Friday, May 11, 2012

Cultural Confusion...

I’ve written a lot on here about cultural differences and experiences I’ve had along the way in my international travels.  However, such confusions are certainly not limited to crossing country borders.  When I headed to NC for my first teaching job, I truly felt like I had entered a whole new land of language, culture, and understandings from what I knew as well.

My assistant was a great help that first year in helping me transition – and helping the kids to understand me.  I soon realized that the word “ten” was not a good example of the short “e” sound, as they all said “tee-in” every time.  And she helped translate for the kids when I told them we’d have popcorn and pop one day for a movie time… they stared blankly until she explained I meant “soda.”

The pointer wasn't quite this big,
thank goodness!
The best one, though, was one day when we were talking about teeth health.  (One of the perks of working in an elementary classroom is teaching not only reading, writing, and math, but also doing mouthwash every week with your kids and celebrating dental health week, drug awareness week, having a leprechaun visit your classroom once a year, and other random adventures!)  I pulled out my folder of materials I got from my mentor teacher and a big plastic toothbrush I got from the Dollar Tree to use as our pointer for the week, and started sharing about dental hygiene.  We had already discussed all the super-boring foods that are GOOD for your teeth, and then moved on to brainstorming some really great foods that taste amazing but are sure to rot your teeth along the way. 

After “candy,” “SODA,” and “chocolate” had all been mentioned, we hit a lull.  I thought for a minute myself, then excitedly shared my own.  “You know what one of my favorite things to eat is?  It’s SO bad for your teeth, but oh, it’s so delicious!  Elephant Ears!!!”

You would have thought a bomb had gone off in my classroom.  Every kid sitting criss-cross on my carpet jumped at least a foot off the ground and stared at me as if I’d gone crazy.  After a communal gasp, they all turned to each other and started twittering about… something. 

I was clueless.

Once again, my amazing, faithful assistant came to the rescue. 

“Wait a minute, friends.  Elephant ears are kind of like funnel cakes.  You know, like you get at the fair.  Except they don't have elephant ears here in NC, only up North.”

Relief.  Relaxed shoulders.  An unusual stillness and peace at the first grade carpet descended.  And one lone student raised his hand.

“Miss Lucas, you had me worried!  I was so scared.  I thought you meant you really ate elephant ears, like the ones we saw on the elephants at the zoo last week!”

Oh dear.  Glad we cleared up another misconception – and that yet another element of cultural understanding could unintentionally be brought into the first grade curriculum!

Photos found at:,, and

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