Cultural Competency 101: Stay Current (Lesson 3)

I disengaged from embracing most new “music” released after 2005.

I may sound old, but I am being honest when I say that I really don’t care for too much of the new “music” that is on the radio and internet. Aside from a Jay-Z album, T.I., J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar, my personal era of music ends with Kanye West prior to the passing of his mother. That was a problem when I was teaching high school students because their taste in music and acceptance of new artists with new displays of their art was growing. I found it hard to accept what they were embracing. A few years into my career in the classroom, I applied for a job and I had to give a demo lesson to an 8th grade class in the suburbs. I used some hip-hop (rap) artists in my demo… I had done the demo maybe three years prior. When I played 50 Cent’s #1 hit (once upon a time) In Da Club, I just knew these kids would know the song and I’d have them eating out the palm of my hand for the rest of the lesson. When they heard the song, I saw blank stares and I heard crickets. I said, “Don’t you know who 50 Cent is?” One child responded, as you might guess, “Who is 50 Cent? Isn’t that a president? Yeah, a president is on the 50 cent piece right? I just don’t know his name.”

I did not respect my audience enough to know what they knew regarding popular music references. I was embarrassed. I assumed that all kids listen to Hip-Hop… and they do. The problem is, I assumed the people I thought were relevant 10 years ago were still relevant… not so. From that moment on, I promised myself to respect my students enough to stay on their level; to meet them where they were. The local Hip-Hop and R&B station featured a special once a week show that showcased the newest unheard rap songs and by the most popular and sometimes unknown rap artists. For weeks, I listened to the show. After a week or two, I ad-libbed a few times in my lessons or when redirecting a student with a phrase from one of the songs I heard from listening to that once a week show. My “stain,” as one student called it (stain being my popularity with the students) grew exponentially. I learned that you have to meet people in a generational way at times if you wish to develop a relationship; especially if you wish to teach them. It doesn’t matter if they are young or old.

If you are current on the pop culture and music culture and technological culture tips, you will have absolutely no problem engaging kids, relating to kids and winning those kids over. Think about yourself as a kid… think about yourself now. You craved what was popular, you craved music and you craved technology. You still do now. So why is it that we (educators) forget that? Why do we continue to teach and expect kids to learn in antiquated ways? Does being current on the latest make you a better teacher? The answer is yes. Some will argue with me a say no; that knowing popular culture more than you content area makes a bad teacher and an unprofessional one to boot. However, that is not what I am saying. Know your content, have the toolbox of strategies for classroom management, but stay current on the culture. Staying current will help with your instruction as well as with your classroom management. Staying current isn’t a gimmick, so don’t be gimmicky. Information on the latest trends in music, fashion and the arts are meant to serve the purpose of instruction you on how to approach a task (lesson planning) and/or a situation (a student you perceive as being disrespectful). It’s not about having to be extra; it’s about helping you master your craft. Here are 5 things you should make it your business to stay current on (it may seem pretty simple, but it’s not as simple as you think):

Action Steps

  1. EMBRACE THE SMART PHONE. Be aware of all the technology at the fingertips of kids. Administrators love asking you, how do you intend on infusing technology in your lessons? Yet kids aren’t allowed to have smart phones out during school for constructive activities… Administrators and teachers are on their smart phones all day, but I digress. The smart phone is access to information and services in the palm of your hand. Like you, students use these tools to access what interest them; music, gaming, fashion, entertainment, food and anything else that adolescents and teenagers enjoy. The smart phone is one example. There are other technologies that kids access, but the smart phone is now their first introduction to a camera, music player, internet, telephone, map, video game and that’s not all. Smart phones are how youth engage and interact with each other and the world. According to a Pew Research Institute report, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” It may sound backwards, but communicating academic language with a teenager on a smart phone as they sit right in front of you may not be a bad idea. Who says that you have to be apart physically to have a virtual school?
  2. EMBRACE THE MUSIC. As I previously stated, I am not too much a fan of today’s music. However, I about Drake, Taylor Swift, Bryson Tiller, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd are to name a few. I know that using phrase, started from the bottom, is just about played out; if it isn’t already. I know that the use of the word Broccoli as a noun isn’t only for the noun you eat. I also know that the Chainsmokers don’t refer to a group of elderly ladies at bingo. Again, if you’re not a fan of the music today, listen for research purposes. You’d be surprise to know that phrase a kid said to you yesterday that you assumed to be disrespectful was a song lyric that just wasn’t necessary when it was said. If you’re a new teacher (fresh from college particularly) you might share similar music taste with your students; that will help. Embrace the music; your students will embrace you faster. Visit to find out the latest songs and artist. Then YouTube the songs and even turn on your FM or Sirius XM dial to hear the latest.
  3. ACKNOWLEDGE THE FASHION. I don’t wear skinny jeans. My younger cousin does. I don’t necessarily feel the jeans are comfortable when their skinny, but who am I to project my comfort levels on another individual? You might not get the point behind a certain hairstyle, or you may not understand why a student wears an article of clothing the way that they do, or you may make an assumption of a student based on your perception of that individual who look like him, all because of how that student looks. Truth be told, one can assume a lot of about us based on what we wear. What we wear does not dictate our character. For example, for many gentlemen, including adults, owning a pair of Michael Jordan sneakers is a status symbol. He has been retired for the past thirteen years but to this day, to own a pair of Jordans is to be a fashionista in the inner-city. For one child, expressing themselves may mean coloring their hair and for another, it may mean sporting a pair of Jordan XII’s with a red Ralph Lauren Polo to match. The danger is when we assume and stereotype based on what one wears. Clothing may be an expression about an aspect of our character, but clothing does not define us. Most people like to see men in tailor-made suits and crisp uniforms, however some very bad men have worn tailor-made suits and uniforms. The point is, the clothing doesn’t make the individual, but fashion is a reflection of the time and interests of the wearer. Dig deeper and find the reasons and common ground.
  4. ACKNOWLEDGE THE VENACULAR. Americans may speak English, but we all don’t speak it the same way; we sound different and we use different words for similar concepts and/or items. Just because you may not like a word or a specified phrasing, doesn’t make it vulgar or even inappropriate. Ethnic groups’ codeswitch often. I codeswitch; I do every day. It is different from the sort of codeswitching kids do when with each other versus how they are in the presence of adults. Nevertheless, varying groups’ codeswitch and that is okay. Likewise, it is okay for students to use academic language and non-academic language. However it is not okay to look down on non-academic language or academic language that may not sound European enough to be considered academic language. It is also not okay to assume a language or phrase to be disrespectful when you don’t know the context. It is also not okay to simply say to a student when they use non-academic language they are not to use that language if you are unaware of the meaning behind the words. You should allow your students the opportunity to catch you up on the meaning of the vernacular they use on a regular basis so that you can properly identify meaning and context so that you don’t create a situation where they wasn’t one to begin with. Below is a video that speaks to how to properly handle the vernacular language in the classroom and provide an example of how you can actually teach codeswitching in an academic yet fun way:
  5. EMBRACE THE SOCIAL MEDIA. When I was a kid, we went outside to interact – teenagers did the same thing. When I became a teenager, we went to the Mall. Teenagers still go to the mall; I know this because I run into students I taught every time I go to the mall. But teenagers also socialize on social media. I mentioned a statistic from a Pew Research Institute study. Read it – Here are some interesting statistics from the report, particularly for you urban and inner-city educators:
  • African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens. Among African-American teens, 34% report going online “almost constantly” as do 32% of Hispanic teens, while 19% of white teens go online that often.
  • Facebook is the most popular and frequently used social media platform among teens; half of teens use Instagram, and nearly as many use Snapchat
  • 71% of teens use more than one social network site

It is true that social media can be used for evil as it is used for good. There are numerous HIB (harassment, intimidation and bullying) that arise from social media in schools. However, you can use social media in a way to engage with your students in a meaningful and productive way. Meeting your students where they are on this level may be just the thing they need to get engaged and just the thing that you need to get those assignments handed in on time.

Embracing, or at the very least acknowledging, these aspects of culture does something very important; it shows a student that you embrace and acknowledge him/her. You show them that it is okay to be who they are. You may believe it to be extreme to say that a rejection of a student’s norms and folkways as a teenage is a rejection of that individual, but it is not. We need to let our students understand that we accept them and we love them because what makes us different makes us unique and our uniqueness provides us with something special each day we walk into the classroom.

Let’s continue to push towards the mark.

Action Steps:


Lesson Readings:

Lesson Reflection Assignment:

Directions:          Fill in the spaces in the chart with the information requested in the top row. Next, answer the questions below to the best of your ability.

Adolescent/Teenage You

(What Did You Do Then?)

Adolescent/Teenage Students

(What do Kids Do Now?)

Create A Lesson Using The Categories to the far In Your Content Area

Telecommunication – how people talk on the phone


Music – what is the popular music of the day


Fashion – what was is the hottest fashion item of the day


Vernacular – what were some of the slang words of your time and what did they mean
Mode of “Hanging Out” – where do people go and what do they do when with friends


  1. Take a look at what you answered for how you interacted and compare it with the way students interact today. What are the similarities and what are the differences? How would you forge connections with students based on the information you’ve accumulated within the chart?





  1. Pretend to be an administrator on an observation. Of the lessons you’ve created, find the flaw in each and give 1 sentence feedback for each lesson on how it can be made better.





  1. Identify the privilege that you your students don’t due to your cultural frame of reference versus theirs. How would you address that privilege so that you check it prior to interacting with your students?

2 thoughts on “Cultural Competency 101: Stay Current (Lesson 3)

    1. While I am not oppose to the idea of guest posting, that isn’t an idea I am entertaining at the moment. However, send me your page. I’d love to check it out and if I think that there is a potential partnership, I’ll reach out to you.


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