The past few months of my life have been a blur. I can’t believe the semester is drawing to a close and – I am sad to say – that this particular era within the life of my culture study is ending. As far as my reflective essay is concerned, I will readily admit that I am having a difficult time brainstorming ways to encapsulate everything I have learned since August within the confines of a 2-3 page essay. I entered the project with a broad interest in Armenian culture and a slight sense of shame about not knowing more about the community. Now that I am letting the project rest, my heart is a little heavier after having learned about Armenia’s tragic past and its current struggles. Yet, I am also invested in watching the country and the global Armenian community seek due recognition of its past and work to restore its legacy.
Now that I have acknowledged the primary tone underlying my culture study, I would like to recap some specific highlights of the whole experience. Some of the highlights were attending the Armenian Festival in Cupertino for my “immersion” experience, learning the basic facts about Armenia’s educational system (past and present), reading a first-hand account from someone who attended school in Soviet Armenia, discovering that people from Armenia tend to be more frank and less likely to sugarcoat their words, and reading into all the current news in Armenian education.
I now know that I can take so many steps to address the needs of students and parents who identify with the Armenian culture. Knowing that Armenian parents tend to be very involved with their children’s education, I will find ways to extend class participation opportunities to them (and all parents, really.) For example, I could ask parents to help me chaperone field trips, ask volunteers to help with classroom crafts, inform parents about the PTA, and coordinate a classroom “career day” event wherein parents come to school to talk about what they do for a living.
In order to build a safe and inviting classroom community for Armenian students as well for as all other students, I intend to make cultural diversity a prevalent theme in my curriculum. No single “culture day” for my class, thanks! Whenever appropriate, the books in each unit will be culturally diverse. I will also slip in cultural factoids about the people we study or the songs we sing. For example, if we sing songs by Raffi, I might mention that his family is from Armenia. And although I don’t plan on setting aside only one day to teach “cultural awareness,” I will specifically create an “All About Me” unit that encourages students to gather information about their families from and then teach their classmates about what makes them who they are. During this unit, I will reach out to parents and ask them to help their children gather family history facts, compile family photos and (optionally) cook food from their culture.
The culmination of this particular culture study marks the beginning of a new lifelong quest to heighten my awareness of this and other cultures. As much as I know that I will strive to include all of my students and broaden their horizons, I can’t deny that I am a biased person. I am who I am and I can’t alter most of the factors that make me unique. If my comfort zone were a city, its streets would have names like Thanksgiving Turkey Lane and Starbucks Boulevard and its residents would have a longstanding tradition of playing in the sprinklers, watching sitcom reruns and drinking grape Kool-Aid during the summer months.
Still, I believe I can make headway to expand the city limits of my metaphorical comfort zone if I set aside time every week to read news from around the world and specifically look up information on any culture that seems new and/or unusual to me. In my mind, this new quest isn’t just about feeling more educated or being sensitive to my students’ cultural needs. I strongly believe that it is my moral duty as a future educator to learn about the children I am teaching if I ever expect them to become culturally aware citizens themselves.