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A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century


Rachel Lord
Wesleyan College

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

Abstract

As a teacher in the 21st century, it is important to value diversity as a critical teaching


disposition because being different is beautiful and when people respect differences we can gain
a deeper understanding of the world around us. Throughout this paper, I will discuss five forms
of diversity that include: Cultural and linguistic, learning style, sexual, physical, cognitive, and
affective disabilities, and socioeconomic status. My synthesis on valuing diversity as a critical
teaching disposition is gathered from these forms of diversity. I believe diversity is an amazing
attribute to have within a classroom and that being different means there is always more to learn!
In order to teach students how to value diversity, teachers must be prepared and made
knowledgeable on how diverse our world is. Once teachers are prepared for the diversities they
will encounter, they will be able to implement rules, guidelines, and routines within their
classroom that will allow for a diverse atmosphere to blossom. In saying all of this, it has not
been without great effort that the people in our society have been fighting for decades to help
students who are underrepresented within our school systems and society. The importance of
valuing diversity in all aspects of life lies in the roots and history of great diversity issues in our
society.

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

Today, our world is more diverse than ever before and the world will only continue to
grow, change, and develop. With that being said, as a teacher in the 21st century, it is important to
value diversity as a critical teaching disposition. I believe diversity should be valued for many
reasons, but in order to value diversity one must understand there are many different forms of
diversity. I will discuss five forms of diversity that include: Cultural and linguistic, learning
style, sexual, physical, cognitive, and affective disabilities, and socioeconomic status. My
synthesis on valuing diversity as a critical teaching disposition is gathered from these forms of
diversity. I believe that it is important to value diversity because being different is beautiful and
when people respect differences we can gain a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Once we gain an understanding for unique people from all over the world, we will possess
compassion. Compassion will help people begin to see that our differences encompass a wealth
of knowledge that is ours for the taking. This knowledge will never be discovered without first
learning respect, understanding, and compassion for people.
Cynthia Robinson, PHD and Pand Clardy, PHD (2011) wrote an article titled, It Aint
What You Say, Its How You Say It: Linguistic and Cultural Diversity In The Classroom.
Robinson and Clardy state that most of the teachers being hired out of teacher education
programs are primarily Caucasians. These teachers have been taught about diversity within their
teaching programs, but some have not experienced cultural and linguistic diversity firsthand. On
the other hand, there are those teachers who do not value diversity within their classrooms.
Teachers need to be equipped before entering into the classroom on how to handle diversity in a
way that allows students to feel valued and welcomed. Robinson and Clardy share an example in
their article of an African American student speaking in Ebonics. The student said she felt

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

criticized by other students and only felt she could talk in the classroom with the African
American teacher because this was the only place she felt comfortable. In this instance, teachers
need to be shown that there is a time for grammar and a time for content. The girls words have
meaning and power and the way they are spoken tell of where she comes from, her history, and
her culture. This culture and linguistic diversity should be honored and praised and the other
students should be made aware of the culture that this dialect comes from. In these instances, this
is a good opportunity for a teacher to spontaneously teach and prevent bullying within the
classroom (Robinson and Clardy, 2011, p. 101-110).
Furthermore, many students who come from a different culture experience culture shock
when they walk into an American classroom. A good way to prevent this from happening is to
teach about cultures from all over the world. In order to effectively teach diverse students
teachers must be prepared and have a positive attitude about the process of integrating all
cultures into one classroom. Robinson and Clardy (2011) state that teachers need to be
addressing the needs of their students in a holistic manner. This can be done by allowing the
students to think critically as they are taught. Robinson and Clardy also encourage the inclusion
of students who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds in order to help these
students make connections and build on their current knowledge. Robinson and Clardy state, In
our classes, students learn that when children are not allowed to speak in their home language in
the classroom, this lets the child know that his/her "language, culture, and previous experience
have no place within the school or, by extension, within this society (2011, p. 108). Students
should feel included, welcomed, and respected. Their cultures and dialects should be praised and
taught about because this is who they are and where they come from. Every student has a special
and unique place within a classroom and something they can contribute to society. These

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

powerful points prove why teachers should value diversity as a critical teaching disposition
(Robinson and Clardy, 2011, p. 101-110).
Additionally, cultural and linguistic diversity is something that I am very passionate
about. I am an advocate for mission trips no matter what religious affiliation one associates with.
Mission trips are an amazing way to really immerse yourself into different cultures. I have
chosen to go to Africa twice and my second time I left home for almost a year stayed with people
from all over the world. Some nights, I would hear thirty different conversations going on and
none of them were in English. Many days, I was the minority among my classes and some days I
experienced racism against my own culture. Honestly, this was the most eye opening experience
of my life. I learned about so many culturally diverse people and I loved them all dearly. I
believe that people have to be open minded about going out of your comfort zone in order to
learn. During my time abroad, I learned to value people, value you their culture, their history,
and where they come from.
Next, another form of diversity is learning styles. Learning style preferences can result
from a students cultural background. Lisa Leopold (2012) wrote an article called Prewriting
Tasks for Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Learners in which she explains that sometimes
teachers tend to teach in a way that represents their own learning preference. Unfortunately, this
will hold students back from learning in a way that best suits their individual needs. As a teacher,
it is important to research different learning styles and how to teach in a way that incorporates
every type of learning style. The learning styles most familiar in the education field are auditory,
visual, and kinesthetic. Leopold states, Visual learners learn best when they see something;
auditory learners prefer to process information through oral/aural modes; and kinesthetic learners
prefer to learn through activities that require total physical involvement (pg.98). Leopold goes

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

on to say that teachers need to teach in an inclusive way that allows for students to learn in many
different styles. Students who tend to gravitate towards auditory learning are said to love stories,
discussions, and oral brainstorming. (pg.99) Students who may learn better visually may love to
participate in mind mapping and graphic organizers. These two types of activities allow students
to get their thoughts and concepts onto paper and see it in front of them. (pg. 100) Last,
kinesthetic learners will probably prefer to learn through movement activities such as organizing
themselves into different categories based on different topics they are learning about. (pg. 100101) This type of diversity is important to value for the reason that students are being left behind
every day because they are not learning in a way that speaks to them. By valuing learning styles,
teachers will be able to awaken their students interest in learning (leopold, 2012, p. 96-102).
Unfortunately, when I was in school I hated being tested. I would cry and feel like I could
not breathe. I vividly remember a time in first grade when my teacher put a tri fold board around
our desks to prevent cheating. I already had testing anxiety and now there was a board around
my entire desk. I felt like I could not breathe and I remember my chest feeling as if my school
books were sitting on it. I knew the information, but I was scared. I was scared of being a failure,
I was scared of not making a perfect one hundred, and I was scared of disappointing my teacher
and parents. Grades are weighed out by percentages and unfortunately more often than not tests
weigh more than other assignments within a classroom. I was actually a great student and I still
am, but I feel as if I was never given a chance to find out my learning preference. My love for
learning was never awakened. To this day, if I am asked about my learning style I usually say
that I have to do a little bit of everything to pass. If anything, I learned that a lot of hard work
will get me where I want to go. Although this is how my educational journey has been in the

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

past, I do not want my future students to have to go through this. I see an importance in valuing
their different learning styles and I will teach in a manner that speaks to their individual needs.
In addition to these forms of diversity, there is the diversity of sexual orientation. Laurie
Hanson (2015) wrote an article called, Encouraging Pre-Service Teachers to Address Issues of
Sexual Orientation in Their Classrooms. Within this article she states that teachers need to be
made aware and educated on the LGBT community. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender. Educators, no matter their religious background or moral standards, should value
their students sexual diversity. Students are coming to school to gain knowledge and learn.
Students are not coming to school to be condemned by people for their sexual orientation. I
believe there should be protection for students who are bullied because of their sexual
preference. Hanson (2015) wrote in this article that many students have complained that teachers
just stand by and let name calling and bullying happen. Often times, if students are educated
when they are young about sexual diversity they will have an understanding and respect for those
who are sexually diverse. This type of diversity is a tough area for teachers. Although teachers
own their classrooms, students are at home more than school. I believe valuing sexual orientation
is important because every student should be able to live freely and how they feel is best for their
life. I would never want my students to feel trapped, scared, or unwanted because of their sexual
orientation. I would teach my students to value sexual diversities by having positive classroom
management skills. This can be done through educating students on sexual diversities,
maintaining a positive and strict classroom management, and implementing a no bullying policy
(Hanson, 2015, p. 51-55).
At the end of the day, this issue comes down to having respect for others. I believe
diversity is beautiful and that being different means there is always more to learn! Therefore,

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

there will always be something to teach! As a teacher, I would love to be a model and lead by
example when it comes to sexual orientation. I was raised in a Christian home and I went to a
private Baptist school until I graduated from high school. I was raised very conservative, but
never judgmental. I was very uneducated on the LGBT community and I believe this to be a very
sad situation. I wish I was taught more about sexual diversity and what our world has to offer.
Now that I am a Wesleyan student, I am being well educated about this type of diversity and I
value this knowledge. As a result, I will be able to conduct my classroom in a way that values
sexual diversity.
Moreover, another form of diversity is physical, cognitive, and affective disabilities.
Timothy Baghurst (2014) wrote an article about encouraging disability appreciation. Baghursts
article is geared towards students who wanted to become physical education teachers, but the
article has a great message that all teachers can learn from. The intent of this message is to prove
to teachers that having empathy means standing alongside students through their activities.
Baghurst is trying to say get involved, do the activities, and endure the hard work in school
together! He states that many teachers do not want to tackle the challenge of working with
disabled students. This is because teachers lack the knowledge and understanding of the
disabilities they encounter within the education field. In order to help prevent this, an experiment
was conducted using nine students who were going to school to become physical education
teachers. These nine students picked a random disability that they had to live with for a twenty
four hour period of time. The students had to complete their every day school routines with their
disability for twenty four hours. According to Baghurst, the disabilities included: blindness, loss
of dominant arm/hand function, loss of leg function, and loss of speech (2014, p. 45). After the
experiment was conducted, one student reported back and said, Any time youre out doing

A Disposition for Diversity: Teaching in the 21st Century

anything like going to a restaurant was kind of awkward. The hostess is asking you for
information and you cant say anything. She looked at me funny. I couldnt talk to our waitress.
Similarly, another student with a different disability reported, Going down the stairs to eat was
hard, but I knew where to go and felt my way. I had to have someone find the milk in the fridge
for me. I tried to make myself a sandwich and had to have help finding the ingredients. It was so
hard to tell how much peanut butter was on the bread. My jelly ended up being just a big blob in
the corner and it didnt end up being a very good sandwich (Baghurst, 2014, p. 46).
Additionally, Baghurst (2014) stated it has been proven that when teachers feel confident
to teach students with disabilities it is more likely that they will accomplish this task and
welcome the challenge. With that being said, why is this type of diversity so important? The
importance of this diversity lies in the fact that these students want to learn and prosper just like
any other student. Students with disabilities have reported feeling mistreated, isolated, and
inferior. A schools purpose is to help students prosper from all walks of life and disabled
students cannot excel unless the teachers are prepared to work with students. Overall, when
teachers are prepared and made knowledgeable about a range of disabilities their attitudes toward
welcoming and including disabled students will improve (Baghurst, 2014, p. 44).
Similarly, I agree with this notion of preparing teachers to handle students with diverse
disabilities. Years ago, I was a nanny for a little girl with autism and I had no idea how to handle
her or understand her, but I was willing to learn. I learned so much more from that little girl than
she ever learned from me. She was truly such a bright light in my life and I will say I came out of
that job with a true understanding and knowledge about autism. She helped me to see the world
from a different perspective and to have empathy for those dealing with disabilities within a

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classroom setting. To this day, I think about that little girl and the impact she had on my life and
my future as an educator and because of her I will be willing to work with disabled students.
Lastly, socioeconomic status of students in school systems is a diversity that should be
valued among educators. Robert Bradley and Robert Corwyn (2002) wrote an article about the
multitude of studies conducted on children from low socioeconomic status. Unfortunately
students who come from low income families lack access to many things the world has to offer
such as: parent involvement, clothes, food, and social gatherings. It has been researched that
these issues could cause students to lack proper development. (p. 372) Bradley and Corwyn state
that children who come from low income families have been known to come down with growth
stunts, birth defects, neurological issues, AIDS, or alcohol syndrome. This is just a few of the
many things these children suffer from when they come from low socioeconomic families. Often
times, children suffer from these things due to lack of prenatal care, parents using while
pregnant, and poor nutrition. According to Bradley and Corwyn (2002), studies have been
conducted that state poverty and low parental education are associated with lower levels of
school achievement (p. 371-399).
In light of knowing this information, why is it important to value our students from
different socioeconomic statuses? I believe that it is important to value this diversity because
students need to have a safe place to come to where they can have a good meal and get the
education they deserve. These children matter and there are so many college graduates that have
come from low socioeconomic families. The statistics can be defeated, but defeating them means
having a teacher who is passionate and who cares about students well-being. Teachers cannot
do this unless they are made aware on how to identify students from many different

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socioeconomic families. As a school, I believe teachers need to be prepared to handle and value
these types of students that will be in their classrooms for years to come.
Correspondingly, I believe, as a future teacher, I should model for students how to value
and respect diversity in the classroom. Throughout this paper, I have shared many life
experiences that have equipped me to deal with many different types of diversities. My
experiences have allowed me to become passionate about valuing diversity within the classroom.
I will implement these values into a classroom by treating all of my students equal and making
every student feel included. There will be rules about my strict bullying, respect, and valuing
diversity policies listed in the classroom. Within the first few weeks of school the rules will be
reviewed every day and I will discuss with my students different diversities schools have to offer
and how we can learn from each other because we are different.
Moreover, a diverse classroom functions well by having superb organization skills. As a
teacher, I plan to have a very organized classroom in which I am able to meet the needs of all of
my students. Diversity can strengthen a classroom because children can learn from one another.
Students learning from one another can be a strength because, as a teacher, it is always great to
have many ways to complete assignments and tasks. For example, there is no one right way to
complete a math problem and at the end of the day I believe diversity will allow students to
become more well-rounded individuals.
Although diversity may seem well accepted in America, this feat was not conquered
without trials and tribulations. The roots of diversity issues in our society started with
segregation in our schools. According to Ivory Toldson (2014) it wasnt until 1954 that the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown in the Brown v. Board of Education case. This case
stated that segregation in schools is unequal. After this ruling, no one was safe and many riots

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broke out from both sides. Even though people supported integration of schools, they suffered
violence among many other hardships for supporting this cause. People sacrificed their lives in
order to fight for integration in schools. Later, under President Lyndon B. Johnson legislation
passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Higher Education Act of
1965, and the TRIO program. These acts and programs were designed to recognize and deliver
services for individuals from disadvantaged circumstances (Toldson, 2014, p. 194). Years later,
the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 was passed. This act prohibited discrimination
of racial, ethnic and gender in schools. Following, the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act was passed that stated children with intellectual, emotional, developmental, or physical
disabilities must have access to individualized education program, free and appropriate public
education, fair discipline, and a least restrictive environment (Toldson, 2014, p. 195).
In saying all of this, it has not been without great effort that the people in our society have
been fighting for decades to help students who are underrepresented within our school systems
and society. The importance of valuing diversity in all aspects of life lies in the roots and history
of great diversity issues in our society. Society has come so far, but still has so far to go to defeat
and overcome these issues today. Future educators should not let the deaths of the heroes who
fought for injustice go in vain. Albert Einstein once said, The world will not be destroyed by
those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.

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References
Robinson, C. C., & Clardy, P. (2011). IT AIN'T WHAT YOU SAY, IT'S HOW YOU SAY IT:
LINGUISTIC AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN THE CLASSROOM. Journal Of
Cultural Diversity, 18(3), 101-110 10p.
Leopold, L. (2012). Prewriting Tasks for Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Learners. TESL
Canada Journal, 29(2), 96-102.
Hansen, L. E. (2015). Encouraging Pre-Service Teachers to Address Issues of Sexual Orientation
in Their Classrooms. Multicultural Education, 22(2), 51-55.
BAGHURST, T. (2014). ENCOURAGING DISABILITY APPRECIATION AMONG
PHYSICAL EDUCATION, TEACHER EDUCATION STUDENTS THROUGH
PRACTICAL SIMULATION. Palaestra, 28(4), 44-47.
Bradley, R., & Corwyn, R. (2002). Socioeconomic Status and Child Development. Annual
Review of Psychology, 53, 371-399. Retrieved November 7, 2015, from
http://psych.annualreviews.org/errata.shtml
Toldson, I. A. (2014). 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education: The Impact of the
Congressional Black Caucus on the Education of Black People in the United States of
America (Editor's Commentary). Journal Of Negro Education, 83(3), 194-198.