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Diversity in the classrooms

By Paula Groves Price, Associate Dean for Diversity and International Programs

This fall has been an exciting semester for elementary education. It included our WSU students visiting classrooms in Pullman Schools, grades 1-4, and teaching lessons on tribal sovereignty, and integrated critical social justice issues in language arts and mathematics lessons. This helped realize part of my dream of giving our pre-service teachers more practical experience in multicultural lesson planning and culturally-responsive teaching.

Here’s a video we put together about our students working at Jefferson Elementary School in Pullman:

While many teacher education programs across the country require a course on diversity or multiculturalism, most do not provide opportunities for teacher candidates to put theory into practice and engage with children on many of the tough equity issues that we face as a society. The reality is that children in America’s schools need and want to have these dialogues, and they deserve to have teachers that are equipped with the knowledge and skills to facilitate lessons and conversations about difference and equity.

When novice teachers can take risks and gain experience facilitating dialogue with children on issues of race, class, gender, and justice, they are more likely enter into the teaching profession with the confidence to teach multi-culturally and from culturally-responsive frameworks. For the youth in our schools, these lessons provide opportunities to think critically, engage in conversations around difference, and recognize their power to make their school and society more equitable and just.

As a parent with a young African American child in the Pullman Schools, it excites me to see her enthusiasm for having WSU students and multi-cultural books and lesson brought into her classroom. Perhaps the greatest outcome, however, is the significant lessening of the micro-aggressions that she and many students of color experience in school. As young children learn more explicitly about diversity, they also become more committed to ensuring that their school and class are inclusive.

Schools across the country, and in the State of Washington are becoming increasingly diverse, both culturally and linguistically, but the teaching profession is not diversifying at the same rate. Part of my mission is to ensure that teachers who graduate from WSU have a strong sense of understanding of what it means to be a culturally-responsive educator, and put those ideas and lessons into practice. When teachers understand multiculturalism as simply “good teaching,” it can then be implemented with all of the state and national standards that are required of them, and not as an “add on” to be done when time permits. Their approach to teaching, developing lessons, and creating community in their classrooms is one that facilitates greater justice. Their experiences in the program with the Pullman Schools are just the beginning. I know that my child, and many children across the state, are counting on them to continue to teach multiculturally.

Washington State University