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 DorothyHoney from Ms Honeys Class Hive. She’s an elementary school teacher who focuses her efforts on empowering students to embrace their identity and uniqueness.
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I’ve been teaching 2nd grade for 6 years at a low-income, Title 1 school.
What drove you to become a teacher?
Being a teacher has always been a dream of mine! My second grade year holds such a special place in my heart because it was the year I realized I wanted to become a teacher. I remember looking at my teacher, Mrs. Michael, and admiring her gentle spirit and her compassion not only for her students, but for everyone in our community. She made me feel safe, she made me feel loved, but most importantly, she made me want to do that for others.
How has your background shaped your teaching practice?
Growing up in a Filipino household, I enjoyed everything about my culture; however, it all shifted when a girl took one look at my big, curly hair in my Kinder class and asked, “What are you?” I meekly answered, “Filipino.” She looked at her friends and giggled, “What’s Filipino?” Maybe she didn’t mean any harm, but I took her curiosity as scorn. For the rest of my time in elementary school, I held onto this fearful idea that no one knew what Filipinos were unless they were Filipino themselves. I developed my own coping and survival mechanisms to try to fit in. I never had a teacher who looked like me, but more critically, I never had a primary teacher who encouraged me to learn about my identity or heritage. Even though I grew up with a couple of students who looked like me in my class, I was still a minority who didn’t feel seen.
Now, I take my personal experience and make sure that my students understand and appreciate their own heritage at a young age. When they know more about their own culture, they’re better able to understand and appreciate that of others. I strongly believe that a teacher’s self-awareness of their own identity can help build, empower, and enhance student learning.
When you celebrate and highlight cultural diversity in the classroom, what impact does it have on your students?
The most beautiful moments in my teaching career have happened when diversity in my classroom has been explored, discussed, and most importantly, celebrated. Many teachers talk about those “ah-ha” moments in academics as game-changers for students. But for me, it’s the moment when a student realizes the greatness of their identity and embraces how incredibly unique they are.
When I teach about a culture that a student identifies with, I make it a point to create opportunities for those particular students to be the “teacher” or “expert” in those lessons. It creates an unwavering confidence within that student, where they feel acknowledged and empowered. Allowing them to embrace their culture and diversity from a young age fosters those characteristics, and allows students to be more successful not just in my classroom but in life and their future workplace. It prepares them to take on the world with understanding, empathy, and self-love.
What steps have you taken in your classroom to improve cultural representation and diversity in your lessons?
The very first step I take every year is to have parents complete a survey so I can learn a little about their background and the roots of their culture: what they celebrate, their worldview, core beliefs, and group values. This gives me a reference point to look back on when planning how to connect home and school during my lessons for the year. When I’m finally ready to teach about that culture, I make sure to reach out to those families so that they can bring in items for a display board for the unit or a food tasting from their culture. I establish a “loan” procedure where parents let us borrow cultural artifacts to display for a period of time. I’m notorious for leaving projects displayed in my classroom up for a really long time, especially if it has to do with cultural projects that represent different places of the world. When they’re up, my students see themselves represented, while the others are reminded of all the lessons and conversations we’ve had about that culture.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to a teacher who is trying to incorporate more diversity into their teaching practice?
For teachers who are trying to incorporate more diversity, I think it’s extremely important to first and foremost, be mindful and reflective of your own identity. Understand that you bring your own background, beliefs, behaviors, and biases into the classroom. Incorporating more diversity isn’t just a set of engagement strategies, it is developing the right mindset that requires deep self-reflection. To get a better idea of your cultural reference points, you might ask yourself:
- What is the story of your family and connection to America?
- How did your family identify ethnically growing up?
- Is there anything you’ve ever done to bring shame to your family?
- Did you get messages about ethnic groups being more successful?
- What did your culture teach you about success?
Once you understand that you come with implicit biases yourself, you’ll start understanding and being open to other cultural frameworks brought to you by your students. This is when you can start building on your own cross-cultural background knowledge. There’s no quick crash course to be a culturally responsive teacher. It takes lifelong learning and exposing yourself to other cultural experiences. It takes asking your students’ families about their experiences, reading books and blogs, and watching documentaries about a variety of cultural experiences. When learning about another culture, the most important thing is to watch, learn from, and respect the space in which they share their experience — do not judge or bring your biases into their space.
For an educator who is looking to highlight Asian Pacific Islander history and culture in the classroom, how do you suggest they do so?
I think the best way to highlight Asian Pacific Islander history is to first learn about how Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed to politics, military, medicine, entertainment, and sports in America. Once educators learn about these heroes and legends, they can map it out to highlight these people throughout the year and not just in May. There are so many cultures and people outside of America that are also thriving and are worth students knowing about.
What are two or three things you do to help your students see themselves in their learning materials, classroom, and curriculum?
One of the very first activities I do in the beginning of the year is having my students close their eyes and imagine themselves in their best state. I have them imagine what they’re doing, who they’re with, how that environment makes them feel. Next, I have each child look in the mirror and make observations about their features. I encourage them not to see anything as flaws, but to see them as wonderful and perfectly made unique features. Afterwards, they write down all the things we discussed during that activity around a handheld mirror template that states, “In a world where you could be anything, BE YOUR BEST SELF.” It is the only project that I keep up for the entire year because it becomes our class theme! Anytime they’re feeling downcast, frustrated, or are losing sight of their identity, I have them glance at their project. It serves as a gentle reminder of who they are and how they want to be seen by others.
If there was one thing you wanted other teachers to take away from your story and your experience, what would it be?
I want educators to be encouraged to see students the way they want to be seen and to provide activities and opportunities for students to explore what that looks like for them. Be humble and allow your students to become the “teachers” when it comes to sharing their culture. Be self-reflective and aware of your interactions with your students and with each other. Encourage those who are shy and create a learning environment that is welcoming and full of celebration! Most importantly, don’t ever stop building deep relationships with your students and families! Learning is most effective when relationships are cultivated and trust is built.
Last but not least — what’s one thing that makes you smile? 🙂
One thing that makes me smile is my faith in God and nature 🙂 Especially during this time in a pandemic, it’s the only solid foundation I’ve had in this roller coaster journey of teaching through a pandemic. Education is difficult in general, but my faith has allowed me to have a different perspective on my students and how to love them well! It has given me an abundant amount of grace as a striving educator and has taught me how to extend that same grace to those around me.
DorothyHoney Mallari is an energetic, spunky, high heel-wearing 2nd grade teacher, who is living out her calling as an educator in Northern California. Throughout her teaching experience, Mrs. Mallari has sought opportunities to work with children of all different cultures and learning styles. During her holiday breaks, she has taught English overseas in Egypt, Mexico City, and the Philippines. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from teaching to combine her love for traveling and education by volunteering at various organizations all over Asia. She has learned that her background in dance, cheer, and theatre functions as a universal language, which allows her to connect with all of her students regardless of their background. This is accomplished by incorporating catchy tunes, chants, or stimulating forms of movement into a rigorous curriculum. Mrs. Mallari’s multicultural experiences and hands-on teaching approach has inspired many educators and gained the media attention from various news platforms all over the country, including a segment on Good Morning America.