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Cultural Sensitivity in the ClassroomPismoh was extra proud this day when she came to class. Today she had a telescopic pointer with which she would delightfully extend with a flick of the wrist in great flourish, while giving her hair a bit of a toss, intensely surveying the class. This was toward the end of the second month of my Russian language course in St. Petersburg, Russia. Pismoh?s real name was Elena but I didn?t know it/couldn?t remember it at that point, thus called her by the subject she was teaching, Pismoh, or Writing. In the beginning there was one American (me), one Turkish girl and six chinese students, later on there was another fellow from Turkey. So there we were trying not to be distracted by the pointer. Then all of a sudden the moment was shattered when Pismoh did her usual flick but instead of extending, the pointer flew apart scattering into bits across the floor. Pismoh gathered up the bits and with a huff, nearly throwing them at Lu Lei, said (in Russian), here you fix it, it was made in your country. Now then, whether that was simply her humor, or general Russian-type humor (we were still pretty new), it was definitely not chinese humor (nor Turkish it seemed, nor American). And judging by the expression on her face it didn?t seem like she was trying to be funny. So we received the message from her that she feels chinese production makes cheap, poor products and that she resents these chinese students. Whether that was fact, we couldn?t say, but it sure seemed that way. The chinese immediately lowered their eyes and wouldn?t engage; the Turkish girl laughed nervously, looking puzzled; I don?t know what I looked like but I was glowering, ready to take on the whole Kafedra (department), with my whole 50 words or so of Russian. Strangely enough, somehow that situation inhibited the rest of the class period. The Oxford dictionary defines the word sensitive as "quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences" or "having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others' feelings." Some people are naturally sensitive and some are not, which includes the teachers and students of the world. Fortunately it?s possible to learn some sensitivity. Cultural sensitivity is important in the classroom because it determines the quality of interaction between the teacher and student, as well as between the students themselves, thus determining the overall success of the class. Interaction is important in any class but how much more so in a language class. Culture is what makes up a people. Skin color, religion, family situation/status, environment, ethics and morals, etc are the components of this broad word, culture. Preconceived opinions and ideas about a student or culture can be paralyzing. The peculiar thing is that most would say they don?t have prejudices, nor are influenced by stereotypes and yet stereotypes/prejudices are the very entities that can quietly determine how a person will react in a situation, i.e. how a teacher will treat and interact with the student. Obviously language is for the purpose of communication and expression. It?s very difficult to communicate even in one?s mother tongue if there are feelings of misunderstanding or insensitivity. There is a fine line between humor and hurt, between sharing and exposing, between discussing and arguing, between being helpful and being patronizing, and the list goes on. We can?t always know or understand every single nuance and agonize about it- we would be afraid to say anything for fear of stepping on someone?s toes and the lessons would be desperately dull. Three main things are good to remember- know your students, know the material and know the goal or purpose of the class. It?s not that important that the students know about how you feel or what you think, unless they specifically ask you. It?s a lot more important to know about them, where they are coming from, what their goals are, what is important to them. The object is to teach them and help them, not strike the fear Zeus into their hearts, not to impress them, not to lord over them, not to teach them anything other than english.