Training teachers for the real, diverse world of the classroom
Dr. Miranda Lin’s specialty is teaching future teachers. A professor of early childhood education at Illinois State University, students who take her Teaching and Learning (TCH) 110 class know that it will be demanding, but they leave ready for their first classrooms as professional educators.
“I have to prepare them for the real world,” Lin said. “Reality is not always easy. Most of my students are from the suburbs, and they have no idea what some kids go through in their lives even here on the west side of Bloomington.”
TCH 110 is formally known as Cross Cultural Teaching and Learning. The official handbook description reads that the course “reviews the many societal cultural factors that affect learning and teaching and the application of cultural understanding to curriculum development.”
“The whole course is about diversity, how we talk about differences, and how we respect differences,” Lin said. “It’s the first course in the bilingual or ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) endorsement sequence.”
This fall Lin’s TCH 110 students, who are mostly sophomores, are working—as each class has done for the last couple of years—with the local YWCA to help create lesson plans for the preschool and afterschool teachers program. It’s known as a service learning project, of which Lin is a big proponent.
“Any opportunity to place a student in a community is a good thing,” Lin said. “I want them to feel they are a part of the community, and they have to go into the community and meet the people.”
Lin gets them started with what she calls the community walk. That’s where students literally walk around the community and take photos so they’ll know who they are serving. They report back to Lin with 10 things they learned on their community walk, complete with photos.
Melissa Breeden ’09 is senior director of the YWCA’s Young Wonders program. Her job is to oversee all the YWCA’s childcare programs.
“Miranda’s students are helping us expand our anti-bias curriculum, so that we make sure our kids’ peer-to-peer relationships are strong since we are in e-learning right now,” Breeden said.
The partnership between Breeden and Lin’s students came about, Breeden said, in response to a negative situation that she wanted to resolve.
“It started it with a lightbulb moment that I had,” Breeden said. “We had some students make a racist remark to another student, and I do what I usually do: I gave them a behavior strike and sent them home.
“But, there was no opportunity to regroup afterwards. I didn’t know if I was sending them home to a racist environment.”
Breeden decided that a program was needed where there could be discussions about racial issues and religious differences with the children in her care. She was aware of the sensitive nature of such an endeavor. The role of the Illinois State students is to design lesson plans that have an anti-bias, anti-racism, anti-xenophobia focus.
“A lot of adults avoid these difficult topics, and kids are sponges who don’t really have a forum where they can learn about these issues,” Breeden said. “I wanted a holistic approach, where there would be dialogue, and kids would not be lectured at, where they have the opportunity to ask questions and talk about differences, where we celebrate differences.”
Sophomores Grace Costello and Sara Vazquez, both elementary education majors, are two of Lin’s current students. Lin’s class gives them the opportunity to help Breeden while also gaining practical experience. Costello, who wants to teach second or third grade, understands that the class will be tough, given that the topic involves race and cultural differences.
“It is challenging, and I’d say I’m a very educated person on those topics,” she said. “But, it is a large feat to take on, especially when it’s presented to impressionable young minds.”
Breeden spoke to the students via Zoom so they would know more about the YWCA and the demographics of the children, many of whom are from minority families where English is a second language.
“I think I come from a place of privilege where I haven’t had a lot of encounters with kids with varying degrees of understanding English,” Costello said. “I think anywhere that someone teaches you will be faced with kids just like that. Getting to serve and work firsthand so early on in my education will be very helpful in my career.”
Vazquez first sought to learn as much as she could about the YWCA by doing research and making a list of questions for Breeden. Vazquez’s major has a bilingual concentration, so she’s looking forward to working with young children who may not be comfortable with their English language skills yet.
“My dad is from Spain so I started in middle school really learning Spanish,” Vazquez said. “I’d say I’m almost fluent, and I know that we’re going to get so much experience.”
Vazquez appreciates that designing anti-bias lesson plans is similar to what she and her classmates will do in their careers. She currently works in an afterschool program where she has kids who are Spanish speakers and bilingual inclusive, meaning they speak Spanish, English, or both. She knows that she may feel some pressure from TCH 110 in the weeks ahead.
“I’ve always included racial bias lessons in my classroom at work, but it can be a little scary when it comes to teaching kids,” Vazquez said. “Especially when we are introducing societal topics, and there are social constructs.”
Both Vazquez and Costello respect their professor’s passion for her subject and for her students.
“Professor Lin cares so much about this,” Costello said. “I like that she’s throwing us in the deep end of service learning right at the beginning.”
Lin is appreciative that students these days are more open-minded about taking on a service learning project than her students were from a few years ago. She wants them to know the importance of being partners with their future students.
“I don’t want our students to feel superior,” Lin said. “They are not here to save anyone, but we want them to be leaders and change agents. They have to be able to relate to all people and not just those who look like them.”
Apply now for fall 2021.