The Call to Teach

The Call to Teach: Multicultural Education

America’s “melting pot” status is one that most citizens are proud to claim. The fact that people here often refer to themselves as one ethnicity or another, and rarely as simply an American, is proof that being from somewhere else – however far removed – is a source of familial pride. Even African Americans, who do not always have an Ellis Island story in the family tree, find collective strength in the stories of their ancestors and what it means for their lives today. This blending of cultures is both a blessing and curse of the K-12 classroom. With more diversity than ever, teachers have to adjust methods from one student to the next, and from one year to the next. Multicultural education is about more than a classroom with varied skin color – it includes careful examination of the neighborhoods, parenting styles and general experiences that shape each and every K-12 student.

In my new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching, I examine multicultural education and what impact the diverse students of today will have on the next generation of educators. Today I want to touch on the term “multiculturalism” and examine its meaning in K-12 classrooms.

Defining Multiculturalism

In its most basic sense, multicultural education is a progressive approach for transforming education based on educational equality and social justice. The components required in educating a multicultural education are content integrations, prejudice reduction, empowering school culture and social culture. These all relate and all require attention as they relate to the efforts of conflict resolution in today’s world. What kids learn in their classroom environments when it comes to interactions with those who are different from them translates into how well they will manage life in the global marketplace.

In the last century, there has been an increase in global mutual acceptance of opposing views and different cultures – though arguably, there is still a long way to go. Specifically when it comes to America, it is crucial that multicultural education exist with the increasing number of students who speak a second language and come from somewhere else. Diversity exists even within mainstream society and students need to have the communication life skills that multicultural education promotes.

Teaching in a Multicultural Society

So what does all this talk about multiculturalism really mean in the contemporary classroom? What can teachers do to make sure they practice pedagogical individualism and promote the diversity that exists in society as a whole? Since each classroom is different, each approach will be varied as well. Some important common ground when it comes to multicultural teaching should include:

Careful observation. David Kolb created a four-step model for really understanding the needs of a particular student group. He starts with concrete experience, adds reflective observation and then moves to abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. In other words, multicultural education cannot be taught in a textbook. It must be developed by each educator based on a particular student group.

Learning style guidance. Teachers can help students discover their academic strengths by helping them discover their own learning style. In this way, students discover what method of comprehension works best for them based on their own backgrounds and personalities. If educators make this learning style quest a class project, an inherent lesson in multiculturalism is taught.

Pride in heritage. Educators should look for ways to emphasize the differences between students in a positive light. This might mean writing essays on family background or partnering with other students to help each other develop projects that accent the culture of the other. This can include prompts that look back on family history for generations, or could ask students to look at their current family setup.

There are scores of ways that educators can approach multiculturalism in K-12 classrooms but the first step is recognizing its importance. For today’s students to experience lifelong success on the global scale, educators must recognize the need for multiculturalism in pedagogy.

How do you adjust to and promote multiculturalism in your classrooms?

The Call to Teach: Urban Legends

Each day 8,000 American students drop out of high school. Over the course of a year, that amounts to 3 million total students who give up on the American right to education through 12th grade and decide they will be better off without a high school diploma. Within those numbers are even more telling statistics that show students of color and from low socio-economic brackets are dropping out in much greater numbers than their white middle- and high-class peers.

In my new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching I explore the “real world” of teaching, particularly how new educators are ill-prepared to face the challenges of teaching in urban settings. Traditional university programs for K-12 educators do not adequately prepare students for what awaits them in the urban schools of America where the achievement gap and dropout rates are highest. So how can this problem be remedied? In three ways, as a start:

Target urban backgrounds. Teachers with connections to urban locations and educations are prime candidates to return to these schools and make a difference. Universities are not doing enough to find these qualified future educators and then place them on specific tracks for career success at urban schools. There needs to be greater customization when it comes to college learning for future educators who understand firsthand the challenges that urban students face – and then job placement programs need to be built around the same concept.

Require urban student teaching. All educators-in-training should spend at least a few hours in an urban classroom, in addition to their other teaching assignments. Seeing urban challenges firsthand must be part of every educator’s path to a degree, even if he or she never teaches full time in such a classroom. I believe this would not only raise awareness of issues that tend to plague urban schools (like overcrowding and the impact of poverty on student performance) but may also inspire future teachers to want to teach in those settings. College programs must expose teacher-students to real-world urban settings in order to make progress past the social and academic issues that bring urban K-12 students down.

Reward urban teachers. The test-heavy culture of American K-12 classrooms puts urban teachers at a distinct advantage when it comes to resources and even lifelong salaries. If a teacher whose students score well on standardized tests is rewarded with more money and access to more learning materials, where does that leave the poor-performing educators? Instead of funneling more funds and learning help to teachers with student groups that are likely to do well, despite the teacher, urban teachers should be receiving the support. At the very least, the funding and attention should be evenly split. In almost every case, failing urban students and schools should never be blamed on the teacher. That mentality is what scares away many future educators who may otherwise have given urban teaching a try. There is too much pressure to perform and that leads to many urban teachers leaving their posts after the first year, or not even looking for those jobs in the first place.

Strong teaching in America’s urban schools is the key to overcoming dropout and achievement gap issues. With the right guidance, urban K-12 students can rise above their circumstances to be stand-outs in academics. They may even return the favor as teachers themselves one day. For urban teachers to succeed, however, they need more support and encouragement from their industry, government and society as a whole.

What do you think can be done to recruit more inspired educators into urban schools?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

The Call to Teach: The Role of Technology

As far back as 2004, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, outlined technology standards to help support educators in the classroom in the rapidly evolving Internet-based world. Among other things, the standards called for technology empowerment of teachers in order to reach a tech-hungry student population and society at large. Nearly a decade later, these reasonable standards set forth by NCATE are more necessary than ever in K-12 classrooms.

My new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching looks at the colossal role technology is playing in all K-12 schools and how the influence of technology will shape new educators over the course of their careers. From mobile devices to cloud computing, the technology that exists and is forthcoming will forever transform the profession of teaching and the K-12 learning experience.

Technology Perks

There are so many ways that academics are enhanced by technology that simply did not exist ten years ago. Today, students can benefit from online learning modules if a major illness or suspension keeps them at home. For students who are struggling under the academic and social pressures of traditional schooling, online learning provides an alternative to stay on track from the comforts of home. Online learning is just a brushstroke on the contemporary portrait of learning technology. Within classrooms, teachers can encourage students to work individually on computer or mobile devices, freeing up some time to work in-person with those who might need the extra attention. Teachers can also communicate more effectively with parents and students regarding upcoming assignments, supplementary lesson plans and areas where students could benefit from extra practice. With browser-based technology, and cloud-based options, teachers can provide easy access to information and parents and students can log in at their convenience.

Technology is transforming the teaching process into one that is more interactive as well. Instead of waiting to see how much a student knows at the end of a term, progress can be measured in real-time – and adjustments can be made. Teaching is becoming less instructor-centric and more of a communal process.

Technology Pitfalls

Most of the so-called “disadvantages” of technology in K-12 classrooms cannot be avoided, even if every instructor in every school swore off computers, mobile devices and all other forward-thinking educational platforms. Whether teachers use technology in lesson plans or not, it exists outside classroom walls and therefore influences the way children learn. Perhaps the biggest downside when it comes to rapid technology change is that children now expect instant answers. Screen culture has made it so finding the solution to problems takes only a few seconds (with the help of a search engine) and so any long version of finding an answer is viewed negatively.

The ever-present educator mantra of “show your work” is devalued as K-12 students look only at the practical side of obtaining knowledge and care little for the process involved in finding their own answers in their own ways. This instant knowledge gratification impacts educators who must now teach the material at hand but also impart value for learning. Finding the answers used to be part of the academic challenge for students but now that search process has been significantly shortened. For educators to truly give students the tools to succeed, they must impart a passion for the pursuit of knowledge and break some of contemporary students’ reliance on technology to find the answers.

Love it or hate it, today’s teachers must embrace technology as a way of life in their classrooms. Resistance is futile at this point so educators must find a balance between the flash of technology and its practical benefits in the learning process.

How do you think technology will change the role of teachers in coming years?

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here.