Education

Iowa City teachers get tool kit to help check lessons for cultural sensitivity

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — Teachers in the Iowa City Community School District now can check their lessons for cultural responsiveness with a tool kit and submit them to a team of teachers for feedback.

The tool kit was created by district Director of Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness Laura Gray for teachers to “circumvent possible missteps, especially in lessons on race, slavery and things that are extra sensitive right now in our current climate.”

The tool kit, however, is not available to the public or to students.

Diane Schumacher, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, said the tool kit is another step in the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to help teachers check their lesson plans.

Data shows the district consistently has gaps in structurally disadvantaged subgroups — students who are Black, Hispanic, English language learners, on free- and reduced-price lunch or those with Individualized Education Plans, Schumacher said.

“We have to have curriculum that represents our culture, and have kids see themselves in our curriculum and achieving at high levels no matter their race, demographic or economic background,” Schumacher said.

The district is starting to review its Social Studies curriculum this year and making equity at the forefront of the conversation. Curriculum is reviewed in the district every eight years.

“It’s certainly an area that has an opportunity to be more culturally responsive than we have been in the past,” Schumacher said.

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The district just wrapped up a review of its Language Arts curriculum and found it lacked reading material from authors of color. As the district begins purchasing new material for these courses over the next few years, it plans to incorporate more books from authors of color, Schumacher said.

One of the documents in the tool kit is a “Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Slavery.”

Last month, a teacher with the district’s online learning program was put on administrative leave after asking students to pretend to be a Black slave for an assignment. The writing prompt read: “Think very, very carefully about what your life would be like as a slave in 1865. You can’t read or write and you have never been off the plantation you work on. What would you do when you hear the news you are free? What factors play into the decision you make?”

Gray said the tool kit will help educators avoid “missteps,” especially in lessons on race, slavery and other sensitive topics.

“We want to wrap around our teachers at this time to help them understand we believe in them professionally and in their autonomy,” Gray said.

Gray said in lessons about the history of race in the United States, teachers should allow Black students to feel angry and white students to feel uncomfortable.

One of the suggestions in the tool kit is to reach out to Black students and students of color before talking about difficult topics, specifically an act of violence such as slavery or lynching.

“Students can preview it and decide if they want to have that lesson in a different space or with a cohort of Black students,” Gray said.

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It’s important for students to feel safe and build relationships in the classroom, and one way a teacher can accomplish both is by taking their emotional needs into consideration, Gray said.

It’s not historically marginalized people’s responsibility to educate others, Gray said.

“Racial trauma is a real thing and if we can avoid contributing to some of it, that would be awesome,” Gray said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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