What Have I Learned?

Throughout the course, Diversity In America, I have been impacted the most by the in-class discussions and inspiring speakers. These discussions gave me a new perspective on diversity and caused me to ask myself important questions. These reflections caused me not only reexamining who I want to be as a teacher, but also who I want to be in greater society.

The first idea that has changed my perspective is that multicultural advocacy has to be an integral part of my every day life. I have always been supportive of multicultural diversity, but action only occurred when an opportunity was right in front of my face. As a teacher, I did not plan space in lessons for students to build an awareness of the culture that they are immersed in. Instead, I waited for moments and conversations that came up in class to add cultural comprehensive discussions. It was evident that these issues were afterthoughts and were not at the forefront of my thoughts. The guest speakers really challenged me to see cultural advocacy as something that does not just simply happen. My plan to build this type of classroom atmosphere is to intentionally create lessons that force students to think beyond themselves. I want to ask students questions that cause them to think globally and not just from an individual standpoint. Through this foundation, I can then strategically plan multicultural activities that create cultural awareness in my classrooms.

The next big idea that I am walking away from this class with is that I have unconscious biases. In the past if someone had told me this, I would have been dumbfounded by the statement and then argued about how they are wrong. The moment that this paradigm shift occurred was when we put on the racial statement buttons and then talked to our peers about the statement prominently displayed on our shirts. I wore a button asking, “Where are you from?” because I have asked this question many times. This classroom activity made me realize that my motivation for asking these questions came from an interest in the person’s cultural background rather than the city that they lived in. This made me realize that I was not looking through the other person’s perspective and wondering how this might make them feel more like a foreigner. A number of the other buttons resonated with things that I have either said, or have been said to me. Although these statements were small, it truly has impacted how I communicate with the surrounding culture that I am immersed in. This has not only made me more sensitive to other people’s feelings, but it has also challenged me to take communicative action and bring things out into the open when necessary.

Since I have unconscious biases as a human being, I know that this also affects my teaching. These realizations made me reevaluate how I communicate with my students and contemplate how I can lead my students towards cultural competence. The fist action step that I am taking is to be constantly on guard for opportunities to instruct students on how to culturally respect each other. When I hear students speaking disrespectfully towards another’s ethnicity, whether or not they meant to, I now speak truth into these situations rather than just letting them occur. Many times students do not realize that their words might be hurtful, so I make an effort to have students see from each other’s perspectives. I have also taken strides to teach students how to effectively ask respectful questions rather than giving into the fear of saying something wrong which results in saying nothing at all. For example, my high school technology class primarily consists of Caucasian students with a few exceptions. Many of these students are still learning how to respect each other’s cultural backgrounds and personal life experiences. The other day a student was awkwardly tiptoeing around calling another student in the class “black”, and it was evident that these efforts were from fear of saying the wrong thing. I helped lead this conversation by asking the other student what he most closely related his ethnic background to and he simply answered, “Black because I’m American, not African American.” People easily forget that they can ask other people questions, and this was an opportunity to remind my students how to respectfully care about the thoughts and feelings of others.  That being said, the exercise of asking people respectful questions to better honor their cultural identity is a major skill that I am taking away from this course.

This next take-away for me is simple but true; an effective teacher knows his or her students and puts great effort into knowing them. The section on student’s learning challenges impacted me because it made me realize how difficult school is for some students. For many students, these difficulties arise from their genetic makeup, and for others it comes from life at home. I used to believe the American ideal that people just need to try harder, and I have now realized that this is not always the case in a student’s learning. I have always focused on having good relationships with my students, but now I understand why it is so important to know what is going on in my students’ lives. A new sensitivity has come up in me towards the struggles that these young minds face on a day-to-day basis. From this course, I am developing a new awareness of what students are seeing and feeling rather than what I perceive to be their reality.

The final big idea that I want to take away from this course is the realization that cultural background greatly impacts a student’s progress in learning. The speakers really challenged me to look beyond my own cultural lens and try to see the reality that students live in. The perspective that Erin Jones gave us was a powerful example of how one person can create change, and I was inspired to follow in her footsteps. She showed us that cultural competence in schools could be the impetus of change that closes the opportunity gap in education. The action steps that followed from hearing Erin Jones’ passionate perspective started with me analyzing my lessons to see where they were not culturally sensitive. I soon realized that certain students in my class were left at a disadvantage because of what I assumed to be their reality. Now there is extra time and consideration devoted to creating curriculum that is culturally relevant to my students.

From the course, Diversity In America, I walk away with a new perspective and a clearer awareness of how closely students’ circumstances are connected with their education. This sensitivity to students’ reality is something that I will continue to intentionally practice, and hopefully, someday it will become second nature. These changes in my worldview have affected my students not only through my action steps taken in the classroom but also through my communication with them. As a new teacher, I learned very quickly that students would follow my lead, especially if I have earned their respect. I continue to see how my paradigm shift towards cultural competency has also affected how students communicate with each other. Since I have moved a great deal of focus in my instruction towards the fact that every student learns differently, students are also learning to respect each other’s differences. I have watched students break away from their societal norm and lend a helping hand to a student who is having computer trouble. As we have learned in this course, cultural competence is an everyday choice, and in no way have I arrived. However, I make progress every day in my efforts to create a multicultural classroom where students are learning to see each other as individuals, each with a unique perspective of the world around them.

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