Teachers as gatekeepers: Validating diversity in the classroom

During my practice teaching block, my associate teacher introduced letter writing to her grade 1 and 2 class. Every year in December, this teacher introduced parts of a letter and then her students wrote and mailed letters to Santa Claus. She said her students loved this yearly tradition because they were always excited to receive letters from Santa right before the winter break. However, this made me feel uneasy as I knew my associate teacher was aware that many of the kids in her class did not celebrate Christmas, or if they did, many did not believe Santa was real. Nevertheless, she insisted this was a harmless activity, it’s a great way to introduce letter writing and it “worked” every year.  As I walked around the class asking students what they’re thinking to write, many did not know where to begin – they did not celebrate Christmas, they didn’t have a Christmas tree or a chimney in their home. Despite this, many students pretended to celebrate Christmas and wrote their entire letter based on what they commonly observed in the media. This year, a grade 2 student named Steven (pseudonym) refused to write a letter because he did not celebrate Christmas. Steven was also was known for his behavioural disorder, so to avoid an unwanted situation, my teacher gave him an alternate task while the rest of the class continued to write their letters. My teacher was annoyed with the situation, as she believed this was an innocent act of writing a letter to a fictional character – what’s the harm?

To learn more about this scenario, including the author’s own response, please attend the Intersections of Diverse Teachers and Diverse Learners at CSSE 2013, or stay tuned to the DiT website because we will be posting those details in the near future.

Until then, please leave a comment so that we can read your responses to this scenario. Here are some questions to consider interacting with each other and the author (Sama Hamid, from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto) about:

  1. If you were my associate teacher, how would you respond/address this issue?
  2. Do you think this teacher appropriately accommodated the cultural/religious diversity of her class?
  3. Given the various constraints educators face – such as limited time, resources, a vast curriculum, etc. – how can we balance our responsibilities as educators and still give our students a broader knowledge of human diversity that is representative of their class and their communities?
  4. How can teachers create a balanced multicultural environment?



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