I am a Latina educator and I have spent most of my career working with Black and Brown students. Initially, I believed that it was enough for me to look like the students I served. My Latino students appreciated having a school counselor who looked like them and spoke their language. However, it soon became evident that though we had similarities, we also had vast differences. For example, many of my students are newly arrived English language learners. These students have to adjust to a new country and learn a new language (which is an incredibly daunting task) all while experiencing normal teenage trials. This is something that I have never experienced. I realized that I needed to do more if I was going to be able to connect with and truly begin to understand my students. Becoming culturally competent does not occur overnight and it is not a certificate that you obtain at the conclusion of a professional development session. It is a multistep process that requires deep reflection and personal discomfort. It is not something that I have yet mastered because it is a lifelong journey. It is imperative that I think critically about how my own biases and the cultural background of my students impacts my ability to assist them.
Steps I Have Taken to Become Culturally Competent
Understanding my culture.
As an educator, it is necessary to ask, “How do my beliefs impact the interactions I have with my students?” This process may (and should) cause some discomfort. We need to become aware of our biases and actively work to change them.
For example, as a Latina educator I have to think about, what does being a Latina in the United States mean to me? What has my educational experience as a Latina taught me? And how have these experiences shaped my worldview? It is vital to reflect upon our values and beliefs.
Understanding the culture of my students.
Most of us became educators because we want to have an impact on our students. What better way to connect with our students than to understand their cultures? Culture does not necessarily have to refer to countries of origin. Culture is subjective.
If you want to know about your students' cultures, just ask. I recommend having students complete a culture chart. This is a simple yet effective activity in which students get to write down the cultures that they are a part of and what being a part of that culture means to them. You will be surprised to see how much you have in common with your students and may find ways to reach students you did not previously think you had anything in common with.
It seems obvious that educators should have positive relationships with their students, but not all educators are interested in connecting with their students. Without relationships, misinterpretation can occur as well as negative perceptions from both educators and students. Positive relationships, however, demonstrate care, which can have a monumental impact on students.
Although these steps seem simple their impact can be profound. Increasing cultural competence in the educational setting is beneficial to all stakeholders.
Nikki Jarquin is a licensed professional school counselor in Montgomery County, Maryland. She earned her undergraduate degree in 2006 from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and her Masters in Counselor Education from McDaniel College in 2011. In June 2017 she successfully defended her dissertation titled, "An Investigation of the Effects of a Professional Development on Teacher Efficacy ...