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Educating Youth With Cultural Sensitivity and Respect

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Rowe Rowe is offline
 
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Rowe
 
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Educating Youth With Cultural Sensitivity and Respect
Old 12-11-2009, 07:48 AM
 
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The topic of this discussion is controversial, and it will deal with sensitive matters related to race and education, but I think more teachers and substitute teachers should openly discuss student-teacher relationships and how these relationships are influenced by cultural differences.

At present, I'm preparing a Master's thesis about culturally-relevant education and student-teacher relationships. I've discovered that education researchers predict that soon the majority of students enrolled in the nation's public schools will be African-American and Latin-American and these children will be taught almost exclusively by White female teachers.

Now, I was recently reminded about the importance of this topic after witnessing the relationships between teachers at a school that I substituted for this week. I am a substitute teacher for two counties: One county is predominately African American; the other is predominately White American. The differences between what goes on in each of these counties would be any researcher's dream. All that I can say is that our society has a long way to go in terms of how we relate to one another.

For example, this week, I substituted mostly in the county that is predominately White American and the majority of the teachers are White females. From my observations, the teachers at this school have had very few encounters with African Americans, and I sense tension between the White female teachers and the few Black female teachers that are teaching at this school. During my recess duty, I observed two White female teachers conversing on one side of the recess grounds and one Black female teacher standing on the other side alone. And as I approached the White female teachers to make conversation, and perhaps integrate this scenario, one of the teachers turned her back towards me. Now, all of what I observed on that day could have something to do with race. And then again, none of it could have anything to do with race, but I haven't observed anything like that at any other school. So, this is what I want to share with teachers and substitute teachers:

If teachers don't respect with another, and they are judging and alienating one another based on racial and cultural differences, then why should parents trust them to teach their culturally-and linguistically-diverse students? If teachers treat other teachers and substitute teachers as though they are inferior to them and not worth acknowledging, because they are of a different race, then what on earth must these teachers be thinking about the students in their classrooms? How are these teachers relating to their students??? I would not want my child to be taught by teachers who are racist, classist, and do not respect people for their differences.

Please comment if you have something to share or have observed similar instances at schools where you've subbed.

Thanks for reading!



Last edited by Rowe; 12-11-2009 at 08:02 AM..
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Old 12-11-2009, 08:29 PM
 
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You ask some interesting questions. I think I'm qualified to give a response because I've worked in a lot of educational settings. I'm a white man who taught in a mostly-black area for years. I later left that job (long story, mostly related to the school system's lack of funds), and I've been working as a sub in another area for the last few years. Some of my schools are mostly black and others are mostly white.

There are two distinct issues here: teacher-student interaction and teacher-teacher interaction.

In my former job, about 60% of the teachers and about 98% of the administrators were African-Americans. I observed that there was quite a variety of personality types among the African-American teachers, just as there was among the white teachers. Some of these teachers, both African-American and white, had a very good bond with their students. Some of the teachers (of both groups) didn't. A lot depended on the "personality" of the class (I've observed that every class has its own "personality"), the personality and teaching style of the teacher, and the school's administration. It should be pointed out that nobody learns very well if the administrators are weak.

Some people like to say that black children do best with black teachers. Should one infer from this that white children do better with white teachers? Very complicated and touchy!
I'm not sure that black children necessarily do better with black teachers, but I do think that an African-American child should have African-American teachers during the course of his/her education. On the other side of the coin, I had mostly white teachers growing up, but I have great memories of a black male teacher in 6th grade. Although the school was mostly white, he was very popular with the students. I really liked him, and looking back now, he was one of my favorite teachers in elementary school (this was before the days of middle schools). I do think that white children benefit when they have African-American and other non-white teachers during the course of their education.

As I said, the majority of the teachers in my former job were black. I honestly don't know what the future holds (as far as the number of future African-American teachers is concerned). The prediction of mostly white female teachers could be right, but then again, who really knows? One thing is for sure: there is a declining number of men (of all backgrounds) who are going into education--at least that's what I've heard. Because the US is such a diverse nation, we might see a greater number of multi-racial, Latin-American, and Asian teachers in the future.

You also mentioned teacher-teacher interaction. This is a long and involved subject. Yes, the teachers who you saw on the playground at recess were just plain rude. Having been in education for so long, though, I've seen that teachers often form cliques. Some groups of teachers often form little groups and socialize together, eat lunch together, gab at recess together, etc. They often are not friendly to outsiders, and this sometimes includes subs. I've learned which staff lounges to enter during lunchtime and which ones to stay out of. I've learned which teachers are eager to chat, and which ones will barely give me the time of day. I think every sub, regardless of background, will tell a similar story. Some regular teachers just don't pay much attention to subs. That's just a sad part of the world of subbing!

In my former teaching job, the same thing happened. There were times when I'd spend my entire lunch hour in the staff lounge, and all the teachers there, black and white, would have a great time with great conversations and plenty of humor. There were other times when the atmosphere was downright poison. I couldn't stand to be there, and I'd avoid the place like the plague.

In my old job, the white and black teachers sometimes went their separate ways, but there were also some great friendships that developed. I very seldom socialized with fellow teachers outside of school, but I made a lot of in-school friends from all backgrounds. I was friendly with a large number of the black female teachers (we were always completely professional in our friendships!). Sadly, there weren't a lot of black men teachers, but I was friendly with many of them too. We had a staff reunion a couple years ago, and I saw some of the teachers whom I hadn't seen in a long time. There was a lot of hugging among us former teachers, and we were genuinely thrilled to see each other again.

I mentioned administrators earlier, and I'd like to say a little more here. Most of the principals I worked for were African-American, and the vast majority of them were nice and fair. Some of them were more effective than others, but they had hard jobs. One or two of them, though, I'm sorry to say, were racists. They often went out of their way to harass the non-black teachers. In a very strange incident that happened to me once, a nasty African-American female principal put me through the wringer, while her assistant, also an African-American female (who was a very kind woman), congratulated me for doing my job well! Students are always the losers when principals unjustly harass teachers. I've seen black principals harass black teachers and white principals harass white teachers.

There's a lot more that I could write, but it's probably best to stop here. I could probably write a book about all of my experiences, and perhaps I will someday.
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One other thought
Old 12-12-2009, 08:44 AM
 
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In your post, you said
>At present, I'm preparing a Master's thesis about culturally-relevant education . . .

In majority African-American schools I think this is an issue, but not the only one. In the schools in which I taught, all of the teachers really tried to make African-American culture a major part of the curriculum. For example, the stories of famous African-Americans were regularly taught. Black history month was celebrated with great fanfare. At one school I was at, the children sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" every morning. This song was also included in every school assembly.

I think it's important to do things like this, but if one is looking for "the solution," this isn't it. Many urban public schools require school uniforms as mine did. Some people say this is "the solution," but again, this isn't it.

Some people say that Black history should be studied all year, not just in February. Good point. In a slightly humorous (but also ridiculous story), a white teacher friend was once assigned to put up a bulletin board in October. It was in the school with the nasty principal I described in my last post. The teacher put up something about famous African-Americans, and the principal ordered the teacher to change it saying, "Get that stuff down! Save it until February!"

I don't think the real problem is white teachers teaching black children. I'll briefly explain what I think the real problem is. You might disagree with me, and that's fine.

When I was working on my master's degree, I took a course in curriculum development. I don't remember everything I learned, but I do remember one important thing. When you design a curriculum, you have to see where your students are first (I think it's called baseline data--sorry, it's been a while). In other words, you can't teach long division if your students don't know addition and subtraction. Too often, this isn't done, and the results are tragic.

Teachers today are frequently required to teach a particular curriculum in a particular way. It's often called scripted teaching. The curriculum and teaching procedures are carefully dictated by higher authorities. If a teacher deviates, he or she can be fired.

Frequently, curriculum and the scripted teaching schemes don't really take into account the real needs of the children. I was once subbing in a lower-income school that was about 60% black and 40% white. I had to do a reading lesson (lots of phonics) with a kindergarten class. I was required to keep them on the carpet, going through a carefully prepared script, for almost 40 minutes! I don't think the kids really got much out of it. The parapros and I spent almost as much time trying to keep them from squirming as we did teaching. I really wanted to take a break and try to present the material in another way, but I wasn't allowed to.

The modern world of standardized testing does all our children such harm. Forcing urban African-American children (or any children for that matter) to spend lots of time preparing for standardized tests and learning how to fill in bubble sheets is a crime. Forcing children to learn skills in kindergarten that were once taught in first and second grades is also a crime.

If I could be the education czar, here's what I'd do. I'd heed the advice of Dr. James Comer. Are you familiar with him and his philosophy? He really makes a lot of sense. The whole educational establishment requires educators to "force" lots of information down our children's throats whether they are ready for it or not. I'd immediately end this practice. I'd require that everything we teach our children in school be age-appropriate.

Like Comer, I'd really focus on the social needs and social development of the child. I'd make kindergarten a year with a little more play and a little less academics. I'd bring in more social workers and counselors. A lot of children (from all backgrounds) have difficult home situations. Ignoring this (which the whole educational establishment does) is a recipe for more failure.

Good luck with your thesis!
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Rowe Rowe is offline
 
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Response to First Reply
Old 12-12-2009, 12:49 PM
 
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Thank you MisterSubber for your response! Your experience as an educator is very much appreciated, and in your response, you have also made a lot compelling points. The point that resonated with me the most in your response was your statement which questioned whether students receive a better education when they are taught by teachers of the same race.

It is not my intention to single out any particular race. However, because of the unique history and circumstances of African Americans in this country, I believe African American students would receive a better education, if they were instructed almost exclusively by competent and highly-qualified African-American educators. And I will explan why. Most White-American, Latin-American, and Asian-American students receive positive affirmations about their self worth and cultural identities at home, in society, in their peer groups, and even at school. In fact, African-American children learn more about the accomplishments of the groups aforementioned than they learn about the accomplishments of their own group. Therefore, African-American children need a strong support system at home and at school and from other African-Americans who understand what it is like to be bombarded by the accomplishments of others.

In addition, from my observations, very few non-Black teachers will go out of their way to supplement the materials that are provided by the school's curriculum with materials that would be interesting and relevant to African-American students. Very few teachers will take the time to learn about the Africa that reaches far beyond slavery, and pass on this empowering knowledge to their African-American students. The teachers who will make this effort are competent, compassionate, and sympathetic African-American teachers, because only they know what it is like to be an African-American person in America. These teachers realize that African-American children desparately need to know more about where they come and the contributions that African people have made to our society, other than providing White Americans with 400 years of free labor.

As far as the behavior of the teachers at the predominately White school is concerned, I kind of expected for the teacher on the recess playgrounds to do something like that. I approached the two teachers anyway, because I wanted them to know that I wasn't going to "stay in my place", sort of speak, which is away from the White teachers. I wanted them to know that I'm bold enough to talk to anyone, and I'm not afraid or intimidated by ANYONE. That is why I went over there and started to talk to them. But I think you're right about the cliques that are formed amongst teachers at schools, because interestingly enough, the few White male teachers at this school walk down the halls together too. I am completely shocked by the adult relationships at this school. I cannot believe that the adults who are responsible for educating children are forming cliques based on race and gender. I felt sorry for the children, because if the adults are treating one another in this manner, then how much better are they treating the children in their care? This manner of school segregation within an integrated school makes no sense.
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Response to Second Reply
Old 12-12-2009, 01:47 PM
 
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Thank you for wishing me well with my thesis, and once again, you make such thought-provoking points in your response. In graduate school, I've studied the theories of so many educators, psychologists, and philosophers that I may have have been esposed to Comer's educational philosophy, and I just don't remember.

Most of the research that I've conducted with respect to the position that I've taken in my thesis is supported by the philosophies of Sonia Nieto, who wrote the book, The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities, Gloria Ladson-Billings who wrote The Dream Keepers: Successful Teaching of African-American Children, and Howard Garner, the writer of the classic Multiple Intelligences.

Comer's philosophy about education seems to be in agreement with Abraham Maslow's Hierachy of Needs (1943). Remember Maslow was a psychologist who believed that not until childrens' basic needs were met could we meet their higher needs. He used a pyramid to show the hierarchy of these basic needs based on their importance to children. I found it to be helpful.

Anyway, I am in complete agreement with your perspective about standard, one-size-fits-all curriculums and standardized tests, and apparently, so are a growing number of African-American parents who have been dissatisifed with their children's academic performance for many years. Many parents are choosing and have chosen to place their children in private schools, charters schools, home schools, and other alternative school environments in order to receive the type of education their children really need and derserve. More specifically, an education that will positively acknowledge their childeren's background knowledge, cultural identity, and self worth.

In fact, public schools are facing major challenges these days with the not having enough resources to support school systems and its teachers. I wouldn't be surprised if traditional public schools became obsolete in the distance future. If educaton policy makers and curriculum writers don't soon wake up and get a clue, a public school will be irrelevant to the majority of Americans. In America, most students are sent to school to get a "basic" education, but a basic education is not going to prepare students to compete with other students around the world who are receiving an advanced education not in private institutions but in their country's public schools.

The problem with America is that the haves are preoccupied with protecting their elitism at the expense of the majority of Americans who have not. The haves do not realize that making certain that every child has access to a high-quality education is not only good for the child, but it is also good for EVERYONE. Children should not have to live in very affluent communities and be sent to the very best private schools in the country in order to get a high-quality education that will meet their specific needs.


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The Achievement Gap
Old 12-12-2009, 02:01 PM
 
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By the way, MisterSubber, I posted a response to a thread called The Achievement Gap, which is on second page of the Busy Board. You can also find this thread on the home page under the Most Popular Threads heading. I think some of the topics that we've been discussing are closely related to topics that are discussed in that thread. You might be interested in reading it. Take care.
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