MODULE 3: mindset
One of the best moments that I had while teaching in a culturally-diverse environment occurred a number of years ago while teaching at an international school in Guyana. The Guyanese population primarily consists of three races: Amerindians, Afro-Guyanese, and Indo-Guyanese, and three main religions: Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The school community was disproportionate to the local population; most of our students were Indo-Guyanese or expats (mostly Afro-Caribbean or white American) with very few Afro-Guyanese and only one Amerindian. The teaching staff was mostly Afro-Guyanese or expat (white Americans). Most of the staff and students observed religion and represented four main religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Hebrews (Black Hebrew Israelites). While the school celebrated all the national holidays that recognized the three main races and religions, it focused on what Jen Holladay warns us about: heroes, holidays, food, festivals, folklores, and fables.
When Ramadan came around, it was hot and humid over 30*C everyday. My Muslim students asked if they could play football outside while waiting for their friends to finish lunch. It worried me that they were going outside, while fasting and with no water in such conditions. Then I learned that this was the tradition at the school. Previous to teaching in Guyana, I spent three years in the Islamic country of Oman. I knew how important fasting and prayers are for Muslims, especially during Ramadan. So, after further inquiries, I learned that all fasting students either "hung out" with their peers while they ate snacks and lunch or played football in the stifling weather. I spoke to the students and their families, and we came up with some new ideas. First, I opened my classroom up for fasting students so that they didn't need to sit next to their peers during lunch and recess to help avoid the temptation. Secondly, we converted the senior's lounge to a prayer room for the students to pray. They organized their own wudhu and decided who led the prayers, but at least had a room where they could pray in peace. Thirdly, I changed my fifth grade social studies unit to become a unit on world religions. We touched on the predominant religions in Guyana, but actually focused on religions that were not common or even unheard of in the country.
I was thanked by a number of parents for helping out, but I learned my true impact years later when I received a text from a former colleague (a Hebrew, Afro-Guyanese) whose daughter also attended the school. Though I never taught her directly, it was a small community,and I had quite a bit of interaction with her. This screenshot of her message is something I'll remember for the rest of my career.
Tedx Talks. (2013. Mar 22). Multiculturalism in the Modern World: Jen Holiday at TEDxDenverTeachers [Video file]. Retrieved from http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5rKgDOs33U&feature=emb_logo
CONNECTIONS TO MY PRACTICE