7. I have many Hispanic students. What should I know about their culture to effectively teach them?

It is indeed very important to become familiar with the cultural background of the students we teach. Our goal should always be to help students understand and feel comfortable within American society. American society includes many cultural groups. Thus, the goal for all students is to understand these many cultural groups that make up American society, and to feel comfortable within as many of these groups as possible.

Hispanic students come from many countries, and from large and small community groups in the United States. There are language and cultural differences among Hispanic students. Just like English, Spanish is spoken in countries and communities all over the world. Spanish speakers in Uruguay may sound very different from Spanish speakers in Southern Spain, Santo Domingo, or Los Angeles. They may think and act differently, too, due to historical, geographical, social, educational, and linguistic factors that highlight their differences. But as Hispanics, Uruguayans, Southern Spaniards, Dominicans, and Southern California Angelinos share many common cultural traits.


Understanding these cultural traits will help a teacher better plan instruction for his / her students. At the same time, it is important that teachers become aware of three key factors that may help or hinder their instructional efforts. These are:

The teacher’s own cultural background

The teacher’s stereotypes, negative beliefs, and negative assumptions about peoples from other cultures (within the U.S., and throughout the world)

The teacher’s understanding of the process of “culture shock”

It may be helpful for teachers to consider the following list of values, arranged in opposite pairs. Teachers can choose 5 of these values as the most important in American (U.S.) culture. And also choose 5 of these values as the dominant Hispanic values. Finally teachers can choose the 5 values that mean the most personally. Teachers can then compare and contrast their three sets of 5 choices each, and begin to gain some insights into their perceptions of their own cultural backgrounds, and their positive or negative assumptions about the Hispanic culture.

Tradition / Progress

Loyalty / Competition

Social harmony / Personal Fulfillment

Tranquility / Efficiency

Modesty / Assertiveness

Equality / Social Hierarchy

Enjoyment of Life / Work Ethics

Cooperation / Individual Achievement

Independence / Family Obligations

Religious Piety / Material Comfort


The Journal of Humanistic Psychology reported in 1975 that “Culture Shock” is not just a sudden state of confusion and bewilderment, but rather, a process that encompasses five stages. At the stage of “Contact,” a person encountering a new culture for the first time perceives cultural differences as intriguing. The newcomer experiences excitement and euphoria as cultural differences and similarities provide rationalization for continuing confirmation of the newcomer’s status, role, and identity. The newcomer exhibits curiosity and interest in the new culture.

As cultural difference begin to intrude, the newcomer exhibits growing awareness of being different. These perceived differences are impactful and the newcomer begins to experience confusion, disorientation, apathy, loneliness, and feelings of isolation and inadequacy. During this stage, “Disintegration,” the newcomer experiences loss of self-esteem, loss of cultural support ties, and misreads new cultural cues. In these confusing surroundings the newcomer experiences depression and withdrawal.

The third stage in culture shock, “Reintegration,” finds the newcomer rejecting the cultural differences. The newcomer experiences anger, rage, frustration, nervousness and increased anxiety. The individual reacts with suspicion, hostility, rejection and rebellion. The negative behavior, however, is a form of self-assertion and growing self-esteem.

During the fourth stage, “Autonomy,” the individual is socially and linguistically capable of negotiating most new and different situations. He or she is assured of his or her ability to survive new experiences. In essence, the cultural differences and similarities are legitimized. The newcomer, now an “old hand” at successfully surviving cultural differences, feels self-assured, relaxed, warm, in control, confident, independent, and empathetic.

Finally, during the stage of “Independence,” the social, psychological and cultural differences are accepted and enjoyed. Differences and similarities are valued and significant in the life of the individual. The individual becomes trusting, understands humor and can express love within the new cultural context, and is able to create meaning for situations.

Teachers can observe their Hispanic students –and newcomer students from all cultural backgrounds-- and identify their current stages of “Culture Shock.” Teachers can then plan many instructional activities that help Hispanic and all students new to American culture cope with, and successfully go through, the stages of “Culture Shock.”

Hispanic students, regardless of their point of origin, do exhibit certain cultural traits. In general, these students tend to show:

Interdependence among people, especially within the family. Hispanics consider an individual without obligations or dependencies as cold, alienated, or maladjusted.

Acknowledgment of the respective social positions of the participants in social interactions. An individual’s identity is closely tied to that of the family.

Acceptance of the limitations of man’s power over his fate. Hispanics often use the expressions “. . .si Dios quiere” and “Gracias a Dios” to convey their absolute faith in their best efforts within the limits of their own power.

Solidarity and tremendous identification of the individual with the group, especially the family. The most valued personal qualities are loyalty, cooperation, humility, and solidarity.

A time orientation based on the present. Taking time to enjoy life is an important ideal of Hispanic life.

A people-orientation, with more attention paid to cultivating relationships among people than to tasks.

Respect for authority.

Extensive research studies indicate that Hispanic students tend to be more “Field Sensitive” or “Field Dependent” than American students. American students tend to be more “Field Independent.” In general, “Field Sensitive” students:

Are sensitive to the social atmosphere. Like social rewards.

Work best with praise and encouragement. Are cooperative.

Like their teachers to model for them. Enjoy stories about familiar situations.

Learn and retain concepts better when they are presented in a global or deductive manner (“whole” to “parts”)

Prefer a classroom organization with freedom, variation, creativity, novelty, flexibility, and uniqueness.

Make use of divergent thinking. Work better in heterogeneous groups.

Prefer flexible time schedules.

Work better in small groups with frequent feedback and guidance from the teacher.

Learn concepts better when approached as functional, i.e., as having personal relevance and their meaning is associated with specific time bound context.

Prefer teachers who express more warmth in their relationships with students, and appear to be more sensitive to personal feelings and interests of students.




For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)

3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net