Adapting to the Culture: An Ongoing Responsibility
I didn’t learn much about teaching tweens on the West side of Chicago in my college courses at the University of Arkansas. I went through the classes, I took the notes. I ended up with two practical things I used once I got of the boat and entered into the world of inner city teaching: The Expectation Theory and the idea behind various learning styles.
[You can read all about that time in my life by buying my book Strippers, Guns, and The Holocaust Museum: OR How I Survived My Time as a Chicago Public School Music Teacher on Amazon.]
The thing about learning styles is that most people (and in spite of their larval stage, kids are actually people) have a dominant method of learning. Some learn best through reading the material, others need to use their hands. Some need to actually teach the information to someone else in order to fully learn it. In order to be the best teacher I could be and reach the most students, I had to craft each lesson maybe four different ways in order to catch the interest of the maximum number of brains and learning styles.
Yes - the popular image of a lesson plan is to get the book, assign the pages, read through the material with the kids, and give them an assignment to complete. You get the assignment, you grade it and move on to the next lesson. I’ve met, like, three teachers ever who actually had it that easy and they were just lazy fucking teachers. The most motivated and eager to teach went through a number of permutations and creative exercises for every single lesson to be taught.
The easy road is to assume that the kids that learn from the easiest methods are just smarter than the rest which simply isn’t true. It is at the heart of most classism and bigotry in the world this assuming that different approaches to communication and absorbing knowledge are indicators of intelligence and worth. The kid who learns by using his hands isn’t any less than the kid who learns by reading but the ‘hands on’ kid requires more work from the teacher so that kid is labeled ‘learning disabled’ and relegated to the back of the class.
The key to making this work as a teacher is to have a respect for each child, a respect for each learning style and pay attention. Again, the easy road is to close your eyes to the differences, pretend that the kids that “don’t get it” won’t ever get it and push them through the system, ill-prepared for the world but completely accustomed to being only seen as a body rather than a soul.
As I work at a public radio station, the lesson is still keeping true. The difference is not in the many ways people learn but in how they process their work schedules. I, as the Director of Events, am on a six to eight week schedule per event so that each event gets the required time to secure logistics and enable our marketing department to effectively get the word out. Hell, a lot of my scheduling begins a year in advance if I can get away with it. Editorial, on the other hand, operates in 24-hour cycles.
One of our crack producers put it perfectly:
“September might as well be 2018 as far as I’m concerned. I’m still focused on what goes on the air in the next half an hour."
Our events department is a provider of opportunities for everyone in the building and so it is in ours and the institutions best interest that Tyler and I learn to communicate to each department in the manner in which they work. It isn’t always easy but the effort in learning these styles of process and approaching our Editorial, Philanthropy, Underwriting, Finance, and Engineering staffs with at least some sort of comprehension of how it is they work benefits everyone.
Different styles and means of communication isn’t a bad thing if there is an awareness and focus on understanding them. This disconnect of processing is only counterproductive when it is disconnected. And it’s only disconnected when you have no respect for the different working styles and silo off into ‘separate but equal’ little fiefdoms of control with little regard to a concept of a bigger picture.
Looking around at so many strident examples of identity fighting against the systematic oppression of the majority, it occurs to me that a good part of our collective problem (and yes, this is a problem we all have to deal with) is a lack of understanding on how each culture operates and communicates.
Far from being ‘color blind,’ I feel the best perspective is to embrace and respect the various cultures for exactly what they are - human beings who value different aspects of life, who communicate in different ways, who practice different cultural rituals but who all are still human beings.
Some believe that culture defines who you are but I believe that culture is a way of being, a way of processing the world, a way of learning. And every culture has differences in those three aspects. Funny - there is no such thing as “white culture” - there is Italian culture, Irish culture, Polish culture, etc. but “white” was a made up category designed to marginalize those in America with more melanin than European immigrants. The less we embrace overarching über cultural memes and have respect and understanding of one another’s actual cultures, the better our chances of working well together.
No culture is inherently better or worse than another and anyone claiming so is blinded by their own need to codify the differences in terms of good or bad. Is jazz “better” than a symphony? Is a tamale “better” than a wiener schnitzel? Is hip hop ‘better’ than country music? And who really gives a shit anyway?
Pay attention. Pay respect. Learn to adapt your cultural styles, your communication styles, to those around you. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.