A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
It’s with mixed emotions that I approach my last day working with the group of student teachers in the graduate course I am teaching. There is so much to learn. Following are lessons I hope all preservice teachers will take as they embark upon the most challenging and rewarding task of their lives: becoming teachers.
I’m a Teaching Tolerance Fellow, and I’m working to develop classroom resources that balance the requirements of the Common Core State Standards with culturally responsive instruction. I’m hoping to draw upon our readers’ expertise to meet this challenge. What readings or texts do you recommend that answer the call of the Common Core and culturally responsive pedagogy?
Bryan had anger issues in sixth grade. One day another boy in my class called him “gay” and he flung his desk across the room and chased the boy all the way to the main office where he ended up in a heap of trouble...again. Despite all of the impulsive and often violent behavior, deep down underneath the tough-guy façade, Bryan had many likable qualities. But he still ended up being moved to our school’s alternative program for students with behavioral issues.
I’m sitting in my office with Sam, a senior, whose counselor brought him to see me. He missed more school than he attended last year and has started this school year in similar fashion. His counselor thought that a meeting with me might help emphasize the importance of better choices.
It’s not unusual to encounter misconceptions about Africa. People erroneously refer to “the country of Africa” or say that someone “speaks African.” Most of my third-grade students were African-American, and they not only knew very little about Africa; they held negative assumptions about anyone who is African. Worse, my students used “black African” as a slur. No one knew how that got started. In fact, part of the reason I usually say “black” instead of “African-American” is that I got used to my students saying “black.” The term “African” was not anything they wanted associated with themselves, even with “American” tacked on to the end.
My student was trying to act like he wasn’t smart. He told his parents that being smart meant not having cool friends. When test time came, he simply made random patterns with the bubbles on his standardized test, scoring one of the lowest scores in the sixth-grade class. The following year, he made a fresh start by earning one of the highest scores on the pretest. I knew I was in for a fight or, rather, a battle that would culminate with a full-on war to maintain. One I hoped to win.
Among my third-graders, conflicts often arose over the issue of skin color.
“Your mama left you in the oven too long. You look just like a burnt cookie!”
“Oh yeah, well you look like a white boy. I bet you ain’t even black.”
As a young white teacher coming into a school that is about half African-American and half Latino, I knew there would be racial conflicts, but I didn’t know how they would manifest themselves. I assumed that both groups’ first concern would be the oppression and racism from white people. I was not expecting the intense criticism that I found within the African-American community of its own members.
Recently, I met with the second- through fifth-grade teams at our school to look at student achievement on our district benchmark tests. We analyzed the results. Then we set out to identify specific focal questions that large numbers of students answered incorrectly. We’d hoped to develop an instructional plan to help the students answer similar questions correctly in the future.