Understanding Cultural Differences and Classroom Management

Understanding cultural differences helps with classroom management.

Cultural differences and classroom management go hand-in-hand in awareness. Knowing the cultures of students--their backgrounds, home experiences and prior schooling--plays directly into the many options educators have for managing their behavior in classrooms. To be most effective in classroom management, teachers must know and understand the cultural differences among their students.

1 Culture and Ethnicity

Understanding students' cultures helps educators understand why children do and act the way they do. For example, many Hispanic children grow up thinking it is disrespectful to speak out in class. Children from other countries who may have fled violence and instability can be easily intimidated and therefore may not as likely to speak out or respond in class. According to Project IDEAL, a project of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, African American children with Ebonics backgrounds behave differently; they are more direct and use different verbal expressions with each other. As teachers come to understand this, they can develop their own ways of coping with behavior because they realize what students do and do not react to.

2 Culture and Poverty

Children who come from poverty also have different experiences. Their needs are greater for love, trust, safety and security. They often speak louder than other students in the classroom; they’re sensitive to unspoken cues and are more attuned to nonverbal communication. Their need for direction and specific guidance is also greater. Project IDEAL recommends having additional supplies and resources on hand, such as pens, pencils and paper; using specific step-by-step instructions or role-playing when teaching anything new; offering a lot encouragement; and providing opportunities for students to express their feelings through writing and speaking.

3 Culturally Responsive Teaching

According to the National Urban Alliance, a training center for teaching cultural responsiveness in K-12 education, culturally responsive teaching requires responding to students with changed teaching practices. For example, teachers can highlight areas on world maps to recognize the countries of origin that represent students in the class, place symbols representative of national holidays throughout the classroom, celebrate other holidays and schedule multicultural events to strategically establish a classroom environment where teaching is culturally responsive.

4 Culturally Responsive Classroom Management

When teachers have knowledge of their students' previous cultural experiences, they are better able to use culturally responsive classroom management strategies. Students' previous cultural experiences can be quite telling as to why they behave in certain ways; learning about these experiences helps teachers know how to manage that behavior most effectively. Author Lisa Delpit speaks about classroom management as human development, and how teachers must nurture artistic expressiveness and ingenuity as opposed to managing students in punitive ways.

5 Suggestions for Classroom Management

Understanding cultural differences can easily translate into better, more effective classroom management. Suggestions include treating students as family through lots of team and group work, as well as assigning points to students and deducting for misbehavior rather than making them earn points through competition that may leave many behind. Delpit also suggests teachers discuss behavioral codes so students can make their own decisions about their behavior, take responsibility for it and bear their own consequences for not following the code.

Writing since 1984, Susan Deschel just published "Peer Coaching for Adolescent Writers" through Corwin Press, a handbook for teachers. Deschel has a bachelor's degree in creative writing, master's in education, and is currently working on her doctorate in curriculum and instruction. She writes in other genres, including fiction and poetry.