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Culturally Responsive Teaching: Be Mindful of Their Cultures

My Journey

My name is Laurian and I am currently a fourth grade teacher at an elementary school in the South Bronx.  Knowing my students' ELA and Mathematics scores from the previous school year, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I had my plans ready as far as which days and periods would be for group remediation and what groups i would use for guided reading. I was ready to go through Novemeber with no interruption. But it’s not a perfect world and various behaviors and academic needs inevitably got in the way of my perfect calendar.  As students struggled I began to think about referring them for special education.
This is my story of how I became a part of the culturally responsive inquiry team and what I walked away with.

How I Got Here

It all started on that chaotic day when my principal placed in my mailbox a schedule for a workshop at Teachers College that she signed me and a colleague up for.  I went to her to get some information about the workshop. I was told that it was a once a month professional development over the ten months of the school year and that it was about phase 1 of the New York City special education reform. I was a little apprehensive because I couldn’t see myself being out of the classroom and away from my students once a month for the entire school year, but I was excited to learn about the reform and what it woudl mean for me and my students. 
After the first day, I was unclear about what cuturally responsive education was, what it had to do with special education, and what my role in this group was, but I continued to attend the meetings because I was curious and wanted to learn as much as I could about the connection between these concepts.

Where I am Now

During the meetings, we spoke about students of all different backgrounds, created case studies and journals of students in our classroom, watched videos that showed how special education was perceived by parents, students, and educators.  We completed activities that we could use in the classroom to get to know our students.  We told stories about our students and the eye opening moments we had with them.  We spoke about being a culturally responsive teacher as not focusing only on the students who were born outside of the United States, but on all the students within the classroom.  
Now I have a different perspective of what being a culturally responsive teacher is all about.  Knowing students' cultures is the beginning.  I know now that it’s not just where they were born; it’s about knowing my students as individuals.  What makes them comfortable, what makes them go into a shell, what makes them smile, having conversations with them, knowing that sometimes they do need their space to calm down and think, knowing that my words may not always be clear to them, knowing that they all learn differently.   I realize even more so now that referring students for special education is not always the answer and should not be the first answer.