As a retired educator, I often think back to past experiences when I was teaching. Particularly at this time of the year, I think about the process of getting to know new students and the ritual of renewing the relationship between a teacher and his/her students. The first introduction to students can be an eye-opening encounter.
I think back to a year that I was calling roll for the first time and when I called one young lady’s name, I asked if she was related to John. I will never forget her answer, “Yes, are you going to hold it against me?” This interchange caused me to rethink how I set out to engage the students in my classroom. What might seem innocent or friendly to me might just open the door to bad memories or problems for the student.
Throughout my career, I would start the semester with fairly strict standards that were enforced equally. As the personality of the class developed, the standards would be adjusted to the class. One semester I had several students from the previous year who had signed on for the advanced class. Three of the students were extremely outgoing and in the previous class needed strict standards and constant supervision to stay on task. About two weeks into the new semester, one of the girls said, “Mrs. Potts, you are so much nicer this year, what happened?” After I laughed, my answer was that my change reflects that they were staying with the class and I no longer had to constantly supervise them. You could see the wheels turning in their heads, and the first recognition by that student and others that people reacted based on the attitudes and behavior that were being displayed.
I always tried to let my students know that I could and wanted to learn from them. In one school, our population was 65% Jewish, 25% Arab, and 10% other. The high school that I had attended only had one Jewish family and no Arabs, so I really had no sense of what the similarities and differences to my background might be. The class that I was teaching was Foods and Nutrition. I did some research and talked with teachers who had been in the school for several years and found that there were some definite dietary rules that many of these students followed. In every unit, I would ask the students to share traditional examples that they enjoyed that used the foods being studied.
Early in November the curriculum called for a unit on holiday foods. I asked the students to identify the foods that they looked forward to eating during their holidays. With the Jewish students, Noodle Pudding was repeatedly mentioned, but none of those students could tell us a recipe. Therefore, their homework was to go home and get a recipe from mom, grandma, or a neighbor for the Noodle Pudding that they liked. When the recipes came in we quickly realized that the country of origin determined the ingredients and flavoring of the pudding. We then completed a lab in which each kitchen prepared a different recipe for Noodle Pudding, then shared and evaluated the similarities and differences between each. What we all learned that year is that there is no such thing as singular all-encompassing Jewish or Arab cooking. We learned, together, that there are Jewish and Arab dishes that follow the dietary laws of their religions and encompass the foods of the country of origin.
As with all groups, there were times when someone could be identified as a “bully” or who would make a discriminatory remark. As the “adult” I believed (and still do) that it was my responsibility to interject or turn that behavior into a learning experience for all students. I believe in confronting the person immediately. There are a series of questions, that I rely on to get students to understand what they are saying and the fact that, at least in my presence, it is not acceptable. Examples of questions that I use include:
- What do you mean by that? Explain your reasoning.
- Where did you get that information? Have you verified it anyplace else?
- Why do you think you have the right to make that kind of judgment?
- Is this an opinion or do you have facts to back that up?
- Are you willing to research that and report back to us?
- Do you deserve criticism when you make a mistake?
- If you were in the other person’s shoes, what would you do?
One of the resources I have found, and that I think all teachers and parents should utilize, is the Teaching Tolerance Website (http://www.tolerance.org/) and e-newsletter. Teaching Tolerance is developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Each newsletter includes current issues, research information, and lessons for use in the classroom. Each lesson is comprised of objectives, essential questions and activities. Teaching Tolerance is presenting two new guides—Speak Up at School and Responding to Hate and Bias—that offer a comprehensive approach to school-culture issues and provide direction for educators trying to build an inclusive, nurturing school climate. Download for immediate use at tolerance.org/publications.
I urge teachers and group leaders to encourage differences while valuing all equally. Too often I have heard teachers and group leaders saying negative things about individual students/participants which tie them to a race, culture, religious, or economic group. To cut down on bullying and “crazy” attacks we all must stop doing this.
I have also identified a wide range of resources available to you through Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org).
Terms used to search resources: cultural, tolerance, diversity. These are just a few of the many that I found.
Grades K to 8 | Resource, Lesson
This article shows how to affirm and draw on the dialect diversity of students to foster the learning of Standard English. http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/professional-library/codeswitching-tools-language-culture-30484.html
Grades 1 to2 | Lesson
All students will enjoy this lesson that celebrates diversity by discussing what makes everyone unique and special. http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/okay-different-teaching-diversity-890.html
Grades 9 to 12 | Lesson
As a class, students evaluate a nonfiction or realistic fiction text for its cultural relevance to themselves, personally and as a group.
Grades 9 to 12 | Interactive
In this student interactive from a ReadWriteThink lesson, students answer a series of questions to analyze the cultural and personal relevance of nonfiction or realistic fiction texts they are reading. Students can then access feedback and rubrics about their selected texts.
Students learn about several different metaphors that have been used to describe cultural diversity in the United States. Then they choose a metaphor that represents today's diverse cultural landscape.
Grades 6 to 8 | Lesson
In this Xpeditions lesson, students conduct an in-depth review of one of the major world religions by focusing on its origins, beliefs, and history. They then explore reasons for the spread or decline in Asia of each of the major world religions. Finally, students predict the continued spread of religions based on current events in Asia. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/lessons/10/g68/religion.html
Grades 3 to 5 | Lesson
In this Xpeditions lesson, students explore the concept of culture. They learn about interesting aspects of their state's culture, including arts, recreation, folklore, and cultural diversity. Finally, students design thematic maps showing some of the most interesting cultural features of their state.
Students investigate hominid evolution. They learn the difference between a relative and an ancestor, study the emergence of bipedalism, and chart patterns of hominid migration. http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/tdc02.sci.life.evo.lp_humanevo/
Soda, or pop? Join us in Wonderopolis as we take a look at a debate that still rages on!
In this lesson, students research how professions such as nursing, clerking, and teaching have changed gender dominance over the past 150 years in the United States. http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/lessons/grade-6-8/Tolerance_Gender_Issues.aspx
Grades K to 4 | Lesson
Students will discuss and explore the cultures that have contributed to making the United States the unique and diverse country it is today.
In this lesson from EDSITEment, students examine some of the arguments used to win the vote for American women and explore the cultural dimension of these arguments as reflected in their characterization of men and women. In addition, students weigh the rhetorical impact these arguments had in their time by writing counter-arguments from several standpoints, and think critically about the relationship between political ideas and cultural attitudes.