As a community, we are educators and also learners. Here at TpT, we believe in continually learning and growing together. We know that the majority of public school students in the United States are students of color, and the majority of teachers are white. It’s important that TpT resources reflect this reality and that students can see their identities and experiences reflected in the materials used to learn. We want TpT resources to support and engage every single student.
We had the chance to speak with Esther Brunat, a TpT Teacher-Author and high school math teacher, who believes in the power of giving students the permission they need to be themselves.
TpT Store Name: Esther Brunat
TpT experience: Teacher-Author for two years
Teaching experience: Seven years teaching high school math. Currently teaches high school in Florida and taught in Panama previously for three years.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am of Haitian descent. Both of my parents are Haitian immigrants, so I’m a first generation American and college graduate. All of that makes up who I am. I currently teach high school math in Florida and have been teaching here for the past four years. Previously, I taught in Panama for three years.
What drove you to become a teacher?
Education is a big deal in the Haitian household, and my dad was always in education back in Haiti. He worked in schools while we were growing up. I was actually a business major in college but failed accounting (ironically enough). I also knew I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. At the same time, I was volunteering with youth groups and camps at church and I knew I loved that age group. I decided to switch to education with a focus on math. It was definitely the right choice.
How did you get started as a TpT Teacher-Author?
When I moved back to the States from Panama, the curriculum was laid out differently and I realized I wanted resources that I couldn’t find, so I started to create my own and share that with others when I created a store on TpT.
Why is representing diversity and equity is so important in the classroom?
When I was a student, I remember two distinct moments from different points in my life. In 5th grade, I absolutely admired my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Lewis, and loved everything about her. I went to a predominantly black school at the time, but she was the first black teacher I had. The amount of permission she gave me to be myself was really significant for me.
Years later, in 10th grade honors English, my classmate recorded a singing demo and our teacher played it for the class. Afterwards, I was so excited and really hyping her up because I was so impressed. I distinctly remember my teacher said, “Oh my gosh. Some kids just don’t have any class.” I was confused and didn’t realize that was classless.
Now in my adulthood, I realize that me being big, loud, and excited was a cultural difference that my 10th grade teacher didn’t know or understand. So, on the one hand, I had a teacher who gave me permission to be myself, and on the other hand, I had a teacher who was unintentionally dimming my light. Those two experiences, as small as they were, show that the words we use with the kids in our classrooms have such a big impact. Now, I want to make sure that I’m both permissive to the kid who sees herself in me, and also make sure I’m not dimming her light because a kid expresses herself a different way than I might.
How do TpT resources have the potential to represent diversity and equity?
For me, the three things are: nuance, context, and relevancy. I live in South Florida, which is a unique place, and my students are diverse. So if we open up a math book and there’s a question about Charlie going on a ski vacation with his family, that’s not something they can relate to. My kids are more likely to go to Jamaica or drive to North Carolina on vacation. Big publishers are trying to make a textbook for the entire country. TpT resources can be more niche.
Authors who write curriculum on TpT are often either in the classroom or are connected to the classroom and can be more in touch with the cultures of students today.
TpT Teacher-Authors have the ability to let the kids see themselves in the curriculum and give them a voice in the curriculum because we’re so close to them and we understand nuance, context, and relevancy of where the students are.
How can TpT Teacher-Authors create resources that have nuance, context, and relevancy?
Any TpT Teacher-Author or big publisher should have a focus group of kids. If you’re currently a teacher, you already have that group if you’re in tune with them. If I’m writing a question for my kids, I’m automatically thinking about how this relates to them and what real life is like for them. For example, creating a math problem comparing followers on Instagram — they eat that up because it’s relatable to their real life.
What would your advice be for educators or Teacher-Authors who don’t have a diverse focus group?
I’d say that that person needs to make a friend. People from different walks of life know things that you may not know.
One time, another Teacher-Author and I had our students Skype each other so that they got to interact with other children from a different state. As educators, we need to be more intentional in finding classrooms, children, and experiences that are different from our own. That’s one reason the internet is so great along with “teacher Instagram” — because you can make friends with someone from across the country who is completely different from you and learn from them.
What is one thing you wish you could share about diversity and equity with any educator?
If you look up biodiversity, you’ll learn that diversity helps the ecosystem flourish and be its best self. Looking to history, when women got the right to vote, almost immediately, the number of women who survived childbirth went up, maternity leave was introduced, and women were better off overall because they had a seat at the table.
No one tells a teenager to get all of their life advice from other teenagers. They need to learn from people older than them, such as parents, aunts, and uncles. You also want them to learn to look out for those who are younger than them.
Science understands that biodiversity is key. We understand that gender and generation diversity is too. Why is it so difficult for us to understand that racial diversity is also important? We need to make a seat at the table, or build the table, because everyone needs a voice.
I believe TpT offers that table to the community as long as we, TpT, continues to do this work. TpT being a free and open marketplace is the building of the table. If we extend the opportunity to everyone and leverage all voices, then that will be the start and will shift the culture to do something bigger and better. It’s not going to be easy, but those are the steps we need to take.
Esther Brunat is a 7th year teacher in sunny South Florida. She teaches math to high schoolers and enjoys all the sassy and insane things they have to say every day. You can find her on Instagram telling daily classroom stories about how to find the funny, feel good, and keep it cool.