At TpT, we’re lucky to have a community of incredibly dedicated educators with a wide range of expertise, knowledge, and experience to share. This month, as part of our Teacher Voices series, we had the chance to speak with Derrick from Black and Bright in 2nd who believes that honoring diversity is important in building rapport with students and helping them feel valued.
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I teach 2nd grade, monolingual English, and I cover math, science, reading, writing, phonics, and the social sciences. This is my 7th year in education. I teach in a diverse community with various socioeconomic backgrounds and languages.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what drove you to become a teacher.
I grew up in Arlington, Texas. I was interested in astronomy, paleontology, and meteorology as a kid. I had elementary teachers who really supported and created spaces for me to explore those interests. I found I was less interested in the sciences by the time I was in high school, but I always appreciated how much my teachers invested in creating a space for me to love going to school. That joy of learning and being at school stuck with me, and when I was in high school, I was interested in becoming a psychiatrist. As I studied and began to think about how to make a positive impact, I thought about the elementary teachers who made an impact on my life. I wanted to be able to bring that joy of learning to students that will help carry them through the tougher parts of life. I still studied psychology, but my goal was to enter the field of education.
How has your background shaped you and your teaching practice?
I am a gay Black adoptee who grew up in Texas. My identity and background has shaped me by having a lived experience that is rooted in elevating relationship bonds, honoring the commonalities, and celebrating the differences in others. I see what it means to have the ability to connect with diverse backgrounds and what it means to move beyond just seeing how we are different. I generally have strong rapport with students and families of various backgrounds because I can make connections to them through my own life and through my various identities and experiences. In academics, I naturally make connections between topics because that is what I have had to do regarding social dynamics with other humans of different backgrounds. Making the learning interdisciplinary, intersectional, and contextualizing the learning is important to me and it makes the learning more powerful for the students.
Why do you believe that topics like race, identity, social justice, and inclusivity are important ones for educators to tackle in the classroom with students?
Within culturally responsive pedagogy, having diversity is important to engage and hook the students into the learning. Social justice is important to equip students with the skills to critically look at society with a lens and understand how structures are in place that work promote or stall success. Students need to be equipped with language and understanding of identity constructs in the United States because it is a multicultural society.
When you explicitly promote diversity and social justice, what impact do you see it having on your students?
Honoring diversity is part of building the rapport with the students and social justice learning helps them to acknowledge how things are in society. They are important in the rapport building of the classroom and the students will academically be more inclined to take risks when they feel valued in the classroom.
What steps have you taken — in your classroom or at your school — to promote inclusivity and to talk about racism?
Morning meetings and sharing circles are great ways to open the classroom to student voices.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to teachers who are trying to address topics like inclusivity, racism, and social justice?
My advice is to decenter yourself as a teacher and to think about what your students need. Who is in the room and who is not? It is not about the teacher, but about what supports the students. Also, the school has to have a clear mission statement and messaging that elevates racial justice to avoid putting all of the lift regarding racial conversations onto the teachers.
For an educator who is looking to highlight LBGTQ+ history and issues in the classroom, how do you suggest they do so both during — and beyond — moments like Pride?
There are months and days related to LGBTQ+ members throughout the year. There are members of the LGBTQ+ community in all races. The more you practice integrating and making the work intersectional, the easier it becomes to see those connections in various celebrations and traditions. There are leaders who can be used as examples throughout the school year in various contexts.
What are two or three things you do to help your students feel included and represented in their learning materials and classroom?
- 1. Diversify the reading materials and authors
- 2. Surveys of interest when creating or preparing to assign materials
- 3. Let their families be reflected in the work and have student/family highlights so the classroom shows various family structures and examples.
How do you create an atmosphere that is a safe space for marginalized students?
To create an atmosphere that is safe for marginalized students, you elevate them as heroes and leaders in the classroom. You clearly and explicitly name their value and contributions in a way that does not commodify or tokenize their worth. The students should see themselves in the work and examples for classroom curriculum as heroes and drivers of the story.
Are there additional resources, articles, books, or podcasts that you’d recommend teachers look up to learn more?
Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and the Brain is a wonderful text that addresses multiculturalism, social justice education, and culturally responsive pedagogy in a way that provides the science to why we engage in specific strategies to benefit the student experience as learners.
If there was one thing you wanted other teachers to take away from your story and your experience, what would it be?
The main takeaway from my experience is to think about the student and center them in the spaces you create and the work you facilitate as a teacher.
Last but not least — what’s one thing that makes you smile? 🙂
I love the science documentary series How the Universe Works. I am a huge fan of astronomy and I love their series.
This is my seventh year in education. I have taught intervention math for middle school, kindergarten, gifted primary, and I currently teach second grade. I believe that all students learn in various ways and the blended method incorporates multiple strategies that can be utilized to best engage the learner. A teacher must also build a sincere rapport to support students as they grow in confidence as learners and thinkers.