Culture Shock At Home

Amman, Jordan

I’d been having trouble getting along with my TA this week, and finally figured out why. In part, of course, it’s because I’ve been really nervous about getting everything done in time and feeling like I might be in over my head, both of which make me mean (just ask my mother!). So some serious apologizing was needed.

The main thing, though, was a cultural misunderstanding. Neither she nor I has studied education, but in addition, Diala has none of my teaching experience. Perhaps more to the point, she’s never been in an American elementary school before, so she has no conception of what I’m picturing in my head as my classroom. Added to that, with so many native speakers and fluent speakers of English on staff, I forget that Diala is very advanced but still very much an English learner, and I often talk too fast for her, she tells me.

So we sat down and I explained the major difference, as I see it, between Jordanian and American educational culture: In Jordan, the emphasis in the classroom is put on the information being transmitted; rote memorization is de rigeur here, and the classroom environment is more or less irrelevant, or at best, haphazard. American educators, on the other hand, tend to feel that the learning environment is at least as important as the material; if a student is comfortable and happy in his classroom and stimulated by bright colors and lots of informational input around the room, he will want to come to school and be more engaged in his learning.

I can’t say I find either system ideal. I admitted to Diala that I often think American educators, and perhaps especially administrators, sometimes put too much emphasis on the environment and not enough on the curriculum, but I also recognize that the Jordanian philosophy is also flawed, and fails many of its students. In any case, we’re in the American system here, and thus it’s American educational culture we have to respect.

And when she told me that I often talk too fast for her to understand, I realized that we needed to go back over much of the material that was covered in lectures given to the faculty as a whole, in which native speakers of English had spoken too quickly for Diala to take in all the important information.

However, once we’d had a couple little pow-wows about the American teaching philosophy, once we acknowledged and began to bridge that cultural gap, things have been so much smoother in our working relationship!

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