For a teacher to facilitate learning in the classroom, an awareness of differences between learners, an interest in the tolerance and embracing these differences, and an acceptance of the variation of influence of factors outside of the classroom to the learners must be a significant consideration in creating a productive environment for teaching and learning. An active effort of understanding the diversity of the classroom community to ensure that all learners make the most of their time in the classroom leads to teaching practices that allow for inclusivity. The classroom community extends beyond the students in the class. It includes their parents/guardians, neighbors, friends, and all other members of their respective communities that embody the culture of their diverse environment. The most commonly understood considerations about diversity include the inculcation of an appreciation of race, gender, sexual orientation, and ableism in the classroom.
This viewpoint of diversity is limited and should expand to embrace social-economic statuses, such as food and physical security, including wellness, disability, national origin, immigration status, and home life. Our classrooms are continually more diverse by gender, sexual orientation, national origin, race, a multitude of worldviews, as well as a significant increase in the international student population in American classrooms. Additionally, we have a considerable rise in students receiving learning or physical accommodations. This data shows the variation in demographics of students and the diversity seen in American classrooms. The pursuit of inclusivity and acceptance of diversity must take these numbers into account.
In my early education, I witnessed the harms of an educational system built on exclusion. Success in my early schooling in Africa was measured by success in national examinations. The national examination system, which is still the practice of many African countries, was a standardized test that was set and administered by a national examination board. The exam was given to all students of a given grade level without regard to the differences that may have existed between students. The system did not provide accommodations for students that might not have had the ability to test just as well as others. The performance in the examination determined if a student moved on to the next level of her education, and when she did, the grades decided the ranking of the next level of school that she would attend. It did not account for any practices that considered inclusivity.
The standardized national examination system left many learners behind. It branded as failures those that did not achieve good enough grades to move on or aid the learners that fell short. The grading and ranking of schools and students did not account for the disparity in resources available to the schools or the individual circumstances surrounding each student at the time of the examination. The system failed them. My success in that system was primarily due to the privilege of being a son of teachers who knew the system well. I did not appreciate my opportunity then, but now in retrospect, I can see many that were left out by the design of the system.
Considering that there are more diverse classrooms today, I must create inclusive classrooms that attempt to account for all students in higher education. Also, though I have not had the opportunity to teach in the United States classrooms formally, I have greatly benefited from the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program at the university. In this course, I have gained a deep appreciation of diversity, equality, and inclusivity ideas in the classroom. I have learned how to account for these factors in the coursework, assessments, structure of the classroom, and course presentation. The PFF coursework has included learning ways to plan for accommodation of student diversity reflect it in pedagogy and assessment. Considering the diversity in class also presents teachers with an opportunity to help students appreciate other members of the community that do not share the same privilege as they do, as well as assuring those that feel different and left out that there are active efforts to include them.
My involvement in a diversity project
Three years ago, I volunteered at an urban high school near downtown San Diego where my employer participates in a program that helps underprivileged youths learn how to apply for jobs and be part of a workplace. Most of the students in the school come from low income and minority communities. Participants in the program were students that did not have working parents and were also poised to go directly to employment because they were not able to attend college after high school. I was part of a team of volunteers that visited the school and had a one-hour session each week for a semester with students of color at the school. I was assigned two students to teach them how to write resumes, where to find jobs online, and how to apply for them. At the end of the program, the students visited our workplace and spent the day with their mentors. Through the mentorship program, my colleagues and I had a deeper appreciation of the dearth of knowledge among the minority students appertaining to the next steps after high school.
I am working on a greater understanding of diversity, inclusivity, and equity that I am gaining as I develop my teaching career. I pursue more significant participation in community endeavors for the underprivileged and those people whose social status has left them out or made them feel like they are. My classroom will understand the diversity of my students and work to ensure that each learner does not face any limitations due to being different from the rest of the class population in any way. I believe that ensuring inclusivity and equity can also be a source of strength as the students have a more extensive source of experience from which to develop and grow.