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DIVERSITY IN THE CLASSROOM

Diversity in the Classroom


Toddrika Williams
EDU 290; Exceptionalities Child and Adolescent
Dr. P. Pritchard
October 27th 2016
Wesleyan College

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A teacher who acknowledges diversity as well as values diversity is inquisitive, openminded and understanding. Without the desire to continually learn about how diversity affects
each and every student, the very fabric of what makes a classroom good, accommodating or a
safe learning environment will come undone. When this happens the classroom will then have
failed to prepare the students to be productive members of the 21st century at large, outside of the
classroom.
I believe as teachers, our job will extend far beyond that of making sure that our students
are academically successfully. Yes, I believe academic success is important however, a bigger
part about educating is making sure that our students are socially equipped to be understanding
of individuals. This means preparing our students to be accepting of those who are not like them
whether that be understanding physical, mental or emotional differences.

RACIAL DIVERSITY/SOCIO ECONOMIC DIFFERENCES


I believe the first form of diversity we encounter as students and the first form of
diversity that teachers have to deal with within the classroom is racial diversity. This is the
diversity between actual race classifications, and ethnicities but also skin color or colorism.
Today, I believe if the average American classroom was surveyed they would have at
least three or more races within that school as well as just as many religions represented as stated
by Maxwell (2014) in the Article U.S School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone.
However, during the era of separate but equal, also known as the court case Plessy v Ferguson,
classrooms were not nearly as diverse as todays classrooms (not including the existence of
colorism).

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As stated by Nichols (2005), Brown v Board of Education made diversity in many


ways possible for students. This case granting the minority access to a better education, by
having both races benefit from interaction with those who were not like them.
The idea that students were separate but equal was an idea that many at the time truly
believed. A vast majority of society believed that simply because someone was darker than them
that made them different-that made them less human. With the court case Brown v BOE, slowly,
schools became integrated. With this however, once race was not an issue the next thing that
many kids were and are still judged by is socio economic status.
This was prominent my senior year of high school. The local Title 1 School had been shut
down students who attended that school merged into the school I attended. There was nothing
positive said about this decision. Teachers and students feared that our schools name would be
tarnished. Others believed our test scores would be negatively affected because of this decision.
This fear was solely based on the stigma associated with their socio economic standing. The
students that transferred to my high school were not seen as literate or as competent as the other
students. These students were bombarded with questions such as, Did you all have real
assignments to complete? What were they teaching you over there?! How did you even
make it to high school? Are you sure you are going to graduate on time? As this questions
were being raised, many of my teachers had a blind eye to it. It is important for a teacher to be
culturally competent so that she can be aware of how to be an effective teacher to someone from
a lower class or poverty situation, as well as someone who comes from an upper middle class
family.
Another example would be when I was in middle school, there was this boy who would
sit next to me and sleep all day and never do his work. Like clockwork, the teacher would tell

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him to be, more like me and do his work without even questioning why he had not done his
work. She assumed it was because he simply did not want to do it. She even called him lazy and
asked him what his future plans were. Somedays I did not do my work, but she never questioned
my future plans. I knew she did not ask me because of what she assumed about both of our
upbringings. I knew the student personally, and I knew he was quite intelligent. He was not lazy
as the teacher perceived him to be, he was homeless. This made it difficult for him to get rest at
night. These are things that must be considered whenever a teacher wants to make assumptions
about why a student is not performing at the average level.
I am sure that many students walk into a classroom year after year, as I did, with this
tunnel vision of how the world is. They may have never heard about court cases such as Brown v
BOE or Plessy v Ferguson just as I did not for most of elementary school. I believe this is
detrimental to the understanding of diversity because, when we are unaware about our past, it
tends to repeat itself. As a future educator, I could not watch that happen. I am all too familiar
with how detrimental it is to only be exposed to the White and Black of the world without any
shades of grey. Until I was fourteen, I grew up in Macon and only heard that someone either
acted Black or White. Even while hearing this, I knew I was more than just Black because I
identify as, yes Black, but also of mixed race. Upon moving to Atlanta and realizing that within
being Black and within being White, there are many grey areas and endless possibilities of racial
identification (such as East Africans vs. West Africans to Islanders to European White etc.) my
understanding of racial identity grew. My understanding grew because of experiences and as a
teacher I would like to provide experiences to my students so they too can deeper their
understanding of diversity.

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A 21st century classroom that discusses race would be an open classroom as mentioned
in Education Next (Cuban 2006), where the goal would be to have the students gain information
by working with one another and to essentially learn by doing. This way the class is not lecture
based where the students are being talked/taught at, as information is not retained this way.
In an open classroom, students will learn by doing and discussion. This doing could
range from celebrating various multicultural religious holidays, festivals or traditions rather than
just focusing on western traditions. In elementary school, during the month of December, my
fourth-grade teacher let us experience traditions from Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas. As I
got older I realized that this small celebration of diversity, was and is, important as it helped me
see beyond my own views.
The way I would approach race and culture within my classroom is explaining that it
makes each and everyone one of us diverse. I would explain the beauty of difference and explain
that our skin color or where we grew up does not define our capabilities. I would teach respect
and curiosity of other races while not overstepping boundaries. This is not a concept that may be
achieved in one full academic year but, I think it is important that once the students leave my
classroom, they have a better understanding and appreciation for those unlike themselves. This is
important because if a teacher only discusses the idea of one race being the human race, or the
idea that we are all students, racial matters will become trivialized as well as diversity issues.
GENDER IDNETITY, [SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND MINORITY
REPRESERNTATON
Another important topic that should be addressed in a well diverse classroom is the
understanding of gender identities. This is in my belief, having students aware that individuals
may identify as more than just girl or boy and or heterosexual or homosexual (there are

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classifications that are beyond these barriers). Unfortunately, even though an important topic,
topics such as gender identity are not discussed as much as race is. This may be because gender
identity and sexual orientation are not visible. I think a lot of classrooms fall short, in terms of
diversity, because most the time what is being taught is that, either someone is girl or boy. This
thinking is problematic in itself, as the grey areas are never explored. This may leave those
students, who evaluate themselves and find that they do not fit in these boxes or size up to these
labels, marginalized. A way in which these students can feel understood is by teachers not
separating the class during activities or instruction time, for example, into girl and boy lines or
girl and boy groups because this automatically divides the two and labels the children (Sparks
2012).
I have personally never discussed any other options of gender identity and sexual
orientation outside of the boy/girl gay/straight box when I was in elementary school. It was not
until high school when I heard of the L.G.B.T community which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and
Transgender. I remember being so confused by what any of it actually meant. I quickly learned
that this was an organization at my school that as my classmates explained, nobody joined unless
they either were gay. All through high school I was ignorant to what this club stood for and
even more ignorant to what the letters meant.
None of my teachers discussed gender identity or sexual orientation. Some even
discouraged such talk in most of my classes. They felt as if this was a way to protect those
who may have felt marginalized but, this kept those who suffered from this marginalization
without a voice and kept those like me ignorant. It was not until I attended college that I would
truly grasp the concept of what it meant to be ostracized and criticized because of sexual
orientation or gender identity. This was also the time I met those who identified themselves at

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different levels of what I learned as the, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer,
Intersex, and Asexual) spectrum. At Agnes Scott, we had many events where gender identity and
sexual orientation were discussed and those speaking would stand and say the pronouns which
they preferred to use and be addressed by. This was mind blowing to me, yet so simple. Why had
I not thought to ask someone what pronouns they preferred? It was because I had not been taught
about this form of diversity and had never been exposed to it. I lacked experience.
Getting to personally know someone who identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transsexual etc.
opened my eyes and helped me see my biases. From this, I gained a better understanding and
respect for those who do/did not fit in the stereotypical gender identity and sexual orientation
box.
From learning about this at Agnes Scott, I now see the importance and effects of
pronouns, labeling or lack thereof and representation of the spectrum. I intend to represent and
respect all forms of identity within my classroom by discussing the multiple ways in which one
chooses to identify with. Once again, this all starts with creating an environment where the
students feel safe, heard, important and not judged (Berkowicz 2014).
IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSE REPRESENTATION
As a future educator, I also hope and plan to question representation within my
classroom. I feel as though the majority of schools and text books glorify white cisgender,
heteronormative, able bodies whether that be in learning about settlement, advancements, art,
culture or literature while all other diverse groups are forgotten- But why? Why do we rarely
hear about Women pioneers? Black owners? Differently abled artists? They all exist! Why is it
not until higher education that we are taught to be socially conscious of the LGBTQUIA
spectrum?

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An example is me attending a PWI or Predominately White Institution and rarely seeing


a professor who looks like me, a Black woman or Woman of color. I had a 2nd grade teacher who
was Black growing up and she was my favorite teacher because I felt like she understood me on
a level that a teacher of a different race would not know. This teacher taught me to remember that
there was more history than what was just represented in the history books. I never knew what
that meant, as I was only in second grade, but now I know exactly what this means. The diverse
were always left out. They were in many ways always marginalized. In a way, she was saying it
was our job, as those who did not fit that mold of the norm to share the stories of those who
would never make it into the books so to speak.
Regardless of what the text books want to omit, it is the job of the teachers to make sure
that they fill in the gaps so that these gaps will not create a divide. This way we can lessen the
gap of ignorance, racism, prejudice and homophobia in our students so that they as adults can be
more understanding and accepting of diversity.
I believe the students who are aware of diversity will become more inquisitive and
sensitive as well all empathetic to the struggles of each individuals race, cognitive ability and
orientation without feeling pity because this can be counterproductive and hindering to growth
(Egalite 2015). The goal of learning about any type of diversity is to teach that is okay to be
different. We are all born different, even if we look the same on the outside. What is important is
that we get to understand each others differences and learn to help one another and acknowledge
that we each have a hand in how we make those different than us feel.
LEARNING STYLE/DIFFRENTLY ABLED
Lastly, one of the most important differences to understand within the classroom is
learning differences. A teacher can also show that she values diversity within a classroom when it

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comes to learning disabilities by being aware and conscious of her language. Especially when it
comes to the various levels of ability in her students, seen and unseen.
Language is one of the most diverse things about America, though we have English as
our official language many who have English as a second language call America home. I have
had numerous times within my two years of being a college student where there has been an
issue with the professor understanding a student (who is foreign or has a speech impediment) and
there is always that awkward moment where the teacher gets louder and louder and continues to
ask what? repeatedly as if they have a hearing problem. It is always in this moment where I
wonder how that student feels. They probably feel ostracized and extremely self-conscious and
the most obvious, misunderstood. Almost always after that day, that student never speaks in class
or asks questions. I take moments like those and remember that when I am a teacher it will be
important to try and communicate effectively with my students, and let them know that it is okay
to not sound like everyone else.
Also, the perfect classroom that respects diversity is accommodating and is open to
multiple ways of learning. I imagine the perfect classroom having different activities that
accommodate all kids while using the seven multiple intelligences in mind and as guidelines.
Armstrong (1999) lists them as linguistic, spatial, musical bodily kinetic, logical mathematic,
interpersonal and intrapersonal. I remember being in fourth grade and taking a test on what my
learning style was, my results were intrapersonal and linguistic meaning, I learned best when I
got to speak and interact with others. Each student took this test in my class and my teacher
would always have activities that accommodated each learning style. I know this helped me a lot
especially when it came to math as I was not the best with numbers. My teacher would try to

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write out in steps how to use a formula so I could understand it as well as verbalize the steps for
me.
Also, as mentioned before I believe that inclusion is one of important parts within a
successful classroom, as no child should feel as though they are too far removed from the
majority of the classroom (in this case academically behind other classmates). This also ties in to
FAPE which makes sure that each student with a disability is given a Free Appropriate Public
Education and this responsibility in part relies on the teacher as mentioned, in the Special
Education Outcome (Abidin 1981). Recently, I have been doing observations at The Georgia
Academy for the Blind and I am grateful that I have a teacher who I truly believe has mastered
inclusion.
Naively I went into The Academy thinking that each student is separated based on mental
ability and then visual impairment, little did I know that most classrooms are blended between
two age groups such as 3rd and 4th and then 5th and 6th etc. Then amongst those classrooms are
student from visually impaired, legally blind all the way up to completely blind. Within the
classroom I am working with, I observed there were two completely blind students, two students
who are completely blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other, and two others who are
visually impaired (their vision is expected to decrease over time). I watched the teacher whom I
am working with make-up lesson plans in braille, slow down her pace of reading and, allow
students to help one another just so that no one falls behind. This way everyone walks away from
the lesson knowing more than when they walked in the classroom. Each day I witnessed the
students grow as learners and as students.
Another way a teacher could incorporate a respect for diversity within her classroom is
by her addressing differences with an open discussion and sharing how she personally has felt

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different. This will allow for conversation about what it means to be different, how it feels to
be bullied, and how it can be prevented because as Dieterich (2015) suggests, kids with
disabilities are disproportionately more vulnerable to bullying which tends to affect them more
academically than a student without a disability. I firmly believe that bullying cannot thrive in a
classroom where the students fully understand diversity because, as stated in the article by
Viadero (2010), a climate that does not tolerate bullying and teaches social acceptance is one that
is bully free.

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I believe that true success of a teacher is not determined by how
academically successful her students are but how understanding and accepting her students are. It
is one thing for her students to simply know something and it is another for her students to
understand. If her students are understanding then they can comprehend, they can cope, feel,
sympathize, empathize and communicate on a level that transpires into the world outside of the
classroom. The goal that I will have for my students is to have success for the real world, the 21st
century. I want my students to leave my classroom able to make tomorrow better than today, and
that starts with teaching them the importance of understanding diversity.

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Works Cited
Abidin, Richard; Seltzer, Jeffrey (1981). Special Education Outcomes; Implications for
Implementation of Public Law 94-142. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 14(1), 28-31.

Armstrong, T. (1999). 7 kinds of smart: Identifying and developing your multiple


intelligences (Rev. and updated with information on 2 new kinds of smart. ed.). New York:
Plume.
Berkowicz Jill, Myers Ann (2014). Supporting GLBTQ Students: A Perspective from
Boulder Valley.

Cuban, Larry (2006, July 6) .The Open Classroom - Education Next. Retrieved
September 30, 2015.

Dieterich, C. A., DiRado Snyder, N., & Villani, C. (2015). BULLYING ISSUES
IMPACTING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES: HIGHLIGHTS OF SECTION 1983, TITLE
IX, SECTION 504, ADA, AND IDEA CASES. Brigham Young University Education & Law
Journal, (1), 107-134.

Egalite, Anna (2015, March 6). The Benefits of Minority Teachers in the Classroom. Real
Clear Education.
Herrmann, Erik. Cultural competence in the classroom: A key 21st-century skill. (n.d.).
Retrieved September 30, 2015

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Maxwell, Leslie (2014). U.S School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone.


Education Week. Retrieved October 21, 2015.

Nichols, D. J. (2005). BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION AND THE NO CHILD


LEFT BEHIND ACT: COMPETING IDEOLOGIES. Brigham Young University Education &
Law Journal, (1), 151-181.

Sparks, Sarah (2012). Scholars Say Pupils Gain Social Skills in Coed Classes. Education
Week. Retrieved October 22, 2015

Viadero, Debra (2010). Studies Probe 'Ecology' of Bullying. Education Week. Retrieved
October 21, 2015.