America is a place where millions of people from diverse cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds work, learn and live together. For this reason, teachers should plan their daily lessons with all of their students in mind rather than teaching to a perceived "norm." By considering and accommodating each child's background, teachers can create a learning environment in which all students feel respected.
Become an Anthropologist
Teachers should learn everything they can about each of their students, even if it requires research, professional development courses or contacting family members to discuss a student's home life. Teachers who make this effort will better understand their students' actions, reactions to discipline and praise and overall abilities. For example, a student who is being reprimanded might not make eye contact with the adult speaking to him and might be silent when asked for an explanation. A teacher who is unaware of cultural differences may take the student's silence as disrespect, but a teacher who has studied the nuances of his students' cultures will know the student's reaction demonstrates respect. Cultural awareness is a way teachers can avoid misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions.
All students should feel welcome in class, including recent immigrants who might speak a different language at home. The teacher who wants to avoid cultural bias will create an inclusive environment by teaching literature, art and other subjects across the cultural spectrum. She could also broaden the language skills of all students by labeling desks, doors and other classroom features with their names in multiple languages, including English. The students who don't speak much English at home can easily see an item's name in English, and English-speaking students learn other names for familiar items.
Many children become anxious or uncomfortable when talking about differences among classmates. Teachers can alleviate this by celebrating differences whenever they can and approaching them as positive elements that enrich the learning and social environment. Students could be asked to bring a family heirloom for show and tell, or students could bring a traditional family dish for a multicultural potluck. Teachers should consider cultural differences when addressing certain holidays. For example, celebrating Columbus Day may offend Native American students and their families. An alternative approach could explore how people from different cultures celebrate certain religious or patriotic holidays.
Educators should choose unbiased materials when planning their year. Even today, many history and social studies textbooks bend facts to fit a story line that favors the dominant culture, and they often ignore the contributions of ethnic or racial minorities and women. Teachers can avoid this by providing students with material that reflects diverse perspectives and by encouraging students to discuss how different groups perceive history and current events.
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images