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An Interview with Teachers on Diversity, Inclusivity, Strategies and Respect in The Classroom

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I interviewed two teachers about diversity, inclusivity, strategies, and respect in their classrooms. The first teacher, Rachael, is outgoing, creative, family oriented, and very dependable. She is a staple at our school and her opinion is sought by many other teachers. The second teacher I interviewed, Patricia, is a speech pathologist who tends to keep to herself, has an extremely large wealth of knowledge, and is the backbone of our Exceptional Student Education (ESE) department.

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Education is a field of hard working professionals who are willing to give their time and resources to make a difference in a child’s life. I have the privilege of working with several teachers at my elementary school who inspire both children and their colleagues.The culture of our school is diverse with a large Hispanic and Caucasian population. The ELL department works very hard to make sure students are tested and placed in the appropriate language group.

Rachael has been teaching for 11 years. She has taught various elementary grade levels and is currently teaching fourth grade. Rachael is the grade chair (team lead) for fourth grade and is also on the school instructional leadership team (ILT).Patricia teaches speech therapy and language therapy. She assists the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) team with various lesson plan ideas, research based strategies, and writing techniques to promote successful writing. Patricia has been teaching for 19 years and is a huge asset to our school. Patricia teaches every grade level in language or Speech therapy.

Again, the culture of our school is diverse with a large Hispanic population representing several countries such as Honduras, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Argentina. We also have a student from Greece, a student from England, and a student from Spain.

When asked the question “Describe the current state of diversity and inclusivity in your educational setting”, Rachael answered “I think we have a pretty diverse setting. We have children from all different walks of life culturally and economically. I personally try to make sure everyone feels valued and has a voice-even if their voice is small-it’s important that they feel important.”, (Rachael, personal communication, May24, 2017).When Patricia was asked this question, she stated “Diversity tends to be a function of the neighborhood in which a school is situated. Within the school, students appear to be evenly distributed among teachers both when considering race/cultural background/language and when considering disabilities including SLD, Other Health Impaired, and Autism among others. The Administration appears to actively recruit teachers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Our school is also challenged to bring diversity as one of the oldest schools in our County. Segregation had a long hold on our school and it continues to push against this legacy. Inclusivity is sometimes challenging for English-speaking staff who cannot communicate effectively with parents of students who do not speak English. There is also a range of experience and skill within the teacher and staff population to respond to the special needs of students with disabilities. The issue of inclusivity seems to be more a function of District support than an intrinsic lack of desire for understanding on the part of teachers toward unique students. In sum, things are good, things are getting better, and there’s quite a ways to go before we get there.” (Patricia, personal communication, May24, 2017).

When asked the second interview question, what strategies do you use to create inclusive learning environments? Rachael answered “I try to make an inclusive learning environment by using Kagan structures. It gives each student a chance to participate and have a voice. I also differentiate instruction so that they feel successful at their level. The easiest thing I do is just listen to them and let them talk about their weekend, thoughts, and family. Classroom jobs also help to make the students feel valued.” (Rachael, personal communication, May24, 2017).

Patricia answered the second question with this statement “Speaking only for myself, rather than the general sense as above, inclusivity is the mission for a speech language pathologist. This career exists to help those with communication gaps bridge the gap, or ideally fill the gap. To this end, I am constantly seeking to know the standard for a student without a disability and devising ways for students to reach or come close to meeting the expectations of the regular classroom. At this school, there is also some income disparity. While we are a Title I school and the majority of students meet the poverty criteria, there are students who enjoy a middle and upper-middle class life. The disparity is sometimes glaring as one student may have shoes with soles separating from the shoe body and another is wearing SPARKLY boots today instead of the leather carved pair. I compliment both students, genuinely, appreciating not just the aesthetic of the material item “I love those rainbow sparkles!” but the gesture of the item “Those shoes must have seen a lot of amazing places! Where have they taken you?” Inclusivity also embodies the idea that “fair” is not necessarily “equal.” I have used my own resources, time and money, to fill resource gaps for poverty-affected students – boxes of crayons just to take home for example outside of the treasure everyone earns. Students know I am here for everyone, not just the ones that look like me!”(Patricia, personal communication, May24, 2017).

For the final interview question, what strategies do you to show you value and respect diversity in your classroom setting? Rachael answered “I know that I can be better at this…its easy to call on the same students because you know they have the right answer or wont waste your time with a silly answer. Sometimes I don’t even have time to listen to them. But, I know that they need to feel like they are important.”(Rachael, personal communication, May24, 2017).

Patricia answered the final question with this statement “Growing up in a foreign country, a Spanish-speaking foreign country, has afforded some advantages for me especially in working with the large Hispanic population at our school. Daily, I take a risk and exchange a few conversational turns in the language students hear at home, creating rapport. I do the same for the parents that come to meet with me. I have also integrated materials that resonate with students culture and history such as the lesson I built on “Cactus Soup” a version of the fable “Stone Soup,” that includes Spanish words, illustrations rich with images found in towns of the Mexican desert, and Mexican cooking ingredients. Many students here are connected to the strawberry crop. Lessons have also revolved around all things strawberry. This platform allows for more than just discussions about “fresas,” it creates an opportunity for students to talk about daily life for their family as their parents pick through the light hours and the students themselves help in the fields on the weekends. Realizing the lesson objective may sometimes take a back seat to conversation is paramount. However, will we guide students toward knowledge if there is not mutual trust and respect that the journey will be what both envision?”(Patricia, personal communication, May24, 2017).

Patricia is far more proficient at this skill than the other teacher. Her years of experience and diverse background provide her with various outlooks on any topic. Patricia tends to support her ideas and approach to teaching with research based articles and materials.

I have witnessed Rachael in action and she truly allows each student an equal opportunity to express themselves. She is quite a remarkable teacher. Patricia’s passion is a reflection of our entire team. Working with her these past three years has been a pleasure and she has taught me many valuable lessons. She utilized so many research-based strategies, programs (LIPS by Linda Mood), and professional development materials in all of her lesson plans and IEP’s.

My ‘aha” moments, that Patricia inspired, revolve around student self-assessments. Patricia has changed the way I view teaching and her inspiration will be with me for the remainder of my career. She taught me to teach the students to assess themselves and allow them to tell you their comfort level about their knowledge of a topic.

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This made such an impact on me. Her response was so heartfelt and sincere. Patricia and I have worked hard to make sure a student is able to attend summer camp at our local science museum. There have been times when we have paid his way out of our own pocket. The look on his is worth a hundred times more.

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