Throughout my time teaching, I have learned to acknowledge and appreciate the role diversity plays in a classroom, and as a result, my teaching has developed immensely. In Spring 2019, I taught similar courses in journalism and news media literacy at two different universities in Hong Kong. One class was comprised of upper division journalism minors at the City’s most elite university while the other class was a general education option open to students from all years and majors. While the courses veered in different directions at times, I often found myself teaching the same lesson to both classes in the same week. This offered many lessons on how to manage students with varying levels of college experience and drastic differences in subject interest. Because my teaching style includes interaction between myself and students and among themselves, days when the class did not engage felt excruciating. I had to acknowledge that each learner in the class was there for a different reason and had varying levels of ability to commit full attention on any given day. While I wanted them to understand all of the intricacies of global news media and care deeply about how it impacts society, I practiced patience and met each student where they were each time we met. Often, this meant practicing tried and true methods like sitting in on small group discussions, but it also meant trying new ways to allow students to complete assignments and interact with each other. Some of these techniques, like having students find and share examples of news stories relevant to the topic of discussion on a digital whiteboard, are ones that I will continue to employ when engaging students.
Another lesson in teaching diverse learners happened across teaching experiences in universities and teacher trainings. At the University of Rhode Island, I taught an introduction to communication course that focused heavily on public speaking. I encouraged students to incorporate topics in their speeches that helped us understand their unique backgrounds and the social issues important to their communities. This led to many informative presentations, including one on the Black Lives Matter movement by a student who was convinced the class would be combative about the topic. She considered changing her topic, but after discussing communication strategies—including not making assumptions about the audience and assuming positivity—she delivered an informative speech about the history and importance of the movement. I was nervous about how students would react to some of the points made around white privilege and racial injustice, as I had not yet encountered that kind of conflict in the classroom. In Hong Kong, my classes were largely comprised of Hong Kongers and students from Mainland China, who hold opposing views about the fate of the City’s democracy. However, none of them acknowledged this tension in the classroom—not even during lessons about news and propaganda, which inevitably addresses state-controlled media. So, when a potentially triggering, yet important topic like BLM was introduced by a Black student in a largely white class, I was not sure what to expect. However, I knew the topic was important and that any resulting discussion would be beneficial to us all. In the end, students received the presentation respectfully. One week later, my mental preparation came in handy halfway across the world in a room full of journalists and educators from all over Asia. While I was conducting an educator workshop on news media literacy in Singapore, two workshop participants—one from China and the other from Taiwan—finally responded to my propaganda lesson in a way I had always anticipated yet had not experienced: with passion. I was able to calmly allow their debate to continue for as long as it remained productive before transitioning the conversation to an important point in my lesson, which is that propaganda is perceived very differently based on a person’s position on the subject.
As I continue to pursue opportunities to work with learners from all backgrounds, races, experiences, and creeds, I will hold closely the lessons I have learned; meeting students where they are, treating them with care and compassion, and letting their expressions of differences shape our shared learning experiences.