What is Diversity?
To me diversity means understanding that everyone is unique and is an individual. It can refer to race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, physical abilities – anything that defines us as an individual and creates our identity. Each individual is allowed to determine the categories that shape them as a person and they should be accepted for that. No one should be excluded because they are different.
Becoming an EAL teacher
Before starting my teaching course, I volunteered to teach migrant women English at the local church. The program was run by a teacher from Chisholm TAFE with the purpose of empowering migrant mothers – helping them learn the language so that they would be confident in going to the shops and supermarket. The classes were run by volunteers of different ages and they made me realise that I wanted to be an EAL teacher (English as an Additional Language or ESL as it used to be known). I was lucky that English was my first language when I migrated to Australia and I didn’t have the difficulties in adapting to life here, as I spoke the language. So when I enrolled in my Graduate Diploma of Education, I chose EAL as one of my methods.
Diversity at my school
I love teaching at my school because it is so multicultural. There are 77 nationalities represented with students speaking over 83 different languages. Even the staff at the school come from different cultures. Being a migrant in Australia, this makes it easier for me to relate to my students and for them to find someone who connects with them. On first meeting new students, the most important conversation is determining where everyone is from. Students will ask teachers where they are from in order to create those initial connections. I happily tell my students my background because they are eager to learn more about you. At least half the students I teach have come through my country in order to reach Australia. When we talk about our culture and past, this helps them feel more comfortable and makes them realise that I do have an understanding of their culture and upbringing.
Catering for EAL students
Since most of the students at my school come from a non-English speaking background, our school has several programs that provide support to these students. At least 1 member of each teaching team is an EAL trained teacher. We also have a Transition program for students who have been in the country for less than 2 years in addition to the EAL program. The Transition program provides a more focused language support to these students who may not have had access to schools in their own countries. As an EAL teacher, I always ensure that my lessons provide support and scaffolding for students who are still learning to speak English. If a student in unable to understand a particular word or concept, I often ask another student who speaks the same language to help me with explaining the idea. Our wonderful Multicultural teacher aides often support us with these students and work with teachers to ensure that EAL students don’t miss out on the curriculum.
Celebrating Diversity at School
Since our student body is so diverse, students learn to accept each other no matter which ethnic background they belong to. They work with each other in class, in team sports and other extracurricular activities. Whilst problems do arise, staff always remind students that judging others based on their ethnic background is not acceptable. At our school, the last week of Term 3 is International Week. This is where students from different nationalities come together to celebrate their culture through dance. Throughout Term 3 they form small groups and decide on their dances. This culminates in International Day which is the last day of term. Students perform traditional dances to the entire school. Watching the students dressed up in traditional costumes and the way they interact with each other is amazing. Whilst they have adopted Australia as their new home, their ties to their traditional backgrounds are very strong and this is evident in the pride they take when performing traditional dances.