Learning About My Kids: How Culture Impacts the School Experience

By Stephanie Rappe — It has been an exhausting and overwhelming process to get ready for the kids’ arrival! There is SO much to do and so much to plan for. During the three weeks that I spent setting up my room, attending meetings, and finalizing plans, there were not enough hours in the day and not enough caffeine for me to drink.

One of the really interesting meetings I attended focused on various aspects of Hmong culture, and it really helped me to better understand the students that I have in my room.  I also began to realize that many of the things that we expect as teachers operate in conflict with the norms of their culture. For example making eye contact with me, speaking without being called upon, and speaking loudly are some things that differ between our two cultures. It is considered disrespectful in Hmong culture to make eye contact with an adult.

Another thing that I found interesting were facts about life in Hmong homes. As part of our preparation, we made home visits and hosted a panel of Hmong students to teach us more about what their life is like outside of school and answer any questions we had. Girls have a huge responsibility at home that requires hours of dedication. There they cook, clean, and take care of their siblings. The girls usually are not able to start their homework until late at night, if at all, because their household chores come first. But for boys it is different, the boys aren’t expected to cook, clean, or take care of the siblings when they are at home. The boy’s biggest responsibility comes when he is older and required to take care of his parents when they can no longer take care of themselves.

As a teacher, it will be a challenge for me to figure out how to give homework that can be completed by all of my students without being too much of a burden for the girls.

As a partial response the staff at school has decided to have an after school program everyday where teachers host a “power hour.”  In the program, kids can stay until 4 o clock to receive extra help as well as have additional time to get their homework done.  This is an opportunity for teachers to re-teach things that were left unclear or to have students practice skills that they struggle with.

The night before the first day of school I didn’t sleep very well. During the three-week period before the kids came, I had multiple first day of school nightmares and kept going over different things in my head. The first two days with the kids was a lot of organizing, which seems to be a very important and recurring element for this profession. We played a few icebreaker games, but luckily I already knew all of my students, because I looped with the same class that I was assigned to work with for the 4th quarter of last year. There are a lot of pretests, procedures, and expectations given to the kids, and then starting next week we will be diving right into the curriculum.

Nonetheless, I’m excited to get the year underway and I hope to learn as much from the students and they learn from me.


Stephanie Rappe ’10, graduated from Marquette with her degree in Elementary Education and Psychology.  She was born in Milwaukee and attended  Catholic Memorial High School. Stephanie is a middle child with two sisters, one of whom also attended Marquette. She is a HUGE fan of the Milwaukee Brewers Marquette Basketball (of course!). Stephanie is about to begin her first year teaching third graders at the Hmong American Peace Academy in Milwaukee.

3 Responses to “Learning About My Kids: How Culture Impacts the School Experience”

  1. 1 Steve September 7, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Excellent first post, Steph! I think you and Colleen will be a great addition to my reading material here. You guys are going to have an excellent first year together, learn a lot, sleep little, and have some fun along the way!

    Cultural differences are very important to learn about and realize early on because as teachers we can then plan for those aspects. The orientation that you did certainly provided great benefits to help you grow in light of the school setting!

    Best of luck.


  2. 2 Anna September 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Great post! I am so interested in learning more about this school– it sounds like it will be a great experience! I taught at a Native American school last year and was shocked but how different their culture was than any other I’d known. I wish you the best in getting acclimated.


  3. 3 Theresa Burant September 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    So great to read about your experiences Stephanie! I remember you from EDUC 008 and I am happy to see that you are now teaching. I spent some time at HAPA last semester and I’m sure you will be a fabulous teacher there.


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