Culturally Responsive Teaching

I teach a class with that title.  How cool that my program has a class with that title? Given that UIW is a Hispanic-serving institution, and most of our preservice teachers go to work in schools where the majority of the students are children of color, the class begins to give them the language, strategies, curriculum, and support for teaching in a culturally responsive way.

Also, the content of the course isn’t tested like the assessment and pedagogy classes are.  The content in those courses factors heavily in the Pedagogical and Professional Responsibilities certification exam.  I have more freedom because CRT isn’t PPR’d.  So, I can talk about testing influencing curricular and instructional choices because I navigate that particularly convoluted map as well.  Specifically, this lack of testing means I can choose a really cool book, have my students listen to podcasts (This American Life for life!), and do book clubs.

The course isn’t without its challenges, of course.

A big one is that I–the white, upper-middle class woman with a PhD–am supposed to teach my students–who come from a wide range of cultural, racial, and linguistic backgrounds–what cultural responsiveness is.  One way I navigate this part of the map is by thinking about the fact that I have the key–I have access to the terminology, research, and resources that can make culturally responsive instructional and curricular choices work in test-centric schools.  Another way I navigate the CRT world with my own diverse students is to support their development of a culturally responsive lens through which they can then contextualize their experiences in and with schools and teachers.  I work to teach them to see what I see when I look at the map.  And many of them see silencing and absences and gaslighting and heteronormativity, though they may not know all the terms, but many have been taught that we don’t talk about these things in school.

Facing and surmounting these challenges, then, is about making lots of space for student voices and thinking.  I’m trying out a notebook this semester.  Like an honest-to-goodness reading-writing notebooks.  We’ll see how it goes as a tool for fostering voice and deepening engagement.

One thing that I find constantly getting in the way of making space for their voice is–unsurprisingly and sadly–their lack of knowledge.  There are so many conversations they just haven’t had in school.  Most haven’t read diverse texts, if they’ve read any whole class novels at all.  Most haven’t been able to dig into history, instead racing to cover all the TEKS before the test.  And most haven’t been taught how to engage in current events and understand the short bit of history that they’ve lived through.  So I find myself having to teach a lot of historical context, which necessarily means their voices aren’t heard.  This need to fill in their content gaps constantly pushes against my knowledge that they need to talk and make sense of what they’re learning.  Sometimes I get it right, but often I sense I don’t make enough room for their voices.

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