The world is increasingly becoming smaller and smaller. Nations and cultures are no longer disconnected islands. Rather, states and cities have become melting pots of different cultures. It’s not always an easy task to understand and accept the practices, beliefs and culture of someone from a distant place. Thus, it’s easy to misunderstand people from different backgrounds, and diversity becomes limiting. However, being different should not necessarily result in misunderstandings. This is where the dynamics of diversity should come in.
In a classroom setting, there are likely to be at least a few people who come from different backgrounds. For instance, a class might have immigrants in the group. Most of the time, these students would have difficulty understanding the culture and interactions of most of their classmates, especially if they are first-generation immigrants. In some cases, a class might have students who practice different religions. It’s not too difficult if classmates simply come from different sects or denominations of a shared belief. But, when the beliefs contradict, this could be the cause of friction and awkwardness.
Perhaps to illustrate the point that there is diversity almost everywhere, consider the fact that there is also diversity between the sexes. Males and females would often have differing temperaments and habits. For a teacher, diversity should not be treated as a handicap, but rather an opportunity to rise above the fact that your students are different.
- Recognize any preexisting biases. The first important task in making diversity work is recognizing any preexisting biases that one might have. Society generally has certain biases toward minority groups or at least people from different backgrounds, and it might be difficult for learning to be effective if class activities were biased toward any particular person or group.
- Be sensitive. One big part of making diversity work in any situation is by being mindful of what you say. There might be certain terms or phrases—especially colloquial ones—that might be offensive to certain people. It pays to be sensitive enough not to speak these in their presence, or even at all. Another thing to be mindful of is your language, particularly with the use of colloquialisms that non native speakers might not understand.
- Discuss diversity. The topic of diversity shouldn’t be shunned in a classroom setting, though. Instead, a class can use this to their advantage. If it’s applicable to the subject being taught, then highlight the fact that your class is a diverse one. For instance, in teaching history, different people might feel more involved if they know that some of the key figures in history were also part of their ethnic or religious group.
- Be fair. Cultural or religious minorities oftentimes don’t want to be treated differently because of their status. As such, don’t treat people as if diversity were a disability. Rather, be fair, but understanding. A common mistake done by teachers is giving too much leeway to certain students because they feel they have more difficulty being in a minority, or coming from a different culture. However, this can be quite discouraging, and it will be limiting to the affected student.
Consider diversity to be an asset and not a handicap. Use it to your advantage, and make diversity work to help educate students on the implications of working with different people from different backgrounds.