Teaching in Eastern Europe.
What are the cultural differences that are evident in a classroom in Eastern Europe when compared to those of Western Europe?
Reflective Diary submitted by Mary, Madrid.
During the summer of 2016 I had the opportunity of teaching English in a summer school in Romania. This beautiful country has a rich cultural heritage that at once strikes one as being distinctly ‘eastern’. The mere atmosphere present there leaves one in no doubt that you have left Western Europe behind, but this is nowhere more evident than in the classroom.
From lack of materials that are assumed commonplace in the western world to totally different behavioural norms, this experience posed unforeseen challenges but also opened my eyes to the fundamentals of efficient teaching.
The presence in Romania of Romani gypsies is not only a social division, but I believe even more strongly an educational one. Segregation is rife and the acceptance of no academic continuation on their part shocked me.
This is perhaps best explained in the following passage:
“… it became evident that cases of abusive treatment of Romani pupils at mixed schools have made many Romani parents reluctant to have their children educated alongside non-Romani children. Cases include sitting Romani children in the last row of desks; failure of teachers to encourage Romani pupils to be active in class; exclusion of Roma from extracurricular activities; tensions between Romani and non-Romani pupils and sometimes between Roma and their teachers.”
Such a major issue confirmed for me the utmost importance of the teacher being culturally and ethnically aware in the classroom.
A less serious but still interesting cultural difference that I witnessed was a quite obvious uniqueness to the socially accepted form of behaviour. Everyday greetings were at first strange as two kisses are exchanged on the cheeks, not dissimilar to Spain. This creates at once a more familiar environment than what I was used to in school, and this is reflected in the way teachers are addressed by students. The use of first names is not uncommon, and though some students may proceed it by ‘teacher’, titles and surnames do not feature.
However, this relaxed environment by no means denotes a lack of respect, indeed I found the opposite to be true.
When teaching in a country that is steeped in a specific religion, such as Romania is with the Orthodox Church, I found it is imperative that the material covered in class respects the beliefs of the pupils. While I personally never encountered any problems with this, there were several issues with colleagues who started debates on issues such as abortion and this was not received well by parents. I feel that sensitivity is key here, to raise an issue and inform students how things are in other countries should increase their acceptance of other cultures, but it is necessary to not appear condescending when one does not agree with their way of doing things.
In conclusion, teaching in an Eastern European country was for me a grounding experience ￼which formed clear ideas in my mind of the requirements of being culturally aware in an ￼ethnically-diverse classroom situation
- Mihai Surdu, The Quality of Education in Romanian Schools With High Percentages of Romani Pupils, (2002)