“Chinese music,” he said to me, wrinkling his nose and pointing at my speakers where cumbia bounces out, as we celebrated Hispanic Heritage music.
“In January,” I suggested spontaneously.
There is nothing in the curriculum to celebrate China, but with 4 Chinese students who act as if they feel quite ostracized from the Spanish-speaking majority in my class, I decide on the spot that I must bring a balance. Recently, we were celebrating Hispanic Heritage and attended a student-created assembly. It was almost entirely in Spanish, and each class was expected to learn the Spanish theme song. I have to say I honestly felt conflicted by this.
While I think it’s good for all of my students to be exposed to Spanish, I think my Chinese students feel overexposed to it in their community. In some schools, the ELLs are the minority. In my teaching experience, the minorities have been the students who don’t speak Spanish. Plus, because of the higher percentage of Spanish ELLs, addressing the needs or supporting the language of Spanish ELLs has overall been a no-brainer, but for non-Spanish ELLs, it can be a true nightmare for the newcomer and their teacher to find ways to communicate.
I have even had the experience where schools couldn’t afford to hire chinese translators for Parent Teacher Conferences, and I fear this just reinforces for the parents that communicating with them is not as much of a priority. Either because it isn’t easy or because Chinese isn’t seen as important; they can’t tell the difference.
So, while I believe diversity concerns need to be addressed more deeply than just through things like holidays or food, etc., it is a start. But, whether your minority are ELLs or another specific grouping, or even if your number of boys largely outnumber your girls, finding ways for their lives and voices to come through are necessary for the classroom culture, but also for their own individual and emerging sense of self.
So, it’s unfortunate that the opportunities for this aren’t explicitly given support and time in teachers’ packed curriculums. It can often be difficult to do things like celebrate a minority culture without just giving it lip-service with a pre-made bulletin board or crash-course on a holiday.
If diversity is built into the curriculum at your school, or you have the freedom to do so in your class, what have been your successes?