In our journey towards providing an equitable education for all, let’s take a quick refreshing look at the current graduation data:
Now, granted, this is just for Spokane Public schools, but I think you’ll find that this data is a representation of what is happening across our country. Reports show drastic disparities in graduation rates between American Indian/Alaska Native students in several states– and one of the largest disparities happens here in our own state of Washington. If you’re interested in the data, this post has plenty. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know three strategies that help ALL students thrive in your classroom. I would love to hear any of your strategies in the comments below!
- Know who’s Native—Native American kids that are making their mark on the data don’t always fit our “vision” of Native Americans. They have assimilated (by force, remember), and therefore the current generation may or may not be in touch with their mother tongue. As teachers, it’s easy to get into that habit of trying to classify a kid as quickly as possible—is this a SPED kid, a behavior kid, a highly capable one? Once we make those classifications, we proceed to making education-altering decisions for these students with curriculum and strategies. But how many times have those snap judgements been incorrect? Can we dig a little deeper to try to change our initial impressions? For many Native students, they are bringing decades of loss, trauma, and cultural shock to the table, whether they are aware of it or not.
Consider if a student wrote in an assignment about how they attended their tribe’s potlach over the summer. You would have a specific place in your mind for that student, which might include any cultural artifacts you’re familiar with from the media, right? Now consider the student who is ½ Native or even ¼ Native (or less), or the mixed-race Native student, who only speaks English. You might not even be aware that this student is Native until you have a look at that cumulative file. My point is, not all Native students fit in our mind boxes. We have to keep our eyes out and keep asking questions to get to know our families and kids.
- Educate yourself about how to teach about Natives. I think being aware of knowing what you don’t know is critical. I’ll be the first to admit that I am still refining my Thanksgiving lesson for kindergarten. I haven’t perfected my Thanksgiving lesson, but it gets better every year the more I educate myself on the history. I’m still searching for an accurate (yet 5-year-old-friendly) way to portray Squanto. Any ideas? And how can we make sure to include Native strengths in our curriculum? The traditional way to teach about Natives has not been very positive. We learn that these are people that were conquered, slaughtered, and the victims of white dominance. As they ask in this article, “Where are the Native heroes?” I also find that talking with colleagues who value culturally responsive instruction always helps keep my biases in check.
- Create space for your students to discover their identities in your presence. The reason why I write so much about language preservation and culturally responsive strategies is because teachers in my life have had an immeasurable impact on my cultural identity with their attitudes. I wish more adults had been curious about me, you know? I wish more adults had asked about how I celebrated holidays or asked about my grandparents. Native students come with their own unique background and, as mentioned before, histories full of hurt that can be difficult for non-Native educators to relate to, or even want to hear. We need to prioritize community building & identity exploration for our ALL of our students. Happy, whole humans don’t appear after they’ve memorized the State-mandated curriculum. For great identity lessons, check out TeachingTolerance or click here.
If you want to talk more about strategies that work for Native American students and closing the achievement gap, join my friend @beartoteach as he leads this chat Sunday November 12th at 7 PM with the hashtag #WATeachLead! See you there!
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy