By Al R. Schleicher, Valerie Ooka Pang, and Jose Luis Alvarado
Caring teachers believe in their students and wrap them in blankets of affirmation that nurture, guide, teach, and motivate. Teachers also are warm demanders (Alexander, 2016): They require excellence in student’s academic work. Not only in what teachers say, but their actions also convey, “We care for our students.”
Many classrooms today are culturally diverse. Culture is more than ethnic or racial groupings. Culture includes other human aspects such as class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language, and disabilities. To create meaningful instruction, educators get to know their students and see their multicultural richness.
If teachers build on the knowledge that culturally diverse students bring to school, schools are less likely to perpetuate stereotypes. Overgeneralizations come from a lack of knowledge about members of other cultural groups.
New culturally relevant teachers can create trusting–caring relationships with their students by using these six strategies:
1. 3-2-1 contact!
On the first day of school, dress up and appear as the namesake of your school, class, or town. Maybe your high school is Albert Einstein High; wear a grey curly-haired wig and lab coat. If your school is Harriet Tubman Elementary, can you find a long dress with a hoop skirt and a scarf to wrap around your hair? Add a necklace with a silver locket and a picture of Harriet Tubman in it. Perform a rap with clues for a treasure hunt. Students can search for the prize that symbolizes the namesake. Students use listening, interpreting, and analyzing skills in reviewing your rap. Whoever finds the treasure gets a coupon for a pizza or a new book from the library or an extra recess/break for the whole class. Engage your students!
2. Welcome back!
Say students’ names correctly in a “great to see you” tone. If you cannot say their name, ask students to help you hear the correct sounds. Most students want you to say their name properly, so they will be glad to help you improve your pronunciations. Your effort will show that they matter, and you respect them. If you don’t make the effort to pronounce their names correctly, the words you say may not mean “honored daughter” or “strong son.”
3. Super work!
Learn positive affirmations in multiple languages. Students feel affirmed when teachers tell them they make good decisions and are working hard. If your students are bilingual, whether they speak Spanish, Vietnamese, or Somali, saying “great work” in a student’s heritage language can be an encouraging surprise and sends the message that bilingualism is an asset that you value, not something that makes them different.
4. Lights, camera, smile!
Take pictures of students and put them up on your bulletin board. The title can be “We believe in each other.” If you have 30 students in your class, you might put two or three individuals together in a photo. If you have 200 students, group students with 10 or 15 others. Ask students to show crazy faces. Laugh. Most classrooms today include diverse groups of students, so this again naturally reinforces cultural diversity.
5. VIP Survey.
Create VIP student surveys to give out on the first day of school. Questions you might want to ask:
Does your family speak a language other than English at home? What language is it?
How can I as the teacher make learning more meaningful for you?
What is your favorite subject and why?
Parent surveys can also provide excellent feedback:
What technology does your child have available at home? Laptop? Tablet? Smartphone?
Do you have an Internet connection?
Or none of the above?
How safe does your child feel while getting to school?
6. Keep your ears open.
Learn about the views of your students by listening. One teacher heard two first graders talk about evolution. One said, “How do you think we came from apes?” The other classmate looked at him and shook his head, “I don’t know. Do you think it’s real?” They began to giggle. Young people are thinkers.
Learning about and caring for your students is a year-round job. As new teachers, you need to know that students bring cultural assets that can be built upon in the classroom (Pang, Alvarado, Preciado, & Schleicher, 2021).
How to be a Cultural Mediator
- Listen and observe. To understand students’ cultural backgrounds, teachers need to listen and observe them in class, at lunch, on the playground, and in the community.
- Learn. Find out additional information about cultural groups by going to local community functions, reading community newspapers, and asking community folks to be guest speakers.
- Be open. Have a parent night and ask them for ideas of how to make schooling more culturally inclusive.
- Clarify. In a clear and objective way, identify areas of conflict to discuss with parents and students.
- Collaborate. Bring people together. Establish common goals. Discuss solutions. Be a community bridge.
Mr. Schleicher is a credentialed educator working in secondary schools in Southern California. He teaches preservice teachers in the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University. His specializations include literacy, social studies education, and debate skills.
Dr. Pang is a Professor at San Diego State University. She is author of the textbook Diversity and Equity in the Classroom (Cengage Learning). Her specializations include teacher education, social studies, culturally relevant education, and virtual teaching.
Dr. Alvarado is Dean of the Graduate School in Education at Fordham University, New York City. He is a former special education classroom teacher who specializes in educational policy, bilingual teacher education, educational equity, and partnerships with local school districts and community colleges.
Alexander, M. (2016, April 13). The warm demander: An equity approach. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/warm-demander-equity-approach-matt-alexander
Pang, V. O. (2018). Diversity and equity in the classroom. Cengage Learning. Pang, V. O., Alvarado, J. L., Preciado, J. R. & Schleicher, A. R. (2021). Culturally relevant education: Think local within a holistic orientation.Multicultural Perspectives, 23(1), 3-16.