Cultural Dynamics of Teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
as a Set of Cultures
research on teaching as a set of cultures or subcultures should
be seen as an expression of a universal need to improve teacher
development. In the 1980s, the work of Schon (1983) and others
on the notion of the reflective teacher gave rise to the debate
on viewing teaching not as a mere activity but as a culture.
As Thomas (2000:85) insightfully remarks,
duality of purpose arises which on one hand underlines the
need to understand how teachers transmit their skills and
knowledge, and on the other, how a teacher can further his
or her personal development.
teaching is a complex process, 'not just a uniform set of
encounters and traits' (ibid.). That is why we can speak of
cultures of teaching rather than a culture of teaching. Furthermore,
teaching is an intentional process (see Bennett's (1993) model
of teaching above), and cultural contexts may exert a tremendous
influence on the nature and degree of intention in different
teaching situations. For instance, as Thomas (2000: 86) writes,
mother who teaches her child to use a knife and fork at the
table might be cooking or tidying up the kitchen while she
is instructing the child. So, the child is very likely to
register his mother's non-intentional cooking and cleaning
behaviours for later use, as well as the intentional task
of learning to use eating utensils correctly. The bottom line
is that both intentional and non-intentional teaching behaviours
can enrich learners' behavioural repertoires.
is a lot more about the cultural dynamics of teaching that
has been left out of our discussion. However, we should reiterate
the theme of the present paper-that the intercultural role
of a teacher is one of being aware of, and sensitive to, the
cultural background of his or her pupils, which forms an important
underpinning to successful schooling. The teacher should be
perspicacious and culturally sensitive, and she should try
to put this cultural sensitivity into action, making use of
the 'cross-cultural interfaces' (Thomas, 2000: 251) that exist
in culturally diverse classrooms, and widening learners' perspectives
to a variety of "thorny" issues. The teacher is
the ultimate key to bringing about cultural and educational
change. Conversely, the teacher could be perceived as a potential
barrier to change, especially in contexts where part of his
role is to preserve cultural knowledge, traditions, and religious
beliefs. The teacher is not there to reign; she is there to
help herself and others to eradicate "thrones".
Bennett, N. (1993). Knowledge bases for learning to teach.
In N. Bennett & C.Carre (Eds), Learning to Teach. London:
Routledge, pp. 1-17.
Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Kruger, A. C. & Tomasello, M. (1996). Cultural learning
and learning culture. In D. R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds),
Handbook of Education and Human Development: New Models of
Learning, Teaching and Schooling. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 369-387.
Olson, D. R. & Bruner, J. S. (1996). Folk psychology and
folk pedagogy. In D. R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds), handbook
of Education and Human Development: New Models of Learning,
Teaching and Schooling. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 9-27.
Piaget, J. (1971). Science of Education and the Psychology
of the Child. London: Longman.
Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic
Shulman, J. (1986). Paradigms and research programmes in the
study of teaching: a contemporary perspective. In M. C. Wittrock
(Ed.), Handbook of Research in Teaching (3rd edn). New York:
Shulman, J. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. Foundations of
the new reforms. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-22.
Thomas, E. (1997a). Teacher education and values transmission:
cultural dilemmas with difficult choices. In K. Watson, C.
Modgil & S. Modgil (Eds), Educational Dilemmas: Debate
and Diversity. London: Cassell, pp. 246-259.
Thomas, E. (1997b). Developing a culture sensitive pedagogy:
tackling a problem of melding "global culture" within
existing cultural contexts. International Journal of Educational
Development, 17, 13-26.
Thomas, E. (2000). Culture and Schooling. West Sussex: Wiley.
Zeichner, K. M. (1992). Conceptions of reflective practice
and teacher education. In G. Harvard & R. Dunne (Eds),
Westminster Studies in Education, 15.
English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University
and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex
University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland
University and is currently finishing the second year
of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University.
His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness
and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language
and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics,
Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.
can be contacted at:
the beginning of the article
to the articles index