As a high school History teacher with a set-in-stone curriculum map, the idea of stopping my lessons to insert a resource or unit on "Black History" was troubling to me. What was more troubling was the fact that, to me, the history of diversity should be taught all year long, every year.
Both of those personal beliefs created classroom problems.
Let me take you back...
Before my first year of teaching in my own classroom, I sat in my new space and skimmed through every resource left to me by the retiring teacher. There were sets of textbooks, black-lined dittos (that's a history lesson), and worksheets of every kind neatly stuffed into file folders in huge filing cabinets. After days of going through what that teacher of 36 years considered his greatest gift to me, the newbie, I was in tears. I stumbled into the assistant principal's office to ask what I could do.
Then she asked the big question:
What was the problem?
I let it all go! I explained that to teach history correctly, in a way that would best represent and empower all of my students, I needed resources that would help me to show them the true history, not just that of white, Anglo-saxon, Protestant, males, but the history of everyone. And preferably, in their own words. I wanted to teach my courses on Government, Geography, U.S. History, and World History from multiple perspectives and with a global focus, allowing my students to use critical thinking skills in their evaluation of varied resources.
Yes, I was very ideological and optimistic back then! I truly thought she would whip out the checkbook and hand me a list of phone numbers for the distributors of those oh, so valuable resources so they would be delivered nice and shiny by the first day of school just weeks away.
Instead, my very understanding assistant principal told me to follow her.
We walked down the hallway to the custodian's closet. She pulled out two large trash cans on wheels. We rolled them to my classroom. And then, she helped me to dump every single worksheet from the filing cabinets into the trash cans. We also stacked all of the 10 year old textbooks into a book room, leaving me just one class set on a shelf in the corner of the room.
Then she gave me a piece of advice that has changed my teaching (and truly my life) every since:
The only way you are going to get what you want is to create it yourself!
And that's what I did. For every topic in every subject area.
After 15 years of teaching, and 5 more years of just creating these resources, I am overjoyed to see that we (the many of us in my teaching generation that broke from the book) can now provide every new teacher with the tools that will truly make learning an inclusive experience for every student in their classroom.
With all of that said, I've also come around just a bit on my "don't mess with my curriculum" attitude! While I still believe diversity should be taught year round, I also feel we need to address diversity even more during the annual events. After all, during my 20 years in the academic world, I learned another important lesson, too. It's all about equity!
For those looking for that perfect Black History Month resource, take a look at my Important African Americans Biography Centers Activity. The resources introduces students to 12 African Americans that have truly made a difference in America through their dedication to breaking down barriers and building up citizens to create a nation in which we can all be proud.
And for an added activity, be sure to download my FREE Analyzing Quotes of African American Leaders Task Card Set. These are great for bell ringers or simply to help students see for themselves the great contributions made by these people of color.
Use the two resources together for an even more valuable lesson!