Culturally Appropriate Personalization

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5 thoughts on “Culturally Appropriate Personalization”

  1. Grant Boulanger

    This is an interesting scenario. There is a dominant culture that you don’t belong to and that, frankly, the school culture doesn’t likely match up with, that plays a huge, largely invisible role in your classroom. I would say the advice given is good. But one thing occurs to me. Keep it real. You’ll _lose_ buy in if you’re perceived to be trying too hard. I think you should look for these pieces of culture gems to come from them rather than trying to force them into a story. Then honor them (the gems and the kids) when they do.
    Use these moments when they share about themselves/their culture that is so disrespected in so many parts of this country as an opportunity to ask genuine, heartfelt questions of your students… in French! The things that are meaningful and relevant to them will come out. This is an area where I also need to improve.

  2. Yes it’s in the artfulness of the questioning. It is indeed a strange scenario. There I am, representing one culture, and there they are, representing a sister culture. They have the wealth, the gold, of their culture within the larger culture, waiting to burst into the classroom, but it can’t because only French is allowed. That treasure that could be the source of a thousand wonderful stories has to be mined slowly and with respect and very humbly and the only gold ingots available are those stamped with the “cute answers” seal – C.A. – on each bar.
    Like you said, Grant, go in too fast or too wanna-be-their-friend and it’s all over. But, if I can just try to tame them with the mastery the fox describes to the Petit Prince in explaining to him about how real friendship can come about, by metaphorically pulling my chair ever so closer to them everyday at the appointed hour, then I can reach them:
    Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’œil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…/You have to be very patient, answered the fox. First you need to sit kind of far away from me, like over there, in the grass. I will look at you out of the corner of my eye but don’t say anything. Language is a source of misunderstandings. But, each day, you can sit a little bit closer….
    Then, once they start feeding me stuff, we can start feeling the wind of comprehensible input lift the wings of the stories that we are starting to do right now because the stories will indeed be culturally appropriate. I want to learn how to fly in my classroom. These kids are great. There is something so much more real in them, possibly because of the unified classroom demographically, as opposed to my last job, where it was one third each of AA, Latino, and white, and the same bullshit that shows itself in the invisible power struggle in the larger society could be seen, to the great detriment of the minorities, every day, in my classroom at that school.
    One more thing: this has something to do with that tough class I mentioned, which is getting better the more I just let my guard down and enjoy listening to them. But the problem there is the creeping English that gets in. It’s the same old question that Joey Krashen and I are always talking about. At what point does the need to get to know the kids (English dominates that process) overpower the need to keep the class in 98% CI (my goal this year)? Where is that point of balance?
    I do know that I really have to own my part in this dance. I have to feel my role as a minority teacher in this setting. But can you see the potential here?

  3. I don’t know your students’ situations, but sometimes there is a fear of ‘La Migra’ (immigration/ICE). So keeping up barriers is a self-preservation thing. Even families with documents have a fear of government and see teachers as a part of that scenario. Sometimes the experiences of family and friends reinforce that distrust, even for second and third generation families. (Current situation in Alabama reinforces that concern.) Not trying to make a political point….just saying….
    I don’t know if your students follow lucha libre (wrestling), but sometimes those masked characters are a treasure box of potential story characters. They are supposed to always wear their masks and stay in character, except at home. Soccer rivalries are also possibilities for incorporating into stories.
    Lately I have been turning novels into graphic novels by incorporating characters from telenovelas. My students aren’t familiar with them, but love the characters from a pirate themed telenovela and they are perfect for “Los Piratas”. I just insert the photos into the text slides. Most of my students are non-readers and needed visualization aids.
    But most of all Ben, your biggest asset is you. Your students probably just need a little time to fully grasp that your class and you are unique and not just any ol’ class.

  4. Thanks Ardythe for those most kind words. When I think about the fear of deportation, it makes sense. I’m definitely going to check out lucha libre. Bottom line for me is simple. I see, have figured out, that there is a gentleness and a kindness and a unique sense of goodness in these kids that I have not yet seen in my career in the five other schools I have worked in. Why this should be so given their lives as Americans today, I don’t know. But there is something there, something unique. It’s like they understand something about life.

  5. Il faut être très patient….c’est ça le secret. And it’s always about how to relate and patience. My first job was in North Denver…way north in a school which saw riots during the 70’s, Chicano activism. I started teaching in this school during the first year of forced busing in DPS. I didn’t speak Spanish but taught Spanish to kids who were from Heritage Spanish speaking families and I taught French to those kids as well. I fell in love with this culture and those kids. They loved me back and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I’m a white girl from a small town and learned how to relate. It’s all about love. Today’s issues are huge but yesterday’s struggles were just as huge.

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