Final thoughts

How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching?

It will impact my teaching more strongly than anything. We are about to join a deeply unjust, unequal system, where wealthy students have access to every advantage and marginalized students face innumerable obstacles. Everything a teacher says comes from a position of power and thus carries enormous weight. To paraphrase Ernestine Hayes, the decisions we make will either combat this injustice or perpetuate it. If we find ourselves making choices in our classrooms that further advantage the advantaged and further set back the disadvantaged, then we need to be able to realize that we are doing something wrong. It’s our job to ensure each student is given opportunities to be successful in school. If a student seems to be falling behind, then that’s on the teacher.

Pick three terms that resonate with you from the Multicultural Education word wall. Define the terms and discuss why you chose them.

Barriers– Barriers can be obvious, or they can be mostly invisible. Everyone faces them, but some face more than others. Education in this country is structured in a way that sets many students up for failure. In many cases, quality of education and access to resources depends entirely on the neighborhood in which a student lives. Those with money and advantaged home lives have access to resources that most kids don’t. Race, gender, class and sexual orientation each bring their own barriers, and in many cases schools do nothing to address them. I think that it is incredibly important for teachers to be aware of the barriers each student faces in school and to structure their classrooms in ways that tear down these walls rather than bolstering them. To do this, a teacher must be cognizant and informed, which brings me to the next term:

Naiveté– Overcoming this is especially important for teachers like me. I am ignorant. I faced very few barriers growing up, being from a privileged race, class, gender, and orientation. Many teachers like me might go into a classroom completely blind to the obstacles our students face. We might label students “slow,” or “poorly-behaved,” or “distracting,” simply because we’re teaching to the strengths of students whose backgrounds mirror our own. This is dangerous. This is destructive. We as teachers can’t afford to be naive. Our naiveté can harm students and exacerbate the injustice of the system in which we work.

Institutional racism– Most people don’t consider themselves racist, but denying the racism present in every aspect of society can be as harmful as outward racism. I’ve written about class above, but the fact is that class isn’t always the determining factor in a student’s education. Students from similar class backgrounds face different systematic racial barriers. Teachers often have different expectations for students based on skin color, which can either be the result of blatant or subconscious racism. Around the country resources are allotted, school zones are drawn, and instruction is given in a way that perpetuates an imbalance in academic achievement.

I chose these three terms because they are interrelated, but each must be addressed in order to create a fairer multicultural classroom environment.

Describe your plan to teach in a culturally responsive way in the coming year. Include teaching strategies you might employ as well as content/units you will implement.

This is a difficult prompt. I can’t say in honesty that I have a firm strategy in mind going into my student teaching assignment. Frankly, I worry about this all the time. I have serious doubt about my ability to address the above problems and to create a safe, equitable environment for my students.

Unlike many in this class, I will be teaching honors courses in a predominantly wealthy, predominantly white school. I don’t know exactly what my classes will look like, but it is likely that most of my students will carry with them a certain set of systematic advantages. I think it is vital that I don’t ignore the lessons we’ve learned just because of this. This happens all too often in these schools, and students graduate blind to other cultures and to injustice and nothing changes. I will treat this class as I would any other; I will include culturally-relevant material, I will encourage students to think globally and multi-culturally, and I will attempt to create an environment that addresses whichever barriers they might face. These barriers might include the naïveté of privilege, but they will also likely include other barriers or race, class, gender, and identity. I hope that I can start to play my small part in combating injustice. I will try my hardest not to perpetuate it.

2 thoughts on “Final thoughts”

  1. Tim-You are going to be an excellent teacher!!!!! The fact that you are worrying about it proves that you will work hard to do what is right for your students and your school. You are right–we have a difficult road ahead, but having hope, heart, and goals to build an equitable classroom will begin to transform not only our classrooms, but also the mindset of society as our students move out into the world. Thank you for your post!

    1. Ernestine also asked, quite literally, how many teachers will it take to change the system? 20, 10? How about one? I think you’re the guy. So am I. That makes two of us. How about including the rest of the class, making it 37. I am Native, yet I felt little cultural sensitivity growing up in the the 70s and 80s. I had tremendous difficulty relating my personhood to being Tlingit, yet I didn’t grow up poor or underprivileged in any way. I was in a system just as you described, one that devalued, whether intentionally or not, the Alaska Native experience. It’s about time we turned things around. Laura-Beth is right, I’m glad you’re a teacher.

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