Why I’m Failing My Diverse Students, and What I’m Doing About It

This is a tough topic. I am a language teacher. I have struggled to keep heritage students to sign up for my Advanced Spanish class. Even though they’re the ones that should love it the most.

I’m from “vanillaville” as my teacher friend Angie described it. I have an appreciation and love for others cultures. But I am awkward at starting conversations with people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Last year, I failed one of my few African American students by telling the class NOT to pick an African American name in a story. I wasn’t trying to be exclusionary, but rather protective. I was trying to avoid cultural appropriation. At the time my class was immature, sneaky and disrespectful. I thought I was avoiding conflict. But all that student heard was that she was not represented.

And she was right.

Today I attended a workshop on how to center diverse cultures in my classroom. The speaker was amazing. He described the difference between including BIPOC students and centering them. It’s the same as either welcoming someone into your home or making them feel at home. What a powerful description. ALL students should feel at home in their school and in their community. Not just be tolerated there.

The way to feel at home is to see yourself in the curriculum. See yourself in the history, the books, the teachers. It’s not enough to have someone just be nice. Your identity should also be included in the class in a balanced and natural way.

So what I need to do is what this presenter suggested. First, introduce a map of your community and talk about it. Ask questions about the geographical, population and historical information. Then, another day, introduce another place, in a part of the world that centers BIPOC. Discuss the geographical, population and historical ideas there. Discuss the music choices of the students in your class. Discuss the traditional music of the people in the target culture. Etc. You now have the background knowledge and context to talk about one place in reference to the other as well as the history, modern day struggles and products and practices.

You can then introduce a third place. Continue to highlight and feature different geographical locations. Weave in significant themes.

Make your students really SEE themselves represented as well as a variety of cultures. Allow them to see all the cultures on an even playing field. Look at life through a macro lens. This will help students see the commonalities of our cultures.

I have always wanted to show love and protection of people of difference cultures. It is painful to know that I have actually been part of the majority which marginalizes it. It’s time to correct that. When you know better, do better.

It’s time to take a good hard look how I can go deeper. How I can intentionally make more room in the curriculum and be consistent about it. I have Asian American students who rarely see themselves represented. I have LGBTQ students are at risk and often a source of ridicule by others. What I can -and must- do is to provide a safe, comforting home for all.

With gratitude to those who help me continue to learn and grow,

Please let me know your challenges, or ideas to help center our BIPOC communities in education.

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