Week 4: What is a Culturally Responsive Educator?

Part one: Are you a culturally responsive teacher?

From the TMC Team

Latoya Wilson

Are you a culturally responsive teacher? With the current climate of Black Lives Matter and protests, the news permeates into the classroom. It’s important for teachers to be culturally responsive and sensitive. Teachers are in the business of educating children and building relationships and understanding. With our changing country it’s important that teachers understand that educating children means every child, every day and creating safe class space. So it only makes sense for the Teacher Monster Club to help build relationships by tackling a difficult topic.

As a black, female teacher, it’s important for me to represent and be accessible to all my students. I grew up in the inner city in Cleveland and as a teacher my experience in Fairfax County, Virginia is far different from the classrooms I learned in aspiring one day to be the change as a teacher.

My first year in Fairfax County , VA I walked into a class that looked very different from what I was used to. I grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio and went to predominantly African American schools. I went to Central State University which is an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) and my first five years of teaching was in the inner city of Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio. That meant that most of my life I was only around people who looked like me. But when I walked into my classroom on the first day in Fairfax County, I was surprised by the melting pot of cultures and the representation of students from 66 different countries who spoke 44 different languages. During my first year, I fully engrossed myself into learning more about my children from different socioeconomically backgrounds, countries and children with varying learning disabilities. I remember I had my first student with Aspergers and my first LGBT student that year. It was such an eye opening experience for me and as a teacher my students helped me learn and grow.

I knew that my mission as a teacher was to not only build relationships with every student but to get to know about their culture so I could understand how to reach them and let them know they mattered.

A few years later I also had the opportunity to see it from a parental view. I went to work in a school that was more suburban. The minority population was pretty low and my son was one of two black students in the first grade. I also had one black student in third grade who had some serious issues with his identity because he rarely saw people who looked like him. That year opened my eyes too.I realized the importance of having a variety of cultural representation in the schools. Kids need to see people who look like them in educational settings . Kids need to have celebrations that reflect the cultures in the community and in the world. Most importantly kids need to have a culturally diverse curriculum.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read the book “Culturized” by Jimmy Cases. He stressed the importance of creating an environment where all students were inspired to be their best. The book’s subtitle is Every Student, Every Day. Whatever It Takes. That’s what it means to be culturally responsive. Ask yourself, do I live with that motto? Am I learning all that I can about my students,their families and communities? Am I teaching a curriculum that is reflective of cultures? Do I celebrate with my students when they have something important to share about who they are? If you answer yes to all of these questions then you're on the right track to being a culturally responsive teacher. If you answer no that’s okay too, that just means now you know you have some work to do. Roll up those sleeves, grab a few books, talk to the people who live in the community and have some uncomfortable conversations. As a teacher we are forever students and as the climate and news continues to change we need to be responsive. What we teach our students today about each other will ultimately form the way our world looks in the future. The change starts with us, the teachers!

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