Respect Local Practices and Traditions
Try to honor the ethnic, religious, and cultural practices of the community in which you work. This doesn't mean you have to do everything local residents do or believe everything they believe, but it does mean you have to demonstrate respect for other people's traditions. In fact, such respect might constitute a good definition of tolerance — namely, withholding judgment of other people's customs until you've made an effort to understand those customs.
For example, consider the historic African-American community of Harlem in Manhattan in New York City. If you're teaching in Harlem, realize that the global phenomenon of hip-hop music — rhythmic dance music coupled with spoken poetry — arose from Harlem in the 1970s, and is therefore revered by many residents as an original art form. Rather than dismissing hip-hop as uncouth, make an effort to listen to some vintage CDs by The Sugar Hill Gang and Public Enemy, and newer CDs by Kanye West, among others. You needn't embrace sexist or violent CDs; rather, ask your students which CDs contain social commentary, minus profanity or chauvinism. You might find that some of today's best poetry arises from young bards with roots in the very community where you're teaching.
Should I bring my family when I'm exploring the cultural landscape around my school?
Yes — if you talk to parents, colleagues, and administrators beforehand and gain sufficient information to convince yourself that such “acculturating” outings with your family will likely be safe, fun, and educational.
Or suppose you're teaching in Los Angeles, in an area called Little Tokyo, or Sho-tokyo as its Japanese-American residents call it. Try visiting the Union Center for the Arts Theatre, at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, and attend a theatrical performance by the East West Players acting troupe. The East West Players were established in 1965 by veteran Asian-American actors such as Mako (Mako Iwamatsu), best known for his portrayal of Admiral Yamamoto in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor. The East West Players' Statement of Purpose reads: “To further cultural understanding between the East and West by employing the dual Oriental and American heritages of the East West Players.” If you're willing, bring friends and see a performance so you can learn something about the people and traditions of the community where you're teaching.
The point of respecting local practices is not to try to become someone else, but to learn about other cultures. You don't have to go where you're not welcome or do anything you're uncomfortable with. But try talking to your students, reading new books, attending cultural festivals, eating new foods, and listening to new music. Perhaps the best statement regarding America's magnificent diversity was written by the American poet Walt Whitman in the preface to his poetry collection Leaves of Grass: “The United States … is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations.” Think of the new nations you can explore, if you open your mind to a bit of cultural diversity.