Finale Reflection: Being uncomfortable, knowing your privilege, and recognizing institutional racism

Having already gone through my year of student teaching, I have come out with a different lens on how to approach my students, my school, and my community. I recognize that being culturally responsive is not just about lesson differentiation, but is at the core of every student. There was a quote from a video we watched in class that I believe represents culture well. Someone put culture as “the filter through which people see the world.”   Being a culturally responsive teacher is not just making the educational components of lessons fit all students. It is making the institution fit all students, how you approach them fit all students, and many other things we a citizens need to recognize in being culturally responsive. It is a lifestyle, not just teaching “differentiation.”

Privilege: Recognizing our Euro-centric system as well as the hierarchical system of class, race, sex, and culture is vital to understanding our students. We need to meet students at their comfort zone, which means we need to come out of ours, in order for them to apply their knowledge, connect to their peers, and learn to the best of their abilities.

Uncomfortable: We should never be comfortable as teachers and always push for equity. This means being an active teacher outside of our classrooms and in the community. The minute we are comfortable, more students feel discomfort. Also, each year we have a different pool of students, indicating different cultures and we must always be adapting as a teacher.

Institutional Racism: This word coexists with “uncomfortable” because it is part of the reason we should be uncomfortable. We are active teachers who help break down institutional racism by educating our kids. I think it is really important to work at a school who has the same ideals as myself-works to be active in breaking down these walls of racism and is in the best interest to those students in the school.

The Aleutian Kayak: An Item of Cultural Identity


I was drawn to these artifacts because it displays the process of creating the Aleutian kayak.  The kayak is more than just a boat to the people of the Aleutian chain-it plays a significant role to the values, environment, and way of life of these people. It also makes me wonder how the frame of these kayaks were made because there are no trees on the islands-it is believed that people made them using driftwood that arrived on the islands.

These kayaks look like they were used to hunt because there is little room for goods.  Hunting kayaks can withstand rough seas and are built very strong…I was surprised to see that the design of kayaks has not changed much over the last couple hundred years.  This is no accident-the Aleuts were good at their craft and advanced in their designs.  Kayaks were so valued in the Aleutian communities that they were a symbol of men moving into adulthood.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally Responsive Teaching

(I was out of town for this lesson)

There are two huge resources that we as teachers have at our grasp. The first is the culturally knowledgeable members of the community who speak on behalf of the perspective and wisdom of the Alaska Native people. The second is our natural environment, where content meets context and teachers are able to lead their students to the application of learning through hands-on experience. I believe a great teacher uses both in abundance, unconstrained by the walls of the classroom. This removes the barrios of interdisciplinary subjects, different cultures, and creates a community where every student is included.

Lessons in our environment can bridge the gap between history and present day, technologies of the past, and new science of today. Having students perform experiments outside of the classroom gives them a context for learning they might not have. This also builds intrinsic motivation for students to learn-the environment in which we live is a part of all our cultures. One example of using our natural environment would be studying water qualities of different streams in Juneau. Water and the sources from which we receive this water are all relevant to our lives.

Aleut Music Lesson Plan


Excerpt 1-War Song

Excerpt 2- Song of the Birds and Waves

The cultural standard my unit is closely linked to is Standard A-Culturally knowledgeable students are able to build on the knowledge and skills of the local cultural community as a foundation from which to achieve personal and academic success throughout life. From a Western music standpoint, the songs in my lesson of the Aleut culture are very difficult. My lesson looks at the content and elements of Aleut music from a music theory and aural skills point of view. Students also get to transcribe the music (like the Russian Orthodox missionaries) and consider whether the music would be harder to learn aurally or by sheet music. I believe this lesson is a window into why music of the Aleuts was taught aurally.

While students get to examine their own strengths in music, whether they are more comfortable with reading music or learning by ear, they also get to compare the musical strengths between Western European music, their own culture, and the Aleuts. Therefore, they will recognize and build upon the inter-relationships that exists among the spiritual, natural, and human realms in the world around them, as reflected in their own cultural traditions and beliefs as well as those of others (from the Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools). The activity where students ponder a significant object or event related to their own culture and write lyrics to a song combines two (or more) cultures into one song.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: More than Differentiation+Lesson

Culturally responsive teaching envelops the traditional values as a foundation and platform for lessons in the regular classroom.  In class, I studied Standard C as part of the Alaska Standards for curriculum which states “a locally responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.”  After doing this activity, I believe a lot of teachers think of culturally responsive teaching as differentiation-accommodating to those of different cultural backgrounds, but it is us who should use the Alaskan cultural roots as the core of our curriculum.

I can use Standard C in music class by involving community members and school cultural specialists as a starting point to accomplishing standards.  For example, state standards for elementary music education include learning syncopation, ostinato, and the ability to do call and response songs.  Traditional Tlingit songs contain all of these elements…I would have students initially learn songs from a guest from the community while I emphasize the state/national standards.  This allows students to learn the cultural inter-relationships between multiple types of music.

Dance on a Sealskin

This story by Barbara Winslow and illustrated by Teri Sloat depicts a Yupik coming-of-age ceremony for a young woman. As the young girl prepares herself to honor the living and the dead, the ancestors of her past, she looks forward to carrying out the ancient traditions of her community.

Under the evaluation rubric, I found this children’s story to meet the high quality standards (all 3’s) of literature, authority, and authenticity. Both the author and illustrator formally taught elementary school in the Yupik villages in Alaska. It is evidential that the language and setting are interwoven to depict the place accurately…many parts of the story such as the “acting out an old story of the bear hunt” and the “ax handles and fish traps” give an accurate sense of place. There were also many metaphors.

I would use this story as a starting point for students to connect music with place. Essential Questions: How does dance relate to music? How do other forms of art such as paintings and dance relate to music? Do you see a parallel between these art forms in your own culture? Discussing how music relates to milestones of life such as coming of age, marriage, and death in different cultures would pose as a great discussion (for example, “Here Comes the Bride” is a standard piece for marriage of American culture).

BH&H Reflection

I thoroughly enjoyed the class presentations and discussions on “Beyond Heroes & Holidays”. The small groups gave everyone a chance to speak out equally and respond in an organized way. I enjoyed examining a small fraction of the article in detail while absorbing aspects of other parts of the article.

Our discussion delved into the core of racism and other “isms” that face our education system. In order to teach in a multicultural curriculum, we must look at our underlying beliefs and ask ourselves how we can address these issues in the classroom. I’ve learned that these issues go a lot deeper than classroom differentiation… we need to cultivate these differences in our own classroom culture in addition to being active in our school and hometown communities. Because these issues are evolving, students are changing, and our fight for equality is institutional, we should strive to always find a better solution.

Two of the new wall words that resonated with me the most were “uncomfortable” and “white privilege.” Uncomfortable was a word that my group came up with and represents how we should always be uncomfortable as teachers. Discomfort shows ability to remove oneself from their own cultural perspective to see another, the obligation to be active and an advocate for your students, and changeability. To me, “white privilege” is the social and systemic benefits I experience in the society in which I live. In order to get every student to the same educational goal, students need to be given an equal classroom experience. By acknowledging our own privilege, we will begin to understand the barriers our students face every day.