November 8, 2021
Character diversity in text allows students the experience to see themselves within the pages of a text. Comic superheroes have been increasing in diversity over the years, with representation of different races, cultures and sexual identities.
A few days into the school year, I was reading a book with one of my students. As she was turning the pages to preview the book, she stopped on the second page and pulled the book close to her face. She immediately set it back on the table, pointed to the character on the page and exclaimed, “Mrs. Porter, this girl looks just like me!”
She was right. She and the character in the book had the same hair, the same complexion. The book was centered around siblings in a black family. Her enthusiasm and interest in the book visibly increased as soon as she saw herself within its pages.
As I was driving home that night, my mind was whirling. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened with my student and wondered how often she had experienced texts in school or at home where she saw herself. It broke my heart to think how infrequently this must have happened based on her reaction to this book. This situation, like countless others, continues to hold me accountable to do better for all students, but especially my students of color. The work of equity and accessibility is the most important and essential work in education.
Over the last several years, I have worked hard to lean-in to building a classroom through a lens of equity and accessibility for students. It has often been a complex and humbling journey. Through my experiences in this work, I know I will be on this path of discovery and understanding for the rest of my life.
Often, a teacher’s classroom mirrors their own experiences, traditions and ways that they themselves grew and flourished in school. When we meet a new class, connecting, understanding and building relationships with students that you can relate to are fairly easy. How then, do we develop connectedness with students who are different from us?
In her book “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Teaching,” Gholdy Muhammed discusses the necessity of teachers to self-reflect in order to teach students to know themselves and others. She shares that it is a teacher's responsibility to unpack their own history, identity, biases, assumptions and tensions with racism and other oppressions they have learned, experienced and practiced.
The most important thing we can do as educators is to fully understand ourselves and who we are, which gives us the tools to deeply know and celebrate our students. Developing these authentic relationships gives teachers the opportunity to build instruction that will spark their drive to learn.
Teaching with equity means teaching students with the lens of empathy and humanity. It is about building relationships with your students and their families to help them feel comfortable and seen. It also means reflecting on our teaching practices and analyzing with a critical lens who our lessons serve.
Do our students see themselves in the stories we read? Do our lessons recognize the beauty and the diversity of the world through people, cultures and celebrations? Are we acknowledging the challenges our students experience outside of the classroom, and do we strive to understand and support them? These are essential questions all teachers should be asking themselves each and every day.
As for me, I will continue to hold in my heart my greatest dream for education; to see an educational system that allows each child the freedom to be themselves, to have security and trust in their learning space, and to be celebrated for all that they are. It lies directly on our shoulders every day to fight for this very classroom setting for every single student across Michigan and beyond.
Here are the diverse comic and characters showcased in the artwork: Thor (Jane Foster), A-Force (all-female Avengers team), Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan, Pakistani-American), Captain America (Sam Wilson, African-American), Superman (Jon Kent, bisexual), Spider-Man (Miles Morales, Hispanic/African-American).
About Leah Porter: I am a third-grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary in Holt Public Schools. As an educator for over 15 years, I strive each day to help students develop into their most authentic selves. I value providing instruction that helps create leaders and competent, critical thinkers who will be strong voices and caring citizens in their community. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2021-2022, I strive for all my work to be seen through the lens of equity and accessibility, and how to build educational systems for learners that will transform the trajectory of education across the state of Michigan and beyond.