In a classroom with students from multiple ethnic backgrounds, it is difficult to ensure all students' needs are being met. This can lead to various cultural biases that can serve as an impediment to a student's ability to learn language.
Cultural Bias in the Classroom
One of the most important aspects for an ESL teacher to keep in mind is that different cultures have different approaches to education. In the United States, a very engaged approach with students is generally encouraged. However, if a student comes from a culture where students are expected to take a more passive approach when dealing with teachers, the teachers might assume that the student is not participating satisfactorily in the classroom. This can lead to a bias based on cultural differences in which the teacher assumes that the passive student is simply not putting effort into the class.
If a more reserved student witnesses other students who are more thoroughly engaging in the class discussions, then the more reserved student might develop a bias against these students and the class in general and become even more withdrawn and be even less likely to actively engage in the class, leading them to have difficulties in the language learning process.
Another aspect for an ESL teacher to remember is that students who speak the same language do not share the same culture. For instance, if there are many Spanish speakers in the classroom, they might come from several different countries such as Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, among many others. These countries have vastly different cultures, and it would be culturally insensitive to assume that these Spanish speakers would naturally have much in common culturally.
Furthermore, just as several students might come from the same country, it is important to keep in mind that different regions in various countries have vastly different cultures as well. Just imagine the problems that a Spanish teacher would encounter if the teacher were to assume that a student from New York City would naturally have much in common as a student from Texas. We recognize different cultures within our own country, and we need to make sure that we realize that other countries do not have a singular, homogenous culture as well.
Ways to Alleviate Cultural Bias
In order to alleviate cultural bias in an ESL classroom as much as possible, it is important to attempt to recognize every culture that is represented in the classroom. One way to do this is to decorate the classroom with decorations and flags from each student’s countries. Seeing their cultures represented will make students feel more included in the class.
Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind each student’s learning style. Once it is clear that some students might be more passive in classroom discussions, it would be best to tailor your approach to the class's needs. Instead of merely relying on students to volunteer answers themselves, students who have shown hesitancy to answer could be called on individually. It is a mistake to assume that these students simply are slower at learning than the more participatory students.