On a day when we remember one of the worst atrocities that the UK has witnessed in my lifetime, at a time when we are still asking questions regarding the recent attack in Tunisia and at a time where terrorism is a ‘credible threat’ I feel it necessary to remind ourselves that we must celebrate diversity, especially in our classrooms.
We all accept that we must meet standards in Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education and that, as Teachers, we meet the teaching standards to promote tolerance and uphold British values but do we really embrace diversity in our schools? Do we always remember that there are opportunities for us to learn from our children, where collegial education can outweigh Teacher instruction?
Before joining my current school, I worked in a school where, in a school of 250 pupils, diversity was limited to a traveller who rarely attended school and a small selection of non-white, British or Christian children. Now, however, I work in a school where diversity is great, where no two faces are the same. Initially, I was apprehensive of this, not because of a conflict of beliefs, my family are so diverse that I could represent four countries in any sporting event, but I because I didn’t want to offend families. It didn’t take long, however, to realise that diversity was not something to be feared but something to revel in, to celebrate and embrace!
My colleagues, I’m sure, must get frustrated with me when I say that I am a little behind with the plan or have recorded and activity slightly different as we have been caught up in a great discussion in class. These discussions however, are always linked to the planned learning but often allow the children to share relevant knowledge and experience which often provides their peers with a greater learning experience than one that I can offer. Of course, the discussion isn’t about the latest band that they are listening too or their current progress in Minecraft (often a discussion I kerb in class) but a discussion about how their religion and culture impacts their daily life, worship, up-bringing or learning.
I was teaching Hinduism all day yesterday as our scheduled RE day for this term, we had covered Christianity, Islam and Judaism and so Hinduism was next on the agenda. Planning for the day and preparing the associated resources proved a long and cumbersome process; I was learning as I was planning, it is a religion I know nothing about (maybe supporting your idea @Jon_brunskill about needing specialist teachers in primary schools). Furthermore, the learning intentions were very specific and appropriate resources were not available for download. With some trepidation and a low level of confidence in my plan, I took to the floor and began to deliver the lesson. I hadn’t got far into the lesson when I was greeted by “Mister E, I know all about this as my family are Hindu!”
“Don’t you know your children?” I hear you asking, of course I do, but this young man joined me unannounced last week, was of foreign origins where English was not his first language. In addition, he did not show a great deal of attention in class and was yet to participate in class. Immediately, I grabbed the opportunity by the proverbial horns and invited him to join me at the front of the class to share the teaching. With animation and enthusiasm, my young man joined me at the front, explained to the class about his religion, used anecdotal experience and even answered questions fielded by his peers. The only response from me and his classmates was a rapturous round of applause and a large quantity of house points.
This is not the first time that I have used my children’s own knowledge to support or enhance my lesson, and the children clearly are more engaged when their friends are teaching. The children show greater levels of respect, interest and engagement; they ask more questions and retain the knowledge more: I cannot compete with my seven year-old counterparts! These learning opportunities also provide wider opportunities, it promotes tolerance; the children not only tolerate their peers’ diversity but are eager to learn more about it. Since yesterday’s teaching experience by my new pupil, he has come out of his shell, become more engaged and appears to have made more friends: a boost in reputation and a boost in self-confidence.
In response to the question “Should we employ a specialist to teach this?” I maintain my negative answer. I gained sufficient knowledge to teach the class, I planned to a high level and nobody, including my Hindu pupil surpassed the highest level of challenge. I also continue to argue that my children appreciate my honesty about the limitations of my knowledge and witness life-long learning first-hand.
Finally, to those who have been affected by the atrocities of war stemming from diversity, I offer you this final thought: these catastrophic events are unforgivable and the loss of those affected can never be balanced, but my children live in a world where diversity is embraced and celebrated. These heinous acts do not cause hatred in my classroom but a resounding love for a world where every religion is a peaceful one, where diversity is not to blame, where we accept that everyone is different.