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Jeff Sandrock

February 2016

Thoughts on Teaching Standard #2: Learner Cultural Linguistic Diversity

Learners come from diverse backgrounds, and my brief AMES experience shows true wealth of

diversity. I have Native American, Samoan, Tongan, Hispanic, European, Arab, Persian, Asian, Black, and

White students. They are outspoken and soft-spoken, even within each of those cultural demarcations. They

blend well with each other in some cases, and isolate themselves along cultural identity in others. This is a

richly diverse population, surprisingly so for a school in the traditionally white-dominated Salt Lake Valley. I

embrace it with passion and celebration in my teaching.

My Growth and Experience

Initial impressions. I had every intention of finding a classroom in a school in which few cultures were

openly discussed or prominently featured. I was pleasantly surprised to find the major art and engineering

education space, also known as “the Skunk Works,” had hundreds of international flags suspended in neat

crisscrossing smiles across the vaulted ceiling. Try as I might, I could not identify any nation’s flag that was

missing. The faculty here is multi-ethnic as well, with men and women of different Pacific Island heritage,

Hispanic heritage, and other cultural richness, so my Native American and European mixture would mean little

compared to those who are 100% from a certain culture, and visibly show pride in that cultural background.

In my own arrogance, I believed I would bring something to this school that it somehow lackeda

world view of having lived and visited 28 nations across the Americas, Europe, and Asiaand found I greatly

underestimated what was already present at this top-performing school. The teachers here are well travelled, so

students hear the stories of their adventures and discoveries visiting other cultures and linguistic groups.


knowledge of different cultures and linguistic groups makes me naturally comfortable showing respect in

appropriate ways (gestures, eye contact, non-verbals, language phrasing, and so forth).

Where I can make a solid difference is within the instruction itself. When teaching a lesson on star

constellations, for example, I used not the Ancient Greeks or later Europeans as case study, but the Arab roots

of Astronomy. I revealed to my students that many star names, originally assigned by ancient Arab and Persian

stargazers, are in use by the entire world to this day, and some family names found in J. K. Rowling’s “Harry

Potterseries are those same Arab star names. With scans of constellations written in ancient Middle Eastern

texts to lend a more academic focus, the lesson was very well received!

Wherever possible, I highlight a student’s origin not solely by touting its interest and fascination, but by

asking questions. My student who are first-generation or second-generation immigrants, for example, are

themselves the experts! My brief weeklong visit to their capital city falls far short of their lifetime of memories

or cultural observances. Wherever possible, I encourage them to be the linguistic and cultural expert on their

parent cultures. In instruction, even the subject content I help students to navigate lends itself to embracing

geographic (if not cultural specifically) diversity. Continental tectonic boundaries are the most interesting in

South America, along the coast of Chile. Volcanic Island Arcs from Japan to the Philippines are textbook

examples of how ocean subduction volcanism creates long lines of islands where people live today. India

crashing into Asia, pushing up the Himalayas is the perfect example of mountain-building.

While not trying to actively downplay North America whenever case studies are apropos, I have found

that the entire world is a more apt description, with each part of it generating fascinating subject matter. For

supporting video, I use highly-respected BBC, Discovery News, and National Geographic productions, which

span the globe and feature disparate cultures as well. Reaching students from multiple cultures is not a

challenge I shy from, but one I celebrate. Their cultural intelligence, and their linguistic expression as a result

of that culture, is something to be nourishednot downplayed.