The Role of Teachers in Instilling Confidence in Diverse Student Populations
A diverse student body can consist of students from various ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our schools are filled with minority students, international students, students with different home lives or past experiences, English Language Learners, and students with differing cultural and religious backgrounds. Educators must effectively respond to
the increasingly diverse student population in America to ensure academic and social success for all students.
First, teachers must create a comfortable and respectful classroom environment to ensure all students are able to not only navigate the course, but further enhance their academic and social development. Educators must establish a climate that encourages open discussions on the day to day challenges of the 21st century student and how to overcome such obstacles. Students and teachers should participate in open dialogues about diversity, appreciation, and ways to tackle the issue of discrimination. Students must be given the opportunity to speak with teachers about their experiences being a young Muslim struggling to find a way to commit to the teachings of their faith, while also trying to steer clear of the daily struggles they encounter (drugs, alcohol, dating, etc.). Educators must respond with respect and understanding, and provide students with realistic approaches to their current challenges and similar scenarios they may encounter in the future. Evidently, teachers in Islamic schools serve as role models for their students and can validate the religious identity of their young Muslim students. In fact, a study by Saluja, Early, and Clifford found that teachers that shared their students’ ethnic background could lessen the differences between school and home (2002). However, even teachers that do not share their students’ cultures can still provide instruction that is culturally compatible if they understand the students’ cultural ways of communicating, understanding, and behaviors that exist within their homes (Moll 1994, 2001).
Second, teachers should be open and flexible to new ideas and cultures, and promote diversity in the classroom. Most students in Islamic schools share a similar trait that instantly promotes a sense of unity amongst the student body - they are all young Muslim Americans that
need support to develop confidence in their identity. However, students’ cultural backgrounds vary greatly, which thus requires teachers to value each students’ unique cultural values and traditions. This also requires educators to promote inclusion of student cultures into the course curriculum for effective instruction that will further enhance students’ social development.
Educators must be also be mindful of how they implicitly view and explicitly treat their students, ensuring that they eliminate teacher bias. Students should develop a worldview and be well informed about histories of unfairness and inequality, how to distinguish fact from fiction in regards to stereotypes, and how to respectfully and appropriately inquire about religion, culture, race, and identity (Center for Interreligious Understanding, 2011). Teachers can incorporate discussions on covert and overt discrimination and prejudice, and challenge students to eliminate preconceived notions and stereotypes they may hold about various cultures. Educators must teach about sensitivity and respect towards those that hold different values and come from different backgrounds, and can do so by including examples from the Qur’an and Sunnah. In order to create an enriching learning environment that celebrates cultural differences, teachers must understand and appreciate students’ different cultural strengths.
Third, teachers can incorporate projects in their curriculum that encourage and support students to develop confidence to challenge mainstream perceptions of their faith and cultural background. Examples of projects that achieve this goal include cross cultural, interfaith, and service learning or volunteer projects. A cross cultural project could require students to visit a variety of religious places of worship, such as a Synagogue, Church, Gurdwara, or temple, and present their newfound appreciation of other faiths to their peers. While students visit a place of worship, they must converse with followers of another faith to clear mainstream perceptions of
Islam and the other religions students aim to explore. An interfaith project could involve the school at large by conducting a community-wide interfaith event. Muslim youth around the community can participate in hosting the event and leaders of various religious groups around the metroplex should be invited to speak and attend. Volunteer projects require students to get out of their comfort zones and interact with people different than themselves, and also allows students to better others’ perceptions of Islam. Coaches can also play a significant role in helping their students develop confidence in their identity and ability to lessen mainstream perceptions of Islam. For instance, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) offers private schools an opportunity to compete in school sponsored athletic competitions. The TAPPS member schools maintain their unique traditions while encouraging student and school understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures through athletics. Such initiatives can also address the issue of clashing value systems students encounter at public schools, outside their Islamic school, during their postsecondary education, and in the workforce.