Nowadays our classrooms are increasingly becoming diverse. The traditional classrooms which used to be more uniform are a thing of the past. In recent years most classrooms include students from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and family situations and this makes the job of the teacher even more complex and demanding. The aim of education and the basic duty of an educator should be to find a way to teach students acceptance, understanding and respect for anything different. Teachers must design activities in their lessons that promote these values and prepare students for a better future where phenomena of exclusion and racism will not exist anymore. This is the power of teaching after all; the ability to touch and influence the future.
Personally, I teach in a diverse environment where some of my students come from families of immigrants or are students of different religion, race, colour and socio-economic background. It is a very challenging situation, but definitely one worth trying for because it helps you understand even more things about life or even about ourselves and where we stand in certain situations. One activity I use at the beginning of the school year is to ask my students to introduce themselves and, if they come from a different country, share some information about their country and the life there with us. Afterwards, I ask them either to draw pictures based on what they have heard from their classmates or if they are older students to create quick projects working in pairs with someone from a different background, like a poster, where they will include information about the traditions of the country. The very important thing in this activity is for the teacher to behave with enthusiasm about the differences and to stress how interesting all this new information is. And of course try and transmit this spirit to their students too.
Another activity is to use short stories or even articles where diversity and difference is celebrated and where people from different backgrounds work together and create amazing things. For example for older students I have used articles about the terrorist attacks and discussed with my students how hatred has created this situation and how nonetheless people united under this threat and fought fear and ignorance. Also, I find these stories a great way to stress that we usually fear what we do not know, and the importance of accepting and embracing what is not like us.
For younger students I use cartoons like the Kung Fu Panda, which are easier to understand and relate to. A final activity I use with higher level students is discussing photos. I pre-teach to my students how the different angles of a photo, the light, the shade, and the main focus of the photo influence our perception. And then I show them different photos and we analyse them, and it is amazing how impressed my students are when they understand that all these things are very important. Afterwards, I ask them to write what they would change about the photo and why so as to put them in the process of realizing their way of thinking and perceiving the world.
In conclusion, education has to face new challenges in an ever-changing world and only by preparing students for a new world of acceptance and understanding can we create citizens of tomorrow who will truly change the world we live in and maybe succeed in everything we have failed.