Intercultural sensitivity of teachers working with refugee children
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Student diversity in American classrooms is exponentially increasing while teachers serving these students remain relatively culturally homogeneous. Moreover, the proficiency test-driven reality of today's education fosters a tendency among teachers to minimize cultural differences of their students. This cultural gap in schools raises special challenges for all culturally different students and, perhaps, the most vulnerable among them - refugee children. Often, cultural differences of refugee students veil their special psychological and educational needs caused by traumatic experiences. This study sought to address this cultural gap by exploring intercultural sensitivity of teachers working with refugee students. First, the study investigated whether teachers working with refugee children have higher levels of intercultural sensitivity than teachers working with native-born and immigrant students. Second, the question regarding intercultural sensitivity of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers in comparison with general subject area teachers was explored. Lastly, the study explored which intercultural experiences might be positively associated with higher levels of intercultural sensitivity among teachers. The study used a sequential explanatory mixed-methods design to investigate levels of intercultural sensitivity of teachers working with culturally diverse students and explore possible intercultural experiences positively affecting this ability. The quantitative sample of the study consisted of 281 elementary school teachers working in a large urban school system in New York. Four teachers in the sample also participated in individual follow-up interviews. The quantitative phase of the study revealed no significant ( p < .05) differences in intercultural sensitivity between the teachers who had experience serving refugee children and those who did not. In regards to ESL teachers, they appeared to have significantly ( p < .01) higher levels of intercultural sensitivity than teachers of general subject areas. Additionally, several intercultural experiences were found to be positively associated with intercultural sensitivity. More interestingly, the qualitative analysis of intercultural experiences revealed that positive gains or lack thereof in teachers' intercultural sensitivity might be related to: 1) teachers' personality, upbringing, and internalized experiences, 2) how teachers come across intercultural experiences (intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic circumstances), and 3) the specific parameters of the intercultural experiences. A model of intercultural development possibly accounting for the complexity of intercultural sensitivity evolvement emerged as a framework for interpretation of this study's results.