As a former high school math teacher I remember all too well the week following the last day of school. I always returned to the building to gather some of my things, and I could recall the voices of rowdy teenage girls and boys, the clutter left by scattered homework assignments that had not been retained in the proper file folders or personal backpacks, and the student work artifacts that were still posted on walls and tabletops around my room that I would collect in my keepsake file box. I was looking forward to having the summer all to myself to spend time at the beach, enjoy family and friends, play with my dog, or just do nothing! However, the thoughts of such joys were clouded by my continued concern for students who had barely passed my algebra or geometry classes or miserably failed one of them. I wondered what would happen to these students next year and if they would be engaged in any activities over the summer that would help them strengthen their mathematics skills. I also wondered what I could have done differently, if anything, to help them have a more positive experience in my classroom.
Alejandro, a recent immigrant to the area, was smart, yet his lack of English proficiency had prevented him from thoroughly understanding my presentation of concepts. Did I do all that I could to provide him with the extra supports he needed? Kayla’s constant truancy kept her right on the edge of failing Algebra I, but when she was in class she outperformed most of my other ninth graders. Had I spent enough time developing a relationship with her parents? Jonathan was a young man that I felt like I could never reach, and I’m ashamed to admit that I might have given up on him. Did I harbor implicit biases about him that led me to lower my expectations for him? These are the types of questions that often haunted me in the summer months, leading me to be my own worst critic about how issues of culture, power, and privilege impacted the teaching and learning process in my classroom. Ultimately I was on a constant journey to be a more effective multicultural math educator.
Recounting my experiences as a K-12 mathematics teacher reminds me of how difficult it was to keep issues of social justice and equity at the forefront of my teaching while trying to meet the demands of high-stakes testing and standardization. I will be the first to admit that I was not the best at achieving both goals, but I never wavered in my commitments to ensure that my most challenged students had equal access to the opportunities of my most privileged students. Undoubtedly some portion of my summer break was always about goal-setting and strategizing to ensure that equal access to opportunities to learn and achieve were maintained in my classroom and at the forefront of my colleagues’ thinking throughout the building.
As you approach the remainder of your summer break, it is important that you take time to engage in critical self-reflection that leads to an action plan for ensuring equal access to opportunities to learn and achieve in your classroom and through your leadership next academic year. It is one step on your journey of being a more effective multicultural educator. Below I offer some tips for where to focus your energies in the month of July.
|Complementary Tool to Support the Process of Critical Self-reflection|
Spend time this month engaging in self-reflection about your pedagogy and practice that challenge you to think specifically about critical multicultural education and teaching. Christine Sleeter1 defines this type of education and teaching as that which actively affirms diversity based on race, ethnicity, language, gender, and other identity markers. In this way, it is education and teaching that is multicultural. It is critical in that the teaching examines and challenges injustice and helps students become change agents for justice. Lastly, this education and teaching is responsive in that it connects with and builds on strengths, identities, and ways of being that students bring to the classroom. If you don’t have aspirations to be a more culturally responsive educator, get some! The children that you teach can’t afford for you not to have these aspirations! Having a “heart-to-heart” with yourself about how well you embody characteristics of a critical multicultural educator is important for the academic and life success of the young people whose lives you touch.
To embody a critical multicultural educator identity, you have to be engaged in a continual cycle of critical self-reflection that enhances your educator identity by growing a) your critical consciousness about cultural diversity and social inequality and b) your equity pedagogy and practice. Spending time in the process of continual self-reflection should lead you to develop an Action Plan for being a more effective multicultural educator in the next academic year. You can begin your self-reflection by completing the following statements to determine where you are in your thinking. Know where you’re starting, but don’t end there. Write and examine your responses to the following statements:
- I consider my biggest strengths working with students of diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to be . . .
- I consider my biggest challenges working with students of diverse racial/ethnic socioeconomic backgrounds to be . . .
- I do/do not consider my pedagogy and practice to be multicultural, because . . .
The responses to these reflection statements will help you gauge your comfort level with discussing issues of culture, power, and privilege and how these constructs shape your thoughts about teaching and learning, about who you are teaching, and about what you think they are capable of learning. Too often our implicit biases and assumptions about students who are most unlike us prohibit us from optimally meeting their needs. Responding to additional questions such as -- (1) How does my social identity (e.g., race, social class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) inform/shape my pedagogy and practice? (2) In what areas do I need to learn more about culture, power and difference? and, (3) How might I be a more critically (race) conscious educator?2 – can help you set personal and professional goals for creating a more culturally inclusive classroom setting where issues of race, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. are at the forefront of your mind at all times and move you toward being a more equitable educator. The aforementioned questions are also essential for embodying traits of a culturally responsive leader.
As part of the self-reflective process, celebrate your successes from years past in the area of multicultural education – no matter how small. It is important to begin the recharging process with celebration. Next develop an Action Plan that identifies short-term (within 30-60 days) and long-term (beyond 60 days) goals for growing your critical consciousness and your practice. Set goals that are measurable, and be specific about how you will measure them. You might need to consult a colleague in the process of developing your action plan, but just do it. If you are trying to target areas for your goals, you might consider: (1) Student Background and Identity; (2) Content Integration; (3) Empowering Classroom Culture; and, (4) Prejudice Reduction. These areas will help you consider strategies for (a) getting to know students and their families better; (b) integrating content material in your teaching that resonates more closely with students’ lived experiences and helps them examine social inequalities in society; (c) creating a classroom environment in which students take ownership of their learning and are empowered as leaders; and (d) examining and reducing your biases and assumptions about students that are harmful to their learning and achievement.
Renew your commitments to fostering a culturally inclusive learning environment in your classroom and embodying and practicing an equity pedagogy as an administrator or classroom teacher. Some ways in which you might do this include:
- Deciding that not committing to being a critical multicultural educator is NOT an option. Too many students of color and students living in high-needs communities cannot afford for you to be any other kind of educator. Accept that developing this type of educator identity will be a long and arduous journey but so rewarding across your professional career.
- Identifying colleagues who can be part of a critical friends group that will hold you accountable to regularly checking in about your successes in your journey to be a more effective multicultural educator and your challenges (and failures) along the way. These should be colleagues who are not afraid to ask you the hard questions about culture, power, and privilege and how these things are operating in and around your practice. They also shouldn’t be afraid to offer you constructive criticism that moves you forward in the journey.
- Maintaining weekly or bi-weekly check-ins on the goals you set for yourself for the coming academic year. Share your Action Plan with a trusted colleague (perhaps even your principal) so that you have an accountability partner in your walk. You should be able to see your progress along the way if you stick with it and celebrate successes as well!
I have presented a tall order for teachers and administrators for the month of July, but it is important that you begin the self-reflective process that will lead you to being a better educator and leader in the coming academic year. The only thing you have to lose is your ability to maximize your effectiveness with next year’s students. And no one can afford for you to do that. So go forth! Reflect! Recharge! Recommit!