12 Jul

Creating a Culturally Inclusive Classroom

When I told my uncle we were planning to visit Santa Fe, he made fun, arguing that Santa Fe is exactly what Hollywood says Santa Fe should be, not what Santa Fe is.  He had all kinds of arguments about how settlers from Missouri… and that’s about when I tuned him out.  My sister argued back that she likes what Hollywood says Santa Fe should be.  And who wouldn’t?

A lot of times, we treat culture as more of a caricature of itself.  Especially in the classroom.

I work with a population of students very different from myself.  Culturally.  Racially.  Socio-economically.  But there I am.  Sticking out like a sore thumb.  It’s a very real, obvious difference.

My students get upset with me, and because of these differences, they suddenly call me a racist.  I rant about the situation to fellow teachers, and I usually make some silly remark like “Right… because he’s the only black kid in my classroom…”  And while I certainly don’t think I’m a racist, I do know that I am not nearly as culturally sensitive as I should be.

I treat my kids like an “authentic” market in Santa Fe where everything is made in Punjab, India.  (Some have queried if they chose this location in order to still call the products “Indian”.)  I might do the right things on the outside, but I still have a lot of prejudices festering under the surface.  I say things like “my students are so different than I was at that age”, when realistically, I could more easily say “my students are so similar to me at that age”.

Our commonalities far outweigh our differences, and I need to remember this when I’m wondering why on earth a student made the choice he did.  … because in the end, the students love the ways in which we’re similar.  They love that I can say “Of course I shot rubberbands at my brothers growing up, but that fact does not make it ok at school!”  It’s human to make mistakes.  It’s human to deal with consequences.  They should know that I’ve had similar struggles to behave appropriately, and I still do.

None of that is to say that cultural differences don’t exist.  Just that maybe I should focus a little less on all those differences, and a little more on all the similarities.

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