Sheena Jordan, diversity coordinator, facilitated a panel on social justice during the annual fall conference of the Greater Washington Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages (GWATFL).
More than 100 people attended the virtual panel, including educators from Melbourne, Toronto, and Lagos.
Jordan, who serves on the executive board of GWATFL, was Teacher of the Year for the association in 2017. She was also a finalist for the Northeast Conference of Teachers of Foreign Language Teacher of the Year in 2018. She wrote her winning essay on incorporating social justice in the foreign-language classroom.
The panel, entitled “Having 2020 Vision: Courageously Seeing World Language Students,” focused on helping world-language teachers be more inclusive and incorporate diversity into their lessons.
Jordan contends that students should see themselves reflected within the lessons, the literature, and the classroom environment.
“Do we really see our students and acknowledge them for all of their differences, or are we still forcing the old colorblind paradigm that limits the vastness of what world language truly represents in breaking through systemic barriers?” she asked.
Jordan’s panel included three world-language teaching professionals. The panelists encouraged teachers to move beyond the textbook in planning more profound lessons that include race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status.
Collaborating with other teachers is a way of hearing diverse voices on how to present a topic. A Spanish teacher who is a native speaker may have a different perspective when teaching about immigration, said Jordan, an African American. Expose students to more than one side of the story.
“Critical thinking is also a part of social justice education,” says Jordan. “Educators should not tell
students what to think but help them unpack the information and process it independently.” Her advice for any teacher discussing social justice issues in the classroom is to minimize your voice without interjecting a personal stance. Allow students space to share their thoughts and experiences.
“So often, we want to dominate the lesson,” said Jordan. “It’s important to know when to pass the mic and allow students to amplify their voices when they express the desire to do so.”
“Traditionally, teachers have shied away from teaching about social justice because they’re afraid they don’t know enough about it or that their biases will get in the way,” Jordan said. “It’s important when teaching controversial topics to admit that you have a bias at the beginning of the lesson and you don’t know everything.
“A big part of social justice education is about recognizing your vulnerability,” Jordan said. “Lean into the things that may seem or feel uncomfortable.”
While Jordan has been teaching other coursework since coming to GCS two years ago, she has remained engaged with her colleagues. Through GWATFL, she serves as a mentor for new teachers. “My passion is supporting world-language teachers and what will help them navigate the profession better,” Jordan said.