First-Year Teacher FAQ: My racial and/or cultural background is different from that of my students. Will they still listen to me?

This question is simultaneously one of the touchiest cultural questions out there and one of the simplest to answer. It is also simultaneously part of a constantly-evolving dialogue and one where my answer hasn’t changed much since I first answered in in the FAQ section of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers.

If your racial or cultural background is different from that of your students, there is both good and bad news for you:

Teachers from many, many cultures have successfully taught children from many, many other cultures. Your job is to keep striving to be one of these teachers.

You instinctively know this is true, and it is true. Kids need role models who look like them. They also need to work with and learn from people who are different. Great teaching crosses cultural lines and bridges cultural differences all the time.

Does this mean you are guaranteed to be successful? Ha ha ha—no.

But your goal is to be the best teacher you can possibly be. Allowing anyone or anything to convince you that you are incapable of teaching your students well can only hurt you and your students.

Teachers from many, many cultures have successfully taught children from many, many other cultures. Your job is to keep striving to be one of these teachers.

There are likely to be some incidents that would have played out differently if you looked or sounded more like your students.

You instinctively know this is true, and it is true.

Teaching has a learning curve and can lead to awkward or tense moments. Bridging any type of cultural divide also has a learning curve and can lead to awkward or tense moments. Combine these, and you can end up with a steeper learning curve and more awkward or tense moments.

But your goal is to be the best teacher you can possibly be. Allowing anyone or anything to convince you that you are incapable of teaching your students well can only hurt you and your students.

Great teaching crosses cultural lines and bridges cultural differences all the time. Teachers from many, many cultures have successfully taught children from many, many other cultures. Your job is to keep striving to be one of these teachers.

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