Workshops will teach teachers to navigate cultural differences

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Christian Andino Borrero remembers a faculty member at the College of Arts and Sciences who said he did not sympathize with students who cannot afford to buy textbooks for the class.

It was a shock to Andino Borrero, a freshman who came to Syracuse University from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and was struggling to purchase materials for his classes.

“I was in no way fit or fit (able) to buy books,” said Andino Borrero, now a senior. “I found it to be surprisingly insensitive.”

Andino Borrero isn’t the only student to have encountered challenges like this upon arriving at SU. The faculty of ignoring student cultures and backgrounds poses an academic challenge for many SU students, including international students, who may face unfamiliar learning environments and may have difficulty learning. communicate with instructors.

To address these issues, two teachers from the SU School of Education are launching a series of teacher workshops, titled “Creating Culturally Appropriate Classrooms,” to help instructors better understand the needs of teachers. students from different backgrounds.

Students and experts say the workshops, while a necessary first step, are only part of what should be a broader approach to addressing differences in cultures and backgrounds in SU academics. .

Professors Jeff Mangram and Melissa Luke designed the series. In each workshop session, two of which are scheduled for May, teachers will be invited to examine the role of culture and language in their lessons.

The workshops will also introduce research-backed teaching practices that will particularly benefit students whose “culture and worldview differs from that of the classroom space,” Luke said in a statement.

“The ‘CCRC’ workshop series is based on the fact that culture and worldview are part of the teaching and learning context,” she said. “We help teachers to intentionally examine how it works in their educational spaces.”


Christian Andino Borrero, a senior from Puerto Rico, remembers struggling to purchase course materials when he arrived in the SU. Anya Wijeweera | Asst. Photo editor

The series is structured so that teachers can attend any sessions they want without having to participate in previous workshops.

Andino Borrero believes SU is taking a step in the right direction with teacher training workshops, but said the university needs to take a more holistic approach to make classrooms more culturally aware. Providing students with support networks and cultural spaces outside academics is just as important as creating inclusive learning environments, he said.

“They should not assume that these training sessions will solve or eradicate the problem completely,” said Andino Borrero. “Academic experience is important, but it’s not the only thing that has an impact on the student experience.”

Luke said she and Mangram created the series using research-backed methods and that research shows that professional development series for teachers is successful in improving classroom outcomes. At the same time, she recognized that the workshops will be more effective as part of a more systemic effort.

“Like any form of education, professional development for faculty is most effective when it is part of a multi-pronged systemic effort that includes assessment,” said Luke. “All of these learning opportunities occur in larger systemic contexts.”

Students and experts said that a systems approach to cultural sensitivity to SU – both in the classroom and beyond – is especially important given the varied nature of students’ individual experiences.

Cultural differences between classrooms in the United States and the rest of the world pose a particularly significant challenge to some international students, said Yingyi Ma, professor of sociology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Ma’s book, “Ambitious and Anxious: How Chinese Students Succeed and Struggle in American Higher Education,” recounts the experiences of Chinese international students studying in the United States. The book helped inform Mangram and Luke’s workshop series.

In the United States, student-centered discussions and student engagement are seen as essential for higher education, Ma said. But it’s not traditionally required or expected of students in other parts of the world. As a result, faculty may interpret students who do not participate or speak in class as a lack of engagement, when they are not, she said.

“The university culture, the university environment in the United States is not the norm for the global community,” Ma said. “Many professors may not know that international students, in a different environment, are not. not very used to this very student-centered classroom environment. ”

Language barriers can also make international students reluctant to share their thoughts or ideas during class discussions, Ma said.

When you have an accent, you have to be afraid of not being taken seriously. Teachers should be aware of this, try not to underestimate students when they have accents.

Christian Andino Borrero, a senior from the SU

“Class involvement has always been an issue for international students,” said Jaden Chen, a Chinese SU student and director of social media for The International, a student publication that highlights the perspectives of international students. “English is not our first language, so we are all shy to speak English in front of a group of Americans in the classroom.”

Chen, like Borrero, said the SU workshop series was just one step towards creating more inclusive classrooms, and what works for one student may be less effective for another.

Students who speak English well may also be reluctant to speak in class if they have a strong accent, Andino Borrero said.

In one case, Andino Borrero recalled having a teacher say that he liked his accent because it was easy to understand. Some of his friends have had similar experiences with SU teachers, he said.

“You have to be afraid, when you have an accent, of not being taken seriously,” said Andino Borrero. “Teachers should be aware of this, try not to underestimate students when they have accents.”

The sessions for Mangram and Luke’s first teacher workshop will take place on May 7 and 21. Ma believes that the workshops can be a fundamental component of a larger effort to make the academic environment of SU more sensitive to the backgrounds and cultures of students.

“That kind of awareness and empathy is really the first step,” Ma said.

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