Why Do We Need This Class? Multicultural Education for Teachers

By Pang, Valerie Ooka | Phi Delta Kappan, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Why Do We Need This Class? Multicultural Education for Teachers


Pang, Valerie Ooka, Phi Delta Kappan


Ms. Pang's main goal is to help teachers create a classroom that is effective for all children. To accomplish that goal, she encourages teachers to examine issues of race, class, and gender that may serve as barriers to equal opportunity to learn.

IT WAS THE first day of class. A new group of teachers conversed noisily as I looked for my attendance sheet. I could hear a loud voice saying, "Why do we have to take this class? I'm not prejudiced. I don't need to be in here. I like all kids." I could hear someone else answer in a low voice, "I don't need it either. This is going to be a waste of time."

I smiled to myself and thought, "There are always doubting Thomases or Tomasitas. That's great. They will make my work easier."

After calling names on the class roster, I said, "I want to welcome you to the class. I am excited that I will have the opportunity to get to know you over the next 15 weeks. I realize that some of you feel the class will be a waste of time because you aren't prejudiced. Let's talk a little about this."

I turned to a broadly built woman with horn-rimmed glasses who was chatting in the back of the classroom. With a smile I said gently, "Joan, I was just wondering why you don't think you need this class."

Many of the teachers had been talking while I read through the class roster, but all of a sudden the room was quiet. The teachers turned toward Joan. waiting to see what she would say. Joan didn't want to back down. Just like the children in her classroom, she was cool and stood her ground. "Well, I just don't need to hear about prejudice and discrimination. I'm tired of hearing about the things we have done to blacks and Indians."

I smiled and replied, "I realize that many of you have thought a lot about prejudice and that you would never knowingly discriminate against any of your students." Joan's broad shoulders relaxed. "Let's hear from someone else. Why do you think we have this class?" I asked.

A tall male student wearing a gray sweat suit said, "I want to know how to teach black kids."

I looked at Larry in a puzzled way. "You need to respect, care, and believe in every student," I ventured.

"No, that's not what I mean," Larry said, his forehead wrinkling in frustration. "I want you to tell me about black culture. You know -- their music, history, foods. Things like that."

"Why do you think you need information about black culture?" I asked.

"Because then I will appreciate their culture more," Larry said, smiling.

"What do you know about your own culture?" I asked.

This was the beginning of another wonderful semester in multicultural education. And I knew that this class would be exciting because these teachers were already willing to share their honest views with one another. We were off to a great start.

Preparing Teachers for Diversity

Preparing teachers for a culturally diverse society is one of the most exciting and rewarding endeavors in education. I love what I do because most teachers are caring and dedicated people. I see teachers as America's national treasures. They do not go into teaching to get rich. Many teachers feel that teaching is more than a job; it is a commitment and a calling.

In my semester-length class on multicultural education, I try to model the kind of classroom that I hope the teachers in my class will create. I believe that modeling is the most powerful strategy in teaching. I try to create a learning atmosphere that says to each teacher, "You are a precious and worthy person. All of us in the class need your input to grow. Help us be the best people we can be." During the first class session, I begin memorizing the names of each teacher. I learn the teachers' names quickly because I want each one to know that he or she is an important member of our team.

I also try to create an interesting and lively classroom climate. If I expect teachers to motivate their students, I must get teachers involved in their own learning. …

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