As a child, I never went to bed hungry, worried I may not have a place to sleep, wrote a letter to a parent in prison, or nursed a parent with a chronic illness. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for some of my students. I grew up in a two parent household with an older sibling in a nice suburban neighborhood. I was fortunate enough to have an involved stay-at-home mom, exciting family vacations, and lots of love and support. While life wasn't completely void of ups and downs, I certainly don't have any complaints. My background isn't necessarily the norm for the majority of students that walk into the classroom. A buzzword in education that speaks to our classroom populations is diversity. This term may bring to mind our ESL students or the different races and cultures within our classrooms, but these students probably only represent a fraction of the true diverseness that sits before us.
Merriam-Webster defines diversity as: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements1:
VARIETY; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization <programs intended to promote diversity in schools>.
Another word associated with diversity is variety……it's the spice of life, right? It's also what makes each classroom unique. Without the spice, my career as an educator wouldn't have the heartfelt and heartbreaking moments that make it so rewarding! Unless you're teaching a class full of Mini-Mes, diversity is all around you. We need to see each student and embrace each face that enters our classroom.
A classroom of diverse students offers an opportunity to interact with and challenge a bevy of learners with backgrounds and life experiences unlike your own. Discussions can open the eyes of the rest of the class to the diversity amongst us. Creating a classroom that is open and receptive to those diverse viewpoints and ideas is key. Allowing students to share connections from their own experiences and cultures can be very engaging. For example, the concept of the boogeyman came about when discussing the horror stories of Poe. My Hispanic students were eager to share the figure of El Cucuy, the boogeyman of childhood tales, who had been used to get them back on the straight and narrow as youngsters. This helped gear up students to create their own Poe-like stories. I love those moments when students make a connection, and the proverbial light bulb is illuminated. There isn't a magical formula to ignite all the bulbs at once, so one of the biggest challenges in teaching is striking enough matches to get that initial spark.
We're all aware of subgroups based on race, socioeconomic levels, and learning abilities. However, we can't lose sight of the other components and life experiences that don't' fit into a subgroup (e.g., abuse, neglect, death of a parent, single-parent families, divorce, and chronic illness), but impact our students all the same. While diversity can bring about language or cognitive hurdles, it can also trigger emotional ones. The students that challenge us the most often need us the most. While it can be hard to keep that in mind at times, I try to remember to embrace each face. I may not be able to connect to the background or life experiences of each of my students, but I can accept every one of them and let them know they matter. It's important to be mindful of the fact that a student's bad day and behavior can be the result of a situation that you couldn't even begin to fathom or understand, so your smile and kind words go a long way. I didn't get into education for the Mini-Mes; I got into education to embrace each face, and I revel in the wonders and challenges of diversity.
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. Diversity on Merriam-Webster
By Lani Aquino