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Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

We live in a nation that is exponentially rising in its diversity. However, it is difficult to learn about and understand varying cultures when you are surrounded solely by your own. Although Chicago is an extremely diverse city, it is also quite segregated and neighborhoods are divided by ethnic background. Often, fear or discomfort can hinder us from reaching out to those who are different. One of the challenges I have faced as a teacher (and will continue to face) is to open up the minds of young students to cultures that are unlike their own. I love to travel. Although there are plenty of places on my bucket list to visit (traveling can be expensive!), the countries Ive been to are vastly different and cover a reasonable spectrum of diversity. Most recently, I went to China and South Korea. My brother lives in Beijing so I seized the opportunity to explore this city of over eighteen million people. There is nothing that compares to China. The air is cloudy and not because of weather, the sidewalks are crowded, and the streets are chaotic, as drivers avoid all traffic rules. I quickly learned that cars do not heed to pedestrians, shoving oneself into the subway is protocol (the idea of personal space does not exist), and eating every part of an animal is common. Although China is not considered to be a third world country, the quality of life for most people is subpar. It amazed me that in such disorder, for the most part, people appeared to be happy. China is full of laughter and I admire the disposition of its inhabitants. As a result, I came to recognize that living in the United States has caused me to take many things for granted. In comparison to the majority of the world, I am spoiled. Traveling across the world caused me to better appreciate what I have. While in China, I was reminded of a time when I took my third grade students to the Shedd Aquarium on a field trip. I taught at Wentworth Elementary, in Englewood, where the

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

key demographic was African American. While on the trip, one of my students commented, Miss Wipf, why do those people over there look funny? I realized that he had observed a Chinese family for the first time in his life. He had never seen an Asian before because his African American community was all that he knew. This caused me to think about how as an educator, it is my job to expose students to cultures beyond their own. While on my Asian excursion I also went to South Korea. While this country is only a small sea away from China, it was utterly different. South Koreans seemed to be more proper and reserved, yet proud of their culture. I did not see many smiles. The people in Seoul did not appear to have the same sense of urgency as Beijingers. Also, Seoul was relatively clean. The air is still polluted, but the streets and sidewalks are garbage-free. Roads lacked the immense scooter population that is prominent in metropolitan China and when you crossed a street, there was no fear of being pummeled by a bus/car/bike/scooter. I noticed the sense of community that Koreans have. Everywhere I went, I saw that the majority of people ate their meals in large groups. Restaurants have tables that can seat many, and commonly there were no chairs, people sit on the ground on cushions. There were other things that I was not accustomed to. For example, when entering a home/hotel room/restaurant (most), you must take off your shoes. It is a sign of respect, Koreans do not dirty their floors because they often sit or sleep on them. I decided to go on a tour of the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). While on the hour-long bus ride there I met many people from other countries. There were a great number of Japanese and German tourists. I sat next to a girl from Berlin and learned what it was like for her growing up when the Berlin Wall was still intact, and then the

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

changes after. She was going to visit the DMZ since she felt the relations between North and South Korea were much like the relations between East and West Germany. On the bus we had the chance to meet a defector from North Korea. Chan Sook did not speak English so her story was translated to us. This woman escaped from North Korea three years ago. She and eight of her friends planned their getaway for almost a year. They fled northwest and hid in the mountains of North Korea for three months. Next they swam across a river to get into China. Once in China, they were caught. One of her friends ate poison so that they would be detained and not sent immediately back to North Korea. Eventually, the South Koreans heard about this group of defectors and lobbied for them to be allowed into South Korea. As I saw the tears in this Chan Sooks eyes, I could only imagine what she had been through. She told us that she had been a teacher in North Korea. Instead of pay, she was given a small plot of land. If she could get the land to profit, she was allowed to keep the harvest. The land she received was not farm worthy and she therefore did not have enough food to eat. Although I could not understand her language, I could feel that raw emotion of her words. Chan Sook told us that if the North Korean government were to find out about her escape, they would kill three generations of her family. It was for this reason that we were not allowed to take photos, and she could not go all the way to the border of North Korea with our tour. Once Chan Sook arrived in South Korea, she had much difficulty. She said that South Koreans made fun of her accent and assimilating into this better-off culture was not easy. I think about her story when I meet immigrant students. I was a substitute teacher in CPS for two years and worked at a predominantly Mexican and Puerto Rican populated school, McAuliffe Elementary. Some of the students were second or third generation Latinos but there were recent

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

immigrants as well. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to move into a new country, new school, new community, and new culture. We need to accept various cultures in the schools and welcome those who come from foreign backgrounds. I hope that no student would ever feel alienated in my classroom. I think that my trip to Asia allowed me to experience a world that was completely unfamiliar to me. It made me notice the details and customs that are the building blocks of a group of people, an entire country. I realize that I may not be able to take my students on a 1700-mile plane ride, but I can incorporate multicultural material into the classroom. Childrens literature such as Children Just Like Me, A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, or What Does It Mean To Be Global? are just a few of the many books that are available to assist in multicultural implementation. Fortunately, Chicago is comprised of so many ethnicities that there are plenty of opportunities to be a part of them. Every year I try to go to Serbian Fest, Greek Fest, Polish Fest, German Fest, and Puerto Rican Fest. These festivals would be a worthy field trip option. The Chicago International Childrens Film Festival is another golden opportunity for a class excursion. Teaching our children about the chances they have to experience other cultures within their city is vital. We need to rectify the misconceptions that students have about various ethnicities. For example, many people have the notion that all natives of Asia are the same. This could not be further from the truth. It is important to recognize that the things we think we know about someone, might not be accurate. Unless you truly immerse yourself in another societal system, you will only have a partial understanding of those particular people. Even then, it is impossible to completely put yourself in someone elses shoes. We should educate young minds to not

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012 believe in stereotypes and instead, look at the whole person. Students could each make an All About Me poster or a teacher could have a Student of the Week in effort to focus on the significance of individualism. There are so many things to be learned from the people around us. My boyfriend, Milos, was born in Serbia and moved here as a child. He learned English when he started school in the United States and remembers it being difficult for him. As teachers, we need to be sensitive to the struggles that new citizens go through. I have learned a great deal about Serbian people from Milos and his family. He comes from a very family-oriented culture and traditions and holidays are central pillars to their society (as well as meat!). I appreciate Milos family because it is so different than mine. His relatives are loud, unafraid to voice their opinion, and make me eat food until I am stuffed to the rim. Milos mother tells me stories of what it was like to grow up during communism. These experiences broaden my knowledge of an ethnicity that would otherwise be unfamiliar to me. It makes me aware of how I must acknowledge whatever ethnic groups are represented in my classroom. I need become familiar with the particular customs and learning styles of my students. I should be an ongoing learner and research the cultural heritages of each child. I can reach out to parents and colleagues to assist me in this understanding. The question arises as to how we educate children who might not have interactions with cultures beyond their own. As a teacher, we can incorporate multicultural information through the content we teach. Literature is a great subject to begin with. Students can gain a wealth of knowledge though what they read. Students can learn to appreciate people from differing backgrounds by finding commonalities between themselves and the characters in a book.

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

Inviting guest speakers from other countries is another valuable way to introduce the cultural heritage of specific individuals. Hosting a Family Night where families bring food native to their country can also be a way to build bridges between people with opposite backgrounds. In the classroom, students can adopt buddies from countries all over the world. Theres even a great website, www.ePals.com, where students can have language practice, project-based-learning, and begin to identify with students from other cultures online by connecting to worldly classrooms. Another vital aspect to multicultural education is that students need to know about their own ancestry. They should understand the contributions that their predecessors have made. A teacher should allow her students to explore their backgrounds and be proud of where they came from. Lessons could include conducting a family tree or making a map of their past. Another valuable activity would be for students to pick a role model from their culture to research and present to their classmates. This would aid in students knowing how to honor their own, and each others, cultural heritage. Part of what will help me understand my students, is making sure that I understand myself. I need to be reflective and think about what shaped me as a person. I have to acknowledge that children may come from backgrounds drastically different from my own. Especially in the urban setting, schools have a large underserved population. Children may come from poverty, abuse, or unhealthy homes. They may have limited English language proficiency. These are all factors that I have not experienced and I must be sensitive (and educated) as to how this affects learning. I will never be able to fully comprehend some of the circumstances from which my students have come from, but I can do my best to be accepting and empathetic.

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012

Teachers must utilize a variety of learning strategies in order to accommodate all types of learners. I can use inquiry-based learning to allow critical thinking and problem solving. Cooperative learning is appropriate for those who benefit from working in small groups. Some (albeit few) students excel through direct instruction. Whatever the technique, I understand that each student acquires information in his/her own way. Learners range from visual to auditory, from read-write to kinesthetic. My teaching methods have to address all of these components. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to ensure that I build a classroom of community. I want my students to know that they are loved and appreciated. I want them to have a sense of self-pride as well as an appreciation for their classmates. I need to model acceptance and openness toward others. I must teach students to accept diversity. When I see evidence of prejudice, it is my job to intervene and promote tolerance. Again, I would need to create a lesson that fosters each childs uniqueness. I should provide opportunities for children to interact with those who are dissimilar to them. They should be able to form positive relationships by finding common ground with others. Hopefully, I will be able to create a classroom that is multicultural and celebratory of each specific learner.

Laura Wipf Culture in the Classroom EPS 512 July 30, 2012