Teachers teach material to students. Good teachers teach material to students well. Great teachers know their students, their students’ backgrounds, interests, and experiences, and work to create and present curriculum that balances both the need to teach content with their students’ ability, interest, and desire. Being a great teacher requires a teacher to be multiculturally literate, as it is impossible to truly know students and work towards creating an inclusive, comprehensive curriculum without it. However, being multiculturally literate is a process that a teacher must work on throughout their career and lifetime; it is not something that can be finished and never have to be revisited. It is this process of becoming multiculturally literate, and the benefits of it that have made the largest impact on me throughout this course.

Historically, the concept of intelligence has been defined by the dominant culture. Allison Davis studied this discrepancy and worked hard to make it known. Davis found that students from the dominant culture will have an advantage on assignments and assessments simply by having a similar cultural background and that this advantage will lead to those students who are not a part of the dominant culture being labeled as unintelligent or unsuccessful (Hillis, 1996). Interestingly, as a math teacher in high school, I see this illustrated in a slightly different manner. The majority of the classes I teach are the lowest math class we offer at the school. There are very few students in my classes not of Euro-American descent; comparatively, the more advanced classes have a majority of students of an Asian descent. I often hear my students speak about their mathematical ability and comment about how their lack of skill comes because they are not Asian. In this way I see my students attribute intelligence in mathematics to a culture they feel mathematically dominant. Davis found teachers need to expand the definition of intelligence and be able to bring that expansion, as well as the view that every culture can learn and offers something of value, into the classroom. I see this as being a huge need in my classroom where students are already feeling as though they will not be good enough, just because they are not part of the culture they feel makes them good at mathematics. My students need to know they are intelligent and capable, and that will start in the way I establish a culture in the classroom.

My classroom culture will directly impact my students’ feeling of importance, acceptance, and safety and this will translate into my students’ ability to learn. In order to provide my students with an environment where they feel it is safe to take intellectual risks, I must make sure each student knows I value them as a person and as a learner. Some ways I do this is by considering social interaction, comprehensibility, and critical thinking as discussed during the interaction/communication week of study. Students need to know they are valued by me, and by each other. I encourage students to share with me about their lives as I greet them at the door each day, check in with them individually at some point during class each day if possible, and as I share portions of my life with them. I also invite them to share with each other, both about themselves as people and as learners. I have designed my classroom physically in a way that encourages students to work in cooperative groups and offer many places in my instruction for students to talk to and reason with each other. This cooperation ties directly into comprehensibility as well. Knowing that I have students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, with different education experiences, and a variety of learning styles, I work to provide all students with multiple access points into the curriculum. I offer opportunities for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning in each lesson. I integrate pictures, definitions of new terms, anchor points, graphic organizers, and ties to prior knowledge and content into all lessons. In this way, I work to provide students with all different learning styles and backgrounds the ability to access the content at the level needed to be successful. Additionally, critical thinking is an integral part in mathematical success, and not one that has been emphasized in all of my students’ prior experiences. I verbally and visually walk students through a critical thought process each time one is required to solve a problem and ask them to consider answers and justify them on a regular basis. The ability to think critically is an essential skill in all subject areas; by focusing on it in mathematics, I am giving students a common tool to use across their school day.

Even though mathematics is sometimes touted as the subject that can transcend cultural or language differences, it is very important for me to remember that every one of my students has a cultural background that is different from mine, whether it is a small difference, or a large difference. Every student comes into my classroom with a slightly different lens they view education through. Mary McLeod Bethune dreamed of a school where her students would be able to learn from a curriculum that reflected both the dominant culture and the lives of her students (Barnett, 1996). There are obvious ways where this becomes evident in a math classroom; the most obvious being word problems and settings for real world application problems. Many cultures are not recognized in word problems or are presented in a stereotypical way not truly representative of the culture. However, there are other places a cultural bias might show up. One way I have considered and worked to change is the manner in which a problem is solved. Many math teachers show students only one way to solve a problem, and that way is often the way they, themselves, learned. This perpetuates a dominant culture situation. Instead of doing this, I work to find multiple ways to present a problem and often ask students to share if they have other ways to solve a similar type of problem in class. I have found that in this way students feel valued and invest in the content.

In addition to making sure my students feel welcome, valued, capable, invested, and engaged in my class, I also need to make sure my students’ families feel they can access both me and my curriculum in order to help their students succeed. Many times families from other cultures, or socioeconomic levels, do not feel school or teachers are approachable. For some parents, they were unsuccessful completing the level of mathematics that their own children are now taking. Others do not have any experience with the American school system, and are unsure or afraid of getting involved. I’ve experienced many times where parents did not graduate from high school or did not have any success in math, and that attitude is very prevalent in their children as well. In order for me to engage families in supporting their student’s learning, I need to make sure they feel welcome and safe as well. One way I try to do this is by reaching out to communicate regularly by email. Although I cannot translate the email in to every language my students speak at home, my hope is that written communication will be easier for parents to translate with the help of the student at home. I have also participated in events at our school specifically for families who do not speak English at home. In these events we provide as many translators as possible and attempt to help explain policies, procedures and expectations to parents so they know what to expect of their child at home. This is an area where I know I need to continue to work and grow in an effort to become more multiculturally literate.

By modeling my efforts to become multiculturally literate, and by showing students I value each one as a person with a different lens, I hope to show students the importance that they, too, become multiculturally literate people. Our students are going to leave our classrooms and go into a workplace that is truly a global workplace. Professionals are connected with people in all countries and are asked to work with people of all different backgrounds. As Howard says when writing about the place for whites in multicultural education (p. 329), “The future belongs to those who are able to walk and work beside people of many different cultures, lifestyles and perspectives.” My students must leave my classroom knowing that every person offers a unique perspective and value, and they must look to those perspectives as places they can learn and grow from. It is of utmost importance for my students to not leave my classroom feeling as though there is a dominate culture, but rather a unity that is made up of multitude of different cultures, none with more value over the other, but one that is created of our vast experiences.

This can feel like a daunting task almost impossible to achieve. Taylor’s (1996) depiction of an African American woman educator in the 1860s helps provide some encouragement and perspective however. Those women fought tooth and nail to teach. School was held in buildings that were repurposed, at times uncomfortable, and at other times, unsafe. These teachers were not valued by the majority, at times were ostracized or even the recipients of death threats. Yet the reason these women continued to battle such conditions were because they believed in their culture and the common desire to bring the race up (Taylor, 1996). When I consider what educators have gone through historically simply to be able to teach all people, it reminds me of the importance of my professional and the role I have in the lives of my students. By modeling an environment of respect, inclusion, interest and value, I am showing my students how they can continue to interact in the rest of their educational and professional opportunities. In this way, I am taking the most important points from this course, applying them, and hopefully passing them on to my students in a manner that will continue to impact our global culture.

Throughout this course, there are many artifacts that support my learning and understanding that is shown above. The first, The Life Story of Mary Ewart, is an examination of my own history and how it has impact who I am today, as well as who I am in the classroom and with my students. At the end of the course, we were asked to reflect on the theories we learned, and to consider how to put them into practice in our own classroom. The Theory to Practice Reflection Paper illustrates my understanding on this topic.

References

Barnett, E. F. (1996) Mary McLeod Bethune: Feminist, Educator, and Activist. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), *Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge and Action*. (pp. 217-232). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), *Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge and Action*. (pp. 115-128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996). Whites in Multicultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), *Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge and Action*. (pp. 323-334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Taylor, E. (1996). Race, Gender, and Calling: Perspectives on African American Women Educators, 1862-1870. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), *Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge and Action*. (pp. 201-216). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McGee Banks, C.A. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and African American Challenges to Meta Narratives. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), *Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge and Action*. (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.