Ministry in the Classroom

Nov 5th, 2019 | Category: Columns
By Kimberly Lavado

It might be just me. It usually is. You see I am continually caught off guard by folks being so enthusiastic about a presentation on diversity in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not caught off guard because I don’t think it’s important. I do. I lead one or two courses on teaching in diverse classrooms each semester for our undergraduates. I get how important it is for us to consider and plan for the diversity of students in our classrooms. I just am surprised when people express excitement over the topic as a sectional or conference offering because they often express how pertinent the subject is and how so many people don’t realize the importance of it.

That is what truly catches me off guard. How can we not realize the importance of it on a daily basis? The word diversity conjures up a variety of emotions, images, and misconceptions for people. A few courses ago I had a classroom of students all of a similar skin tone. Someone made a joke about the irony of the subject and the demographic of the room. When we got to know each other better we discovered eight different ethnicities including a German-descended Native American, three different language backgrounds, and a host of variances among us that demonstrated the importance of understanding diversity as something far beyond skin tone and gender.

In that same semester I taught a second section of the course. If you glanced into the classroom through the window you would have seen a variety of skin tones and visible obvious differences. No one questioned the diversity in the room because the differences were visible. Therein lies the challenge. Understanding what diversity is means understanding that it is more than skin deep. It is simply not black and white. 

Every individual exists as part of a group while at the same time possessing qualities and characteristics that differ from the group. One of my former students, a white female with a common German last name, attended Lutheran schools most of her life, but she also belonged to the Hispanic community and grew up bilingual. Her name and physical features belied a diverse background. Had I not taken the time to get to know her, I might never have learned about that background. Another student visited me after the semester was over to thank me for helping her to see the value in her ethnicity and experiences. She told me she had always viewed them as deficits to be overcome.

The bottom line is this: students’ backgrounds and personal experiences matter to them and have an impact on how they learn. Being a teacher in ministry means we should get to know who our students are in order to help them learn most effectively. Taking the time to build relationships in our classrooms allows us to plan learning experiences that meet students’ needs and it communicates the value that they have for us and, by extension, the value that they have in God’s eyes. By taking the time to foster relationships with our students we actually become multicultural educators because we design lessons with our students and their interests in mind. We don’t teach the subject content with one approach. We want to engage our students, so we engage them in ways they best learn and in ways that make sense to them. The only way to do that well is to foster relationships – meaningful relationships – that communicate care and demonstrate love. After all, isn’t that what being the hands and feet of God in ministry really is? LEJ

Kimberly Lavado, Ed.D., received her doctorate from Concordia University Portland in Educational Leadership. She currently teaches undergraduate foundation courses in the College of Education at Concordia University Chicago as well as serving as the Lutheran Teacher Education Program Co-Director.