Diversity: Teaching Unity for Progression
Written By: Mac-Z Zurawski
As we challenge ourselves to use education to “bridge the gap between dreams and reality” for our students, we must include diversity.
Diversity in the community classroom is a natural endeavor. A community classroom (classes outside the collegiate atmosphere usually taken in community centers, non-profits and some corporate places) will be filled with multi-ethnic, rural and urban, and various socio-economic levels. Yes, CEO’s return to school alongside former union employees from GM, Motorola and the like. We may recognize faces of our neighbor as well. It’s a feeling of unity and harmony that we create through the proper expression and inclusion of diversity. My goal here is to encourage expansive inclusion of diversity in conversation, materials, classroom activity and personalized interaction for the melting pot classroom.
Confirm individual experiences and challenges. Create and utilize reflective questions lending insight and endorsement of individual student’s thoughts and information process. When students share their diverse background they begin to trust each other and unify the group. The discussions enlighten the teacher and students to any stereotypes that need to be eliminated. These are especially helpful during the first few sessions as boundaries and expectations on student’s actions and feelings on diversity are cultivated. It is especially important due to the unstable situation of volunteer students. They are more apt to quit if they feel they are not accepted and included. We, as leaders, need to create a safe and comfortable classroom experience. A great resource is The Handbook of Race and Adult Education: a Resource for Dialogue on Racism by Brookfield et. al.
Example: My ESL “current events” conversation class is a great example of including diversity. My first class began with introductions. As OWS was gaining momentum in Chicago, I created an icebreaker game based on my student’s involvement or recollection of protests from their home countries. I started by asking “what type of protests have you been witness to from your home countries?” An interesting conversation began as my students are from several countries including Mexico, Burma and Tokyo. Three different types of government and experiences. This allowed me to get to know my students backgrounds and feelings on American freedom. Par the course of a politically focused classroom. This conversation gave me insight into the type of information my students were looking to learn in the class as well. Yes, they wanted to use the news as a means to learn the political and justice system. “Why do people protest the rich? Why are people allowed to protest for so long?” etc. I was lucky to have such inquisitive students.
Resources: Cathy’s Cards (http://www.newreaderspress.com/Items.aspx?hierId=0510), Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms, by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill, and edchange.org respect game (http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/activities/activity1.html). A simple Google search for diversity in the classroom conversation starters or icebreakers will set you on the right path.
Admit it, the internet has allowed teaching to reach higher levels of interaction and methodology than ever before. This is especially true in the search for materials: books and articles are no longer on hold or awaiting a due date. It has opened the door for students to be individualized in the classroom. The old history books omitted vast ethnic stories and truths. Now, we can include our student’s history. Be an explorer for your student’s connection to the class, lessons and each other. Be a treasure hunter for books, journal articles and news pieces that accentuate your discussions and assignments. Students are much more motivated and connected to any assignment or course when they feel they are a part of it. Every subject can be connected to an African-American, rural, urban, and poor or immigrant experience. There are many lessons to be learned. While learning about each other the stereotypes will disseminate. You open doors and minds when students learn about one another. Be a stepping stone to world peace.
Example: My students for GED preparation are African-American. I search out adult reading comprehension stories that deal with civic African-American history. We read short stories on Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. They know I not only care about them as students but as individuals. I teach them a history about themselves. My Asian students in ESL conversation class are thrilled when I bring news articles related to the Japanese flood or Chinese New Year celebrations. I include all of my students’ ethnicities in our class work. They feel connected to the course, me and their progress.
Resources: Call your alumni association and ask for a pass for their library resources to find free journals and books, most public libraries have article and journal databases check out Chicago’s at chipublib.org, easy to learn and connect civics lessons at http://elcivics.com/ and a reviewed and downloadable/printable list of pro-ethnic teaching articles at http://www.edchange.org/handouts/history_and_social_studies.pdf.
Restorative Teaching and Learning
Integrated classrooms have always been a part of American life. We have always been the salad bowl or melting pot society. Even though we have lived amongst each other problems may arise. A few quick tips on bringing all students up to speed on unacceptable behavior. First, hand out a copy of the Civil Rights Act on the first day of class. Have a deep discussion on this and what is and isn’t appropriate. Your students will have a very clear sense of what is right and wrong.
Drop Box People may feel intimidated to report racial slurs. Leave a small box on your desk for comments and questions. If someone has a problem they can drop you a note. You can then take swift action to amend the problem.
Restorative Justice A restorative discussion allows the student body to be addressed and included in any reactions to the responsible party. This way the student making racially insensitive comments and the class can have a chance to give their views as to why something is wrong. It’s important that people learn from their mistakes not just serve a demerit. If the problem escalates please seek administrative assistance from the Executive Director or HR department. In small non-profits or other community teaching centers there a few staff members. Include them in seeking reparations and ceasing the disorder. Adults learn quickly and will not want to be ostracized from their “community” class mates.
Unity is Key
I have learned many elements of diversity from being a teacher in a diverse setting with diverse people. I have learned to love my volunteerism, community and world through the eyes of others. I hope these tips and resources will be of great use to all of you. Please remember that your own confidence is a key part to classroom unity. You need to be confident that you are including and guiding your students to a brighter future. Even though the community classroom (classes outside the collegiate atmosphere usually taken in community centers, non-profits and some corporate places) lack resources, time and space. We can overcome anything when we want to be involved in something. The more you draw your students to the class the greater success you will have. Volunteer teachers and students create amity and curiosity. We all wonder why we are together but like when we are. Good luck!
Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, suggestions and/or improvements. It is my intention to help “bridge the gap between dreams and reality” for students and teachers.Together we create rich learning experiences.
Mac-Z Zurawski is an active community instructor in adult education throughout Chicago. She instructs an adult ESL Current Events class at Aquinas Literacy Center (aquinasliteracycenter.org) and tutors Adult GED and US Citizenship Coaching through Chicago Cares, Inc. She blends andragogy and technology to create active learning environments. She was inspired to support others by watching her young son struggle with a severe speech impairment that has led into delayed learning process. “If he feels frustrated, an adult must be even more stressed by lack of support”, she says. She is a board member for the Midwest Sociological Society’s Committee on Women in the Profession. Her goal at the MSS is to create workshops on networking in academia and support for new comers to the field. As a member of the Working Women’s History Project, she supports educational awareness of women’s history. Ms. Zurawski believes education is a positive and lifelong action to help adults “bridge the gap between dreams and reality”. Her education is based on Political Science, Social Justice Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Sociology and Criminal Justice. he is actively pursuing employment in these fields in higher education. diversity.