Hi again, from Holyoke. It’s been a while since I last touched base, and part of that is intentional but also part of that is not. In the past three months, I have adjusted to the cold, visited my family (!!!), and become a better classroom manager. I still have not figured out a successful work/life balance (although it is definitely improving), nor have I broken out my gloves and earmuffs. On the whole though, I’m living my best life and my students keep my life exciting every single day.
That’s not quite what I want to discuss today, but it’s still worth a mention. Something that’s been on my mind for quite a while now is the topic of diversity in my community. As I’ve mentioned before, Holyoke’s population is pretty evenly mixed but the district population is more heavily skewed towards POC. In my classroom, an interesting statistic to note is that everyone in my classroom identifies or would identify as a person of color. When teaching in a classroom that fosters diversity, it is important to note the following:
- Celebrate everyone’s unique identities. While most of my students are Puerto Rican-American, it is important to validate the other identities in the room: multi-racial identities are just as valid. Each person internalizes their identity and culture in a different way, so don’t try to place them in any boxes.
- Expose them to other cultures. I live with two incredible Latina women who speak Spanish with their students (at the same school), but they truly shook our students when they announced that they spoke Spanish not because they were Puerto Rican-American, but because other Latinx cultures speak Spanish. In a similar vein, my background as an Indian-American who is from California has been fascinating for my students to see: some parts of my identity come from living in California, while other pieces come as a result of my Indian heritage. This distinction and normalization is important to me, because awareness can be racism’s best antidote at this age.
- Show them relevant examples in curriculum. My students are currently working through a Puerto Rican unit on the revolt of the indigenous peoples (the Taino). This kind of representation was 110% lacking in my own education, and working it into the curriculum intentionally lets them see that voices like theirs matter. (I’m currently trying to brainstorm how to fit it into math and/or science, please reply with ideas.)
- Shut down discriminatory comments. Letting students bully others and now drawing a hard line on derogatory comments gives the message that students are allowed to be mean to other students or groups of students, which will harm them later on in life.
- Build a staff culture that incorporates student identity and draws from staff identity. At my school, the staff is largely composed of POCs from various backgrounds (though I recently rediscovered that I am the only Asian), and capitalizing on the connections that we can make with our students has largely impacted the work we do. Having a staff that will instantaneously support you makes it much easier to report to work at 6:30am, and diversity in perspective is never a bad thing.
I’m sure there will always be a countless number of tips and tricks to navigating diversity in schools, but this is a pretty good culmination of my position as an Indian-American woman teaching a largely Puerto Rican-American group of students. I’ll likely catch ya on the other side of 2019, happy holidays!