To the Editor:
In “Teachers’ Ethnicity Matters” (Walt Gardner’s Reality Check blog, www.edweek.org, April 15, 2015), Walt Gardner argues that we should work to diversify our teacher workforce, but cautions that this goal comes with a challenge—students and families who face economic hardships and bring “huge deficits in socialization, motivation, and intellectual development to class through no fault of their own.”
As an elementary-mathematics teacher-educator at a Hispanic-serving institution in a large city in Texas, I can say that we do not see our children’s backgrounds as challenges. Instead, we actively seek out collaborations with urban schools in which many children are emerging bilinguals, have undocumented status, qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and bring a diverse set of needs.
Based on Mr. Gardner’s conclusion, one could ask us why we place education students in training at these schools, if those children come with so little.
Our response is that our vision extends beyond the periphery and the apparent. We recognize the immense resources that all children, families, and communities bring to our classrooms. Some children may come to school hungry, or without a pencil, but that doesn’t mean they come with nothing to contribute to the classroom.
As economic inequality grows, the social crisis it represents is not going away simply by dismissing some families and communities as less than others because of their circumstances. Instead, each of us can and must make a contribution to the learning process that will mean progress despite financial status. We argue that everyone (including teachers, teacher-educators, and education students) has a surplus of knowledge, experiences, and resources that both crosses and is shaped by lines of race, ethnicity, native language, gender, and class.
Ultimately, we as educators consider our students to be wealthy, because their knowledge and experiences are valued currency in our classrooms. We encourage more educators to shift their thinking from the question of what “those” students are missing, to asking themselves, “What am I missing” when I look at them?
Assistant Professor of
Curriculum and Instruction
University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as Economic Hardships Need Not Mean ‘Huge Deficits’ in School