Cultural Awakening at an International School

So it turns out I’m in Uruguay and teach students from lots of different countries. Don’t know why that continues to shock me. Perhaps it’s the little cultural awakenings that I am constantly facing in my classroom.

I have given each class of my students group work in order to set my expectations and see how well they communicate with one another about a text. Every single class, I walked around from group-to-group (per usual); however, it didn’t take me long to realize that 90% of the conversations were in Spanish. I had no clue if the conversations we on task or on topic. So then I had to create the English only rule UNLESS a student needed clarification about something. One of my seventh graders was helping another student figure out a question I had asked. She was speaking to her peer in rapid Spanish but needed clarification from me before continuing her explanation. So she turned to me and in the same breath and asked me something in English. Then she went right back to Spanish. AMAZING! It made me realize that we are doing our kids a HUGE disservice in the USA NOT teaching them multiple languages from the beginning.

In my eleventh grade class, I was trying to explain the complicated relationship between Hamilton and Burr as we read the opening song for the musical Hamilton. I explained it was like Harry Potter and Malfoy. Two girls raised their hands to tell me they had no idea what I was talking about. They had never read the books nor seen the movies. Oh, and some have no clue who the heck George Washington is.

We are reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in ninth grade. And we had to do extensive background on Native Americans and reservations. One young man asked me why the Native Americas just don’t get off the reservation and make a better life for themselves. Well, that was a complicated thirty minute conversation about the plight of American history. I also had to explain what Kentucky Fried Chicken is.

But the ultimate kicker…I gave my ninth graders a vocabulary quiz over Quack SAT words. One of the words is vernacular. The sentence on the quiz is “No, Grandma, a booty call is not the same as a butt dial. You might want to stay away from teenage vernacular.” I had at least five kids from each ninth-grade class raise their hands and ask what was a booty call. And that was ANOTHER complicated conversation.

Needless to say, it is going to be a learning curve all around. I am really going to have to check my cultural references from now on and check my own vernacular.

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