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The Cultural Dynamics of Teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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Teaching as a Set of Cultures

The 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,

a 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.

Apparently, 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.


There 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".


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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.
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Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic books.
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: Macmillan.
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.


Dimitrios Thanasoulas studied 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.


Dimitrios can be contacted at:

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