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 Lyle, a 4th grade teacher and TpT Teacher-Author, about his work to provide all educators with accurate insight into both the modern lifestyle and rich history of Indigenous peoples from the United States.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in a tiny town called Porcupine on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I’m a proud member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. I grew up on the reservation, graduated from the local high school, and attended Duke University in North Carolina, where I learned the ins-and-outs of teaching. For the past few years, I’ve taught 4th graders at a few different schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
What drove you to become a teacher?
Growing up where I grew up definitely drove me toward teaching. Our tribal schools are essentially 100 percent Lakota students, but my teachers were primarily non-Native. I’ve always been big on my tribe’s history, and I felt that many of my teachers didn’t truly integrate our culture and history into the classroom. I also come from a place where we lack a lot of male role models, and I believe that teaching is a great way to provide guidance and help the youth. I’d say these observations led me into teaching at the elementary level on the reservation.
What are your school and community like?
Teaching in my own community has always been a priority for me. I teach students from all around the reservation — my classroom is made up of all Lakota students. I have some of the best students in the world: they are passionate about their culture and history, willing to learn, and teach me as much as (sometimes more than!) I teach them.
Why is representing your heritage in your teaching materials — and in education, more broadly — important to you?
I grew up a mile away from the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, one of the most famous events in Native American history. However, in many of our textbooks, this important event is rarely mentioned. If it is, it’s often represented as a battle, which is very untrue. There are many examples like this across the dozens of textbooks out there. I believe that my students deserve to hear an authentic account of events like Wounded Knee.
Many of my students are active in different cultural traditions across the reservation. I have students that dance at powwows, talented artists, singers in drum groups, and horse racers. It’s always fun to implement these familiar reservation activities. Devoting time to these aspects of our community’s culture helps my students understand that these activities are important and meaningful. It also gives my students an opportunity to be in the spotlight. Everyone loves talking about their passions!
What are some things you do to help your students see themselves in their learning materials or their classroom?
One area that I think it is critical to implement Lakota culture and values into is classroom management. Essentially every student is already aware of the Lakota values before they come into my classroom. At the beginning of the year, we talk about each value (generosity, for example), why it’s important, and how we can practice these different values in the classroom, lunchroom, playground, and more. We create our own anchor charts with these examples and display them for the rest of the year (I need to give a shoutout to my former colleague Ms. Ximena for this activity!). Continually displaying these values and other elements of our culture like the Lakota language, famous figures, and current events keeps students aware that their culture is important!
I also try to actively look for opportunities for my students to lead the lesson or discussion based off of their interests. I had one student a few years ago that was very good at beadwork, which is a big part of our culture. She loved bringing in her creations, and the other students responded enthusiastically. I set up a lesson where she showed off some of her work and explained why it was important. Next, students made their own keychains using beads, and she got to help other students, give advice, and practice her leadership skills. Of course, not everything needs to be an elaborate lesson, but I think there is tremendous value in putting our cultural passions on a platform. It says, “Hey, this is fun, engaging, and important!”
For an educator who is looking to represent Indigenous heritages as part of their teaching practice, where do you suggest they start?
A great starting point would be to research the tribes local to their areas, both currently and historically. Find out the notable events and figures in local tribal history, and always looks for first-hand sources.
In terms of teaching Native heritage as a non-Native, be mindful that you are less an instructor and moreso a facilitator. Make the learning a collaborative process. Native history isn’t always bright and cheery. It’s important to set an environment that is inclusive and culturally sensitive.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a teacher who is trying to incorporate more culturally accurate teaching into their practice?
I’ve spent 25 years on the reservation and am still far from an expert on our culture, so I would encourage other teachers to continually try to learn about cultures they want to incorporate. Talking to someone who has experienced the culture firsthand is always important — particularly, because many cultures have do’s and don’ts that are different from others and the last thing anyone wants is the spreading of misconceptions! Acknowledgement that you are looking at these cultures as an outsider and want to learn more is always a good mindset. Teaching diverse cultures accurately can be tricky and even uncomfortable, but we owe it to our students to give a wide range of authentic worldviews and non-stereotypical representations in the classroom.
If there was one thing you wanted other teachers to take away from your story and your experience, what would it be?
Know your students’ cultures, backgrounds, and communities, and try to integrate and encourage these qualities in the classroom! Stereotype threat is a real issue. I encourage teachers to research it and combat it directly in their classrooms.
Are there additional resources, articles, books, or podcasts that you’d recommend?
Oh man, where to start? For firsthand, authentic accounts of Native American life, I recommend the various works by Luther Standing Bear, Vine Deloria, and Black Elk Speaks. The book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown is a pretty comprehensive account of Native Americans in the West in the 1800s. For a look at how social studies textbooks often present a skewed (and incorrect!) version of history, I recommend Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Another book I’ve recommended to teachers who are teaching in new and unfamiliar settings is For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin. Lastly, I recommend the works of Paulo Friere for a look at critical pedagogy.
Last but not least — what’s one thing that makes you smile?
Students engaged and involved in their heritage, and seeing that pride fostered in the classroom!
Lyle is currently in his fourth year of teaching elementary school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He graduated from Duke University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Education and Adolescent Psychology, and recently received his master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Stanford University. His TpT store, Real Native Learning Resources, aims to provide all educators with culturally accurate resources that offer accurate insight into both the modern lifestyle and rich history of Native people. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram: @realnativelearningresources.