Body Langauge

“[Student], can you remind me to take attendance after lunch?”

Student silently raises eyebrows, I think they are sassing me.

“After the timer goes off, put down your pencils. Got it?”

Students silently raise eyebrows, I think they are confused.

“Does your family eat Caribou at home?”

Student silently raises eyebrows, I think they are confused…or thinking ‘obviously’. I’m confused.

“Does anyone have a guess to what [insert vocabulary word] means?”

Student scrunches eyebrows, I think they’ve eaten something gross and wonder where in the world did they get food and how did I miss it.

“Do you like math?”

Student scrunches eyebrows, I wonder again, what in the world are they eating…


That was how the first few days with my new students played out. I would ask them questions and they would answer me nonverbally…except I didn’t realize it.


I spent the whole week repeating questions, changing the wording, trying to explain what I was asking them. Yet, I would still scream inside with impatience, frustration and the feeling of being disrespected or a failure as my students (and the ones in the hallway) looked at me without speaking and simply moved their eyebrows.


I love words. I’m a word person. I just wanted everyone to verbalize what they were thinking. Yes or no. Couldn’t it be that simple?


Turns out, I was the one who needed to readjust my perspective. (Typical, my life.)


In Kivalina (I can’t assume all Inupiaq culture), body language differs a little from the way I’ve always used it.


Here’s a handy dandy chart (Yeay visual resources!!) to explain my conundrum with the eyebrows.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 12.25.26 PM


A coworker explained this to me on my first day in the village and it took a while for my mind to overtake my instinct and to start recognizes the responses my students were giving me.


She told me that in cold weather, when people in the area were outside they were completely covered except for their eyes/eyebrows, so they would respond accordingly using the only visible part of their body. (Disclaimer: I haven’t fact checked this.)


Without her help, I never would have guessed that raised eyebrows meant “yes” and scrunched eyebrows meant “no”. I probably would have become strict with the ‘sass’ I felt I was receiving and they probably would have thought I was crazy by asking them questions all the time. Thank goodness, I caught on! Crisis averted…kind of. I’m still getting better, but it isn’t natural for me yet.


Here’s another chart in case the first one was confusing:

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 12.25.35 PM

Time to adopt some new expectations and perhaps weave in some verbalization as well.



2 thoughts on “Body Langauge

  1. That is so awesome! I love that you are sharing what you are learning! Cultures make sense unless we leave our own…I remember learning similar mouth sounds and nonverbals in Turkey that would never work here…😀


    1. Yes! I completely agree. There are some from Brazil that I haven’t/don’t want to drop! I always love learning about a new culture and the things that differ. It is a beautiful process, even if frustrating and embarrassing at times!


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