Each student, in my classroom and in general, brings a different set of background knowledge with them to school. Each student, therefore, has something different and unique to bring to class discussions and interactions both academically and socially. It is so important to embrace the differences that each student brings. The differences that I saw in my placement class included a wide range of students on the socioeconomic status spectrum, differences in family situations, age differences, and differences in abilities.

When I think about a classroom full of diversity I like to think of Peggy McIntosh’s idea of the “invisible knapsack” from her essay “Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege”. Instead of just focusing on race, though, I like to think of each student coming to school with an invisible knapsack full of their personal experiences. Some students come to school with more in their knapsack than other students. It is the teacher’s job to determine how each student can contribute to the class using the things they have brought with them, and which students might need help packing more into their knapsack. Many students in my placement are privileged with abundant support at home with the means to extend their learning outside of school through travel, museums, and other valuable experiences. Other students are not as fortunate and do not have support at home or the means to extend their learning outside of school. It is important to take all of this into account when planning for teaching.

There was a wide range of privilege in my placement classroom. Some students were able to take vacations to Disney World or tropical islands, while other students were receiving free or reduced lunches and living in trailer parks. Some students had two supportive, involved parents who volunteered at school on a regular basis, and some students had parents who were divorced or in prison. There were students whose families did not speak any English and were hesitant to communicate at all with the school due to the language barrier. A couple of the students had been retained a year and were repeating first grade, while some students were performing grade levels above our expectations.

Each student received specialized attention for their academic, social, and familial needs. I tried to get to know each student and their background as best as I could in order to accomplish this. Each student is supposed to have a detailed file about their background that teachers are able to review during the year. These files are very helpful but are usually not informative enough. I like to take time out of each day to engage the students informally about what is going on in their lives. It could be a random conversation after a lesson about lightning when a student incidentally reveals that he does not have a lightning rod on his house because it is a trailer, or it could be while I am checking homework and a student forgot her Word Study notebook at her dad’s house and would not be able to get it back until next week because her parents are separated. It is important not to probe too deeply but just enough so you get a better picture about what the student is going through. First graders are especially good at sharing unsolicited personal information!
Creating a caring community all year is important to fostering an environment that values and encourages respect for diversity. If the students know the value of respect they will be more open to differences that they discover in their classmates. The classroom is a unique place that the students feel comfortable coming to each day. They can leave their background at the door each day because in my classroom we are all friends and we not only respect each other, but value each other’s differences.

Sometimes it is the differences that make a classroom the most caring. One of the most caring classrooms I have ever experienced was a second grade classroom in which I was subbing last year. The class had a student with an orthopedic disability. The students in this class learned from the very start of the year that this student had special, physical needs that should be respected, but she is a student first, just like every other student and should be respected for this as well. The class was able to apply this sentiment toward everyone in their class and it created the most lighthearted, caring educational environment I have experienced so far.

It is important to communicate effectively with resource teachers, specialists, and families to meet the diverse needs of the students. I was fortunate enough to get to know many of the specialists at my placement school through course assignments, student teaching experiences, and general curiosity. The specialists I was most involved with were the Reading Recovery teacher and the school counselor. Two of the students in my class were part of the Reading Recovery program, which caters to the lowest first grade performers in reading. We coordinated reading strategies so as not to confuse the students while they bounced back and forth between their Reading Recovery lessons and my small reading group lessons. She was also a great “informant” regarding family opinions they have only discussed with her. She helped keep everyone on the same page. I also frequently consulted with the school counselor while developing a behavior plan and a behavior intervention for one of the students, and while dealing with many first grade social issues (which I was surprised to find are plentiful). The counselor was very helpful with her professional knowledge and opinions while I tried to keep the class in good order. The specialists at the school are invaluable and I appreciate their insight and hard work that helps teachers run their classrooms efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.

I have attached my reflection on the behavior intervention I used with a student who was consistently misbehaving.