Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.
If you are a teacher, you may have noticed that your students are different in many ways. If you're not a teacher, trust me when I say that every single student is different. It's not a difficult thing to notice. One of the key differences among your students is their cultural background and upbringing. A classroom that embraces and celebrates these diverse cultural backgrounds is a multicultural classroom.
In this lesson, you will meet a teacher named Mr. Wade, a 4th grade teacher in St. Louis, who makes it a priority to create a safe and welcoming multicultural environment for every student. Through his story, you will learn you can make your own classroom a celebration of cultural diversity.
Learn About the Students
The first thing Mr. Wade does at the beginning of a school year is to get to know his students, their families, and their backgrounds or experiences. This takes some extra effort, but it pays off. By getting to know his students, Mr. Wade shows that he values each of them as an individual, including their backgrounds.
Mr. Wade plans some activities for the first few weeks of school where students can write about, talk about, and present information about themselves and their background. For example, Mr. Wade engages his students in a family tree project in which students are encouraged to learn as much as possible about their ancestors and backgrounds. Students then present their family tree to the class. This gives students the opportunity to see how diverse their backgrounds are and also gives Mr. Wade some insight into his students' lives.
Additionally, establishing a partnership with parents and families helps Mr. Wade learn about important holidays or events in his students' lives. Mr. Wade meets with parents as soon as he can, usually at back-to-school night. During this meeting, he learns as much as he can about parents and establishes an open communication policy. With such a diverse group of students, there are many different holidays being celebrated. Mr. Wade learns about these so each student feels like his or her experiences are important.
Diversity Every Day
Mr. Wade makes creating a safe multicultural classroom environment his top priority. One of the main ways he does this is by celebrating diversity every single day. This doesn't mean that his students share something about their culture or parents come in with food on a daily basis; it simply means that every day Mr. Wade makes sure to make every belief and value important. He carefully selects stories, videos, and materials that reflect different types of families, traditions, and belief systems. In doing this, Mr. Wade treats every story as valid, indicating that everyone is deserving of respect.
For example, Mr. Wade might have his students read a story about a single mother and her children. This family might look different to some students and familiar to others. However, Mr. Wade treats the story as he would any other story, indicating to students that many different family structures and value systems exist and should be treated equally.
He does this because he noticed a trend in multicultural education that he found not very beneficial. This was the tendency for teachers to only celebrate cultural diversity during holidays and other events. For example, the Mexican culture was celebrated on Cinco de Mayo, but ignored the rest of the year. Mr. Wade felt that this practice was just a token exercise, making students of diverse backgrounds only feel important on certain days of the year.
In order to make sure every day feels like a celebration of diversity, Mr. Wade uses teaching materials that reflect the diversity in his classroom. For example, he might use a book that contains characters from different backgrounds or a video with a diverse cast of actors. By making these small adjustments in his teaching materials, Mr. Wade sends a message that all students are valued for their unique experiences.
All of Mr. Wade's students know that they are in a safe, welcoming classroom environment. Each student is taught to be responsible and respectful of each other's values and beliefs. Mr. Wade instills this in his students by encouraging each of them to share information about themselves.
In order to encourage sharing, Mr. Wade has to walk a fine line. He doesn't put any student on the spot by pointing out that they are from a different background than other students. Instead, he starts the year by sharing as much about himself as he can. For example, if he relates to a character in a story the class is reading, he will point out how.
After some time, Mr. Wade's students begin to inject their own personalities and backgrounds into class activities. Just like Mr. Wade, they share how they relate to a certain character from a story or other activity. This is why it's so important to have a culturally diverse set of teaching materials. If students are encouraged to share and can see themselves in the things they are learning, they will be more comfortable teaching others about their backgrounds.
Finally, the most important thing Mr. Wade does is ensure that he learns about multicultural education. A lesson like this is a good start, but there is a large collection of research about the topic that would be valuable to study. By knowing about the different challenges and strategies, you can be like Mr. Wade and have an effective, welcoming, and safe multicultural classroom.
Many classrooms today are comprised of students from varied and diverse cultural backgrounds. These multicultural classrooms present their own unique challenges for teachers. However, through using Mr. Wade's strategies - learning about your students, celebrating diversity every day, encouraging students to share, and educating yourself - you can be an effective and welcoming multicultural teacher.
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