Sound familiar? The above
statement expresses the sentiments of many teachers. Time is always
a factor in the school day, and teachers are not wrong to safeguard
it as a precious commodity.
At the same time, there
are teachers whose reasons for not addressing diversity issues in
the classroom have less to do with time than with fear of conflict
and concern about their competency to handle such discussions. In
addition, there are teachers whose own life experiences have not
included many opportunities for interaction with diverse populations,
who can feel uncomfortable addressing issues of differences in light
of their limited firsthand experiences.
a word often spoken in hushed tones, as though it were an unmentionable
subject, like a fatal disease. And to make matters more difficult,
schools of education, administrators and colleagues often do not
provide much expertise or support in this arena for teachers.
Recognizing that there
are many legitimate reasons for teachers to be apprehensive about
raising diversity issues in the classroom, the following list of
teaching practices is offered to assist those who want to begin
creating a safe classroom climate conducive to an honest exchange
of ideas. The list is not meant to be comprehensive; rather it is
intended to provide a good place to begin the journey.
Examine your own cultural
biases and assumptions. Ask yourself if your understanding
of cross-cultural miscommunication includes the idea that such misunderstandings
are the result of a clash between two cultures, and not caused solely
by the person whose ethnicity is not of the dominant mainstream
LAY A FOUNDATION
Lay a foundation by establishing
ground rules and by defining terms. The ground rules serve as community
norms that everyone in the class agrees to abide by. Ask students
to develop these norms by thinking about what classroom conditions
would have to exist in order for them to feel they can share their
ideas and feelings openly. Keep these guidelines posted in your
room at all times, and remind students that every person, not just
the teacher, is responsible for seeing that the ground rules are
adhered to. Define terms so that students develop an appropriate
vocabulary for discussing equity issues.
Integrate diversity issues
into all aspects of your regular teaching. Donít relegate addressing
equity issues to "special" or "multicultural"
time. "Valuing Difference" should never be a unit of study
or a weekly, monthly or yearly theme; the concept is so basic it
should be on integral part of everything that occurs in the school.
ALLOW FOR MATURATION
Allow time for the class
to mature. Introduce less complex topics first, and create time
to establish trust. Recognize that the long history of mistrust
between people in different groups will not dissipate overnight.
Establish an environment
that allows for mistakes. Since most of us were acculturated into
racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic (to name a few!) ways
of thinking unconsciously and unwittingly, we must acknowledge that
intolerant thinking will surface from time to time in ourselves
and others. Create a climate in the classroom where such behavior
can be addressed without fear of retribution. Model nondefensive
behavior in the face of being told that something you said or did
was offensive to someone. Make assuming goodwill a common practice
in your classroom. Recognize that assuming goodwill is harder for
people who are usually on the receiving end of discriminatory treatment
than for those who are not.
Be a model of lifelong
learning. Keep abreast of current issues such as affirmative action
and the "English Only" movement. Clip articles from newspapers
and magazines and post them in your classroom. Make sure your words
and actions match your expressed beliefs. Let students know that
you consider yourself a learner in these issues, and that you see
yourself as part of the learning process.
Avoid preaching to students
about how they should behave. According to research, preaching and
exhorting do not work with students. In fact, such methodology often
produces a result opposite from the desired effect. The same holds
for books and. videos that convey an over-simplified "brotherhood
message." Such material makes it easy for students to tune
out because they already know the "right" answer. Provide
opportunities for students to resolve conflicts and solve problems
USE "EMERGENCY" LESSONS
slurs, jokes, teasing, excluding or other prejudicial behavior whenever
you see it occur. A teacherís failure to address an incident
of prejudice can signal to students that such behavior is acceptable.
Create an "Emergency" lessons file in which you keep lessons
that address issues of prejudice and discrimination.
SHARE PERSONAL EXPERIENCES
Sharing life experiences
in class can help students develop empathy. Make your classroom
a place where studentsí experiences are not marginalized, trivialized,
or invalidated. Be careful not to create a hierarchy of oppressions
where students will be vying far victim status based on their membership
in targeted groups. At the same time, acknowledge that experiences
in which prejudice and/or discrimination have occurred are unique
and cannot be equated one with another.
Review materials so that
classroom displays and bulletin boards are inclusive of all people.
Insure that the books and videos you use do not reinforce existing
stereotypes; point out such examples to students when you see them.
Donít trivialize culture so that it is reduced to the three
usual Fís: foods, festivals and famous men.
Always remember the awesome
power we have as teachers; let us use it wisely and well.
"As a teacher,
I possess a tremendous power to make a childís life miserable
or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor hurt or heal. In all situations, it is
my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated and
a child humanized or dehumanized."
-- Hiam Ginott