Hello everyone! This is a very special and personal blog post that I get to share with you today. I've thought about talking about it before, but never went through with the idea. But thanks to Amy from Learning Lessons with Mrs. Labrasciano, I got the push that I needed. She came up with the idea to explore our thoughts and feelings about race as it pertains to teaching our students. Do we bring biases and prejudices to the classroom and does it affect our students? No one wants to believe that they do, but it happens, whether we are aware of it or inadvertently. Unless we become aware of our personal thoughts and feelings regarding race or religion, and challenge preconceived notions, we may very well be affecting how we deal with certain groups of students without ever realizing it!
Learn how to eliminate biases and increase tolerance in the classroom

When you think of or hear the words, "Muslim," and "Islam," what are the first thoughts that run through your mind? What images are you reminded of? What events are recalled from your memory?

When you see a picture of my family above, seeing my daughter and I covered with a headscarf, what do you think to yourself?

In a perfect world, everyone's thoughts may be only positive, thinking things like, "Oh, it's just another loving family." And many of you will think that! But unfortunately not everyone does. 

In a world filled with media images spewing one sided, incorrect information regarding Muslims and Islam, it is very easy to get swayed and let our minds believe something regarding a group of people that has a population of almost 2 billion worldwide!

"Terrorist," could be a word that pops up into peoples' minds. "ISIS," is another one that has emerged strongly this year. "Taliban," "Jihad," "Osama Bin Laden," "9/11," "Suicide Bomber," "Oppressed women, " etc. are other words very closely linked with my religion when it comes from the media. 

Unfortunately, small clusters of people who call themselves, "Muslims," have done horrible things in the name of Islam. But these evil people have nothing to do with the true purpose and meaning of this religion. I can go on and on about all this, and if you have any questions, let me know. 

But let's move on to how this relates to TEACHERS and STUDENTS. 

How many of you have Muslim students in your classroom? There are many towns where there are a lot of Muslims, and then there are some towns where someone has never met a Muslim or a Muslim student in real life until one enters your classroom. 

These days, most Muslim children are well aware of the biases and prejudices that can be stacked up against them, and that is a sad, sad thought. Imagine going about your school day, and someone calling you a terrorist? It has happened to many of my friends and relatives. When I was a student in middle and high school, I used to have other students sometimes make fun of me for being different and wearing the Hijab (headscarf). But this was way before 9/11. Children and students who have had to go to school after that have it much different than I did.

I know some girls who got their scarves pulled right off their heads in school.

Muslim female students have gotten followed on campuses and threatened just because of what they look like and what they wear. 

"Go back to your country," is a common phrase they hear. But most of the time, their "country," is America, where they are second or third generation children. Once when a random stranger told me to go back to where I came from,  in a grocery store, I made sure to ask him, "Where, Brooklyn?" LOL.. :) 

I worry of my own kids now. With all the negativity surrounding their religion and the true beautiful meaning of Islam not realized in the mainstream portrayal, I worry about how they will grow up. Will they grow up feeling like second class citizens who don't deserve to be here or be treated the same way as any other religion? Will their peers in the real world make fun of them or stay away from them? Will their peers' parents who don't know any better, tell their kids to not get involved with my kids? And on top of that, will teachers have biases against them and act out on their prejudices if they have any?

I would love to share some tips on how your actions can directly impact Muslim students in a positive way, so that they feel comfortable in their classroom environment. 

We have to realize we all have stereotypes in our heads regarding different groups of people. Luckily, most of the time these just remain fleeting thoughts in our head and we don't use these stereotypes we've come across to dictate our actions. But we all have them. We all have at one point or another been affected by our biases. You will have different races and religions in your class and you may very well subconsciously attribute some biases to these kids without even realizing it! It can come out in phrases we may say, or how we talk about the students to other colleagues, or what we expect achievement and behavior wise from groups of kids. 

So my biggest tip is...learn. LEARN about the backgrounds of these kids. When it comes to Islam, learn from a real Muslim or authentic websites and books. Don't base your judgments on what you hear Islam preaches from TV and the news. I can guarantee you won't get the real portrayal. 

If you have Muslim students, connect with their parents. Believe me, it won't be awkward. Parents will not mind if you go to them to ask them questions you may have about their background and religion. We want that! We want to educate and eradicate stereotypes. 

Connect with parents to learn about specific things regarding their child and specific requirements of their religion. You will learn little ins and outs that your students may not tell you or feel shy telling you or think you aren't really interested in knowing. Knowing these little details will help your student feel closer to you and know that you are in their corner when some of their peers and outsiders may not be. 

Have Muslim students explain parts of their religious beliefs to their classmates. If they are up to it, you can have them create a presentation with facts about their background and share with others. You could even ask them to have relatives come in and do a presentation and project with students. This will help because students can learn first hand about their classmate and understand things they may not have understood before and combat stereotypes. 

For instance, older kids may be fasting  during the month of Ramadan. If you know this is happening, find out about it and have the child share information about it with the rest of the class. 

Challenge your self. Challenge your preconceived notions. Address your biases. Think about them on a conscious level and ask yourself what causes you to think this way? Ask yourself if any of these thoughts have made you act or think differently towards students. I'm not talking about just Muslim students, but over all. We all have been put outside our comfort zone and we all have had students we don't know much background about. 
I implore and encourage you to be culturally aware because once you do that, your students who may be feeling left out or different, will find solace and comfort in knowing that at least their teacher understands.

One quick example is if you ever have a  female Muslim
student who wears the headscarf. Don't let whatever you have learned by a third party person or the media let you assume things like she was forced to wear it, or girls are oppressed by men in this religion, etc. If you take the time out to ask the student, you will learn that she wanted to wear it as a symbol of being Muslim. She was proud of her identity and wanted to show it. 

I started wearing the Hijab without one word from my parents at the age of 13 when I started high school. Not once did they tell me to or force me to. I did it on my own after learning more about its reasons.

My daughter started on her own at 11. Personally, I may have even thought it may be a little young and what will others think? But that is a wrong thought and I am saddened that I felt that she should hold off on it a little while because of what the judgments passed on her among peers and adults may be. But she was strong and was adamant about her desires and so she did. 

I have a niece who is 6 years old. Girls that young are definitely not required to wear the scarf but her mom said that SHE will put it on outside the house because she said SHE WANTS OTHERS TO KNOW SHE IS MUSLIM. I hope that pure little heart is always proud of her religion and doesn't let others bring her down. 

If you made it down here, thank you. I understand this is a unique topic - somewhat controversial, somewhat sensitive. But biases and prejudices in the classroom happen - by both students and teachers. The faster we understand that that is normal and not something to be kept deep inside your thoughts, the faster we will open up a dialogue and begin to understand our students on a deeper and personal level. 

P.S...the only person below I see as possibly being oppressed is my husband as I hold a cardboard knife up to his neck...hahaha! ;)

Please make sure to visit Amy's and Tanesha's blogs below for their stories. 

Learning Lessons with Mrs. Labrasciano

Hello everyone!!! Welcome to this month's Elementary Entourage Back to School Bash theme! I hope you've been reading the rest of the blog posts for helpful back to school tips. Today I'd like to share with you some things I've done to get ready for school and some activities for students in the first couple of days. 

Door Decor!

This Minion is a super easy door decoration to do for back to school. All you do is cover the door in yellow paper. Make some overalls with blue paper. Glue two upside down foam bowls for the eyes and use black paper to create the eyeballs and eyeglasses. I found this much easier than the more detailed and intricate but beautiful doorways I've seen. When you are down for time, this one may work for you! Oh, on his shirt it says, "Our class is one in a minion."

Book Bags

I give my students a book bag at the beginning of the year. I've collected enough from the Target dollar spot when they have their Dr. Seuss stuff out. I hot glue the numbers and then use Command hooks to hang the bags. The hooks last all year as long as you don't over stuff the bag. And at the end of the year you can just pull them off easily without ruining the wall. Using book bags to store a couple of books from the classroom library has really helped with the overall chaos that can occur with too many students at the library at the same time. 

Word Wall

So I try to use all the spaces in my classroom efficiently. The book bags and my word wall hang below white boards and bulletin boards. This is an interactive word wall. I found some word wall/sight word cards on TPT. There are tons, sorry I don't have the link right now. I printed out the letters and again used hot glue to keep them on all year. First laminate them and then hot glue so they peel off easily at the end of the year. Throughout the year, students get the ring that has the word they can't spell and use that to help them write. 

Whole Class Incentive

I used Creative Clip's clip art to create my Compliment Cookies. I also used magnetic tape (you have to look that up), to attach the cookie jar and cookies. This was used for students during Specials or substitutes. If they received a compliment or a good report, then they could put a cookie in the jar and when they fill it up, they get a class reward, whatever you want it to be. If you'd like this, please click HERE! :)

First Day of School

This is my favorite first day of school activity. I make homemade Play doh for the kids the night before. I put some food coloring in the middle by making a hole and put it into a Zip lock bag. Then while I am organizing supplies and dealing with beginning of the first day hectic-ness, I have kids smash up the Play doh (while it is still inside the bag), to "unleash," the color and color up their Play doh. Keeping it in the bag helps to not get the color all over their hands. After they play with it for a while, they are instructed to create anything out of it. After they do so, they draw a picture of it and write about what they created. Quick, time consuming, (which you want on the first day), and easy! You can grab this writing template HERE. 

Hope some of these tips came in handy!!! Have a great year!

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