Diverse Learners: How Diverse are You?

I’ve looked at this particular topic before this school year as I’ve considered how to best help a couple of students I have in my classes this year.  My ESL student has transferred to another school in the district where he can be better serviced as he learns English and my hearing impaired student is making friends and teaching us ASL!

I’ve changed the way I show videos because of her (I make sure the captions is on) and have been using Notability to create lesson notes for her.  These two adaptations for her are proving to be helpful for many of my other students as well.

I’m starting class # 10 this week in my Master’s program.  The topic for the next 5 weeks is Diverse Learners.  The moment I saw the name, I immediately thought of my student.  However, reading the syllabus has me considering diversity in a different way, that impacts us all as teachers. 

My  first assignment in this course includes an assessment of how I see diversity in my classroom and who I am as a diverse person.  I’ve always had the “African American, female” title attached to me.  Its the part of me that anyone that sees me or a photo of me immediately recognizes.  Its the stereotypes and assumptions that people make when they see me that are quickly dispelled when I interact with them.  Did you know this about me: I was classified as a gifted student in school (I started a year early and would have finished a year early if my parents hadn’t been freaked out about having a 16 year old college freshman on their hands).  I like science, engineering and stuff girls in my peer group growing up weren’t into much.  In my professional setting, I’m a “second generation baby boomer”, with a mentality that’s solidly mid 20th century.  I was raised by college educated parents who grew up on farms through the Great Depression in the Jim Crow South and passed particular mentalities on to me that have stayed with me.  I grew up in a quiet middle class neighborhood where just about every child came from a two parent home. My religious beliefs are different from most African Americans with backgrounds rooted in the fundamentalist southern tradition (I was raised Presbyterian) and my politics bugs the hell out my family. (is there such a thing as conservative independent?)

I’m as diverse as anyone can be.  So are you. So are the children that sit in your classroom and the teachers and administrators and parents we all interact with daily.  We all bring a particular flavor to the day as we move through it.  We have to think of these things as we interact with and educate children.  They bring just as much diversity to the table as we do.  What sorts of preconceived notions about children, who they are, what environments they come from, how educated their parents are and how motivated they are to learn do we bring to the table.

The first day of school is for me, the scariest, not because I’m unsure of myself, but because I know I will look into a sea of faces and form opinions about what I see, the same way the students will do me.  When I meet parents, who do they see?  The female science teacher that will be a great role model for their daughter or the overly assertive black person that will give their son grief?  Do we see angels with all of their supplies or thugs looking for opportunities to be disruptive?  Can the girl with the glasses on read?  Will the boy with the perfect diction be able to write a coherent sentence?

How we connect and get to know these students, with all of their diversity, will determine how well we BOTH will learn during the school year.  My hearing impaired student is a great student but I’ve discovered she can be a bit of a drama queen.  Before he left, my ESL student made no effort to do work even as it was given to him in Spanish.  We discovered he was still mourning the loss of his father just months before.  Moving to a new country and away from mom is hard, right?

Who are you as a diverse person?  What do you bring to the table that brings out the best in your students? What do you know about them that brings out the best in you?  Making diversity work in the classroom makes education work.