Years in Education: 11--15
Upper Secondary English Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: This is my eleventh year teaching, and in these eleven years I've taught in Mountain View, CA; Rome, Italy; Bonn, Germany; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and now Sofia, Bulgaria. I share this because the cultural contexts of the places I have lived and the make up of the student body of each of the schools have been incredibly diverse.
In California, the public high school had over 2,000 students from grades 9-12. Students were predominantly White and Asian with a smaller Latino population and even smaller Black population. There was a large achievement gap that was largely divided by race.
All the international schools I've worked at have had an average of 800 students from pre-K to grade 12. On average, 20% tended to be American, another 20% host country nationals, and the other 60% of students were a mix from over 40 nationalities. Over 60% of our students are non-native English speakers. Accents and linguistic mistakes are never made fun of.
However, apart from a small percentage of scholarship students, most students and their families were wealthy enough to afford a ~$20,000/year education. For embassy children, their country's taxes usually paid for that. Many companies also paid for students' tuition as part of the relocation package.
Depending on the context, I've had different similarities with my students. In California, the strongest commonalities were with other students who were immigrants or first generation making sense of a bicultural world - for me it was Filipino values and traditions inside my home and white America outside of it. I connected with the students that were assimilating to become white American, inadvertently assuming that American was better and even growing shame for my ancestral roots.
Internationally, the term "third culture kid" is used quite often: the first culture being the culture the students' parents are from, the second is the current country they live in, and the third is the amalgamation of the two. This phenomenon is what we have in common - guests in a new world never fully connected with our home country or the one we live in.
However, regardless of these varying cultural contexts I've lived in, one thing I have in common with some of my students wherever I am is my sexuality. As a gay man, I connect with my students that are either in the closet or are out and proud. We share a common thirst for safe spaces, constantly having our feelers out to ensure we have be ourselves otherwise passing for straight when we cannot. Living as an expat compounds the complexity of this as each culture has different laws and norms for the gay community.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes and no. Commonality has this powerful ability to build relationships.
When I find out a student speaks Spanish or German or Italian, for example, I speak to them in that language to make that linguistic connection and share our cultural experiences.
Ironically, commonality also as the power to create xenophobia. Too often, students from the same country will only hang out with each other because of the comfort in their similarities but also then to build negative stereotypes of other groups.
Teachers are guilty, too, of having an affinity for students that we have things in common with sometimes letting those that we don't connect with slip through the cracks.
Josefino is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. Follow him on Twitter @josefinor and read about his expat adventures as a teacher abroad on Medium @josefinor.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.