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November 24, 2014
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Lessons in diversity

“Your turn, sweety… how about reading to me?” Looking at me. Smiling. Silence. Not a word. “Can you read this to me?” I repeated. Looking directly into my eyes. Smiling. Silence. “Come on. I read to you. Read to me… Please? …Pretty please?”

She finally starts reading. We have a few things to work on, but she did pretty good.

When the session was over, I asked her mom: “Was it me or is this typical for her?” Mom: “Oh, don’t worry. She just doesn’t know you. When she does, you won’t be able to shut her up!”

That was session one with a seven-year-old. Another first session, this time with a six-year-old… the little guy stared up at me with huge eyes. And no smile. But we got the job done!

It should come as no surprise Callie Z isn’t the only Woodland student who doesn’t like me. One of my students this summer looked like he’d walk out of the library when he first saw me… the only problem? Mom was there, too. He couldn’t. Our first session was touch and go. Our second session better but still cautious. What finally did it, I think, was when he ran ahead of me and managed to get the elevator door closed before I could get there. I believe that’s called payback. Today we get along fine and while ‘learning’ still isn’t his priority, he’s doing it despite himself… and making progress.

“I want to do this!” An 11-year-old… no problem but your mom needs to sign you up. Twenty minutes later he was back with the signed form… “Can we start now? Can we? Please?” Sure. He did okay; had word recognition issues. He left excited with assignments for the following week. Haven’t seen him since.

Fast forward to college. Students in my public speaking classes are typically high school juniors and seniors, with a few adult learners mixed in. My technical writing students are almost exclusively adult learners.

Nobody wants to be in the classes I teach (they’re required for their majors and perceived as necessary evils).

“If I were to offer you an A for the course and then say you never had to come to class or complete an assignment, how many of you would take me up on it?”

Hands from most of those in the class – any class, without fail – would shoot up… big grins on all faces, young and old alike!!

“Now, during your job interview you find out that communication skills have a huge impact on your desirability. This is true with most employers. The interviewer asks about these skills, telling you that being able to speak in front of large groups (or write technical papers) is an essential part of the position… then what?”

Most realize at that point ‘respect for learning,’ one of Edison’s core values, actually does have a place in their educational goals. Even in a perceived necessary evil. Over the next 16 weeks, I see students with excellent grammar and grammar challenges, students who do well on written quizzes and those who don’t, those who understand critical thinking and research and those who don’t, those who talk up a storm and those who look like they’re going to pass out… those who excel and those simply happy to pass. Unfortunately, a few even give up. I have to approach those challenges – and successes – according to individual needs, regardless of age.

I think back to my school days, elementary through college. One size fits all; choose to succeed or fail. Today we understand a little more about diversity. It isn’t just ethnic or religious or diverse groups…

Want to learn about human diversity? True human diversity? Try teaching a class of 20 or more first graders… or eighth graders, or high school students… even college students.

That’s a real lesson in diversity.

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