Diversity is one of those terms that always inspires a passionate response from others. Whether the response is positive or negative- it’s usually passionate. I was inspired to create this post by a dear teacher friend named Andrea. She is a 5th grade teacher that has an amazing blog that focuses on Social Studies. We are both teaching in Georgia, so that makes her even more amazing. ; ) Andrea’s blog, Runningthingswithrunnels.com featured a post called, “Reasons Why You Should be Using the Teaching Tolerance Website”.
So, this got me thinking about my experiences with Diversity and multiculturalism. First, a little history of my life and childhood. I am originally from the beautiful, sunny state of Florida. I grew up in South Florida, specifically. South Florida is a smorgasbord of many cultures and religions. I also attended school with children from many different walks of life. There were students from every country imaginable at my high school. There were countries like Surinam, that I had never even heard of before, Haiti, Russia, Puerto Rico… If you can name it, I am sure that at least one student at my school was from that country. So, for me, interacting with people from different walks of life is very natural, and I genuinely love learning about different cultures.
Fast forward to me moving to Georgia and getting hired at a very nice, fairly affluent, somewhat “Good Ole Boy-esque” school. Well, as you can imagine, I came in with my pigtails flopping happily in the wind. Excited. Eager. Multiculturally-minded. LOL. Yes, you feel it coming… There were a lot of side eyes and “Where are you from”?, and even a few, “How did you get hired”? Yikes!! Quite a rude awakening and certainly not what I was used to in a school setting. I have always worked at amazing, vibrant, welcoming, and supportive schools. What was this??? Okay, this story gets better.
At the end of my first year, I was asked by my Principal to head up a school-wide Diversity program that consisted of a week’s worth of activities and events. I’ll stop this story here just in case anyone from my school discovers my blog. Ha ha ha! But, use your imagination- vibrantly- to visualize the types of reactions that I received!! There are still teachers that barely speak to me because they feel that I “made them do all of that Diversity stuff“.
This all led me, after reading Andrea’s blog post, to take a really deep look at reasons why teachers might be reluctant to tackle diversity and multiculturalism in a positive and open-minded light. Again, it’s not a personal issue for me because I was brought up in a really open-minded and accepting home and school environment. However, I tried to think of this from a purely “teachery” perspective. Removing the thought that race plays the sole role in their level of reluctance, I came up with this idea for teaching diversity, multiculturalism, and/or presenting a country study.
I thought about how I approach topics that I don’t necessarily know a great deal about. Last year, I had to study India as a part of our school-wide Diversity activities. My knowledge of India was fairly limited, so I knew that I would need to take a more focused approach. Here a few thoughts that came to mind to make the process seem less daunting.
Here are 5 Tips for Teaching a Lesson on Diversity and Multiculturalism
1. Tackle the concept as you would any lesson.
2. Divide the unit into bite-sized chunks
Think of the lesson in terms of categories.
I divided it up into lessons on geography, language, food, music, dress, customs, religion, money, imports/exports, literature, art, and a well-known/famous person from that country. I focused on Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
3. Focus on the topics that you are most knowledgeable and/or comfortable with first. Study the areas that you are less familiar with.
4. Teach one category a day or over a two day period.
For example, Day 1 might just consist of where the country is located. Use maps and globes to demonstrate the location. Discuss landforms, oceans, etc… Read a story about the country or the life of children/people that live in that area.
5. Allow room for growth and forgive yourself for mistakes. Take notes of what worked or didn’t work.
No one likes to teach when they are not 100% sure of themselves. I certainly don’t like to teach unless I am really feeling a lesson, but I know that this means that I am being challenged. When you are being challenged, you are growing. Step out of your comfort zone and learn what you are really made of. Go to the edge of the mountain and leap!!
These helpful tips, unfortunately, may not change a person’s heart, but maybe just maybe, they will have a positive impact on the approach that is taken when teaching lessons of this nature. With an even more open heart, I hope that in the end, some of the negativity and hesitance towards these important and meaningful lessons will fade away. After all, we are teachers. Our students rely on us. We are a lifeline to so many of the little souls that we have been placed in charge of. How can you truly teach a child what it is to be a living, breathing, interactive human being, when you are not willing to see them as that living, breathing, interactive human being. If you can’t see me, you can’t reach me.
I hope that this helps to open a self-reflective dialogue within you. How do you teach diversity or multiculturalism in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the “Comment” section.