Comfort in the Classroom

From: group paper:  Erin Feeley, Noelle Stubits, Rebecca Todd, Heather Young
Email:
Course: EDST258; Cultural Diversity
College: University of Delaware
Instructor: Eugene Matusov
ClassWeb: http://ematusov.eds.udel.edu/EDST258.98F
ChildrenObservations: No
Date: 12/15/98
Time: 4:55:12 PM
Remote Name: 128.175.45.17

Abstract

Students who have certain kinds of differences such as being a member of a minority group, having limited English proficiency, and so on, are defined as “at risk” for failure because, statistically, students in these categories are more likely to be among the lowest achievement groups or drop out of school altogether(http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/rpl_esys/equity.htm). The state of Delaware decided to investigate the situation further and asked elementary students to take a “Delaware Performance Assessment” test. The test measured the students’ reading, writing and math abilities against the state standards. The results show that minorities are not attaining standards.

The test results were measured in percents of meeting/exceeding, approaching, and considerably below the standards. For example, in the data given (1995), 34% of fifth grade Caucasians were below standards for the state. This seems like a very large number of kids, however, 74% Hispanic and 77% of African American students were below standards (http://www.doe.state.de.us/reporting/glance/glance.htm). Something must be lacking in the classrooms of today that is leading to the unsuccessful minority students, and changes need to be made to increase the success. Teachers have to be aware of the problems that are occurring with their students and take action. Comfort in the classroom is a significant aspect in the achievement of minority children. It is essential for teacher to change the classroom setting so the minority children feel more comfortable in the new culture that they are often just thrown into. This paper discusses four different teaching methods that will enable each and every minority child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and excel. These methods include: doing nothing and treating all the kids the same, involving the parents into the classroom to observe or speak, providing one-on-one help to the minority student, or providing a multicultural education to create a more diverse classroom.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all that we interviewed for this paper. Thank you Colleen Barrett, Brian Feeley, Eugene Matusov, and Ruth Rehrig for taking time to answer our questions. With your added expertise in the field of education this paper was a success.

Paper

Comfort in the Classroom

“To teach a child is to touch the future.” There is truth in this statement. However, what about the minorities who fail to even feel comfortable in the classroom, a classroom full of American culture, with a language they don’t know and customs they have never heard of? When these children fail to succeed, the future doesn’t seem quite as bright any more. There are many ways teachers can make each and every child feel comfortable in the classroom, enabling every child to succeed, not only in the classroom, but also in the future.

“Colorblind”

Many teachers choose to do absolutely nothing about the lack of comfort that some minority children have in the classroom. That is, he/she treat the students exactly the same; in other words: color blind to their differences. This option may sound as though the perfect way to fight against discrimination, but it also has some negative consequences in that it can deny students their identity. Ignoring the differences in students can have some bad consequences and outcomes. For one thing, the textbook Affirming Diversity by Sonia Nieto (1996, p136) explains how being a color blind teacher “may result in refusing to accept differences and therefore accepting the dominant culture as the norm.” Nieto describes how teachers should not totally forget the cultural differences and identities of minority children because it denies them of their heritage and in the end, is detrimental to the children. Nieto explains that being color blind means that “to see differences,..., is to see defects and inferiority....”

An article from the Internet http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/lati_121297.html), entitled “Groups seek better Latino test scores” by Tamara Fitzpatrick, explains that teachers need to be educated in the cultural and minority differences so they can better relate to the students. She also describes how teachers must implement some aspects of the different cultures,such as minority authors and history, into the curriculum, so as to help these kids better succeed. For example, a Manhattan teacher named Mark Halperin, had his students create a dictionary of Black English which he had them translate into Standard English. This dictionary adheres to the theory of linguists-that Black English is a legitimate and intelligent form of communication, and this technique helped the students to understand the differences between the two languages. By treating Black English as a separate language, it allows teachers to demand standard English in the classroom without damaging the self-esteem of their students (http://www.princeton.edu/~bclewis/blacktalk.html). The nondifferential treatment, on the other hand, could quite possibly lead to some positive consequences.

By being color blind, teachers eliminate any possibility for discrimination in their instruction. In an article on the Internet (http://www.naspweb.org/information.pospaper/rpd.html), entitled “Racism, Prejudice, and Discrimination”, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) defines discrimination as “differential treatment that favors one individual, group, or object over another.” This equal instruction, in turn, eliminates the possibility of a lawsuit against the teacher or the school district for prejudice or discrimination against a child or race. Children all feel equal to one another as well. Equal treatment keeps the expectations for the children equal, which can help their self-esteem and self-worth. The article by the NASP states, “students who are the victims of... discrimination: develop feelings of worthlessness; deny membership within their own group;... develop prejudice against other ethnic minorities; achieve less in school and have lower aspirations for the future; and drop out of school in increased numbers.” Therefore, being a color blind teacher can be a good thing, for it promotes fairness and equality for all students. Teachers should try to teach their students equally, as in nondiscriminatory, but they should not deny the students cultural identities and differences.

Parent involvement

A lot of sources recommend that teachers involve parents in minority childrens’ schooling. Although "traditional families" are declining in the United States, family support and structure remain important. If family structure and support carry over into the American schools, especially with minority children, it could affect the comfort and progress of these minority children in the classroom in a variety of ways. It has been proven that the effects of minority parents becoming involved in their children’s’ education are positive. If teachers create programs that make it easy for parents to become involved in their children’s’ education, the parents will show up. "In Detroit’s Effective Parenting Skills Program, for example, programs and materials are bilingual, babysitting is provided, there are no fees, and times and locations are arranged for the convenience of the parents." It is good to start out slow in the process of getting the parents more involved.

Teachers can do little things such as inviting the parents to come into the classroom as observers and/or speakers. The child will feel more comfortable knowing the parent is somewhere in the room, and by being in the classroom, parents also encourage and motivate their children to do better. This produces better results in their education. When comfortable, parents or other family members may even come into the classroom and speak about their culture or language to educate the other students and in turn, the students may accept the student more. Minority students struggle to conform to the American culture. Accepting part of the minority culture into the classroom may help to ease the transition into the American culture. Parents can also get involved by volunteering for things like working in the library, fundraising on committees, and supervising after-school programs. Any presence in the school helps the student feel more comfortable. A high level of comfort in the classroom enhances both learning and performance.

It is also important for the parent to help the student at home. Positive encouragement and reinforcement by the parents help the child succeed. A child usually feels more comfortable and self confident about their work if they know they have the support and approval of their parents. Research shows that any action by a parent to become involved in their child’s education will usually produce positive results. There are some concerns and problems with parent involvement though. Some minority parents are gradual to become involved in their children’s schooling. It is important to get the parents involved early. The earlier the parent becomes involved, the sooner the student will benefit. In today’s society, it is common for both parents in the household to work, and in single parent households, the one parent has to work long days also. This "work time" is usually done during school hours, so it is hard for parents to get involved in the classroom. However, parents still can be actively involved in the child’s school life just from helping with homework at night. The main barrier is to get the parents involved. Once this happens, it is all downhill from there.

Our Cultural Diversity 258 class was able to work one-on-one with a diverse group of children in the Latin American Community Center (LACC) twice a week. It in afterschool program that children in the area are able to do homework, get help with homework, play with other kids, and now it is a place where they can work on computers. At the LACC, for example, there was not much interaction with the parents of the children. It was very hard for us to meet with the parents because of their hectic work schedule, as well as our exam schedule. This reinforces the point that is hard to get parents involved because of their hectic schedules revolving around their jobs. However, we spoke with our instructor Eugene Matusov concerning his previous experiences with "La Red Magica." He said, "Parents were really interested and supportive to the project. They appreciated the work of the students. They wanted to see how they worked with kids and were engaged in helping their own kids and talking with our students." This shows that the parents are concerned with their children’s education and are willing to help. It is a great first step to getting the parents involved. Eugene also stated some "concerns." He did not feel that they were negative experiences. He stated, "Parents did not see any educational values in their kids playing with computers and doing crafts. They wanted us to help kids strictly with homework. Some parents were very concerned with the sex issues on the internet. Some parents felt uncomfortable talking with University students." These are issues that can be dealt with much easier in the classroom. It is important to educate the parents on the value of computers in today’s world. It is also important for teachers to be educated about parents’ concerns, values, and views on education. Some minority parents may be unaware of their importance.

One-on-one help

A teacher may consider providing one on one help with individual students in order to offer minority children a step up on their way to feeling comfortable and secure in the classroom. One on one help can come in a variety of forms, all similar yet enveloping different results. A teacher may be able to set aside time during quiet time or even when the other children are doing independent work to assist specific minorities with any problems that they may be having in the class. All of the teacher’s attention would be directed to that one student. Any questions the students may have can be answered without a feeling of embarrassment. The individualized attention can also serve as relationship building time between the teacher and the student, and the teacher can serve as a bridge between the student and the new different culture. When the student forms a relationship with the teacher, the student will in turn feel more comfortable in the classroom. We were able to experience working with children one-on-one with the children at the LACC. By working one-on-one we were able to form incredible relationships with children that we hardly knew.

For instance, Sarah (name changed), a student in Cultural Diversity 258, noticed that as the time passed, the children began trusting her and opened up their ideas and feelings to her, and she did the same to them. They looked for her to play with and she enjoyed working with them. They knew she would be there for them. With this feeling of comfort, success is much more likely. As with everything in life, negatives consequences could result from one on one attention. Other students may feel insecure, wondering why one student gets individual help and they don’t. Also, with the teacher focusing on the one student, the rest of the class is left semi-unsupervised.

The teacher somehow needs to be able to focus her attention on providing the minority student with help while keeping her eye on the rest of the class. This could prove to be difficult, especially if misbehaving kids are rampant in the classroom. Sarah had this experience when she was in the computer room of the LACC. She tried working one-on-one with Justin (name changed), but as soon as she took her attention off the whole room, everyone got rowdy and began banging on the keyboards and yelling. She was getting frustrated because she couldn’t help them all at the same time, and the kids were getting upset because they didn’t understand why just one student got all the help.

One way to overcome this negative result is to conduct individual help during free time or a “recess” that the students have during the day. During this time, the rest of the class would be under the care of another person so the teacher would be able to focus solely on the one child. However, in an effort to make the child feel more comfortable in the classroom environment, this extra attention could possibly worsen the situation. The teacher would be keeping the child from the other kids, and the other kids may see the student as being alienated from them. They would be less likely to engage in play with that student, in turn complicating the situation even more!

Teachers are left with one more option if they decide to persue one-on-one tutoring for the child. If they move the tutoring to a time after school, the rest of the students wouldn’t be aware of it. In this case, the child is left without a feeling of being different. The teacher would have to be willing to stay after and give some of their time to the student. Once the teacher puts forth this extra time to help the minorities adapt to and feel comfortable in the classroom, they will receive all the thanks they need when they see the child begin to thrive and excel in the classroom. The child will have overcome their sense of “differentness” and will be slowly adapting to the culture and ways of the new country they found themselves in. The teacher’s one on one help will achieve not only this feeling of acceptance in the child, but will also result in a newfound friendship with the student. Soon, the student will be well on their way to forming new friends everyday, new friends to help them adapt and succeed. Once the teacher puts the spark in the students to succeed, it will spread and spread and spread, until finally the teacher can feel as if in teaching their class they have touched the future, the whole future.

Multicultural Education

Minority students, even the brightest ones, have difficulty in school just because of their “differences”. Part of this is due to the lack of knowledge of the teachers and other school staff in the area of cultural diversity. Little attention is given to multicultural education even though this country is becoming more and more diverse. Steps need to be taken to ensure that the minority students are just as accepted as the other kids in the classrooms. Teachers have to make sure that the minority students feel comfortable in the classroom and not alienated or isolated from the other classmates or from the teacher. It is important that the teachers and other school personnel receive some training in the areas of multicultural and urban education in order to ensure that minority students feel more comfortable in the classroom.

Some ways that teachers were able to become more diverse in the classroom came from necessary changes. Changes in the classroom included (1) replacing old textbooks with ones that treated multicultural education, (2) using packaged multicultural materials, (3) selecting relevant library materials or supplementary tests to be used in students assignments, and (4) using ethnic holidays and celebrations as a basis for class assignments and celebrations.” (http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed348196.html) Teachers should incorporate different reading materials and plans to work along the lines of culture.

The goal of multicultural education through content-oriented efforts is to include content about different cultural groups in the curriculum and educational materials in order to increase students’ knowledge about these groups. Opposing views believe that teaching with a multicultural perspective may divide students along racial and cultural lines, rather than unite them as Americans; that it may promote tolerance of behavior that they condemn; and that it might promote the benefits of other cultures at the expense of pride in America (http://eric-web.tc.columbia.edu/guides/pg6.html). However, “teaching with a multicultural perspective encourages appreciation and understanding of other cultures as well as one’s own. Teaching with this perspective promotes the child’s sense of the uniqueness of his own culture as a positive characteristic and enables the child to accept the uniqueness of the cultures of others”(http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed339548.html).

Teachers have the power to eliminate some of the stereotypes by presenting some material and activities that enable children to learn about similarities and acknowledge that everyone has a culture. Critics of multicultural education worry that this type of teaching may “fragment students views of culture”. Supporters explain that there is no set curriculum at all; only a framework in mind in which the aim is to help students understand how culture not only shapes, but also limits, their actions. In this sense, this new idea of education seeks to create “an atmosphere in which students can understand, respect, and ultimately value cultural diversity.” (http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed348196.html).

Minority students in American schools face a huge challenge that many people cannot even imagine--trying to fit in with sometimes a completely different culture is not an easy thing especially for young children. Teachers young and old need to be able to maximize the success of each and every child including the minority student. In order to make this goal a reality, teachers must find a way to make ALL students feel comfortable in the classroom; it is an especially difficult task to find a comfort zone for minority students. Through research and educational studies, it seems that merely ignoring the cultural differences between students does not adequately meet the comfort needs of minorities. This technique tends to ignore the identity and individuality of many children. Having their culture forgotten in the classroom does not add to a comfortable learning environment of minority students.

Conclusion

The key seems to lie in a compromise or mixture of three different techniques utilized by the teacher. Encouraging parent involvement in the classroom and their children’s education is one integral part of a promising plan for a comfortable multicultural setting. Including the parent in the daily activities of the class helps the minority child to feel more comfortable and not so ‘alone’ in a foreign culture. Sometimes they can provide important information that will help the other students and the teacher to become more involved in and to acknowledge the identity and culture of the students. Along with parental help and involvement, another technique useful in helping minority students adjust to the American classroom is one-on-one help. This method can help to build a more personalized relationship between the teacher and student, therefore, helping the child to know that he is not alone, and that there is someone who he/she can go to whenever in need of help. The one-on-one time also serves to give the student extra help that is usually much needed because of the language/learning barriers that come along with adjusting to a new culture.

Another technique that teachers can use to help all of their students to feel comfortable is to learn about the different cultures and to incorporate what they learn into the curriculum. This, again, helps to teach the other students about the many difference and even the similarities between them and their multicultural classmates. This also enhances the minority students sense of identity and cultural pride, which all lead to a more comfortable educational setting. When used together, these three techniques are a great path for teacher to take in helping contribute to the success of their students. Comfort is a major factor affecting a child’s learning abilities. If all teachers could try to utilize these strategies in their classrooms, there would definitely be a lot more ‘comfortable’ and better-adjusted minority students in today’s American classrooms.

Resources

Delaware Education at a Glance. [online]. Available. http://www.doe.state.de.us/reporting/glance/glance.htm

Fitzpatrick, Tamra. “Groups seek better Latino test scores.”[online]. Available. http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/lati_121297.html.

Gomez, Rey A. “Teaching with a Multicultural Perspective” [online]. Available. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed33948.html.

Hixson, J and Tinzmann, HB. “Who are the ‘At Risk’ students of the 1990s?” [online].Available. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/rpl_esys/equity.htm.

Inger, Morton. “Increasing the School Involvement of Hispanic Parents.” [online]. Available. http://eric-web.tc.columbia.edu/digests/dig80.html.

Lewis, Brian C. “Black English: It’s History and Role in the Education of Our Children.” [online]. Available. http://www.princeton.edu/~bclewis/blacktalk.html.

National Association of School Psychologists. “Racism, Prejudice, and Discrimination.” [online]. Available. http://ww.naspweb.org/information/pospaper/rpd.html.

Nieto, Sonia. Affirming Diversity: the sociopolitical context of multicultural education, Longman Publishers, NY (1996), p 104.

Oliver, Jenny Penny and Howley, Craig. “Multicultural Education in Rural Schools.” [online]. Available. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed348196.html.

Schwartz, Wendy. “A Community Guide to Multicultural Education Programs.” [online].Available. http://eric-web.tc.colombia.edu/guides/pg6.html.

Interviews:

Eugene Matusov, Ph.D (through email) -- Assistant Professor at School of Education, University of Delaware.

Brian Feeley- twenty-three years of experience in grades 7-12 History. Currently teaching grades 9-12 at Hodgson Vo-Tech High School.

Colleen Barrett- first year teacher in Biology and Human Anatomy. Currently teaching grades 9-12 at Middletown High School.

Ruth Rehrig- retired elementary school teacher (taught for 28 years). Previous place of employment in Brookside Elementary School.


Last modified August 06, 2015