I always knew I was different growing up, but could never really figure out why. While all of my friends were riding their bikes around the neighborhood, I was stuck riding from the big tree at the start of our driveway to the little tree at the end. When my friends were getting to stay up late on Saturday nights, going to the mall, I was tucked into bed with my cellphone turned off. When my family friends were all doing pizza Friday’s, we were having some form of manja (or Macedonian soup). Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed, though, was the discipline. When my peers would sneak out, earn an unsatisfactory grade, or talked back an adult, nothing happened. They got to keep their cellphone, go to the varsity football games, and hang out at the 5th Quarter Bonfire. If I did any of that, my life was as good as over (well, for a teenager): no cell phone, no after school activities, no leaving the house period. Back then, you could say I was bitter. I didn’t understand why my life was different, and I most certainly didn’t think it was fair.
If I’m being honest, to this day, I still don’t understand why. The closest I’ve chalked it up to was cultural differences. I come from a very old fashioned Macedonian family. There are certain expectations that Macedonians hold, which can be deemed a tad, bit out of date living in the United States today. Even though I have grown up some, I still notice these differences.
I have been fortunate enough encounter multiple opportunities to build professional relationships with students beyond my grade range. I have coached middle school students from fifth grade to eighth grade. Coincidentally, this is the same age as my three younger cousins (one in sixth, one in seventh, and one in eighth). I have found that, even fifteen years or so later, not much has changed. If one of my students fails a test, nothing happens. If they get their phones taken by a teacher, they get it right back after school upon their parent retrieving it from the office, and if they show disrespect to an adult (of which I can only speak on behalf of the staff members), they still show up to after school activities. Meanwhile, my cousins’ consequences would entail extra study hours, no cell phone, and being in the house (and even in bed) prior to ten. I should clarify that this isn’t all my students, there are a few outliers; however, I would say over 50% fall into this category that I would view, as a twenty something year old Americanized Macedonian, as the non-existent definition of “normal.”
As I’ve grown, the bitterness has subsided. However, curiosity is on the rise. It appears that there are cultural differences that do in fact lie within the disciplinary techniques of various parents/ guardians, but I am more so curious as to how each culture responds to those disciplinary techniques. Pamela Druckerman’s excerpt from Bringing Up Bebe really got me thinking about the way children act in different cultures, how parents respond in different cultures, and how that is received by, again, the children.
There was one thing I was weary of while reading her piece and I was really trying to be cautious of while I was writing my own (as I could tell she was, too, while writing the excerpt). That is, this definition of what the behavioral norm is. I don’t think the cultural differences surrounding behavior or discipline should be compared in a negative light. She did an excellent job of just stating her observations, something I worked hard to do in this post. However, when looking at those observations, it is very clear there are differences—but my question still remains—why?
Who do we adapt these behaviors from? Where do we get our discipline techniques? Most importantly, how do we embrace these differences in the classroom? I was misunderstood growing up. My friends couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go out, why I was grounded, or why I ate certain things. As a teacher, I have worked hard to get to know my students and their families’ backgrounds. For example, we have celebrated Cinco de Mayo, created bulletin boards revolving around black history, conducted author studies of famous Polish authors, and even looked into Irish astronomy. However, as an educator, the work is never done. Creating an environment of respect and rapport is something that we must work on year round, and a key part of that is understanding where students come from. By doing so, we can better understand behavior, anticipate responses to discipline or praise, and openly create and mbrace a culturally diverse classroom.
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