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Reflections on the Impact of Culture in the Classroom
Giselle Mora-Bourgeois
Gunston Middle School
Arlington County (VA) Public Schools
Submitted June 2000
Introduction
A year of teaching 8th graders at Gunston Middle School provided me with many lessons on the impact of cultural differences and communication styles on the teaching-learning process. I discovered that my communication style was so different from that of my students that it led to many unpleasant and conflictive moments in the classroom. Additionally, I became more aware of my personal identity and more appreciative of the diverse cultural backgrounds of my students. This paper summarizes some observations and reflections on how cultural differences bedeviled my interactions with my students in Arlington County, Virginia.
In general, culture refers to the ways in which different groups of people organize their daily lives within national or ethnic groups, urban neighborhoods, companies and professions, and other settings. Culture includes what people actually do and what they believe. Culture influences greatly how we see the world, how we try to understand it and how we communicate with each other. Therefore, culture determines, to a great extent, learning and teaching styles.
Addressing cultural differences in the teaching-learning process is both important and controversial. It is important because we are confronted with an increasingly diverse population of students and the wide achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. It is controversial because we may fall into the trap of cultural stereotyping and making naive attempts to explain achievement differences among our students.
Teachers cannot escape the fact that their communication "styles" reflect their cultural background. Much of what they say, the way they say it, and their relationship with students, parents and...

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