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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, open-

minded 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 today’s 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 school’s name

would be tarnished. Other’s 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 student’s 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 individual’s 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 other’s 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
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it 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.