How are English professors trained to be receptive to the writing and ideas of students who come from much different racial, cultural, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds?

Are professors given training to handle diversity in the classroom, or do they simply figure it out as they go along?


Jennifer Oleniczak, Founder and Artistic Director of The Engaging Educator

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I feel that now, more than ever, people are paying attention to this and training for it, but I feel there isn't a lot of formal coursework on this. There are, however, a lot of incredible movements and work towards this:

Above are a few interesting links, but when it comes down to actual training, I feel that many teachers need to just remain present, empathetic and connected with their students. Best way to teach is to be present, and listen - and that's actually one of the reasons we offer improv classes for teachers and educators. It helps people be less agenda orientated and more audience orientated - which is essential to good teaching.

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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This is a fantastic question! Here are a few things I have encountered along the way:

A strong focus on multicultural literature (as it was called in the 1990s)--When I started college, reading texts from all kinds of voices was just starting to become popular. I was taught to challenge the ideas of a white, male canon.

Workshops about diversity--Good teachers continually learn. I had the opportunity to work alongside many allies who have taught me about issues such as sexism and microaggressions in the classroom.

A strong personal teaching philosophy--It has always been my mission to ensure all voices are heard in my classroom. I have been only encouraged to maintain that commitment over my 20 years of teaching.

Understanding that all kinds of writing matter--A good teacher will make sure all writing isn't high stakes writing. Knowing that all kinds of writing practices matter helps ensure all voices have a space to be heard.

Great online communities--My favorite is Teaching Tolerance. But there are so many ways to connect with likeminded teachers.

Lisa Hiton, Professor of English and Arts, Poet, Filmmaker, Writer

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I have two institutions to point to in addition to Jennifer's list:

  • The Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking: This institute, founded on the ideals of Peter Elbow, brings teachers into their own classroom in a different way than we often see. By engaging with generative and reflective writing and other more "experimental" techniques, teachers are able to achieve a new kind of equality of voice in the classroom. Educators participate in every activity of reading and writing with their students. This helps the entire circle of people involved become a true cohort. Inherent in these practices is the notion of advancing moral capacity (by teachers and students alike), and treating ideas and beliefs democratically. The constant use of questions and critical thinking/inquiry allows all kinds of usual barriers to break down (race, gender, religion, etc.).

Two excellent books that explicate this vividly are: --> Writing without Teachers by Peter Elbow --> On Austrian Soil by Sondra Perl

  • Making Caring Common: Richard Weissbourd's educational research and work are all about moral adults and moral children. From bullying, to LGBT issues, to race, to love, Weissbourd's efforts to teach for moral capacity are evident. He teaches at Harvard's Grad School of Ed, so many who've taken his course have already begun to infiltrate the ed sector. His main course is called Moral Adults, Moral Children. Likewise, schools can work with Making Caring Common on many of these issues of civil rights.

I hope that a TFA person answers this question, as the TFA program places many teachers in communities with students from very different backgrounds than the TFA teachers. I imagine and hope that they have some training specific to this crucial question you've asked.

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