As Canadians, I like to think that we pride ourselves on being multicultural. We enjoy this romantic idea that we are inclusive of all races and culture, unhinged by discrimination or fear of the unknown. There is a universal notion that we exist in a judge-free, borderless zone that blurs line between racial differences and somehow unites a people. Why then are we still seeing systematic discrimination in our classrooms? In order for raw, uncensored learning to begin teachers need to peel back the layers of injustice and begin to understand the multifaceted enigma that is modern-day racism.
While completing my Masters Degree, I found myself being pulled towards this idea of creating success in the classroom for all students regardless of culture or race. I found that because Canada is such a multicultural country, we sometimes misinterpret this by believing that all our students can and will thrive in all learning situations with all different types of learners. However, my research found that because of this common misconception, teachers tend to structure their teaching towards a “mainstream” learner who tends to be of European background. This is purely unintentional by the educator, and most times they have no choice because of the way the curriculum is presented. It is simply easier to teach what you know, and because many (not all, of course!) teachers are of European background there is a tendency to lean towards ideas and teachings that are easily relatable to them: an anglo-saxon point-of-view. I am not criticizing this, it is all we have known for generation after generation. Plus, we confined to the curriculum we are mandated to teach! I commend teachers for their handwork and determination; I know from experience that there is not another job that continuously challenges the mind and creativity of a human being. However, by making these common “mistakes” (I use that term very loosely) we therefore wind up unintentionally leaving out our minority students and in turn accidentally hinder their long-term learning. When students are unable to see a representation of themselves in what they are learning, they lose focus and drive because they cannot relate to it. So what can we do? Here are three quick tips for creating an all-around inclusive classroom unbiased to racial minorities!
1. Learn Their REAL Names!
Many of our minority students shorten, phonetically sound, or simply change their names when entering into a Canadian school. Often times, we think this easier and are grateful that we do not have the burden of learning an uncommon name. However, taking the time to learn a students’ name will help them feel more connected to you as their teacher and their learning in your classroom. They will appreciate and value that you took the time to understand them. Many times minority students are not Canadian born, meaning they are away from their homeland, culture, and in turn, a part of their identity. A name carries weight in society, and mispronouncing, shortening, or changing a students name to better serve the needs of majority classmates and teachers is only further stripping them of their identity.
2. NEVER Ask a Student to Speak for an Entire Race or Culture
When generating discussion in our classrooms, it is easy to ask ballpark questions that lead our students to making connections to what we are learning. However, a common mistake is asking one or few of the minority students to speak on behalf of their race or culture. We view this as inclusive learning, allowing all students to have a platform to speak and an opinion on the topic, but instead we are only making matters worse. This only further alienates our minority students and deepens the gap between them and their mainstream classmates. Our minority students are not spokespeople for the culture to which they belong and we should not assume so. Instead, opt to propose open-ended questions that all students can feel excited about answering and mends the gap between them.
3. Understand Your Students (Inside & Out!)
As educators, we sometimes forget to make a conscious effort to bridge the gap between visible and non-visible minorities. Of course most educators make an effort to be sensitive towards the colour of a students’ skin or their Religious beliefs while teaching, but what about how they’re feeling on the inside? Though all of our students are all learning the same curriculum, it is important to remember that they will learn it differently depending on where they come from. Our backgrounds, cultures, and home-life all impact the way we learn and how we learn it. This means that the content you are covering in class is resonating on different levels with different students. The simplest way to explain this idea is to imagine that from kindergarten, the bulk of what you learned had a focus on another race and culture. You were underrepresented and misinterpreted through books and lessons for most of your lives and therefore found it hard to connect to what you were learning. That is how our minority students feel. Put yourself in their shoes, what would they want to learn about? Explore content that represents many different cultures and allows your students to relate on a different level!
Understanding this multifaceted, complicated realm of race and culture in education can be exhausting! Do you have any tips or stories you’d like to share about dismantling racial boundaries in the classroom? Share them below!