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Teaching and Creating Cultural Diversity

Updated on April 2, 2011


Imagine waking up for your very first day of work. You know what to expect because you’ve prepared and dreamed for this chance and opportunity for as long as you can remember. You’re finally a teacher and you have reached your goals and now you have new goals. You want to reach out to our youth and put your mark on them in hopes of passing on something to them that will help them in the long run. Your first day at the school and in the classroom you notice one thing first. The children are all different yet they would prefer to associate only with children that are similar to their own race. How do you prepare yourself to teach students who are first, most likely exposed to one race at home and now another race at school?

            Creating a multicultural classroom curriculum can be quite tricky especially if you are dealing with children and even tougher when dealing with children between the ages of four and five years old. The most essential key that any teacher must have in the beginning is patience.

It’s been said that a classroom that respects diversity is a classroom that will promote learning. When classrooms are integrated, they can ultimately create a rich learning experience for not only the students themselves, but the teachers as well. The one thing that must be realized is that classroom diversity doesn’t come without its challenges. It’s seen everyday where differences between students create an assortment of conflicts that distract from learning and it even distracts the teacher from the doing the obvious, teaching. It’s the responsibility for every teacher, especially teachers tending to preschoolers that they establish a classroom that will not only respect diversity, but a classroom that values it and perhaps uses it as an asset to educational success. (York, 2006)

The atmosphere of the classroom needs to be one that celebrates differences, communicates respectfully and above all, promotes student learning both inside and outside of the classroom because let’s face it, it’s common knowledge that once children are in the playground, the facades that some teachers see, drops once there are no adults around. Cultural diversity is increasing at a rapid pace in our schools’ and classrooms today. It’s been estimated that by the year 2020, almost have of the U.S. school population will consist of children who are of non-Caucasian groups.

As a teacher, in a culturally diverse classroom they must enhance culturally sensitivity.  In order to do this the curriculum it must be shaped so that it will be culturally responsive to the students at this particular grade level. Furthermore, it utilizes a cooperative, learned centered instruction. 

            Enhancing sensitivity to different cultures is one of the first steps to accommodating students from diverse cultures in any classroom. Cultural sensitivity requires that all teachers interpret their students behaviors within the cultural context of the student. This is where a background in psychology could essentially be of use to anyone in this field. Knowing the customs of specific cultures in addition to the cultural development of the culture is key to developing cultural sensitivity. For example, Hispanic boys and Hispanic girls often emulate their mothers and fathers in their life and it’s not until they are older where some may attempt to break away from this mold, and yet, sometimes, they will stick with it.

            The content of the teaching itself is the ultimate result teachers must achieve. In other words, its all about the framing of the curriculum itself so that it is culturally responsive to the students in the classroom. Ultimately, this should make it more relevant to the students. Stories about different cultures can often be a turning point for some children especially those who come from families that may or many not socially accept different cultural aspects of life. It’s know that children emulate their parents, but one thing to remember is that they also emulate their behaviors. For example, some children come to believe that women should never work and are just housewives who stay at home and have babies. Many young boys often learn this type of thinking from male relatives and as teachers, its’ important to show them how both men and women, any color can do whatever they so choose.

When dealing with the behavior and behavioral expectations of any child, particularly those of children around the age of five, it’s important to establish behavioral expectations. Providing them with a written list or copy of rules will not work because it’s understandable that some children may not even know how to read as well as some of the others. The best thing to start with would be to sit down with the children all at once and get a basic understanding of their comprehension levels as a group. Ask them questions about right and wrong and see how they respond. Second, it would be helpful to discuss the different types of punishments as allowed by the school and state. (York 2006)

            Playing classroom games are great icebreakers but when it comes to preschoolers, these may not work as well. Ice breakers are initially used to break silence and form types of bonding. At this age, these children can usually associate with anyone in this age, but at times, some children are isolated and can be withdrawn or even scared and this is where ice breakers and classroom games such as duck, duck goose, or ring around the rosy.

            Group work among the students is a great way for them to get to know each other. One thing a teacher could do is to put students together who are of a different ethnic and or cultural status. One thing we tend to see a lot are children that begin to form associations with children that are similar to them and this can lead to isolation, so separating them and exposing them to different cultures. This would come in handy on days such as show and tell where a student could bring in certain items or toys from their own culture and discuss them.

            One thing that needs to be made clear in today’s society is that we all must be prepared to live and work and associate with a diverse group of individuals. It’s often said that we must tolerate and respect both differences and similarities but who wants to be tolerated. To some people its like a slap in the face to be tolerated. During early childhood development and in the preschool years, children start forming many of their own ideas about the world around them, the way it works and how its run and these thoughts and ideas stay with them for their entire lives. The lasting effect is the reason why it is so important to educate them on a multicultural and diversified perspective. Educating children on diversity really means helping children understand that people come in all shapes, looks, colors, sizes, and abilities.

            Setting good examples is one the best beginnings. Help children understand what diversity is and that its about genders, ethnicities, and abilities. Teachers must refrain from making hateful comments about anyone based on characteristics. Showing respect to individuals of all cultures will show the children as well. Many adults tend to fall into the too common adult trap. This trap involves assuming children will like certain toys based on the sex. For example, don’t assume that most girls will want to play house and play with dolls and don’t assume boys will want to play with action figures and play cops and robbers.

            Encourage children to include everyone when they are playing. Talk with children about treating others with respect. Whenever disagreements are present, help the students sit down and talk about it and this will allow them to work through their disagreements. When encouraging diversity in lesson plans, point our similarities between people rather than their differences. A good example is storytelling, through storytelling, it allows you to teach the students how different while at the same time. Having culturally diverse books in the classroom allows students to see and learn about the world around them.

            One thing we al know is that children love to eat. This can come in handy when it comes to incorporating cultural education into any curriculum.  Have discussions and celebrate different cultural holidays. Perhaps have different cultural snacks to commemorate these holidays while at the same time exposing the children to something completely different. Also, if you have children in the class that can speak another language, this can also come in handy and since children often associate with children of their own age they can perhaps expose the children in the class to their culture even more even teaching them some of their language such as counting to ten in Spanish or German.

            Preschoolers form a lot of opinions about not only themselves, but the people around them. Its their basic natural curiosity about differences and appearances that comes into play. (Lee ) As teachers, you don’t have to teach tolerance because children are born with a natural sense of fairness, that is unless they are taught to be hateful individuals or come from violent broken homes where they emulate their parents negativity. Children have a conscious and they know what’s wrong and right. (Lee) 

Also, discouraging questions is a big no-no. If children have questions about any type of difference whether it be physical or color, its important that they be discussed openly and honesty without putting any sort of negative spin on despite your own personal feelings. (Lee) In school, our children will learn about other cultures and its important that they are taught to value racial and cultural diversity. As teachers, emphasizing this will effectively help children understand the importance of not being bias.

It’s difficult to remove bias behavior in adolescents and teenagers because to a certain degree, bias is learned behavior, it just depends on how it is construed. As an early childhood educator, cutting this type of potential behavioral attitude off at the past is crucial in the formative years of preschoolers. Meeting women and men in non- traditional roles such as lawyers, police officers, army personnel can help break the concept of gender stereotyping. Another idea would also be to have male nurses. This is important because for god knows how long nurses have always been thought of as women which is because nurse always referred to the act of breastfeeding which is done by females. Putting men into this role breaks the commonly thought mold that only women can be nurses. (Seehorn)

 Avoid using holiday based activities because this can cause great strain on a child and their families. (Seehorn) Using holiday based activities to promote diversity is one thing but its how you use it. Utilize different cultural based holiday activities and not just one or two. This lets the children and even parents know that you are not focusing on one culture and perhaps leaving theirs out. If you focus on all cultures, it will show that you are not being bias.

Using cooperative techniques as well as showing children their strengths when implementing activities, you get an understanding of the child’s perspective, (Seehorn) and you also get a sense of the child’s personality and you can determine if they are shy or outgoing, this helps you get the children much more integrated with the other children.

Lastly, include family members in as many activities and events as you possibly can. This will introduce children to a much broader scope of diversity and in turn, both you, the students and perhaps even the parents can learn something new about one another. (Seehorn)

There are going to be a lot of aspiring teachers and new teachers in society today. Many of them have chosen to teach a specific grade level for specific reasons. Who knows? But there is a growing number of individuals who really want to change the outcome of childhood psychological development and when you think about it, where do we get our behaviors; yes from home but children spend the majority of their time in school. Today, tomorrow and maybe even next week there will be new teachers or student teachers or even substitute teachers that are wanting to teach a preschool class of three to five year olds in order to better shape their psychological development because children are out future and in today’s society we see it to often the bias, the stereotyping, the hate and the negativity. Its’ all too prevalent in the world that we live in so what’s wrong with wanting to stop it before it can really begin?


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