The interpersonal relationships in modern society are by large determined by the processes of globalization and gradual merging of various cultures in one global ‘melting pot’. Communication technologies and travelling opportunities have made it unprecedentedly easy for people to discover and explore different cultures and as a result communities are becoming more and more diversified as to their cultural and ‘racial’ composition. Together with multicultural trends, society demonstrates a growing tendency to include more and more people from other socio-economic and linguistic backgrounds, as well as physically and mentally challenged ones. Consequently, a higher level of understanding and tolerance should be achieved within this diversified society, and one of the areas which mostly demand such tolerance and understanding is education. Together with conferring knowledge, a key objective of educative process is shaping personality, and in case of diversified classes the great responsibility for success rests both on the teachers, and on classmates, and on their parents.
An excellent example of an extremely diversified class can be seen in my past schooling: there was both physical, and social, and ‘racial’ diversity present in my class. A female student was diagnosed with ADHD; she had behavioural problems typical of the disorder and became unsettled easily. Many students came from split families with divorced parents, and others had lost a parent and came from single parent families. In a different year from mine, a boy had injured his spine and was disabled and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. This boy also had many social problems due to his disability and only spoke to his one friend. In addition, despite the fact that the majority of the class were white Caucasian, there was still quite a mixture of races in the classroom. This all, of course, presented an issue to handle for the school in general, and teachers and students in particular.
Happily enough, there was hardly ever a problem addressing the abovementioned differences. Of course it was hard to conceal the girl’s ADHD from the rest of the students: she was often drawing a lot attention to herself and distracting the class, so all the students were aware of her diagnosis. The school monitored her learning and behaviour, and also administered her medication as prescribed by doctor. In general, all students who required medications could obtain those during assembly at the doctor’s office, so that was never a problem for them.
Apart from medical help, our school also took care of psychological aid to students. Those students who were facing a divorce or death in the family could attend a social counselling group called ‘rainbows’. This group was run by a teacher who had lost her son to a brain tumour when he was 12 years old. Therefore she could understand and share the psychological distress with the students, as well as help them find the right way out of their grief. In addition, many students gained help through talking about their feelings and experiences with other people of a similar background.
For the comfort of the handicapped, the two-storey building of our school was adapted appropriately. Providing access to all the classrooms, the main stairwell had been fitted with a chair lift that enabled anyone in a wheelchair to go up the staircase without having to get out of the wheelchair. This was a great help to the disabled boy, although I am unaware of what was put in place to assist him with his social problems. As for the ‘racial’ diversity in the classroom, it was never an obvious problem since there were never any racial remarks or misunderstandings between races that needed to be addressed.
The teachers also participated in the process of appropriately addressing diversity issues. They never focused the general attention on the specific characteristics and demands of the disabled or psychologically unstable students, at the same time somehow managing to streamline the learning process so that everyone would be involved and interested. Naturally, the teachers had to reckon with the lower learning abilities of the ‘different’ children but they never set it off as a shortcoming and always displayed great tolerance and encouraged their efforts.
If I was to teach a diversified classroom, I would have to bear in mind several issues. Firstly, I would tailor the curriculum so that it satisfies the demands of various backgrounds; probably, it would be reasonable to provide some less advanced assignments for students who have learning difficulties, while the rest of the class can go more in-depth. Secondly, to prevent certain stratification between students of different backgrounds, I would involve more interactive methods of teaching, aimed at promoting communication and cooperation between all the students. And last but not least, I would assume a more personal approach to students, and interact closely both with them and, if necessary, with their parents, to understand deeper the personal peculiarities of their learning styles and advance their studies subsequently.
The ways I treat teaching for diversity is naturally based on my past schooling experience. Since I was able to witness various instances of diversity among students, I also noticed the way teachers approached it. They obviously did a lot of background research, since I could notice they were bit more adapting the general teaching style to the needs of ‘different’ students. They were trying to involve everyone’s background and interests, and connect the studying process to our own experiences to make it more engaging and sensible to us. But first and foremost, the teachers themselves never demonstrated any bias or fears towards the students of different backgrounds, and I believe this positive attitude was and is the key to successful teaching for diversity.