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Emily Bennett

II. Cultures, Literatures, and Cross-Disciplinary Concepts

I. | II. | III. | IV. | V. | VI. | VII. | Resume

       I believe that in order to be an effective educator, a teacher must learn about the cultures present in his/her classroom and community.  In addition to the knowledge a teacher must gain about the present cultures, she must also be able to locate appropriate literature that highlights these cultures. 
       Below, I have attached three artifacts that display evidence that I am knowledgeable about both the cultures present in my classroom, my own cultural background, and resources I can use to reach out to students in my classroom from various cultures. 
       The first is an investigation I did of a student in my class who came from Guatemala.  Through hearing her story, I was able to better understand the hardships she had been through as far as border crossing, family separations, etc., which helped me to be a better teacher to her. 
        The second artifact is a reflective piece that I wrote as I pondered my own upbringing and what I could make of my own culture.  I think that before being good at recognizing and understanding others' cultures, it is crucial to explore your own.
       The third is a resource guide that I put together that highlights very interesting materials that teachers can use in the classroom to emphasize the importance of culture.  Each one has an explanation telling how effective it may be, and how teachers can use it in their own classrooms.
        These three artifacts are just a small sampling of ways that I bring culture to life in my classroom.



Culture Investigation

            I interviewed a student in my class named Karla Grijalva.  She arrived in this country last year from Guatemala, and it was very interesting to hear her story of the dangerous and brave immigration across the border.  She is nine years old and lives with her family in Arlington.  Her brother, Jairo, is also in her class, but he has been in the United States for his entire life.  I was able to ask him some of the questions for my interview also, so that I could get clarification and a way to compare their experiences.

            Karla was happy to share her life’s information, and was happy to spend time with the teacher during lunch and recess in our classroom.  Her brother was willing to meet with us once, but he wanted to spend more time at lunch and recess with his friends for the remaining four days that it took for us to complete the interview.  I decided to interview Karla because I knew that she had a true immigrant experience, having completed three years of school in Guatemala, and she would be able to explain some of the differences between the educational setting she grew up with and the one she was in currently.  Having a brother who has lived here his whole life was also another reason that I thought she would be an interesting student to interview, because the siblings have had such different school experiences, and I wanted to explore them further. 

            Karla was born in Esquintla, Guatemala.  She started off by saying that even though she came in April of last year (third grade,) she is already starting to forget some of what her life was like in Guatemala.  I asked her about the town she was from to begin the interview.  She remembered that the houses are different shapes (more like triangles than the rectangles we have here) and that the lighting in the streets is different (darker there.)  She said that people walk to school, and her mom used to walk to the store to buy food.  Here, the car is a much more important part of life.  When walking on the street, people often greeted each other as they passed by.

In her house, there were three bedrooms (1 bedroom for her aunt, 1 for her, and one for her two male cousins to share.)   There also was a kitchen, a bathroom, living room, and dining room.  The family always ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together in the dining room.  This was an important place in their house because the family gathered there together so often.

I asked her about religion and if it was significant to her family and she replied that it wasn’t.  They went to church much more in Guatemala, but after arriving in the U.S., they don’t go to church much at all anymore. 

I asked about gender roles in Guatemala.  She said that women generally do the cooking at home, and if she wanted to do something, she would always ask her aunt because her uncle would be out working.  I asked her what a typical job would be for a man and she said they would sell things like food in the streets.  She commented that there was a woman president in Guatemala. 

In Guatemala, her uncle used to live apart from her aunt and family in a house in a bigger city called Jutiapa.  This city is close to her town of Esquintla but she didn’t like it in Jutiapa because it was very hot and there were too many cows (she says that she is scared of cows.)  Also, her uncle used to kill a cow sometimes on Friday nights to use for food.  She said he had to do it because he was hungry. 

Her aunt and her cousins lived with her in Esquintla, and her uncle and female cousin lived in Jutiapa.  They all lived in houses, not in apartments like they do here.  Immediately after Karla was born, her mother came to the United States with her father, brother, and sister, and because she was a baby, she stayed back and grew up with her aunt and uncle.  Her brother Jairo was born very soon after her mother arrived in America, which resulted Karla acquiring siblings that she never knew.  Jairo talked to me about how much their mother missed Karla, and how she went to Guatemala to visit her a lot. 

With Karla, her aunt and uncle came to the U.S., because her uncle wanted to find work.  He is blind, and therefore, couldn’t get a good job in Guatemala.  He now works at McDonalds.  A lot of the money he earns is sent back to family in Guatemala.

Karla went through Kindergarten, first, second, and half of third grade in Guatemala.  The school system calls K-6 elementary there, and 7-12th grade is considered Academia (high school.)  Classes are held in the afternoon.  There is a college in Guatemala City that Karla knows about.  She does not know anyone who goes to college.  When asked what would be considered a good education for people in Guatemala, she said that trying your best is more important than anything else. 

The most obvious difference in Karla’s school here (Key Elementary in Arlington) and the one she attended in Guatemala is of course the Spanish language in Guatemala (although she attends a Spanish immersion school here in Arlington where half of her school day is taught in Spanish.)  She says that school here is hard, as is talking to people in English on the phone.  She has trouble speaking in restaurants a lot, because often, she does not know which language to use to order the food (there is a large Latino community in her area.)  It seems that she is unsure of how much of her native culture to hold onto and continue using. 

In her Guatemalan school, the teacher would read the roll call each morning.  There was no cafeteria, but students just brought food from home and ate outside at recess.  The playground was different from the one she uses here in Arlington, too, because there was no playground equipment, but students normally played games like basketball and soccer.  Teachers went out to recess with their students, instead of having recess aides go out, like we do here.  There was a school marching band, and all girls played the trumpet while boys played the drums.  They got into a line and played marching band music while parading around school grounds. 

Karla found several aspects of schooling in Arlington surprising.  She had never seen an overhead projector, and her old school didn’t have water fountains, TVs, or computers.  In our classroom, we have three student computers, one for the teacher, and then in the pod outside our classrooms, there are eight more new computers for student use.  She thought the school was very beautiful and looked so new when she arrived.  She was amazed by all of the resources the school had for students here.  Discipline surprised her here, also.  She said that in Guatemala, if a student was playing in class or misbehaved in any way, they were sent directly to the principal’s office.  She was surprised that discipline was more relaxed here.  She says that school is still harder for her here because half of her homework is in English, and she is still at a basic level of English proficiency.  However, she commented that there was much more homework given to students in Guatemala.

When asked about health conditions she or other peers commonly experienced in Guatemala, she said that usually, students had the same types of ailments as Americans have (stomachache, fever, cold, etc.) but she commented that she was never absent from school.  They had P.E. class just like we have here, and they taught the students about hand washing, but there were not any lessons taught about nutrition or exercise.  There also was a health class that students took, where they studied parts of the body such as the heart and other organs. 

Her story of the immigration was very interesting and I was amazed by her bravery.  She said that she came from Guatemala to Mexico on a bus with her aunt, uncle, and their baby.  On the bus, they sat in separate seats and pretended not to know each other.  She sat next to a lady who said that Karla should call her “mamá” during the trip.  She was told that the family should not make eye contact with each other.  After crossing into Mexico, the family had to travel down and cross a river by boarding a makeshift raft.  A man (the coyote) was under the raft with just his face out of water and was pushing the raft down the river.  As they were on the raft, they were told to remain silent, but Karla said they all became afraid when the baby started crying.  The river crossing took them to Arizona, where they then walked for two hours through the desert.  They had no food or water, and she said that she was very thirsty.  They slept in a hole that had been dug out of the ground and prepared for immigrants like them with blankets and some dogs to keep watch.  They had to be very careful around the dogs because if they barked, her family might be discovered inside the hole.  The next morning, another man came to pick them up in a car, and they drove from Arizona all the way to Arlington, VA.  It took three days and they arrived in the middle of the night.  When they arrived, she met her siblings, got reacquainted with her mother and father, and she said that she ate a lot of the pizza that her family had waiting for them.

Here in the United States, Karla has mostly partnered with ESOL students to do projects with in class, but she is accepted and well liked by all students, including the American born children.  She said it is sometimes helpful when she works with American students in class, but also, they sometimes play instead of working, and she likes to focus on her work.  Her best friends in school are Jessica because she is funny, Gloria because they like to play together, and Kasey because she is very funny and helps with English sometimes.  Jessica and Gloria are HILT B students, and Kasey is a completely bilingual student who was born in the United States. 

When asked if she would rather live here or in Guatemala, she said that since her family is here, she wants to be here with them.  Her mom likes this house better, too.  Her mom likes her job, which is selling fruit on the streets, and her dad is also happy with his job (he works at the Army Navy golf course cutting the grass on the course.)  Her mom, dad, and Karla all have an appointment scheduled to get their visas soon, so they are all very excited. 

Finally, I asked Karla and Jairo about mentoring and tutors that they have here.  Jairo is enrolled in a program called Everybody Wins, where he reads with a mentor once a week during lunch.  Karla used to be in this program, but stopped going and did not tell me why.  Her 11 year old brother helps her with homework, and their uncle inspires them and gives them hope that they will succeed.  Her dad didn’t go to school in Guatemala, so he often talks about the importance of going to school and graduating from college.  He wants them to get good grades in order to get a scholarship to college, so that they will have better employment options than he has had in his life.  Both Karla and Jairo seem happy and are positive about a bright future here in America. 

Reflective Personal Development Paper:

My Culture, or How I Grew to be Who I Am


          I am a 28-year old white female, who started off in an all-white, fairly homogeneous world, and decided to change that about my surroundings.  Now I am here to tell that I have succeeded and I no longer feel like I’m the same as everyone around me.  I like that fact, and I had great eye-opening experiences along the way of getting to where I am today.

          I grew up in New Hampshire with two younger brothers and a younger sister, who are all very close in age to me, as well as close, emotionally.  My dad is fully Irish, but never lived there, and my mom is a mix of other European cultures.  We grew up in a middle class area that was fairly rural with just a few neighbors on our street. 

          During high school, a local program called my parents to see if they would host a Spanish exchange student for a month.  When they accepted, it changed my life.  I had started taking Spanish in junior high and was pretty good at it so far.  So, having Raul there was exciting because he helped me to practice Spanish and I learned how different it is where he is from. 

          The following summer, he invited me to stay with his family in Spain for a month.  I don’t think I’ve ever changed as much inside as I did when I was there, except maybe the next time I went to Spain on a semester abroad in college.  In Spain, the people I met showed me that we don’t all see the world in the same way.  I felt like the first time I was there, I learned more about my own country and how we are seen, and about myself as a person, than I did even about their country.  That surprised me and excited me to continue learning more about culture and how it affects the world.

          I went to college at Penn State University, majoring in Spanish and International Studies.  I chose Spanish without a specific career goal in mind, but with the self-awareness to know that I loved speaking Spanish, and this major would allowed me to immerse myself in the language and also travel to Spain again for a semester.  In Spain, I fell in love with both the country and a boyfriend, and had second thoughts about ever coming back.  The culture shock of coming back home was very severe, whereas I didn’t even notice it when I arrived in Spain. 

          International Studies was a focus on other European countries, including economics, culture, race, politics classes, and I took many courses in German.  Through this major, I spent another semester in Vienna, Austria. 

          After college, I got an internship in Washington DC at the National Park Foundation.  I was still confused about what I actually wanted to do with my career, so I started there.  From there, I was offered a job at another nonprofit in DC called the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, where I managed grants in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The job took me to the region to visit some projects in which we worked on protecting migratory birds and sea turtles.  I visited Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras.  My world was again beginning to open up to another region and its multitude of people, ideas, and ways of life.

          After managing grants for a few years, I realized I wasn’t happy dealing with budgets, contracts, and proposals, so I started thinking of what to do next.  In my younger years, I had taught swimming lessons, downhill skiing lessons, and had tutored other students while at Penn State, so I knew I must love teaching and decided to go for it.  I traveled to Oregon when I thought I might want to get a Masters in Environmental Education, but then quickly realized I did not have enough science classes completed, and it would take me too long to get the degree and actually start teaching.  Luckily, I found a better way to get in the classroom as soon as I could, which was through a 1-year Masters program at Johns Hopkins University. 

          During the internship for my master's degree, I taught 2nd and 4th grade in Howard County.  It was my first experience being one of the only white people in the classroom full of mostly African Americans.  I was again opened to a new culture that both taught me about myself and about another culture, how we interact, how we are similar and also different.  The kids taught me more than they realized, and I benefited greatly from this experience because it showed me how different children are accustomed to different kids of behaviors.  For example, instead of asking rhetorical questions, I should ask a student to tell me a specific answer or thought about something. 

          Now I teach at a Spanish Immersion School in Arlington, VA.  As I applied for full time jobs, I looked at a few traditional schools and did not feel that excited about them.  When I walked into Key Elementary, I knew that I wanted to work there.  Spanish and English were freely spoken in the office by the receptionists and administration as well as kids.  I was immediately invigorated by the cultural diversity found in the school and the way in which it was integrated so completely and celebrated by all.  This was not a traditional setting, and people were open to differences.  I knew this was the place for me. 

I teach in English and Social Studies in a class that is made up of a combination of native Spanish and native English speakers.  I see different behaviors in the children based on their family backgrounds.  Also, in the parent/teacher conferences, the Spanish speaking parents are very deferential to my opinion and position as a professional, whereas the English speakers are much more outspoken with what they believe and while most are respectful, too, they do not seem to hold teaching in such high status as the Spanish speakers.  I have learned to adapt the way I speak with parents a little differently based on the knowledge I have about their cultures and how they will expect our interaction to take place. 

With students, I have found ways to celebrate differences in the classroom.  I did an activity in the first week of school where I asked how many students used to live in another country before this one.  We came up with about seven kids, from five different countries.  I divided the class into five groups, and each group of kids had to interview the “experts” that had lived in the other country, finding out as much as they could about the country.  The students were all very excited because it gave the ones from America a chance to really ask things they were curious about, and the “experts” felt appreciated and knowledgeable about a place the rest of us were not as familiar with.  Then, the students from each group shared what they had learned about each country with the class, while the “experts” proudly sat back and listened to the rest of the class discussing them and their countries.  It was a proud moment for them, and the class truly enjoyed getting to know each other better.  I will definitely do this activity again next year, because it helped to create a respectful, open, and positive classroom climate right from the beginning of the year.

When I think about multiculturalism, diversity, and culture, I realize that I am always learning something new, not only from my own readings and studies, but mostly from the students in my class, the parents of my students, and the world around me.  For the most part, we all choose what kind of world we want to place ourselves in, what kinds of people we want to associate with, and what kinds of cultural awareness we want to include in our lives.  To me, it is important to have friends from many different cultures, because I like to see the world through many different lenses.   I love discussing things with friends who grew up speaking another language and have a culture that is very much different from my own.  I believe that by constantly exposing myself to differences and continuing to open my eyes to new perspectives, my life is much fuller.  I think that the experiences I have had in my life have shaped who I am today.  I believe that through living abroad, teaching in various multicultural settings, and studying Spanish, German, and Japanese, my understanding of people in general has become much greater. 

However, I know that I am not at the end of my multicultural journey, and learning about culture is a lifelong experience.  Besides my own personal road to awareness, my main goal is to ensure that my students also develop this love of multiculturalism, and to show them that the more they try to understand and start to appreciate cultures, the more they will get along with people in the world, the more satisfying their lives will be, and the better place our world can become.  This is the most important lesson I can teach my kids, and I think that I have to do this not only with one or two token lessons, but it has to be a part of our daily classroom experience. 

               America and its schools are becoming increasingly diverse, and that is why I believe that all classrooms must make it a priority to have climates that are open and respectful, and that integrate multicultural aspects into daily routines.   
Resource Guide



Resource Guide Grid



Source of information (details on how to find/access the source)

Who is it for?


Instructional Applications


(If yes, for whom and why)

 General comments

1. Website -



For students learning English to use, but teacher should preview site to see which particular part would be useful for student, because there is a wide variety of information and games

There are many different ways to use this site.  Some examples would be for students to look under “Lessons and Exercises” – click “Hundreds of Exercises.”  Here, there are many different multiple choice tests that test grammar and sentence formation in a fun and interactive way, and students can immediately see results.  There are many pictures that enhance learning.

Yes, for students who like computers and who may be more motivated to learn using an online tool.  Also, teachers can print out grammar worksheets and some good pictures of important places in the USA. 

This is a fun site and can be really useful.  It is organized fairly well, but you just have to really look around for what you want first, before letting kids go on alone, because sometimes there are memory games and other fun ones that don’t necessarily teach – they are just for entertainment.  Check it out, though, because parts of this could be  great for your kids. 

2.  Software – free-  you just have to pay shipping.  Go to: and then scroll down to Free CD Roms (Selection One, Two and Three)



Teacher – this is a collection of free cd roms - you can order  these cds – free -  and they have a huge variety of topics covered. 

It depends on what you would like to study with your students – for example, one CD features an electronic version of  the favorite picture book Rainbow Fish and has math and problem solving activities to go with it (ages 3-7.)  Another one is called “I Love Science” and it contains over 100 interactive science experiments as well as more problems to solve and activities. 

For teachers, -look for a topic you’ll want to teach to students. You can address different learning styles –especially those who like computers. 

Look through these cds and see if any would be good for use in your classroom.  All cds tell which kind of computer system they are compatible with, for example:  Windows® 95/98/ME/2000/XP Home, 133MHz, 32MB RAM, 16 bit color, 10MB available hard disk space. (copied from “Smart Steps 2nd Grade” cd,) so just make sure it will work before ordering it.





Teachers – a great website that has lots of ideas and examples for teaching reading strategies!

Either print out the files, and give paper copies to kids, or have kids look online with you as you discuss each strategy.

Yes – great for  K-6 teachers - units and reading strategies lessons planned in a clear and kid-friendly way.  Print or read directly on computer.

I like the first link, called Comp. Strategy How To's!, but try the other links too – lots of reading selections, like kids might see on a test, and then there are questions asked that address a particular learning strategy (Right There Questions, Put it Together Questions, Context Clues., etc.)

4. Picture bookA Country Far Away by Nigel Gray




Teachers – a great read aloud story for cultural awareness

Can use as a read aloud and discuss similarities and differences between cultures.  The illustrations at the top of each page show a boy in an African village riding his bike or going for a swim and below, on the same page we see a boy in England doing the same things. Text in the middle of each page describes each activity.  For lesson ideas (early elementary,) go to: 

Yes – elementary teachers of all ages can use as a read aloud and as a starting point for great class discussions.


Go to, and you can order it there, as well as see a couple of pages inside it.  It was listed as “Best Books of the Year” by Parents Magazine.

5.  Alphabet BookW is for World:  A Round-the World ABC by Kate Cave.

Teachers to read aloud, or for students to enjoy on their own.

Goes through the alphabet while portraying the daily life of adults and children from different countries - simple text and amazing photographs.  It is much more than just an alphabet book as it also has a message about people's basic rights of shelter, food, water, health care and education.  For ages 5 –9. 

Yes – a great book for any elementary teacher to have in the classroom to make cultural awareness a part of students’ daily classroom life.

I love the pictures and the complex themes this alphabet book represents in a very simple format that can be used at many different levels. You can buy it on, and can look inside online to see a few of the pictures.