This past week provided a couple different opportunities for me as a teacher that don’t fit into a normal work week. In celebration of Earth Day, our school joins together for an all-school Day of Service in the neighborhood surrounding Seattle Prep. The following day, on Friday, I joined our principal and a few other fellow teachers at a day long conference on Cultural Competence. While both days provided different experiences, they both allowed for great professional growth.
As students get older at Seattle Prep, they tend to bemoan the prospect of working outside on Earth Day. After experiencing the laborious nature of pulling ivy and blackberry from the neighborhood (mostly at Interlaken Park), they strive to do anything else! With this in mind – and last year being a rainy day – it inevitably makes for a less than exciting day in many cases. As teachers we feel like we are herding students back and then trying anything to get them to work for just a couple hours. While I went into the day with tempered expectations, I soon learned that just when you don’t expect the best – students surprise you.
The group of juniors I supervised and worked with on Earth Day provided great energy and worked extremely hard.
We cleared a nice section of ivy and blackberry to return the land to its natural state alongside workers from EarthCorps, a local non-profit that works in restoring natural habitats. The second part of our day involved moving piles of mulch to cover the area. When we completed the work, all of us could stare and be amazed at the work we accomplished. The students worked well together and really enjoyed their day. Yet the best part was that we were one group (about 12 students and myself) among 50 or so groups total doing this same work! We literally and physically changed the landscape of our area for the better! I felt overwhelmed and proud to be working at a school involved in this activity and to be with students who truly respected the world around them enough to not complain and get the work done.
The following day I traveled to the Cultural Competency training where I gained some great professional development to use in my classroom. The training centered around being able to understand the different perspectives and cultures of the students in our classroom. While I didn’t gain anything new or groundbreaking in terms of the material, the training did provide some great activities to use in helping students understand each others’ various perspectives and cultures. I also thought of my Diversity in Education course and James Banks’ views of Multicultural Education. This training and the work I did in that class made me reflect on my own teaching. Banks describes three different approaches to multicultural education in order of significance and importance: contributions approach, additive approach, and transformative approach. Do I simply speak about various cultural groups contributions or do I include all perspectives throughout units I teach? This is a perfect time to reflect on this dilemma as I begin a new unit for freshmen year. The unit involves the reading of Bless Me, Ultima and the Age of Exploration. I want to work toward a unit that doesn’t celebrate Christopher Columbus and other explorers, but examines the perspectives of all involved including the indigenous people who lived in the New World before Columbus arrived. If I can get students to understand all points of view in this era, I am working toward a transformative experience.