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
“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.