Intercultural Life at Lake Forest College

March 01, 2012

Lessons from a New Teacher

 By Shabana Yusufishaq ‘12

One thing is certain of America’s pubic schools, the demographics are changing. The once white majority student populations now make up about half of school’s populations. This semester I am student teaching at high school in Gurnee, IL, and the student body at this school is no exception to this change.  

Some may say, “It should not matter that such changes are occurring”. Or, “We should be beyond labeling students based on their ethnicities”. Is it okay to have preconceived notions about your students, where you assume their ability level, interests, or personality? NO. However, students are still individuals, not robots teachers can program to be good citizens of the world. It is important for teachers to recognize each student’s cultural background embrace it and make it a part of the classroom community.

From my experience at an internship in Waukegan and now student teaching in Gurnee, I have realized how important it is for a teacher to connect to students. I may even argue that a teacher’s ability to demonstrate a caring, respectful, and accepting classroom environment far exceeds a teacher’s ability to teach his or her students. If a student does not feel welcome or senses discrimination, the student will have a difficult time paying attention. Neurological evidence supports the negative impact emotional distress can have on students’ learning. Further, if the teacher demonstrates an inclusive environment they are modeling behavior expected of the students for their peers. 

The lack of such supporting environments may explain why I notice my students interacting with one another the way they do. Whenever I have students working in pairs or group activities, they will choose to work with someone from the same ethnicity. No doubt, it is human nature to feel most comfortable with individuals who share more similarities than not. My worry is that if students get into the habit of doing this when they are in school, they will continue to stay in their comfort zones as adults. Collaboration across different ethnicities, especially in this day in age, is essential to our globalizing world. 

I feel though that if we create classroom environments that highlight student culture that stretches beyond one’s skin color, students will realize that they do in fact share commonalities with individuals from different ethnicities.

As a new educator, I am recognizing that the key to my success working in diverse schools is to seek to incorporate each student’s identity in the classroom and create classroom communities that facilitate collaboration between all students.


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