Teachers, Be Courageous in the Face of Unjust Laws (Opinion)

(This is the second article in a three-part series. You can view part one here.)

The new question of the week is:

What are your suggestions for making English classes culturally appropriate?

In part one, Jacquleyn Fabian, Marina Rodriguez, Stephanie Smith Budhai, Ph.D., and Jennifer Yoo-Brannon shared their answers.

Jacquleyn, Marina, Stephanie and Jennifer were also guests on my 10 minute BAM! Radio program. You can also find a list and links to previous shows here.

Today, Margaret Thornton, Denita Harris, Ph.D., Chandra Shaw, and David Seelow are pitching their ideas.

‘Now more than ever’

Margaret Thornton is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University. His research interests include equity-focused school leadership development, school leadership for disruption, and critical race theory:

Be brave.

Prior to far-right culturally appropriate education, English teachers were already struggling to meet the diverse needs and interests of their students while helping them hone their critical thinking skills. Now that work has become both more difficult and even more important.

Students from historically oppressed backgrounds deserve mirrors where they can see themselves in the classroom. This attitude has the added benefit of being not only culturally sustainable for students, but also beneficial to their learning.

And now, more than ever, students from privileged backgrounds, especially white students, need to be exposed to literature that invites them to consider other perspectives.

Taking on these tasks is no small feat and is made more difficult in states that have actively banned discussion of race, student families, and other topics out loud. minority controversial judge. School leaders must do all they can to protect teachers from these blatant and unfair laws, and teachers and families can work together to overturn them.

“Use Their Authentic Voices”

Denita Harris, Ph.D., is the Assistant Superintendent for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Wayne Township School District in Indianapolis. She is the recipient of the INTESOL (Indiana Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages) 2019 Best of the Best in K-12 Education and the African American Excellence in Education Award 2017 and 2020. Find her on Twitter @HarrisLeads:

In order to make English lessons more culturally appropriate, educators need to be culturally aware and have a deep understanding of their personal inner culture, the culture of the students they serve, and an equity lens that s extends beyond the classroom walls.

Educators must ensure that classrooms invite both students and carers so that our young people understand that not only handing in homework and getting good grades is welcome and strongly encouraged, but also their humanity ; so is their culture. Educators should engage all students in a balanced and culturally appropriate approach that allows students to use their cultural lens to demonstrate their levels of English proficiency as they apply their learning to the four domains of language: reading , writing, listening and speaking.

Cultural responsiveness goes beyond the superficial level of receptive and productive skills that focus primarily on food, famous people, events, and vacations. While these things are certainly part of their culture, students today have a deeper desire to be seen and heard in the books they read and the written essays they are commissioned to write and discuss. Students should be exposed to and required to interact with a plethora of literature, materials, and resources that reflect their rich culture, as well as the culture of their classmates. Students should see visual reflections of themselves as soon as they enter the classroom, with displayed images of people who look like them, as well as various languages ​​and countries displayed throughout the room.

There should be books, essays, poems and articles for students to read throughout the year, written by authors representative of a global society. Students should be able to use their authentic voice in their writing, tell their own stories and do so while engaging in class discussions about how certain characters might react if they came from their country or of their neighborhood.

The English classroom can easily be one of the best places in a school for students to fall in love with learning. We can all appreciate that educators have a responsibility to teach academic standards, and this can be done more successfully when there is a cultural connection between students and classroom materials and resources.

cultural responsivenessharris

We need more teachers of color

Chandra Shaw has over 24 years of experience in the field of education, working as a teacher, reading specialist, instructional coach, and now a literacy consultant at one of her state’s Regional Service Centers. As a TEDx speaker and amateur YouTuber, Chandra enjoys finding ways to share her passion and love for teaching and learning with educators around the world:

If English lessons are to be culturally appropriate, one thing we can do is ensure that students in classes see themselves represented in the books and stories they read. We also need to ensure that these representations show a wide range of diverse experiences within the groups because no group of people is a monolith. Allowing all students to read and discuss the lived experiences of others can lead to greater understanding and the revelation that we have much more in common than differences.

A bigger challenge in making English classes more culturally appropriate would be to ensure that classes are taught by educators who see the value and beauty of different cultures. The data tells us that the teaching profession is made up of almost 70% white women, which does not match the demographics of students in public education. For this reason, I have seen many teachers turn away from texts that might show different cultures for fear that they would not know how to navigate uncomfortable conversations or questions that might arise from reading such texts. Worse still, some of these teachers do not feel they can identify themselves with texts written by and for marginalized groups, which only shows a major disconnect between a majority of teachers and students. that they serve. This underscores the importance of the representation of people of color in education.

Being culturally sensitive starts with seeing the similarities AND differences in others and valuing the beauty and uniqueness that makes them who they are.


Use literature

David Seelow has been teaching in higher education and grades 7-12 for 30 years in a variety of settings. He recently edited two collections of practical essays on innovative teaching practices: Teaching in the Game-Based Classroom: Practical Strategies for Grades 6-12 and lessons learned: Essays on the pedagogy of comics and graphic novels. Find him on Twitter at @davidfreeplay:

Literature offers a simple and fruitful way to make every English/ELA class culturally appropriate. You cannot teach literature without having deep conversations about the many cultural factors that impact both the creation and reception of literature.

For example, Shakespeare’s teaching othello requires discussion of race and teaching As you like it requires classroom discussions about gender. Shakespeare, of course, spoke not only to Elizabethan and Jacobean England, but he also speaks to our time. The musical and movie “West Side Story” brings Romeo and Juliet in conversation with modern Hispanic culture. Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 reinterpretation of star-crossed lovers introduces a Renaissance family feud into the context of modern organized crime and disputes over business “territory”.

The tricky part of being culturally sensitive is the politically charged atmosphere of our culture. Yet this is why literature is perfect for such culturally sensitive teaching. Let class discussion of literary texts spark discussions of race, gender, religion, class, and nationality. Avoiding or ignoring these questions would be irresponsible and would do students a disservice. For me, these kinds of text conversations can be extremely productive. This strategy requires students to question the areas that are essential to their maturation as students and learners while exposing them to different cultural experiences.

My favorite couple has always been The autobiography of Frederick Douglas and Elie Wiesel Night. The horrors of slavery and the horror of the Holocaust must be studied. Talking about these powerful short works as part of the story understood through the lens of personal experience educates students about the tragic experience of African Americans and Jews while enhancing their understanding of religion, race , nationality, identity, etc., in addition to appreciating great writing, the human spirit and the value of freedom.


Thanks to Denita, Chandra, Margaret and David for their thoughts!

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James C. Tibbs