Chalk Talk: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the classroom: A call for teachers and schools to support community and belonging




For the Gazette

Published: 11-16-2023 2:23 PM

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is instrumental to me as a teacher in a school with a very diverse student body.

First and foremost, I’m a special education teacher, and I make sure that each student has the right support in place to help them achieve their full potential, regardless of their disability.

Second, I’m an English teacher in a co-taught setting, and I strive to make sure all of my students, regardless of ability level or native language, can read and write at grade level, which will ultimately help them pass the MCAS.

Third, I’m a club adviser for a Sci-Fi Club, which tends to cater to students who usually don’t have a niche group of peers.

And finally, I am one of a handful of folks on my school’s equity team, which helps educate school staff about DEI, and strives to ensure that all students feel supported in school. Through all of my roles, I am constantly working to ensure that all students feel welcomed, safe and included in my school’s community.

Community and belonging is our goal and DEI helps us achieve it. Communities grow and flourish when everyone feels like they’re a part of something, and teachers are instrumental in growing communities.

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Think back to when you were in high school. Did you have a favorite class or teacher? Why was your favorite class your favorite? Was it the teacher, the subject material, or the people in the class? Did you have a group of people you hung around with? Were you on a sports team? In any clubs?

The people you associated with were all part of your community. Maybe you’re still friends with them, or you moved on and formed new personal communities. Either way, you probably experienced that sense of belonging while in high school. That feeling of being part of something is what DEI is all about.

Students today have many different boxes they fit into. Boxes such as gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status; the list goes on. Despite their complex, individual identities, students show up to school and fit into the box of “student at Such and Such High School.” When a student enters a classroom, they expect to be respected by their teachers and classmates, and to feel safe and included. It’s the teacher’s job to help students feel this way regardless of their identity or any aspect of it. Teachers can have empathy for students, and by doing so, can model how students can have empathy for others.

Students being more empathetic could lead to less bullying, fewer fights, better communication, and better achievement for all. So why are we afraid of DEI? Why wouldn’t we want to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion? Shouldn’t we all strive to be more inclusive and empathetic towards each other? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know through experience that empathy and DEI can and do make positive change, and build community. And who knows, maybe that will help move us towards a better tomorrow.

Michelle Bartman is in her 10th year of teaching, and currently teaches special education English at West Springfield High School. She is a member of her district’s equity team, and runs an after school Sci-Fi Club. In her free time she likes reading, snuggling her cats, and taking classes through the Western Mass Writing Project.