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Friday, April 14, 2017

Diversity and its Place in the Classroom

Diversity is a word that has gained a lot of hype within the past decade, but why? What is diversity and why do we need it? The short answer is that diversity is "a variety of something" and that we need diversity because we as people are diverse, but it's not that simple. When speaking of diversity as it pertains to people we are talking about having a variety of cultures, ethnic groups, genders, races, backgrounds, ages, sexualities, opinions, abilities, nationalities, religions, and more within one group of people. It is important to remember that you can’t always see diversity. Some forms of diversity cannot be changed (age, race, sexual orientation) and some can (educational background, income, religious beliefs). These differences come together to create a community.
CC image courtesy of US Department of Education via Flicker
A teacher doesn’t get to pick their students, so what does diversity have to do with the classroom? Diversity in the classroom isn’t about having a class full of students that fit every category, it is about teaching in a way that fits every student. As teachers it is critical that we are aware of the diversity in the classroom and find a way to make all of the students feel welcome.  When creating, a lesson plan a teacher needs to be able to look at the information though a diverse perspective. If the teacher is only looking through their own views they may not be considering the differences of others, and this may leave students feeling unwanted or excluded. 

Diversity inclusion is important not only during lesson planning, but during all interactions with students. It is easy for a teacher to teach from their own experiences, but sometimes that creates a teacher-student barrier. For example, say a student who is being raised by a single mother and his grandmother asked their teacher a question about family. If the teacher was raised in a nuclear family and draws from their own experiences, it may not be relatable or helpful to this student at all. It is also important to be aware that diversity should not be a taboo topic, it is okay to discuss it with students of all ages. Often people working with children will be asked questions that they are not prepared for. I have had experience with the children I nanny for asking me about the most recent 2016 presidential election. Since I suspected I had different views than their parent, I had to find a way to answer that made them feel comfortable and respected their family’s beliefs. Many children are curious about things they are not familiar with and may ask uncomfortable questions. It is important for teachers to be prepared for questions like this and have the ability to answer these questions in an accepting and inclusive way that makes everyone feel comfortable.
What are some things you do to make your students feel accepted and safe when it comes to diversity? Let me know in the comments.

R.L.H.

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