Teaching diverse students in an age of uncertainty
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Some would say politics have little, if any, place in the classroom, outside of social studies classes that are studying current events — especially when political ideas can be divisive, controversial or provocative. The current political stage in the United States, and perhaps all over the world, has some students stressed and nervous about what their fate is going to be.
Will they or their family members be negatively affected by new policies being put into place regarding travelers and immigrants? Will education change significantly for these students? There are many unanswered questions at the moment.
As teachers of English learners and culturally and linguistically diverse students, we may hear these questions from our students, or we may see the anxiety they are facing and how that anxiety affects student learning.
What, then, can we as educators do to help alleviate some of the fear and anxiety that our students might be facing? Regardless of our political affiliations or our stances on issues facing the world today, as educators it is our responsibility to ensure the students we serve come to an environment that is safe and where fear and anxiety are minimized to the greatest degree possible.
While we may not be able to immediately change outside political factors, there are several steps we can take in our own classrooms to ensure that students arrive to a school and classroom that is safe, caring and nurturing to them as human beings.
First off, as students are asking questions about what is currently happening in the world, be honest about the facts you know. It is important to be as objective as possible and share the facts you are aware of.
As appropriate, utilize current events as a source for reading and writing. Students can read articles about what is going on, analyze the opinions and evidence for arguments being presented, and use those to build opinion or argument writing pieces. Graphic organizers are research-based and useful tools to help English learners analyze text and write.
Recently, there has been an uptick in sales of dystopian novels such as "1984" by George Orwell, "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, and "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis. If these novels are age appropriate to read with your students, comparisons to current events could potentially be made. Of course, it is always important to teach in a way that is appropriate to students' proficiency levels.
Keep up the routine
As educators, we can only control — in the short term — what is happening in our classroom, not everything that is happening in the world. It is always important to remember that even though students may feel anxious, in our classrooms, we can provide a space that is safe for them to take risks, a space that is loving and respectful, a place that has a predictable routine that focuses on learning and helping students to be the best they can be.
By providing high-quality instruction that meets the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students — and indeed all students — we send them the message that they are loved, respected and deserving of a high-quality education.
Listen to your students
Sometimes just having someone hear us is helpful when we are nervous, anxious or have had negative experiences. Ignoring concerns that students have only sends the message that their concerns are not meaningful or valid.
While we may not always have the same concerns, level of anxiety or fears as our students, having a trusted person like a teacher, school counselor or administrator listen to concerns and experiences can be a powerful way to help students feel acknowledged and safe.
Talk to your colleagues, friends and families
Change is uncomfortable, and when changes occur in law or policy, it can create division based on what people believe is right or wrong. People may formulate strong opinions based on information that is largely removed from them.
By sharing the concerns, fears, anxieties and experiences of your students, you may be able to add a personal touch to real issues that are affecting the community. This is not to say that it is your job to change people's beliefs, ideas or ways of thinking. Rather, sharing the experiences of others that you personally know can help to make abstract ideas more concrete in terms of how people in the community are affected.
Link with community organizations
It is helpful to know what support services exist in your community so that if a situation arises in your community or with one of your students, you can point students and families in the right direction. You may be able to provide resources on housing, legal advice, food and bill pay assistance, counseling and other services.
This information may be helpful to other people in the community as well. Having knowledge of these resources may be helpful in times of need.
It is important to remember, especially during times of change, why we do the work that we do. For many educators, we continually strive to make the world a better place. We work hard at making sure that our students get a good education — learning to read, write, think and do arithmetic, along with learning to be decent, productive human beings.
Changes are inevitable in our lives, and sometimes changes are challenging. When changes are difficult for our students, as educators we may be able to support our students and make their lives just a little bit easier, a little bit better.
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