In Indianapolis Public Schools, where the majority of teachers are white and the majority of students belong to ethnic and racial minority groups, teachers are being pushed to bridge cultural divides that may be present in their classrooms. According to the Indy Star, IPS has each of its teachers take a survey on diversity that is designed to open discussion about cultural differences in school communities. The paper also reports that this year marks the first time that IPS teachers are required to incorporate multicultural themes into their curriculum. For this purpose, the district created a 335-page curriculum “with ideas on lessons in African-American history” for teachers to implement in their classroom. A second curriculum that focuses on lessons in Latino history is also said to be in the works.
In an effort to develop greater “cultural competency,” a few of the teachers have made a conscious effort to use techniques designed to help them to reach out to and engage their minority students. One educator told the paper that he frequents the events that he knows his students’ attend in order to learn more about their cultures. “You can see a new side of them in their comfort zones. . . . I know better what to expect from them in the classroom,” said Jared Allen, a science teacher at Pike High School. Another teacher reported that he makes a point to learn the “teen slang” his students use in their everyday lives to better communicate with them and demonstrate that he truly cares about their lives. “I try to create an atmosphere where they know I’m on their side,” said George Sims, a teacher at George Washington Community High School.
According to the Indy Star, while some educators see “cultural competency” as an important tool for teachers in diverse settings, others question its necessity:
Some teachers bristle at the idea that they need training to teach kids who are different from them. To them, teaching is teaching. And children are children. Even among those who favor training, there are vigorous debates about what it should look like. For example, some think training should be specific to the ethnic traditions of the kids who attend a particular school. Others argue that to focus specifically on ethnic and racial difference is a mistake—that it's more important for teachers to understand the effects of poverty.
What are your thoughts on the need for educators to be trained in cultural competency? Is it important for teachers to take account of student ethnic and racial differences in their teaching methods?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.