15 3.1 Student Diversity
When you envision your future classroom full of students, what does it look like? How does it sound? What do your students have in common? How do they differ? Reflecting on these questions is valuable. Hopefully, you will come to understand that you will not be teaching a class of students as much as a collection of individuals, each with their own strengths, talents, weaknesses, personalities, and needs. There are many ways in which your future students may differ. The following is a brief overview of some of the myriad factors that will make your students unique and, in some cases, challenging.
As defined by the National Education Association (www.nea.org, n.d.), diversity is “the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different” (para. 1). The NEA goes on to list a variety of dimensions that are included in diversity. Some of these are: “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class and immigration status” (para. 1, www.nea.org, n.d.). It is such diversity that creates both richness and challenge within a classroom. The variety of students in one’s classroom provide many opportunities for learning and growth for everyone in that community. Concurrently, such diversity brings with it many related challenges, such as the need for differentiated learning techniques to meet every student’s needs. Individual perspectives relating to diversity can provide the fuel for bullying and harassment of students. And these are just two potential issues; there are many more.
Reflect on the following:
What does each of these mean to you? Where do you fit in each of these categories? What was your school like regarding diversity on these levels? Is anything missing?
You might identify your own attitudes toward diversity by remembering certain pivotal moments in your life. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Recall the incident in which you first became aware of differences. What was your reaction? Were you the focus of attention, or were others? How did that affect how you reacted to the situation?
- What are the “messages” that you learned about various “minorities” or “majorities” when you were a child? At home? In school? Have your views changed considerably since then? Why or why not?
- Recall an experience in which your own difference put you in an uncomfortable position vis-à-vis the people directly around you. What was that difference? How did it affect you?
- How do your memories of differences affect you today? How do they (or might they) affect your teaching?
Another term we hear used a lot regarding today’s classrooms is multicultural. When you think of the word culture, what comes to mind? The word means different things to different people. Culture is a very all-encompassing concept and includes the many things that combine to make one community or group different from another, such as their: values, clothing, religion, holidays, traditions, language, music, literature, beliefs, and expectations (Alsubaie, 2015; Perso, 2012). If we look at a culture that way, it is clear that everyone is coming from their own unique cultural experience, including students and teachers. The culture of the teacher and the students in one classroom will affect the education process found there (Alsubaie, 2015). It is, therefore, crucial to seek to understand both your own background and cultural beliefs and those of your students. As stated by Alsubaie (2015), “teachers who learn more about their students’ backgrounds, cultures and experiences will feel more capable and efficient in their work as teachers” (p. 88). The more aware you become of your own personal set of beliefs, values, and expectations, and even of your own biases, the better able you will be to seek to understand your future students.