Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Crossing Streets & Oceans

Whether crossing a street or an ocean, in our home country or another, people are different. We’ve talked here before about ways of communicating across cultures and societal boundaries. We’ve explored empathy and making peace and also how to love and bless students and colleagues. Below are a few more ideas that might help us speak the language of culture.

Learning for a lifetime

You’ve probably done it. I know I have. It’s your second conversation with someone, second semester in the classroom, second year in a country, and you’re the expert on the ins and outs, the good and especially the bad. How many hours does it take to figure out a person, classroom, or culture? How about a group of persons in a classroom across cultures? After living and teaching in China for 16 years, I have to ask: Is a lifetime long enough?

Breaking down boxes

Once we’ve made snap judgments, it’s easy to put people in boxes based on their background, gender, appearance, diagnosis, experiences, or more. I’m not sure why I’m so apt to box people in when I chafe at the boxes myself. I’ve never liked it when teachers (or group members) suppose that because I’m a woman I’ll be the note-taker.[1] My colleague doesn’t want people to assume she can’t participate because of a disability. And my friend’s son struggled when teachers treated him according to his size rather than his age. Cultural boxes cause similar problems, the ones labelled “good at math,” “singing and dancing,” “unable to think critically,” “aggressive,” “quiet,” and more. Let’s break those boxes down and send them out for recycling.

Dancing with different

Different is different. It’s usually not bad and even less likely to be sinful. Often it’s not just different but good different. Variety enhances our lives. It’s a spice after all. More importantly, those flavor enhancers teach us new ways of living, looking at the world, and laughing at ourselves. As for our students, they, in their uniqueness, have a way of teaching us more than we manage to get across. Different is not something to dance around but with.

Developing curiosity

Curiosity has a bad name. Apparently it kills cats and got the infamous George into a lot of sticky situations. But it’s not all bad. Being nosy or sticking our noses in where they don’t belong might get us in trouble, but a desire to learn and a genuine interest in people won’t. Questions about culture and even personal ones can produce a healing balm, for questioner and questioned, when they come from a humble, caring heart rather than out of judgment or accusation.

Rooting into Truth

The Master Teacher is an example of empathy, love, and peacemaking. He was a master at dancing with different and asking good questions. If we want to speak the language of culture with our students, we need to imitate Him. But before we can imitate Him we have to know Him. Really know Him. Sometimes, though, we’re guilty of putting Him in a box, usually the one most resembling us, and assuming He is or isn’t, would or wouldn’t, based on personal preferences. In other words, we have a tendency to make Him in our image rather than being made in His.

Instead, we should be like a tree planted beside His living water, drinking deeply of His presence and rooting into the loamy soil of His Word. Digesting Him comes first. Then, as the tree grows, its shade stretches across the street, its shelter over oceans.



Further exploration

  • Psalm 1; Ezekiel 3:10-11; Isaiah 32:1-2
  • ideas for talking about culture in your classroom

What’s your perspective?

  • What are some boxes people put you in? What are some boxes you’d like to break down for your students?
  • How do you dance with different? Or how do you cross streets or oceans?
  • What kind of tree are you?

Post Author

Photo Credit: Georgie Pauwels via Compfight cc

2 comments on “Crossing Streets & Oceans

  1. Julie
    January 21, 2015

    A big 'yes' to all of these thoughts. They are good reminders for me to increase my wait time–to wait and see, wait and listen, wait and think, wait and pray. I think one way to dance with different (I love this phrase, too) is to cultivate the discipline of listening first, and listening to learn, not listening to judge. And with the focus off ourselves, we are free to learn about the needs of others. Thanks for these timely and thought-provoking words.


  2. Melissa K. Smith
    January 23, 2015

    Listening to learn not judge. Yes! A good reminder to keep working on my listening skills. Thanks!


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This entry was posted on January 21, 2015 by in communicating with students, intercultural communication, Melissa K. Smith.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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