Diversity in the Classroom

Jennie Kroeger

As we celebrate Black History Month, we are exploring the topic of diversity in the classroom. We reached out to Ella-Mae Daniel, teaching faculty in FSU's Elementary Education program, for her thoughts.

1) How can teachers can make their classrooms more diverse?

There is a broad range of lived experiences brought into the classroom environment by the ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse students we are charged with teaching. As educators, we have a commitment to creating an inclusive community of learners where respect for these differences is a priority. Educators can make a difference in their classroom by knowing and understanding the cultural background of students, as well as help them to know, understand and respect each other's. A conscious effort to include diverse perspectives and instructional materials in the learning environment should be a priority, especially in rethinking how instructional strategies and information help students connect with the teacher and each other. Being proactive in addressing the needs of diverse students ensures parental involvement, makes parents feel valued, and fosters a deliberate and inclusive learning community. These examples serve to view the lived experiences students bring to the classroom as an instructional resource for bridging the cultural divide between students, teachers, and the school community.

2) How does a more diverse classroom benefit students? Benefit society at large?

Our educational systems represent the racially, ethnically, and culturally complex diversity present in our nation, creating complex and diverse benefits running in all directions for classrooms and society at large. Exposure to others who are fundamentally different from ourselves creates opportunities for our students to interact with others from different cultural backgrounds and orientation, benefiting their cognitive, social and emotional well-being and their ability to respect and appreciate differences as a positive valued asset. To think about the benefits to society at large means to think critically about ways diverse environments affect individual growth, as well how diverse classrooms create members of society who are aware of, alert to and able to critically challenge assumptions that communicate inequality, disadvantage, stereotypes, and open hostility towards others who are fundamentally different ' especially those ideals based on misinformation about diversity.

3) What are some benefits to having more diverse teachers?

Addressing the controversy of diversity in schools can best be addressed by having a diverse teaching force. The benefits of having more diverse teachers goes beyond the view that a match between the race/ethnicity of teachers and students lead to higher student achievement. I would argue that students of color, particularly those from disadvantaged environments, benefit more by having teachers who look like them and share the same cultural background.

It has been my experience in working within and across diverse educational systems that students ' particularly ones of color ' like having adult role models who look like them in positions of authority, especially if they believe that the adult cares about them, respects their background and shows empathy to their needs and lived experiences. In short, they want to be able to self-answer the questions, Do you, the adult, see me through the lens of who I am and where I come from? Do you take into account my lived experiences and still have high expectations for me? However, if we can prepare a teaching force with this understanding and who can edit what they think they know about working with diverse students, then there won't be a need to ask this question; we would have a diverse teaching force, by the sheer brilliance of training teachers to be culturally responsive to all students, not just those who come from economically disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds.

4) How can we encourage people from different ethnic backgrounds to become teachers?

Encouraging people from different ethnic background to become teachers means taking a proactive stance in recruitment into teacher education programs. More emphasis on establishing and maintaining relationships with surrounding communities should be part of the broader recruitment strategy, not just for recruiting different ethnic groups. University teacher education programs should serve the education needs of its surrounding communities, focusing on its state, regional, and national identities and commitment to increasing access to higher education for the targeted ethnic groups, who need to see themselves represented specifically.

Also, using a variety of advertising venues to attract applications highlighting the targeted ethnic communities through liaisons within community organizations shows commitment ' not just a recruitment strategy. A more personal touch of offering taster courses/workshops on becoming a teacher for minority ethnic groups and other underrepresented groups in partnerships with Local Education Agencies and professional organizations will create a grapevine in promoting teaching as a profession and has potential to foster personal recommendations of ethnic minority groups.