Wednesday, July 9, 2008

TPE D: The Culturally Responsive Teacher

This paper, published by two professors at Montclair State University, put forth the concept that teachers need to be aware of the cultural differences between themselves and their students -- and, more importantly, that they need to see the opportunities to make use of their students' backgrounds to facilitate learning, instead of seeing them as a disadvantage. One passage in particular jumped out at me:

... teachers who see students from an affirming perspective and truly respect cultural differences are more apt to believe that students from nondominant groups are capable learners, even when these students enter school with ways of thinking, talking, and behaving that differ from the dominant cultural norms. Teachers who hold these affirming views about diversity will convey this confidence by providing students with an intellectually rigorous curriculum, teaching students strategies for monitoring their own learning, setting high performance standards and consistently holding students accountable to those standards, and building on the individual and cultural resources that students bring to school.
This confirms something that I've strongly believed for years: that, in our attempts to contextualize material for students from racial and ethnic minority groups, we must continue to uphold high standards and believe in the students' capacity to achieve. One of my pet peeves with old-school liberal approaches to social work was the "White Man's Burden" attitude that these well-meaning workers carried around with them. When you assume that the people you're working with are so far "beneath" you that they're never going to amount to anything without your help and guidance, you demean them and diminish the opportunities for them to live up to their potential. Look at the dramatic difference in results when poverty relief organizations shifted from giving handouts to making microfinance loans that could help people start businesses: the latter approach gives the aid recipient much more responsibility -- and assumes that he is capable enough to handle it. As a result, organizations like Kiva are making more of an impact in fighting poverty than traditional charity ever did.

We have to take the same approach with our students: we are investing knowledge in them, and expecting them to manage it responsibly and produce a useful return on the investment. We can learn how to make the most of our students' experiences so that we can help them grasp the material more readily -- but ultimately they are responsible to use that knowledge, and we have to show them that we believe in their capacity to do so.


peggy said...

Hello Chris! Sadly, I have known teachers who feel like they're "doing good" by trying to teach students whom they ultimately believe are unteachable. It's heartbreaking for me and devastating to the education of those students. Fortunately, I have also known teachers who hold extremely high expectations for ALL students and, more importantly, go to great lengths to give them the encouragement, support, and scaffolding necessary to meet those expectations. (I have also known teachers who hold extremely high expectations, but give very little support, and then chastise students for not meeting those expectations...arguably the worst scenario!). My questions for you: What are you prepared to do to support your students to meet your high expectations? What if they don't meet your expectations?

Etherius said...

Those are the sorts of questions I'm hoping to learn how to answer through this course! I'm more than willing to put in the effort to help my students learn, but I want to see what pedagogical techniques are known to be effective. I think I'm starting to pick up bits and pieces through the readings, but I still have a lot to learn. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel. :)

NobleBear said...

Peggy said:
(I have also known teachers who hold extremely high expectations, but give very little support, and then chastise students for not meeting those expectations...arguably the worst scenario!).

This was my 10th grade Biology teacher. He was a caring man, passionate about both his work (PhD in Marine Biology) and imparting knowledge to his students. However, week after week he would dump copious amounts of data, complex concepts and before we got a chance to absorb any of it, we would move on to more of the same. Then, when we'd test and most of us were getting Ds, he'd trod out a variation on the lecture about how science is serious business and we needed to be trying harder.

I had to retake a semester of Bio in my senior year.

I bear no grudge against him but all the same I wouldn't care to repeat the experience.