Respect in Teaching

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Multicultural Teaching: from Bias to Responsiveness

Teachers must prepare students to be responsible citizens in an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society; without such preparation the teacher is negating one of the prime directives of education, preparing students to be the future citizens.

When it comes to the social environment there is a vast amount of diversity to consider. To prepare students for a sustainable future, with a diversity of people that must interact through an increasingly interconnected world, the teacher must acknowledge and prepare students for the broader world outside of the classroom. To do this the teacher must be both self-aware and culturally responsive to the students in their classroom.

Through my coursework in diversity I have examined both my own history with diversity, my relationship with culturally responsive teaching, and the issue of diversity as it pertains to my content area.

In a set of blog posts I reflected on both personal narrative and academic research to examine both my personal biases and my desire to be culturally responsive to my students. It was not until I went through this process that I understood how little I like the idea of a melting pot. It is in the melting pot that we all start to look and sound like each other. I much prefer a world where everyone is proud of their cultural identity. Learning to differentiate between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, I wrote:

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Reflecting on my relationship with students, I also examined how I have historically interacted with cultural metanarratives and how I can better integrate student interests into my curriculum. One example of this is the student one-act play project that I have developed over the past several years that asks each student to respond to the project by writing about what they know.

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Further responding to industry trends and the teaching task of casting a play, I examined the relationship I have with casting students through non-traditional means, colorblind casting, and culturally specific casting.

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It is only through this through process that I can better understand who I am as a teacher, respond to my students needs, prepare curriculum that is culturally responsive, and prepare my students for a diverse and multi-cultural world.

When I teach in a diverse classroom (and every classroom is diverse). I must understand both what diversity I bring to the table, how students may initially view me, and what bias I also bring into teaching. By doing this I can respond to the needs of each student and check my bias before it enters my curriculum.

Some of the important lessons that I have learned, going through this coursework, are:

  1. Understanding my cultural identity allows me to talk authentically about culture
  2. Every student, regardless of ethnicity, has belonging to both minority and majority groups (race, gender, ability, economics, education, and more)
  3. Talking about diversity is difficult; acknowledging that I am not perfect at it both gives me permission to make mistakes with my students and gives my students permission to make mistakes as well
  4. There is no clear answer about what “the right” thing to do is when addressing diversity; for me the only thing I must maintain is respect for everyone in the room

It is my hope that students will be able to mirror and advance my understanding of diversity and culturally responsive teaching. While I may never actually teach a unit on diversity and our multicultural world, we must learn to sustainably work with people that are different from our own self.

Students learn from the environment around them. I can be only a part of that environment. I may or may not actually embrace the messages that they receive in their homes. I may create a conative dissonance for them; I may reaffirm what they already know and practice. Regardless, I believe I can and will model a path to a multicultural world where differences are embraced and built upon.

I would like to continually work to reflect upon and refine my personal understanding of both my cultural identity and my culturally responsive teaching. Specifically in my classroom, I will continue to demonstrate respect for and honor the multi cultural environment that we live in, continue to be culturally aware when I cast productions, begin to involve students in the decision of casting when it is culturally specific character, continue to encourage students to write from a place of cultural awareness and personal meaning, and challenge myself to work against my biases in the classroom.

Expect Diversity: Prologue and Epilogue

Expect Diversity in Teaching:

A Collection of Personal Stories and Reflections from Teaching that Mirror Multicultural Research

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

PROLOGUE

The parent of a former student of mine told me the following story. This story has had me thinking about my bias, as both a teacher and as a parent, for the past decade.

I think about this story often. How would I have reacted to the same situation? I want to raise my children without racial bias. I want to teach my children that the world is filled with good people that have a multitude of identities. I want my children to know that it is the diversity in the world that makes our world great. But, I understand that my bias (both inherited and developed) can come out in the most unexpected moments.

EPILOGUE

Returning to the story about the dinner guest, Ernie, I should tell the rest of the story because I wonder how I would have reacted. What if I was that father, standing there with my daughter? What if my friend ended the conversation there, turned and walked away in disgust? I would have ran after him and not been there for the rest of the story.

This former student of mine expected diversity. She expected Ernie to be orange. It was the bias of her father – and my bias hearing the story for the first time – that anticipated a social problem because of Ernie’s racial identity. I should expect diversity in my classroom too.

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Know Thy Subject: Expect Diversity

There is great controversy in the world of theatre when it comes to casting. Analogous to this is the classroom task of putting on a play. The philosophical question is the same. Does the actor need to match the part? In other words, do you need an actor that is black to play Martin Luther King Jr.; do you need an actor that is Italian to play Romeo; are there times when you must pay attention to the diversity that the actor brings to the part and other times that it does not and should not matter? At least in the professional theatre there is a larger pool of actors, however, the pool of actors, like the classroom, is limited to the people that show up.

With children, it is even more of a challenge. Nearly every part in mainstream plays are not for children. Many parts that they are asked to play are adults. There are not many plays written for kids; the plays that are written for kids are often lacking in content with a simplified script. The content that I want to teach, and the content that my students are ready for, does not exist in a simplified script that is written for kids.

I have developed several instructional strategies to manage this problem. I let students shape their own narrative by literally writing the script that they want to work on. This eliminates any issues of adapting outside content to my students. I encourage them to work with the stories that they know based on their own personal experience. By doing this, I get a wide range of stories. From these stories, I select an evening of varied performances. One of my favorite plays ever written by one of my students was half in English and half in Spanish. Few of my students speak Spanish. However, the play was excellent and deserved to be produced. The entire class had to learn, memorize, and personalize the text written in Spanish. When students asked the inevitable question of, “Why do we have to do this?” I responded, “because it teaches you about the world around you; this came from your colleague and from your community; not everything needs to be easy and comfortable for you.” I can have this response because I know that every student, regardless of their comfort level with the material, will still be treated with respect; also, I had my eyes opened because of a play that I had to work on with a context that was not comfortable for me.

When it comes to casting, I generally practice what is known as color-blind-casting.[1] Rarely do I have a play presented that mandates an actor with a particular trait. I always have actors that are between the ages of 10 and 14; I do not always have characters in my plays with the same age rage. Further it would be educationally irresponsible of me to cast a student, based on skills and abilities in a part that they were not ready to play or achieve in the context of the project. I have seen far too many productions that featured an actor, with an obvious diverse trait, that was not able to perform in that part.

One prominent example of this was several years ago. I was invited to watch a production of Grease. As it happens, this was for a summer camp and most of the people that had signed up for the camp were girls. The director cast one of the few boys in the production as Danny, the male lead and romantic attraction for Sandy. The girl that was cast was about 14 years old; the boy was about 8. There was agony for the entire play. Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between these two characters. The director was unwilling to reimagine the casting and make Danny female or cast a female actor in a male part. The show was a tragedy and there were plenty of female actors that could have performed in the part of Danny excellently.

Casting should be based on ability and in an educational setting that can get tricky because of our diverse society and the history that we all carry with us. However, there are plays that mandate an actor with a particular trait that cannot be faked. If I had a play that was specifically about black character, I would have to cast a black actor. Without this I would be risking community outrage or worse yet my decision would go unnoticed and another minority person would be overlooked because the homogenized white culture had absorbed them.

Lacking that black actor, I would not be able to perform the script; or, I could discuss the script with my students and identify the challenge and create dialogue about the production. But, that is about as far as it could go. Even though there are many movies where ethnicities are faked and an ethnically ambiguous actor plays a range of characters from different cultures, I do not think that I should participate in the problem. I have learned that when it comes to casting (and to teaching for that matter), I must be flexible and adapt to both the script and the classroom pool of actors that I have.

When it comes to student assessment, I can adapt to each student in the classroom. I use a rubric that is based on skills rather than student interpretation.[2] This allows the personalization of a text to come to the performance. The powerful thing about theatre is that it can, and should, change with each performance and each performer.[3] One interpretation should be different from the next.

Lastly, so that all students have a sense of belonging, I have only three rules for my content area. Respect yourself; respect others; respect the space around you. I ask students on the first day of class what these things mean. I ask them to give examples of respect. This is one value that is universal. However, the way respect is shown changes from one year to the next. Students must participate in the shaping of the classroom culture. Doing this sets the tone for everything else; teaching is a partnership between the students and the teacher, it cannot be done in a homogenous melting pot. Rather, the partnership is formed anew with each new class in a new and beautiful way.

Know THY STUDENTS, linked here.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

[1] Color-blind-casting is term that started with the idea that any actor of any skin color should be allowed to play any part. However, the term now applies to other identifiers such as, gender, physical ability, and age.

[2] Interpretation is one of the largest areas of bias an artist can have. As one who identifies as an artist, I recognize this and allow my students to express themselves through their bias and not my own.

[3] It is interesting to note though, this idea that performances change by the day is held primarily in Western Culture. In Kabuki, a Japanese form of theater the performance is passed on exactly from one master to one apprentice. This has preserved the art form for the past 400 years so that a performance today is nearly the same as it was when the art form first started.

Know Thy Students: Expect Diversity

“Our understanding of a group remains incomplete when the perspective of either the insider or the outsider is overlooked (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52).” Knowing the group is essential for anyone in teaching because teaching is a two-way relationship. Students must understand their teacher and the teacher must teach to the student understanding. How does one get to know their students? Multicultural education requires a dynamic curriculum that is derived from the interests of the teacher and the interests of their students (Mvududu, 2015). It is true that teachers must continually adapt and change their instruction. Early in my teaching career I had a challenging experience.

I was hired as an after school tutor. Previously, I had worked for a very middle-class and white population of middle and elementary school aged students in a one-on-one environment. Now, I was hired to work in a low-income and racially diverse school. I was to implement after school programming such as yard games and arts activities in addition to homework help. On paper, I was a great fit. In reality, I was not ready to do the work to form a relationship with students that saw this after school program as a holding tank that they had to stay at because their parents could not pick them up. One student in particular expressed this opinion nearly every day. Both a Pacific Islander and a musician, he loved to play a ukulele. I would frequently stop him from playing. I would tell him to put the ukulele away so that he could participate in my activities. “You can’t keep me here,” he would say as he stormed off and ran down the hall away from the gym, where he was supposed to stay. Because it was an after school program and because the school was already understaffed, I could not leave the gym. I had to call for support when this happened. The student was frequently angry. While I tried to treat the student with respect, it became difficult for me to do when he attacked my own identity. “You’re not like me, you wouldn’t understand.” I wanted to understand. But, the barrier that was between us was too difficult to overcome. I gave up and left the position as soon as a replacement could be hired.

Both of us, the student and myself, constructed a meta-narrative about each other. We both had an alien voice for each other. We both made assumptions about whom the other of us was. If we could have challenged our instinctual notions and in turn challenged the metanarrative, just as early African American Scholars did with the story of the Westward Movement (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52), there could have been change; we could have told the whole story, or at least have gotten closer to a full picture of each other. But, the damage of our mutually exclusive meta-narrative was done. We needed our stories to be unpacked. I wanted to help and he wanted to be heard. Sometimes we a set back because of the metanarrative that is given to us; this is the same story that we take as the truth about the world. We must question the metanarrative and ask to hear the voices that are put down just as the voices of the Native Americans were put down and adjusted in the footnotes of history. We, teachers, cannot sideline a student because we do not understand them. This of course crosses racial lines and includes any diversity that a student may bring to the classroom. We cannot make assumptions about the metanarrative they bring to the classroom. We must work to unpack and uncover the multiple narratives that talks about both the minority and majority experience of the student.

I understand from that experience that the job of a teacher is far more than instruction and organizing activities. The job of a teacher is to connect with their students. If I could do it again, I would. I would make more of an attempt to get to know this troubled student. I would ask him open-ended questions. I would share about my own ideas and try to find points of common connection. I would have let him play his ukulele and even lead the group in song. It would have been completely appropriate for the after school program. I bet he would have changed his mind about me. I bet I would have changed my mind about him.

If a teacher constructs a meta-narrative about a student they can become pinned down to that narrative. For me, that student will always be a troubled student that I was unable to reach. If I had implemented a dynamic curriculum that was responsive to the needs and identity of my students, I would have made a positive impact. “Multicultural education, as we’ve seen, supports just that dynamic, curriculum rising in part from the interests and backgrounds of diverse kids (Mvududu, 2015).” We must teach the students that show up in our class and use their cultural assets and interests to instruct them in the content.

Discussing my successes with culturally responsive teaching would be easy. I have now developed a program in my drama classes that demands that students talk about what they know and love. By making my curriculum implicitly responsive to the student interests (by having them create the content) I am forced into a culturally responsive stance. However, I must continually improve. Another recent challenge for me rests in a student that left the school before the year was completed. This student felt alienated; I can only assume the reasons. He is Middle Eastern with a very dark complexion. He looked black to many students and was often confused for African American. He is Muslim; this is a fact I did not learn until after his departure. He was incredibly short and believed that the NBA had a spot waiting for him. He was the last of seven children. Many teachers, including myself, believed that his parents had given up on him. We would have benefited from these wise words, “all families, no matter what their income, race, education, language, or culture, want their children to do well in school – and can make an important contribution to their children’s learning (Mvududu, 2015).” We tried to work with the family; but our work was far too late in the game. I tried, for about a year, to connect with this struggling student. He declined, often, to share details about his life

We cannot reach every student. As teachers, it is impossible to know every student as well as we should. It is an unfortunate numbers game. But, I still put the blame on my plate. I could have spent more time getting to know him and less time “supporting his academics.” I saw him as a struggling student and he stayed a struggling student.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Know THY SUBJECT, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Know Thyself: Expect Diversity

My daily survival does not depend on my knowledge of any minority culture. As Peggy McIntosh (2008) points out, there is a great deal of unrecognized privilege for those that are privileged. The observation on being white extends to many categories that I identify with; certainly, not every part of my identity rests in a place of privilege. However, without awareness of this, I could easily subvert these aspects of who I am. It would be easy to simply follow the majority culture and change my persona to match. Just as many teenage students of mine transform and manipulate their persona to fit in, I could easily do the same. My knowledge of minority culture would not need to be developed in any way and my daily survival would not be impacted in any way.

In fact, my teaching does not depend on my knowledge of any minority culture either. I can address the needs of the majority of my students without acknowledging the multiple narratives that students have about their cultural identity. I can teach standards and maintain a classroom with a positive relationship between every student and myself. But, I would be missing something.

The privilege of my white skin and my male identity that I enjoy sets up an unbalanced power paradigm. I do not need to adapt; without action from myself, I would be expecting my students to adapt. With every moment of this, I would be affirming the discrimination that had come before me; I would be sending it to the next generation of diverse citizens. Without self-reflection that turns to action, I have the privilege to remain ambivalent and can inactively choose to keep oppressive systems in place. As Hiam Ginott says, “I am the decisive element in the classroom.” I can and do choose to inspire my students by engaging their student voice – rather than continue their cultural torture that would exist with inaction on my part. Everyone, especially students that are developing deserve to be who they want to be and not who majority culture tells them to be.

Giving life to Howard’s idea of cognitive dissonance, where he describes being raised in a way that is different than the way he operates in his daily adult life (Howard, G. 1996, p 323), I grew up with a bland and homogenous understanding of racial equality that is different that what I know and believe today. I learned, through personal reflection that racial equality is much more than making everyone equals because the great melting pot actually erases history and makes a palatable story for the future and ignores the rich and multi-faceted narrative of a vast network of people. Instead racial equality is about honoring and giving voice to differences so that everyone can be celebrated.

The first step I must take is to understand myself. I must understand what I bring to the table in both bias and culturally responsive instincts. To start with my own identity, I grew with a very neutral definition of being white. I grew up in the white majority town of Eugene Oregon. Despite my parent’s liberal tendencies and a family history of fighting for equality, I had no significant exposure to people that needed racial equality.

I was not aware, really aware in a personal way, of the racial injustice that exists in the world on a daily basis. I was not aware of the constant cultural appropriation that I was raised on; this appropriation in my “cultural education” was what I thought was cultural appreciation. One such instance of this was my defense of a white blues singer – one who grew up with me – that had adopted a singing voice and accent imitating the voices of the Mississippi Delta despite his otherwise homogenous and white upbringing that mirrored mine.

In fact, despite my parent’s best efforts, they led a fairly stereotypical “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle. I grew up with a father that worked for the family income and a mother that took care of her kids; they had three children, one cat, one dog, and lived behind a short white picket fence in a very average middle class neighborhood. I had one “token” black teacher growing up. The teacher ignored racial identity and instead lectured about a very textbook based European History. I even had a Philippino best friend (but he was adopted at a young age and lived another average “white” life). I thought these people were evidence of my cultural diversity. Further, this friend of mine was blind and never saw himself as different. In his ears, everyone sounded the same. In fact, my awareness of racial identity, other than my whiteness, did not develop until I went to college. I was a product of my own socialization. This concept is more fully developed by the work of Howard (1996). The question is how we take the lessons of our own socialization and turn them into positive action. Once such powerful instance in my life happened my first year in college.

As a freshman in college, I had a teacher talk about art and the world from the perspective of the “black man;” he spoke about car doors locking when he walked down the street and people pre-emptively crossing the street to avoid walking past him on the sidewalk. I remember discounting his attitude; I am also certain that I was significantly, still to this day, affected by his attitude. The class was Textual Analysis for Theatre and we studied the play “A Raisin in the Raisin in the Sun,” by Loraine Hansburry; we even performed parts of the text. There we were, a classroom full of mostly white 18-year-olds, trying to dawn the personas from this black south-side Chicago family. The conversations between classmates after school was nothing but complaints, “how can they think I can play a black man that is half my age and from half-way across the country?” However, the experience was still valuable. If anything builds empathy, it is walking in the skin of the unfamiliar with the intention of being empathetic. There was no multi-cultural content in this class. I did not feel like my identity was valued or heard; this experience was exactly what I needed to develop as a person. The culture was completely different than what I had previously experienced. As a student I was not comfortable; Hillis (1996) would say that this helped me learn; if a student is comfortable in their classroom they will have a lessened ability to learn (Hillis, M., 1996, p 125). The classroom culture had to change completely for me to grow as a person aware of diversity.

This teacher knew his students. He knew that the shock value of having to go through the exercise of empathy would change our lives – and it did. I look at the world differently from that point in time. I was primed for deeper conversations about diversity and artistic responsiveness. My training as an artist has many similarities to my training as a teacher. Both fields require a personal performance of content where information is given and received; performances and classes vary (or should) depending on the people in the room, the comments made, the adaptations made for everyone in the room, and the relationships that both the teachers and all of the students have with each other. Both teaching and bring an artist are creative, reflective, and reactive for the practitioner; both are rooted in the community and intended to serve everyone that show up to the performance. My upbringing did not give me much to show up with. Growing up in bland white culture, I had little to talk about and identify with.

I now take the lead that Howard (1996) suggests. After reflecting deeply into my past and researching my ancestors I can reclaim my cultural identity. I have, for many years now, thought of myself as American, Irish, Scotch, and French Canadian. I am lucky that there are so many identifiable parts of my past.

Know THY STUDENTS, linked here.

Know THY SUBJECT, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

References:

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.