learning environment regardless of her “outsider status”


“Even at the time, I realized that the larger culture shock I was experiencing was not at something I could hide. Indeed, in terms of developing my relationship with my students, it was not something that I would want to hide. Instead, it was something that helped us to understand each other and connect” (205) and as she shared personal stories, she also incorporated a structured learning environment as well.
Student centered Teacher-centered 4th Cultural Dimension Masculinity and Femininity This dimension focuses on the definition of masculine and feminine roles as perceived by an individual culture. In most cultures, men are expected to be assertive, ambitious, and competitive, as well as to strive for material success whereas women are expected to serve and to care for the nonmaterial quality of life, for children, and the weak (196-197).
  Academic achievement is highly regarded and competitiveness is encouraged, therefore teachers openly praise good students and use the best students as the “norm,” thus, academic failure is a severe blow to the self-image. Furthermore, students are rewarded based on academic performance (197) Masculine Society: Academic achievement is less important and therefore, teachers avoid openly praising students, and instead emphasize successful interpersonal relationships and cooperation among students. In addition, average students are considered the “norm,” and rather than reward students for academic achievement they award them based on social adaptation (197). . Feminine Society: This is the one cultural dimension that the author could relate to; she labels herself as a feminist as she observes and points out that she has been forced to assimilate into a “Latin macho culture” and states that “When I started teaching the course in intercultural communication, I could identify some of my experiences as connected to the tensions between moving from a more feminine culture, where social roles overlap, to a masculine culture where social roles are distinct and discrete”(207).
? “While I am sharing my own cultural identity, I am also in the process of learning what I want to uphold from each culture, what I value, and what I would like to transform within me.” (MacLennan p. 206) questions 1. This quote could be related to global communication and education in many ways, describe your interpretation and the significance it has relating to the class as a whole. 2. This quote could be related to global communication and education in many ways, describe your interpretation and the significance it has relating to the class as a whole. 3. It can be seen that teaching in a foreign culture would be difficult for the teacher and the students. Do you agree with the author that the thrill of teaching is universal? Do you think this only applies to teaching? 4. The author seems to her  assimilation into the new culture, what do you think causes this and could a person assimilate into any culture with enough time? be comfortable with the uncomfortable don't hide your culture shock the thrill of teaching is universal
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