Often, there are instances in multicultural education that teachers are flat-out not ready for. Situations that can arise teaching low-income or students of color become challenges not because something is wrong, but because we are not prepared for them.
When we prepare to become teachers, typically we are taught to teach within the context of the dominant population. Intrinsically, this isn’t a bad thing. However, it puts us in a position where our skillset becomes inadequate to teach in a multicultural classroom. As a result, many step into situations they are not ready for in urban and culturally diverse schools, which consequently develops a narrative about the students in these schools that isn’t always so positive, to say the least.
Teaching culturally diverse (and many times traditionally underserved) students requires a strong foundation that goes below the surface. This begins with understanding paradigms. Although paradigms are not often considered for how we can impact and influence our classrooms and students, I challenge you to consider a few things that might allow you to think about this differently moving forward.
When I hear the word paradigm I think perspective, or point of view. You know, how you look at something or someone. What I don’t think about is how a paradigm literally affects and impacts everything. How I process information, make decisions and behave are all based on how I interpret the world around me—and, needless to say, how I teach and interact with students.
We don’t see our students and schools with our eyes, we see them through our eyes with cells of recognition in our brain—almost like contact lenses or glasses we wear so regularly that we forget they are there. These cells or lenses in our brain filter what we observe through our personal paradigm, and in turn these become mental programs that guide all of our habitual behavior. All of it.
And please believe many of our habitual behaviors make themselves comfortable right in our classrooms. This is because paradigms control creativity and logic, as well as your professional abilities.
Solid instruction in urban and culturally diverse classrooms begins with the idea of understanding how our paradigms impact our daily lives. We do this by simply taking notice. That’s it. Take notice of your paradigms. It’s also important to know that there are different kinds of paradigms we may have as it relates to different parts of the classroom. I call these our scholastic paradigms.
Three Scholastic Paradigms You Should Be Thinking About
Our teaching paradigm says students are taught by sitting quietly at their desks while the teacher gives the lesson. In many instances, you stand in front of the classroom and teach the lesson with all eyes on you and everyone focused. Schoolwork is done on your own, and students are assessed to see who was paying attention and who has been learning. If they studied well enough, they’d do well. If they didn’t, their grades would reflect so, and would clearly signify a lack of effort of the part of the student. The grades that result from this indicate success and failure.
Our cultural paradigm tells us that we’re comfortable around people who act and talk like us, people who eat the same things we do and who have similar backgrounds and life experiences as we do. Our cultural paradigm also tells us that the way we do things is the way they should continue to be done.
- Urban Education
Our urban education paradigm conveys things like “you should have learned that already” when culturally diverse or inner-city students don’t know something we feel they’re supposed to. We do not want to discourage them, so for their sake, with their best interests in mind, we lower the bar a little. Our urban education paradigm also tells us that these students need “fixing” or “saving.”
Unless our paradigms and their associated assumptions about teaching in urban or culturally diverse schools are acknowledged, they remain hidden from us and are therefore unquestionable. Accepting a paradigm shift can be extremely difficult, as, many times, to acknowledge this goes against what we’ve come to understand about the world around us. Sometimes this can take place over a long period of time, but quite often it can happen in an instant. But believe me when I tell you, on the other side of a paradigm shift lies true accomplishment and game-changing breakthroughs for both you and your students.
Now that you consciously take notice of your perspective, you are mindful of the flow of your awareness, and pay attention to your paradigms for what they are. The truth is, your paradigms are in action whether you recognize them or not. You can choose to be a passenger or a driver. A pawn or a player. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.