The best part of my job is the gift of diversity and the stories I get to prompt students to produce in a creative way through narratives, short stories, digital media, and art. As a teacher, it allows me to broaden my horizons and understand our world a little more.
I grew up in a smaller community with very little racial diversity. I never knew how much I was missing out on because I wasn’t exposed to other childhoods, journeys, or life experiences and traditions.
Now, I’m lucky to work for a district that cherishes diversity and welcomes all students no matter their journey before arriving here. Immigrant and refugee families round out our school to a place where many feel at home, find friends, tell their stories, and allow others to learn from them. Being a teacher for almost ten years in this diverse district feels more like home than my hometown ever did.
Stories of students who come to America as an immigrant or refugee are powerful; everyone needs to read them. And this month is all about showcasing published stories from many countries and experiences immigrating or seeking refuge. American Street by Ibi Zoboi tells a story of a mother and daughter immigrating from Haiti. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez brings a Mexican family’s expectations of their daughter into the mix. Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon brings a local approach to moving from diverse, inner-city Boston to a suburban school in white and wealthy Westburg.
What I’m getting at is read, read, read! Inspire your students to tell their stories no matter what. No one can understand other people’s experiences if their stories go untold. Start students off on the right track with a personal narrative describing “their story” just like in the book American Street.
Have students share their own background narratives by downloading the lesson below!
Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.