Inclusion in the Classroom

Kami Connect Keynote | Jere Chang

In this special mini-episode of Teacher Teacher, we talk to Jere Chang, an Atlanta-based teacher with over 25 years of experience. Follow her viral, inspiring teacher videos on TikTok!

[Marcus]
Today I am thrilled, I feel included already because I feel like we have one of the Queens of inclusiveness in the classroom with us today.

[Jere]
Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here. Ask me whatever you want. And as the Queen, I will do my best to make you feel included.

[Marcus]
I want to kick us off right here with a question.
Inclusion? Is that something that you purposely started doing one day? Or was it just natural for you?

[Jere]
Ah, that’s a really good question. It’s definitely come with years of practice. But it also came from, you know, growing up LGBTQ+ in a small conservative town. I know what it feels like to be marginalized and also have a disability. It’s a hidden disability, but I had spina bifida which resulted in a paralyzed bladder. So having, you know, having a paralyzed bladder as a kid and growing up LGBTQ+ in a small conservative town, I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, you know, to be the brunt of the jokes. So that definitely helped as I was older, and in the classroom.

For example, the other day I was watching a TED talk and a black creator said, you know, we’ve got to stop telling young black children that segregation was a result of the color of their skin. It was a result of white folks not letting them go to school and not letting them get jobs. And that was like a week ago, and I had an “a-ha” moment. I was like, I’ve been saying that wrong. So even though I think it comes naturally, I am still learning. So I consider myself very aware, racially, LGBTQ+, disability, but it never fails. You know, it was a simple TikTok and you gotta have an open mind to continue to learn and grow and be open to criticism. And when you’re messing things up, you’re like wait, I need to learn from that. So I shared that video with my principal. I was like, this needs to go in the newsletter. Everybody’s got to see this. Everybody’s got to watch this. And I had my second graders this week and being Black History Month, of course, we talked about it. And one of my kids said, “You know, black people couldn’t go to school because of the color of their skin”. I was like, “no, that’s wrong. They couldn’t go to school because people wouldn’t let him in”. I didn’t say that like “you’re wrong”, because they’re second-graders in their learning. But long story short, I’m still learning I’m still growing. I feel like it does come naturally because of my childhood. But it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

[Marcus]
What I like is that that’s a good first step for anybody who’s questioning, “Am I being inclusive or not?” Like just be empathetic – remember what it feels like for you to feel left out or different. And like just be in tune, like you said, be open-minded, keep your eyes and ears open. And when something changes, like for you just that simple statement of “they couldn’t go to school because of their black skin”, well no, not quite. Being black is great! That wasn’t the reason – being black is amazing. But you being open to that is what made the difference.

[Jere]
It’s so easy to see the world through our glasses. You know, I grew up gay, white, from a small conservative town, hidden disability. That’s how I see the world and no matter how educated I am, I will always see the world that way. So I have to be open to trying to at least be open to listening to how other people see the world and making a connection with folks who need that in different ways, you know than I do.

[Chelsea]
And I love how you said like building on it every year, you’re still learning, you’re learning new things. It’s not just you learn the one thing, and then that’s that. And we’re talking today about inclusivity in the classroom.
So what is your favorite part about having a diverse and inclusive classroom?

[Jere]
Just the conversations. One thing I will just say over and over and over; as an educator, people always ask me, “What’s your favorite thing about teaching?”

It’s building relationships with students. The conversations that I have with them, and right now there’s kind of like this little movement where teachers aren’t only supposed to teach our content, teach the content, teach the curriculum, it’s impossible. Because kids bring their home lives, they bring their perspectives, they bring their point of view; whatever their culture is, their languages, their dialect, their disability, they bring it all into the classroom. And you know what they do? They share it with their teacher, and they want you to respond to it. And of course, I’m not going to be like when the child comes in and says, “Hey, I celebrated Easter.” “Oh, we can’t talk about that.” “I celebrated Ramadan.” “Oh, no, we can’t talk about them.” Because those are two different religions. No, let’s talk about it. Let’s celebrate it. Tell me about Easter – oh you found some eggs and then you went to church and sang a song? Awesome.
Oh, you celebrate Ramadan, you’re fasting and you can’t eat until tonight? Okay, well, let’s get through that. So kids want to share their perspectives. And as a teacher, I think the best thing we can do is be open to all those experiences and to have those conversations and not tolerate them, but celebrate them, and all the differences they bring into the classroom.

[Chelsea]
And that makes your classroom almost like a family too, because they do spend so much time in that classroom. So they need to feel comfortable with what they’re bringing, like you said, from their families, their outside world. So that brings in that positive learning environment for your classroom along with inclusivity. So all of the good things.

[Jere]
Absolutely.

[Marcus]
Okay, so obviously, not every classroom is inclusive, because if they were, this wouldn’t be such an issue, right? So I guess my question is, what do you find is one of the biggest hurdles or biggest challenges to having an inclusive classroom, and any ideas for how to overcome it?

[Jere]
I’ve got to start this out by mentioning that I am extremely fortunate to live and work in a community that is staunchly supportive of an inclusive classroom. We’re anti-racist, anti-trans and homophobic.
But, you know, being on social media, when I post things, I’ve had several teachers reach out to me and say, “I would get fired from for this point of view, or just you know, having a flag in my classroom or anything. How do you feel safe?” I actually made a video today of a parent who came up to me and said, “Thank you for being a positive role model for my child as an LGBTQ person”. And we talked about a little bit, the biggest hurdle I would say is that race has become politicized; disabilities have become politicized; LGBTQ+ has become politicized; religion is politicized. Everything. Wearing a mask has become politicized! And because of that, it sadly created a divide. Then you have these just angry, angry people. When in my classroom, people are like, “You have an agenda”. I do. My agenda is to have a classroom where all the children in my class feel welcome, feel included, feel celebrated, you know.

For example, let’s make it non-controversial – say ballet, for example. I have never been to a ballet. So when a child comes in and says, “Hey, Miss Chang, I went to the ballet”, and I have no experience of the ballet. I’m not going to be like, “Okay, well, that’s kind of lame”. Not at all – tell me about the ballet! Let’s talk about it, celebrate it. And like you said, it’s a family. And so if people could just be adults (because the kids are great) if the adults could just step back and let the kids just enjoy each other, it would be so much easier. And take out some of the politics of it and just let us have fun and learn and get to know each other.

[Marcus]
I don’t know if y’all felt that but that was a virtual hug. That whole statement felt like a giant blanket. Thank you. Thank you. I feel so cozy now. And you’re right; if we could make things less about the politics and more about just the right thing. They’re kids. That would go far.

[Chelsea]
For any of the new teachers out there; what would be the most important aspect to focus on if they kind of feel overwhelmed with bringing this into their classroom?

[Jere]
That is a hard one because, as I said, I have to start this out by saying I work at a school that is super supportive of an inclusive classroom – every educator does not have that privilege. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to say, “Oh, you need to go in and get all the books and get all the flags and do all this”. And then you go to the school that is not supportive and next thing, you know, they’re like, “Hey, we’re not gonna renew your contract”. The number one thing I would do, if you’re able to (again, this comes with privilege), is find a school that fits your philosophy, your views, and that’s really important. I literally sought out a school that I could be inclusive at. And if your school is not inclusive, and you want to incorporate it more – usually, if you just like dive into the water and shocked everybody, that may not work. But sometimes if you just tiptoe into the water, “We’re gonna read this book today”, or just have this conversation…

Our school, you know—I’ve been there 14 years—it has not been as progressive as it is now. It’s taken years of building that. And also, if you’re a new teacher, don’t let this be the time to judge the whole profession. It’s a tough time right now, this whole pandemic teaching as well. But that’s a whole ‘nother podcast.

[Marcus]
Well, I’m ready to give you one last question. Before we wrap up here. And mine is really general. Any tips for folks trying to be more inclusive in their classroom?

[Jere]
Ask questions.
So many people are afraid, okay—as a white person—to talk about race. So many white people are afraid to talk about race. They’re afraid of offending people and asking questions and learning. Ask those questions! Ask them with genuineness and curiosity, not judgment. So when you do ask, and, you know, there are things that aren’t appropriate to ask, you know – read, educate yourself.

That’s the main thing. And just talk to people; with social media now, it is almost impossible not to be able to learn about people who are different from you. It’s really easy. You can just get on social media, see all kinds of folks out there, see all kinds of representation. That’s what I love about all this. People ask me all the time, they send me DMS, they send me comments, and they ask me questions: “How can I do this?”, “How can I do that?” And I do my best to answer them – I can’t get to all of them. And then I do the same thing with other creators as well, asking questions of things that I may not know much about. Ask, ask, ask, ask questions.

[Marcus]
I feel like I got something really useful out of this chat. And that’s like, I’m going to ask people more questions. Like if you want to make people feel included. Jere, you just made it really simple for me – ask them more about themselves. Thank you. Thank you so much, friend. Thank you.

[Chelsea]
And Marcus, you stole my idea. So I will just tell Jere, thank you so much for giving us all these little tidbits today. And yeah, I’m gonna ask more questions like Marcus.

[Jere]
Thanks for having me all had a really good time, and I can’t wait to be back.

 

 

 

 

Sign up to join our mailing list! 📧

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with our latest resources, updates, and news, sign up for a free Kami account!

What is Kami?

Looking for a crash course; watch our quick introductory video!

Find us online

Join our social community on:

Twitter | Facebook | Kami Educators | Instagram | TikTok | Pinterest | LinkedIn