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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Multicultural/Intercultural/Nonsexist Education

I am a big believer in the absolute necessity of constantly teaching with a multicultural perspective on everything. It is always important, regardless of the demographics of the school I am working at. If the school is comprised of upper-middle-class monolingual English-speaking white kids, their home cultures need to be valued and other perspectives need to be introduced so as to build a basis for understanding and acceptance of differences. If the school is comprised of Latino kids who speak Spanish at home and live in poverty, their home cultures need to be valued and other perspectives need to be introduced so as to build a basis for understanding and acceptance of differences. It does not matter who I am working with, what the students’ home lives are like, what their previous experiences are, who they live with, what language they speak; they should know that their lived experiences are valuable and important and so are experiences they are less familiar with. I believe that all children have the capability, and quite frankly, the desire, to learn about other people, other cultures, other ways of living.

This is a belief of mine which has most certainly been nurtured and developed in conjunction with my education courses throughout college and the specific professors with whom I have worked. I always forget though that not everyone has those same beliefs. And that is where we get into the murky distinction between “doing” multicultural education and incorporating it wholeheartedly into every aspect of the classroom.

My CT likely believes in multicultural education in theory. I’m sure if I had asked her if she taught with a multicultural perspective she would have said ‘yes.’ After all, the school is 75% Latino, to her that certainly means that the school is one which values multiculturalism. But, it’s not. At least her classroom doesn’t teach what I consider to be a value of multiple cultures and an understanding of gender equality.

There were several times throughout my student teaching when I wanted to do activities directly related to the cultures that are not the dominant white middle-class. Because despite the fact that the school has linguistic and cultural diversity, it always felt to me that the school was more acultural than anything else. It seemed to me to be lacking culture, as if my CT figured that by being a school with inherent diversities in the students, nothing else had to be done to “do” multicultural education.

I proposed several topics to her, for lessons that I wanted to teach. One lesson was related to Día de los Muertos. I wanted to incorporate Day of the Dead into the lessons I was teaching on other topics. I felt that the discussion of Mexico in the picture book I had checked out of the library would help maintain the students’ interest. I had several neat activities we could do involving Day of the Dead and the other specific activities I was supposed to be teaching. When I first started talking about this with her, I wasn’t asking her if I could teach this lesson – I was just informing her what my plans were. I didn’t think there would be any problem with it. She told me that she didn’t know if we were allowed to talk about Day of the Dead, and that I should email the principal to ask if I could teach my lesson. So, I emailed the principal, explained my rational and proposed activities, and asked if I was allowed to talk about Day of the Dead. A few days later, the principal saw me in the hallway and told me that he/she was going to email me a response the next morning. She/he never ended up responding to my request. My CT, a few days later, decided to tell me that I couldn’t teach that lesson.

“You can’t just teach something because you think it sounds like fun,” she said to me condescendingly. “Besides, I don’t think they need to learn about that cultural stuff yet. They’ll have time in the upper grades.”

I think my only response was a timid, “okay.” There wasn’t any arguing with her. I was confused though. Why did the principal never respond to my email? If my CT didn’t want me teaching the lesson in the first place, why didn’t she just say so? Why did she tell me to email the principal? Had they talked about this together and decided that I shouldn’t teach that lesson? (My CT is on very comfortable terms with the principal.)

So, I didn’t teach about Day of the Dead. Since then, there have been a few other times when I proposed a lesson with a multicultural or nonsexist theme and was basically shot down.

I’m actually afraid I may have offended her one time. Though I don’t think I am sorry about it. She suggested to me a graphing activity where each student would get a piece of paper to add to the class graph to chart their preferences of something. She got out a baggie of di-cut shapes that I could use that were very much gendered (one shape was clearly meant for the boys and one was clearly meant for the girls). I looked at the papers, looked up at her, and confusedly said, “I’m sorry. I can’t use those. I can’t give the boys [paper A] and the girls [paper B]. I’ll make my own cut-outs.”

She said just said, “okay” in an ‘fine, do what you want you crazy girl’ tone of voice and put the papers back where she had found them. We never spoke of it again. However, looking back on the incident, I think that may have been the start of the second phase of our relationship (read: the beginning of the intense passive aggressiveness on her part and the beginning of me asking fewer questions.)

Recently I asked her a question about something mentioned in the grade-level topics-to-be-taught schedule. It said that during the winter season the students are supposed to learn about ‘multicultural winter holidays.’ I asked what exactly that meant. She responded that the previous year she hadn’t actually done anything on that topic, but that some of the other teachers had done lessons on how Christmas is celebrated in other places. I asked about other holidays, like Kwanzaa and Chanukah, since when one thinks of ‘multicultural winter holidays’ Kwanzaa and Chanukah usually complete the list of three holidays talked about. Again I got the response of “oh, the kids don’t need to learn about that. The cultural things are too much for them, they shouldn’t learn about that yet.”

And really, that just killed me. It hurt me to hear her say that. I’ve been going back and forth in my mind for days, mulling over her response. Her total and complete dismissal of the idea of talking about non-Christmas holidays. Are the kids too young? Would they understand? Would that be valuable to them, learning about holidays that they don’t celebrate? Would they just be confused? I’ve been doubting myself, my own beliefs.

I don’t think they’re too young. I think that the seed for tolerance should be planted young. If students aren’t exposed to the ideas of traditions different than their own at a young age, these differences will be shocking to them later in life. It will be harder for them to accept the “other” if it is completely foreign. Besides, I have worked with preschoolers who have had lessons on ‘multicultural winter holidays.’ They can most certainly handle it. Yes, you have to make sure the lesson is at the students’ level. You have to make sure it is accessible to them. But you have to do that for any lesson you are going to teach them – a lesson on holidays/traditions is no different.

I feel that my desire to incorporate multicultural content into my lessons was at times discourage by my CT, and at other times outright forbidden. That makes me feel sad and frustrated. In a way, I was prevented from incorporating some of my core beliefs into my lessons, and that may have played in to the feelings I had of monotony and just going-through-the-motions. I wasn’t allowed to teach in the ways I feel to be most important. I continually had to be who my CT wanted me to be. I hope that when I have my own classroom I am able to let the true Me show through in creating my lessons. I hope to demonstrate my belief in the importance of a curriculum valuing multiple cultures and gender equality.

Additionally, I feel that if I had incorporated more cultural aspects into my lessons, made it so that my students could relate better to what we were doing, I may have had a different time with classroom management than I did. I know that nothing is a fix-all. However, the few times when I was able to incorporate aspects of the students’ home cultures into my lessons, they absolutely loved it – they were much more focused and attentive. Had I been able to create lessons they could relate to more than I did, I think they would have responded by maintaining attention.

I guess these are all things I will be able to explore more once I have my own classroom. I will have the control to implement the classroom practices that I find most valuable.


Blogger MsAbcMom said...

You are in a difficult situation. Thank goodness that you have a blog in which to vent!!! :-)

How very sad for your students that they are not allowed the opportunity to see things from a multicultural perspective. The best thing to do, as you have stated, is just suck it up for this year and when you have your own class, incorporate it how you like.

I know what you mean about the December holiday topic. I know many teachers who say that they teach about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as well but it is all under the umbrella of their Christmas Around the World unit. Many times they only do about a 5 minute lesson on Hanukkah and Kwanzaa so they can say that they taught it and then continue for 2 weeks on Christmas!
I love using the holidays to incorporate those holidays as well as the winter solstice, Las Posadas, Diwali and Ramadan. I always weave our state standards into the holiday theme so I can get the most bang for my buck.

My holiday dilemma for my room centers around years that I have Jehovah Witness kids. In my attempt to maintain a
multiculturally accepting room, I many times sometimes skip holiday learning, all throughout the year, so that I don't ostracize the JW student. I get ragged on by my peers and am told that I am punishing the rest of the kids by giving in to the JW student. That really gets my goat because they miss the point completely. In fact, I hear "we shouldn't stop our fun just because of one kid...send them out to another room." YIKES!

SOrry that I ranted here ... hang in there, your time is almost up. You are getting closer to having your own room and your students!!!

8:34 AM  
Blogger Ms M. said...

You are in a difficult position, and it is very frustrating not to be able to try things out on your own, the way you think they should be done.

I have a student teacher this year, and it's made me think a lot about my own student teaching experience. It's also given me the opportunity to think a bit about my former CTs.

I definetly think being a CT is as difficult, if not more than, being a student teacher. I have found myself doing some things that I swore I would never do to my own student teachers when I got them. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to share my classroom and let someone else try things out when I am not even at a point where I feel like I have it mostly figured out.

I teach much older students, so my stakes are also quite different because if mine don't pass their state tests they get held back. This has made me very controlling in terms of what I let my ST do in my room. I keep having it tossed into my reality by the administration that at the end of the day, this is my classroom and I will be held accountable for the progress that they do, or do not make.

These kinds of things (which of course are all caused by the obnoxious NCLB) keep me very constrained in terms of what I am willing to do in my classroom and what I am willing to let someone else do.

Again, I remember your frustration, it's not a fun place to be. You will have your own classroom very soon and can then try out whatever you wish, that is as long as it falls within the boundaries set by your admin. I found lots of those types of roadblocks pop up unexpectedly.

The CT/ST system can be good, but it USUALLY is mediocre at best. Don't let it get you too frustrated and just know, you'll be on your own soon, and you are learing a lot about how you want to approach your own classroom by looking at things your CT is, or is not doing for their students.

Good luck! (sorry, this is like a novel...)

9:53 AM  
Blogger Chris McNaught said...

I wonder if there is a school counselor in your building? I'm a school counselor in an elementary and a middle school. A big part of my classroom lessons involve awareness of and respect for the differences in others: cultural, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, etc.

I know that if a student teacher in my building were having difficulties with the "established routine" I would want them - even hope for them - to come to me. I might not be able to fix it, but I think I could help.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Not Quite Grown Up... said...

I'm impressed than anyone read this - it's long!

MsABCMom - That does put one in a predicament when there is a student who is a Jehovah Witness in the class. I don't know how I would deal with that situation - that's something I should think about.

Ms. M - I do understand, to an extent, the difficulty of being a CT. When I was feeling frustrated with an interaction with my CT, I would try to think about what my CT might be feeling too; and how I would feel if I were a CT. I truly don't know if I ever could host a student teacher - you do have to relinquish a lot. In a situation where the CT and ST have similar ideals, that's not incredibly difficult, but when the two have opposing, or even just slightly different values and ways of conducting a classroom, it can cause a lot of tension on both ends.
Also - thanks for the reassurance that the CT/ST relationship is usually not much better than mediocre. The other student teachers this semester ended up having surprisingly good relationships with their CTs, but maybe that is somewhat atypical.

Chris - thanks for the suggestion. Maybe my situation isn't as bad as it sounds. I think it is just that I am trying really, really hard to hold onto my ideals and not let them get eaten up by reality. I believe so much in the importance of teaching multiculturally that not being able to do so, being discouraged from doing so, makes me feel like I'm not trying hard enough. When really, I'm trying hard, I'm just working against something that I cannot change.

Overall, I’m glad I ended up writing this post, because it allowed me to identify some of the specific things that had bothered me throughout the semester. It helped me explain to myself why I felt some of the things I did.

5:39 PM  

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