Diversity in the classroom setting is considered by to many educators in the field to be a hindrance when in fact it should be considered a blessing. While there are many issues within the term diversity, there are many benefits for the students in classes that utilize diversity effectively.
Some of the differences in students will be race, culture, socioeconomic status (SES), disability, and language. Each one presents unique aspects to the classroom.
Students from a different culture very often have different customs and a different perspective that they see the world in. These students are very often misunderstood and ridiculed because of this culture difference. It is the educatorís responsibility to utilize this opportunity as a lesson learned by the class. The educator should explain that there are no right or wrong customs and that American customs are probably just as foreign to the students as theirs are to the class. However, if the educator embraces the difference and explains the concept of culture to the class through whatever means is appropriate, the students will embrace the difference also. Some possible ways to make this student feel included in the classroom would be (if the lesson topic was related) talk about their culture, bring in culturally related items, and to talk about norms and traditions in that culture.
While some students from a different culture may speak English, many may not. This language barrier may very well have the student feeling ostracized from the classroom. Outside programs, as well as in class assistance and flexibility by the teacher, are necessary for this student to receive their best possible education. Also, I feel it is very necessary for every teacher to be able to speak languages which are used prevalently in the area in which they teach (i.e. Spanish if teaching in the U.S., etc.). However, it is impossible for an educator to know all languages for every situation. Therefore, programs in each school system must be established to deal with this reality. While the student should have regular classes with the assistance of the teacher, they should also have special sessions to get them to a satisfactory English speaking, written, and comprehension level. The educator should explain to this classroom that the students difference is a good ability that the students has obtained in life and that in life it is very important and helpful to learn two languages. Therefore, praise the difference and validate it in all of the studentsí minds.
One very big difference that occurs in classrooms is the difference in socioeconomic status between students in the class. Some students in the classroom may have come from a higher economic background, while some students may be living in poverty. Therefore, it is best not to use examples that are particularly biased towards either. Variety and diversity is the key and this can only be achieved by consciously utilizing materials that embody these concepts. Activities that involve money from home need to be rethought or modified so every student can participate and not feel different or not be able to attend. It is best not to assume things in conversation in a classroom. For example, you may be talking about a great video for children; however, some children may not even have a VCR. This not only omits them from conversation, but they also tend to tune out because the information provided at that point does not apply to them. This is a very difficult problem to deal with because, as humans, we tend to assume that everyone has the same things in life that we do, which is an invalid assumption. This tendency must be put aside for the benefit of the classroom environment.
The last topic of this document, dealing with disabilities, is probably the situation that occurs most frequently. While many teachers favor full-inclusion, I feel that students with profound or severe disability should have classes outside of the traditional classroom setting. All students with disabilities should have IEPs and these should be followed strictly. Students with disabilities at the moderate and mild levels should be included in the classroom with session/s with an aide outside of class sometime within the school day. Having a student with a disability poses the possibility of frustration by the student, non-understanding by the class in general, and ridicule by the class due to differences. The educatorís role is to eliminate these problems by including the student in every activity, no matter what their role is in the activity. Additionally, the teacher must provide assistance to the student and provide materials to the student that aim towards the goal of the IEP.
In conclusion, educators must utilize difference in the classroom to make the students of tomorrow open to diversity. Through proper execution, difference in the classroom can be highly educational and enlightening for the students.