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Teaching in a Diverse World

by Joe A. Martin, Jr., Ed.D.

When most people think of diversity, they think about people who are separated by physical differences (i.e., race, age, and gender). However, it’s important to understand that diversity encompasses so much more, from differences in values to differences in personality types.

In short, don’t be alarmed when the “D” word is spoken or if you’re required to address it in your class or on your job. Because in actuality, we’re all different! Diversity should be something that is celebrated, not feared. Sometimes, we (as educators) make it more stressful (and complicated) than it needs to be.




As an African American teacher, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at both a historically black school (88% African Americans) and a predominantly white school (80% Caucasian). Since I teach communication courses, I am required to discuss diversity issues as part of the lesson plan.

Since I was reared in one of the toughest inner city ghettos in Miami and I’m an African American, people (including my colleagues) just assume I have an easier time discussing and addressing diversity issues among African American students. And since I currently teach at a predominantly white school (and I’m the only person of color in all of my classes), most assume that it would be tougher to discuss diversity.

The truth of the matter is, I’m comfortable in both environments. In fact, I only think about our apparent differences when my colleagues remind me. I’m sure at both schools (black and white), my students and I have even more differences that I’m unaware of. However, whereas diversity is a matter of the head, connecting with students on an emotional level is a matter of the heart. I learned this valuable “connection” lesson in my first year of teaching.

We’ve all heard the saying, “A student doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care.” It is definitely true. Don’t be intimidated or reluctant because some or most of your students don’t look, act, talk, or even think like you. Focus on what you do have in common with your students – a mutual desire to see them succeed in school and in life; it’s not just a mindset, it’s a heart-set.

Another thing I’ve learned about addressing and discussing diversity issues with students is that they appreciate honesty (don’t we all?). I’ve never been afraid to tell students (the truth) about my own personal biases, misconceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes concerning race, religion, economics, age, gender, etc. Even if I’m the only one to admit it in class, I always make sure I’m the first. In leading by example, students see that I’m more concerned with learning and their personal growth than I am about preserving a “professional” image.

So don’t make this issue the one you’re “most likely to avoid” – make it the one you’re most likely to embrace. If you’re sincerely honest with your feelings and dialogue with your students, you’ll find that they will be also. You will also have earned their respect and received an education yourself. And when you think about it…that’s not such a bad deal, is it?


Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author, professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students, teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To find out more visit his web site at


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