Diversity in the Classroom: How to Respond

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US Department of Education via Compfight cc

To begin my blog reflections for this class, I found a great article about how teachers can be successful at dealing with cultural diversity in their classroom. In this particular blog post, the author talks about how in teachers’ busy day-to-day lives, they often get stuck in a certain way of doing things and so, throughout the years, they become less receptive to students’ needs. The author thus suggests that teachers should listen more to what the students want, rather than just shoving material at them in a way in which the student is unable to connect with it meaningfully.

The author goes on to say that being receptive to students’ needs is especially important in today’s schools as the students’ backgrounds are so different. He also says that, because these backgrounds are diverse, teachers need to change the ways they view their relationships with students. We’ve all discovered through our ed classes at the U of R that, even though we may be ignorant to it, the race of our students does add complexity to our teacher-student relationships and to the general environment in the classroom. Therefore, instead of being ignorant regarding the challenges that a culturally diverse classroom presents, teachers have to face the reality head-on. To help us with that, the author gives a few tips.

1) Build relationships. Show the students that you care. Keep the relationship professional but, at the same time, make sure that they know that you want to help them. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, students have an exceptional ability to be able to read the teacher and so, right at the start of the school year, you want to ensure that you create an authentic connection with your students. If you don’t, it will become increasingly harder to build a healthy relationship with the student. Why are relationships important? Ultimately, they help students succeed. If there is a level of trust and respect between students and teachers, then the student will be more apt to try and seek help when needed.

2) Create a fair and equitable environment. No one likes to admit that they may hold stereotypes about certain races. It is important, however, as future teachers, that we ensure that we do not harbour any prejudices and, to do so, we must not let pride get in the way. We all want to regard ourselves as good people and so oftentimes, people say they are bias-free without reflecting on their attitudes. This, of course, becomes a problem when, in certain situations, people realize that they are not as morally pure as they once thought. Teachers, in a sense, shape the next generation and so it is vital that they all regard students equally; if the students we are teaching feel as if they are being unfairly treated because of their race, then this will perpetuate difficulties in the child’s life and in the classroom. The author in this article raises an interesting point: if a student (perhaps of a certain ethnicity) comes in late for class, do you automatically yell at him or do you take him/her aside and ask he/she to explain? Teachers are faced with these kinds of predicaments everyday and how we respond to them will change the classroom environment and how the students respond to you. Here is an interesting resource that may open your eyes concerning the systemic racism in our society today. Also, if you haven’t already done so, this article on white privilege is an awesome read for those of you who do not necessarily think that there are racial divides in society today.

3) Ask Questions as a Form of Disarming. In my personal experience, I know that the teachers who were willing to make themselves vulnerable – ie. admitting that they were wrong or that they did not know something – were the ones that I liked the most. Being a teacher is not about having absolute control over your students; teachers do not have to be Superman and, in fact, by showing your students that you make mistakes, too, you become more approachable. Lots of times, teachers teach for so long that they just go through the actions without asking questions. For example, a teacher who has been teaching for 30 years might not have an interest in incorporating technology in the classroom or reflecting on the ways in which the diversity in his/her classroom has changed. This passivity, of course, is one thing that teachers should never fall into; society is always changing and so it is important for the mindset of teachers to change with the times. Thus, if a teacher has a negative relationship with a student of a certain race, for example, it is important for the teacher to ask why and how that relationship developed. Also, if a teacher is having particular difficult with trying to teach a student a particular concept, s/he should ask what s/he can do to help that student, even if it branches out of his/her repertoire of lesson plans that s/he accumulated over the decades. If you want to spend what probably could be a good hour researching how Canada has become so ethnically diverse, you can click here. If you want a quick overview, there is a good chart on this page if you scroll down a little. As preservice teachers, it’s important to be informed about the way our classrooms are changing and I know we’re all up for the task!

I thought this article was very insightful; it focused on the relationship between teachers and students rather than just focusing on the teacher’s side of things. Ultimately, teaching is a profession in which the teacher must find a way to connect with the students and so it is important for teachers to experiment with ways to do that. Connecting with students is, of course, becoming harder and harder as classrooms are becoming more and more diverse and educators are, most predominately, white. You can see research on that here. What can we, as educators, do to close this gap? It’s an issue that the education system today is grappling with and rightly so. With students in Regina coming from overseas and not even speaking English, teachers are facing a huge challenge. There is, of course, not going to be an easy-fix answer to this issue but it is something that we, as preservice teachers, must keep in mind.

To end this blog post, I’ll pose a question: Do you, as preservice teachers, believe that accommodating cultural diversity is the biggest challenge that faces the education system today?

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