Occasionally, there are moments in teaching that wake you from routine instruction and these moments shake up your pedagogy snow globe. All the methods, techniques, instructional tools you have learned along the way may have settled to the bottom and suddenly begin swirling around again. You reflect on why they are such an important part of the whole practice of teaching. This is where equality in instruction becomes important.
I experienced one of these moments recently and it reminded me of something that I used to pride myself on, but had forgotten… equality.
Equality in Instruction
I wanted to introduce my students to a collection of famous artists and artworks. My main goal was to generally expose them to different time periods, art movements, methods, and techniques. I was so focused on those criteria that I forgot about equality in instruction and exposure.
It didn’t hit me until a quiet girl in my class raised her hand and asked, “Why aren’t there any women? Are women not famous artists?”
My heart broke and my stomach dropped to the floor. It was a low point. I had completely forgotten to include any women artists in the presentation. What was wrong with me?
True Teacher Confessions
Here is a true confession. What is even worse is that I had purposely excluded Frida Kahlo because I thought that my middle school class would make fun of her eyebrows like they had in past years. I didn’t have time that day to truly address the deep currents of what is considered real, authentic, beautiful, and the power to be who you are. In shamefully trying to avoid one hiccup, I eliminated an entire gender from my instruction and peered into this little girl’s eyes feeling as though I had let her down. I had failed her.
Instead of coming up with an excuse and instead of rushing to put together an entire presentation about female artists to overcompensate for my mistake, I decided to be honest.
I looked at her and said, “Ya know what? You’re right. There are no women in this presentation. That does not mean that there are no famous women artists. That does not mean that women cannot be artists or anything they put their minds to. It means that even I, as a female artist myself, forget sometimes how important it is to celebrate the accomplishments of everyone, including other women. I forget how important it is to highlight the accomplishments of female role models throughout history. I promise that I will remember that more in the future and thank you so much for reminding me today of something that I had forgotten.”
Don’t Forget Exposure
She looked at me. She said nothing more. I may have gone a bit overboard in my rush of self-reflection and self-deprecation, but at that moment, I remembered how important it is to not only highlight the achievements of powerful female role models but to make them a constant staple in our instruction as teachers. This is crucial for ALL our students. We, as educators, need to make a point to create a habit of equality that includes ALL types of people as those to emulate, model, and inspire to be. This means that we should mindfully include people of every gender, nationality, cultural background, age, etc. in our classrooms.
It is March, National Women’s History Month, and this is a wonderful time to begin highlighting some powerful female role models who dominate the fields of science, mathematics, engineering, the arts, advocacy, and policy. It is also a wonderful time to reflect on how we address equality in instruction and equality in the classroom and how we can make it a part of our constant environmental landscape.
We all have moments in teaching. There are ones that make us proud, happy, reassured, and settled, but the ones that shake us, the moments that cause us to pause and reflect on what we can do better, are many times the most powerful.