As my time at my practicum school comes to an end this week, I have been reflecting on the most important aspects of my learning. I have been extremely fortunate in my placement; I have designed and taught a full unit to several 8th grade Mississippi Studies classes. The experience has greatly impacted me as a teacher and given me lots of opportunities to grow. In particular, I wanted to reflect on two major points of my learning:
1.The value of enrichment.
The cohort of students I teach are all enrolled in the AVID program, and are considered to be highly motivated, and high achieving, students. As a result, there are very few students with learning disabilities, behavioural IPPs, or ELLS. When planning instructional differentiation, I typically focus on students who struggle and need extra help. However, I quickly learned that advanced students require a special focus in differentiated instruction as well. Throughout my placement, I have learned that with in one class you will have many levels of students and you need to be ultra-prepared for students at both end of the spectrum. Although these are concepts that we have discussed in classes before, the real-life experience made it clear to me how important differentiation is, and how it is not just important for students who struggle.
2.Diversity needs to be celebrated, not just tolerated.
As we discussed in Diversity in Learning and Indigenous Education, we do see race and it does have social meaning and consequences (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014). In education and social justice, it is important to recognize this so that we do not “trivialize the realities of racism” (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014, p.14).
- MS succeeded from the United States to join the Confederacy in 1861, with the aim to maintain slavery as the principle institution in society.
- After the civil war, MS was the first state to create the Black Codes in the 1860s - laws which acted to confer the civil rights of African Americans.
- In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, it was not until 1962 that the first African American student, James Meredith, attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). In response, segregationists led a massive riot which ultimately required the federal military to intervene.
- In 2012, the University banded the sports chant “the South will rise again”, which led to a protest, led by the KKK, on University property.
This complex history still impacts Mississippians today. Especially in the classroom, it is important to recognize how the legacy of institutionalized racism affects students. However, I have noticed a trend in society, as well as in schools, towards “colour-blindness”. This is a dangerous ideology - it may promote a tolerance towards diversity, but I believe that in order for our students to reach their full potential, diversity needs to be recognized and celebrated. I saw this in my placement - when student’s unique experiences and perspectives were embraced, they were better set up to succeed. I had the opportunity to teach a lesson on the confederate states in Oxford*, and each student wrote a letter to the Mayor explain their position and whether the statues should remain where they were, be moved, or be removed. It was an interesting experience in creating an inclusive learning space for all my learners and making sure that the conversation was meaningful and respectful. My learning in Mississippi has impacted my perspective as a Canadian - particularly in terms of Reconciliation, as we have a long journey ahead of us to ensure that our diverse students are celebrated and given every opportunity to succeed.
Overall, teaching in Mississippi has been an eye-opening and endlessly rewarding experience. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had and all of the wonderful people I have met along the way.
*these monuments have been discussed in detail in previous blog posts.
DiAngelo, R. & Sensoy, O. (2014). Leaning in: A student’s guide to engaging constructively with social justice content. Retrieved from: http://www.radicalpedagogy.org/radicalpedagogy.or g/Leaning_In__A_Students_Guide_To_Engaging_Con structively_With_Social_Justice_Content.html