I always reflect upon my teaching practices. I believe that challenges in teaching are unceasing. Each year, there are always new and sometimes unfamiliar challenges. I must do whatever is necessary in order to meet the educational needs of my students. Instead of considering myself unfortunate, I feel lucky because I have had the opportunity to teach learners of all socio-economic statuses, English language proficiencies, and all cognitive and grade levels. There are times when I am tempted to believe there is nothing I can do in my teaching assignment because the challenges appear worse than what they really are.
I train myself to always look at the positive sides of any situation. Part of this outlook comes from my exposure to experiences which were far worse than my recent ones. It makes me feel good when I am thankful for whatever I have and whatever I can do. I don’t think about what I do not have and what I cannot do and feel sorry for myself. I always believe that there are always bright sides to any situations, no matter how horrifying they may be.
I would like to mention that I am happy when I see that my students are happy. I am not a parent but for some reason, I feel that my students are my own children. I feel that I am both their parents in the classroom. In back of my mind, I consider the classroom as one big family where people support each other. I think I am a cooperative planner. I see myself as a facilitator of students’ learning processes. I believe that all students in the classroom have something to share with one another and something to gain from one another. While one of my styles is to inform, educate and entertain my students, I leave to them the decision about which activities appeal to them and to what level they will meet my high yet reasonable expectations. I always tell my students that whoever they become, whatever they end up doing and wherever they go is a product of their conscious or unconscious decisions. I remind my students nobody is responsible for their own happiness and success except themselves. The society, significant others and the environment are contributing but not determining factors for their failure or success (Diaz-Rico, 2006:p. 284: Cooperative Planner).
I also believe that teaching requires a tremendous amount of energy. Energy is infectious. I always do my best to get enough sleep in order to have sufficient energy to motivate and inspire my classroom. There were times when I needed to come to work and teach with only a few hours of sleep, and the result was never good. Students picked-up on my fatigue, lower tolerance, and negative energy. I noticed that my patience was short because I craved sleep. I made a decision to value sleep more than I previously had in order to teach effectively. Students do not need teachers who are irritable and unable to give them the energy that they need and deserve (p. 284: Emotionally Exciting Teacher).
I also remember the time when I was teaching high school students with severe emotional disturbances. I structured learning activities in which they could pursue their interests and show their talents. I did not require them just to write. I assessed their understanding by allowing them to choose how they would like to show their comprehension. Some students showed their understanding through song writing, some through poster making, some through writing a poem, some through essay writing, some through dramatization. I gave my students the liberty and the luxury of deciding how they would like to show the class the level of their understanding of the lessons. I noticed that students were happy to do activities in which they were interested. It engaged their thinking and they were proud to show-off their abilities.
I have always believed that students need to learn comfortably and confidently and we teachers need to make learning interesting and challenging for them. My exposure to different nationalities when I was teaching in an international school led me to believe that each person sees things differently. I have learned that there is no absolute truth in teaching, but only relative truth. There are many relative truths in a diverse classroom, and it is wise to recognize and respect the uniqueness of each relative truth. Students who belong to a particular culture and behave in a particular way must not be hastily judged by the teacher. We need to know how and why the thought processes and behaviors are the way they are and when and where they manifest.
My exposure to our CLAD courses has encouraged me to respect, exercise patience and reach out to my students. The CLAD program has helped me to become more aware of students’ cultures and behaviors which may be inconsistent with the expectations of the school. Now, I always remember that I need to provide my students equal educational opportunities through differentiating instruction, scaffolding and respecting and recognizing their cultures and by slowly and comfortably introducing them to the culture of their new environment.
With the experience that I have from my teaching activities and education, I feel that I am empowered to make students’ learning experiences culturally relevant. I feel that I must provide my future students with a diverse classroom where each student and each family can contribute to the curriculum and enrich learning by sharing their way life and their cultural perspectives on the lesson. Diaz-Rico mentioned in her book entitled The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook that “both mainstream students and CLD students benefit from education about diversity, not only cultural diversity but also diversity in ability, gender preference, and human nature in general” (p. 274).
As a teacher, I also have the power to allow my students to use their native language when expressing their thoughts if the use of English prevents them from conveying the richness of their ideas. I want to show my students that I respect and honor their wisdom…wisdom which can be expressed more eloquently using the language in which they are fluent. This motivates students to participate in classroom activities while also learning English.
Sharing literature, mathematical methods, and cultural events in the classroom can also enrich the curriculum. The curriculum will only serve as a guide of what to teach, and it can expand in its scope and methodologies based on the contributions of students and families from different cultures.
I would like to have the ability of “a skilled intercultural educator who recognizes that each culture supports distinct attitudes, values and abilities” (p. 278).
The discussions and the case studies presented in the reading materials have positively impacted my ways of thinking about students coming from different cultures. The readings revealed how far some school, state and national education policies and teaching practices have gone in teaching culturally diverse classrooms. The readings also presented the areas of concern that need to be addressed by those of us who hold a stake in education in order to provide equal learning opportunities for English learners.
Experts, other teachers, and the videos of Professor Hakuta have shaped my paradigm in teaching. I have learned that teaching is only not about what to teach, how to teach and when to teach, but it is also about love and respect and how much love and respect you can give. It is about inspiration and a firm motivation to provide educational opportunities and appropriate learning experiences for students across different language proficiency levels, intellectual levels, and cultures.
The Stanford University CLAD program has confirmed my belief that we need to know our students and we need to know about what we are teaching because we cannot teach something we do not know and someone we do not know. Our discussions about culture have motivated me to communicate with the parents and students more in order to know just who my students and their families are. I want to have an idea about the dynamics of their families…dynamics that likely contribute to their actions in school.
Again, the use of native language during classroom discussion is a great way to integrate culture into the curriculum and pedagogy. Students’ understanding, capability and competence are not measured by their ability to speak English but rather by the substance of their thoughts. The use of native language allows students to express what they know in a manner that is comfortable, interesting and meaningful to them.
A think-pair-share strategy can also be a culturally relevant strategy. It accommodates both students who are comfortable and not comfortable when speaking up in the classroom. It gives opportunities for students to read, write and listen and speak with some of their classmates, but not necessarily the entire classroom.
It would be challenging yet rewarding to do an ethnographic study of my future students. I would like to utilize techniques presented in the funds of knowledge. I would like to include the interests of my students in the curriculum in order to maximize their engagement. I will have a deeper understanding of my students, their behaviors and thought process and thus be able to educate them, my fellow teachers, and parents about why students are the way they are. I am hoping to be influential in ways that are meaningful and relevant for the students, teachers and parents.