Addressing Elephants in the Classroom

April 5th, 2017

Step out your front door. Look around in a grocery store. Scroll through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You don’t have to go very far to encounter diversity in America. America’s diversity is one of its most beautiful characteristics, yet is also one of its largest hurdles. Diversity comes in many forms. Although race is often the first thing that comes to mind, diversity also includes those of different religions, ethnicities, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, and abilities. Being a teacher in American society requires interacting with diversity in the students, staff, and the community and finding a way to identify and accommodate differences in the classroom.

Some of these differences are identifiable through observation or documentation, however, others require getting to know students personally. For example, when accommodating those students with disabilities, there is often an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that documents their needs and how to accommodate them in the classroom. However, religion and ethnicity may require listening to students when they talk about their experiences, background, and home life. One of the best ways to accommodate students even before you begin to get to know them is by using a multicultural approach to education. Per Woolfolk, multicultural education “promotes equity in the schooling of all students” (Woolfolk, 255). In other words, multicultural education means providing a well-rounded education that analyzes questions and topics from multiple perspectives and is open to new perspectives. However, as a teacher finds out what students’ beliefs and values are, they can utilize those ideologies in the classroom to help students stay engaged and connect with the material. However, multicultural education is really not possible unless you get to know your students.

This is a phenomenal and powerful video about assigning identity to people. In this video, Amal Kassir, an American spoken-word poet, activist, and writer, addresses the importance of not assigning someone an identity. Using humor, she addresses the fact that you really can’t be educated unless you ask “what’s your name?”. Looking at Amal, it is easy to assume that because she wears a hijab, that she is a Muslim, and that because she is a Muslim and wears a hijab, she has extremist views on what women’s rights are. However, if you actually get to know Amal, it becomes pretty clear that she has really unique views and perspectives. By listening to Amal and incorporating the life experiences of minorities in the classroom, you have the opportunity to not only make them feel comfortable in your classroom, but also the opportunity to open a new world to other students.

In conclusion, a multicultural education mean more than just talking about a certain religion or providing accommodations just because they identify in a larger category. Accommodating for diversity in the classroom means actively listening to your students to discover their values and beliefs and helping them to apply their values and beliefs to their education.

References

Woolfolk, A. (2014). Educational Psychology: Active Learning Edition. Pearson.


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