As an educator, you will likely work with students who are racially, culturally, economically, and linguistically diverse. By using culturally responsive practices, you can create an inclusive, student-centered environment that is accessible and relevant to all students. These pointers can help you begin the learning process:
Incorporate culturally diverse contributions, experiences, and perspectives into the classroom.
- Be willing to share power in the classroom and allow students’ voices to be part of decision-making.
- Recognize that students’ lives go beyond the four walls of the classroom by encouraging strong relationships between students’ families, the school, and the greater community.
Meet grade-level standards, while providing a balanced study of cultural contributions and perspectives and engagement in social justice work.
Design lessons to take into consideration students’ backgrounds, social experiences, prior knowledge, and learning style. Doing this entails familiarity with your students and their backgrounds.
- Assist students in accessing a challenging curriculum by modeling skills to provide a concrete example. By scaffolding content and language, teachers can bridge the gaps between what students know and can do and what they are expected to know and do.
- Before you can create an equitable classroom climate, you must take time to understand your own cultural identity and cultural behavior—and the impact they have on your attitude and actions at school. This is not easy as it entails being a reflective practitioner and recognizing your own biases and inequitable action.
- Be sensitive to differences in others. This provides an opportunity to step back before passing judgment. The most important lesson you can model for your students is to be understanding, open, honest, caring, and forgiving of yourself and others.
Download NYSUT’s (New York State United Teachers) full report on “Being a Culturally Responsive Teacher: Celebrating Diversity in Our Schools.”
Establishing a classroom environment where your students feel seen and supported, is integral to student success and well-being. Here are five ways to do it:
EMPHASIZE CARING FOR THE COMMUNITY
Show students how caring for others in the classroom community can make all the difference. Make sure they see you encouraging students who are down or discouraged. Ensure students know how to pronounce each other’s names, and emphasize being there for one another.
PRACTICE NEW FORMS OF EXPRESSION
Arts integration involves using art to teach and assess content standards equitably. For example, students can learn about geometric shapes while creating pieces of abstract art. Learning through expression also helps connect students to one another and encourages them to bring their most original selves to the classroom.
HAVE AN OPEN DOOR TO ALL
Consider getting trained so that students can talk to you about their mental health in an informal setting. Put a “safe space” sign on your door—it’s a small gesture that can make a big difference. Foster an environment that makes you approachable, perhaps by sponsoring your school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance or other popular clubs.
BUILD MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS
Listening to your students when they share pieces of their lives requires little effort, but it can mean the world to them. Getting to know students as individuals and hearing about their hobbies, sports, or lists of favorites will make them feel seen and help them thrive. Sometimes, just a smile or short conversation from a teacher can turn a child’s day around.
Writing little notes of encouragement on students’ work, even if there is room for improvement, can make students feel more comfortable coming to you with problems or for help understanding the material. Have patience with students as they grapple with new material, and encourage their ideas and opinions with an open mind.
The current teacher shortage means you may have multiple districts vying to hire you. How can you find a workplace where you’ll be happy and healthy—and supported in your professional journey? These questions can help:
First, grab your phone and ask Google to show local and state data on:
- Educator and student absences.
- Student discipline trends.
- Book bans and curricula that are being challenged.
Then find the organizer within your state Aspiring Educators program and get connected to a local union leader. Ask that leader for informal feedback. Your questions might include:
- What are the strengths and needs you see in your bargaining agreement?
- What supports does the local association provide to new educators?
- Are there leadership development opportunities in the association?
Lastly, when you meet with the hiring administrator or school principal, be prepared to dive into questions of school culture, professional development, and more. Ask questions such as:
- What supports do you offer new educators (mentoring, coaching, etc.)? For how many years are these supports offered?
- What is the major professional learning goal for the school and/or district?
- Who helps to set professional learning goals?
- How strong is parental/family support for the school?
- When I have a student who may have additional needs, how do teachers collaborate? Are there community supports you regularly use?
- Does the school use restorative practices to help students?
- We all know how important social and emotional learning and well-being are for students. How does the school help address these needs in classrooms and beyond?
It is also important for faculty to model social and emotional well-being. How does the school and/or district encourage the well-being of new staff?
So you’ve received your student teaching placement, and your first day is approaching. Before you step into the classroom, learn how to make the most of student teaching.
ESTABLISH A CONFIDENT AND APPROACHABLE APPEARANCE.
- Be on time, and show up ready to go at the start of each day and activity. This will help you create a positive relationship with your cooperating teacher and students.
- Dress for success. A good rule of thumb is to dress better than your students.
- Know that building confidence takes time. Start by fostering community in your classroom. When you become more comfortable, head into the hallway during passing time and get to know more people.
- Remember that things aren’t expected to go perfectly. Student teaching is a learning experience. Reflect on positive and critical comments to continue improving.
KNOW HOW TO ASK FOR HELP.
- Ask for feedback throughout your placement. At the start, have a conversation with your cooperating teacher to talk about how you want to receive feedback. Having an open window for communication will make it easier to ask for help.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Student teaching can be overwhelming. You need to take care of yourself so that you’re able to take care of students. If your cooperating teacher is asking you to take on more than you can handle, it’s okay to talk with them and establish boundaries.
- Stay in touch. Your mentor teachers from previous student teaching experiences can be great resources for you in future placements and throughout your career.
PREPARE TO NAVIGATE THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT.
- Talk to your cooperating teacher before you start. This will help you manage your expectations and learn more about the school environment.
- Always practice professionalism. Remember that conversations about students or their work are not appropriate outside of a professional context.
- Understand that routines may already be set in the classroom. Learn to understand these rules and their intent before trying to make any changes.
- Remember that students come from backgrounds that may be different from yours. Get to know the community you’re teaching in. It’s a good idea to drive around to better understand where people live, work, shop, and eat.
- Get involved outside of the classroom. Try to become a part of the school community. This can mean attending sports games, volunteering at school events, or asking another teacher if they need help running a club.
Get the most out of your Aspiring Educators program with these NEA resources that support you throughout your career.
NEA’s School Me Podcast episode “How to Become a Teacher” explores the steps required to pursue a teaching career. Listen at nea.org/BecomeATeacher.
NEA EdPractice brings the best resources, tips, and inspiration direct to your inbox. Sign up at
If you’re a first- or second-year education major who is still wondering if you’d make a great teacher, don’t wait until your last year of college to find out. Begin your experience in school now.
VOLUNTEER IN A SCHOOL
Volunteering connects you directly with students and offers a glimpse of real-world classroom experiences. You can lend a hand in the office, a classroom, the cafeteria, or an after-school program. There are also specific times when an extra adult is needed, such as during field trips or special events like parent night.
VISIT A SCHOOL
Visit schools and spend time in classrooms before starting your student teaching. Find opportunities to observe, tutor, and learn what teaching is like.
SHADOW A TEACHER
Connect with a cooperating teacher—the key person in the student teaching program—and ask for help in identifying a teacher to shadow.
A “day in the life” can introduce you to classroom expectations before you begin student teaching.
If you’re an NEA Aspiring Educator leader who has recently started a campus chapter or is working hard to get one off the ground, check out the “NEA Aspiring Educators Chapter Toolkit,” at nea.org/AspiringEducators ChapterToolkit. Among its many resources, you’ll find tips and information on how to grow a strong campus organization. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
RECOGNIZE AND VALUE THE DIVERSITY OF CHAPTER MEMBERS.
When leading an organization aimed at motivating and preparing the future professionals of NEA, it’s crucial to intentionally recruit members from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, cultures, and voices. Leaders should also seek to value each member’s individual skills and talents and use them to build and strengthen the chapter. An emphasis on the diversity of members in your chapter will help you to relate to a wide range of audiences on campus, deepen your understanding of perspectives different from your own, and ultimately enrich the education profession.
PLAN ACTIVITIES THAT FEEL MOST RELEVANT AND USEFUL TO MEMBERS.
Chapter activities help create a local union family for Aspiring Educators to lean on—building resilience along the way. These events can vary among topics, and some may be as simple as a study group. Team building in different environments helps create the chemistry needed to show unity in support of public education, racial and social justice, labor unions, and more. Don’t feel compelled to make your chapter look like something you’ve seen elsewhere on campus or across the country. Your chapter should reflect the members and students you seek to serve.
PAY IT FORWARD AND PREPARE YOUR SUCCESSORS.
When stepping off your chapter leadership position, it is important to make yourself available to new leaders to address questions or concerns. These newly elected or appointed officers must feel supported in their positions of leadership, which may be overwhelming. Your continuing mentorship and fellowship with these leaders, even after graduating or transferring, reinforces the social connection needed between NEA members as we advocate for the collective advancement of public education.